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Stories of the Shinto deity Hachiman

Stories of the Shinto deity Hachiman and shrines dedicated to him, 1389

Stories of the Shinto deity Hachiman and shrines dedicated to him, 1389. Japan. Ink and colors on paper. The Avery Brundage Collection, B64D6.

< to be looked at from right to left <

Hachiman is one of the most important deities in Shinto tradition. He serves as a protector of the nation and a sort of patron saint of warriors. He is the deified spirit of the legendary Emperor Ojin, who is supposed to have lived some sixteen hundred years ago.

This scroll recounts, in text and pictures, legends associated with Emperor Ojin/Hachiman and several of the shrines dedicated to him, of which there are now more than twenty-five thousand in Japan.

In one legend, a previous emperor of Japan dies in the course of a war with Silla, a kingdom in southern Korea. His widow (who will eventually give birth to Ojin) sets out to avenge her husband by attacking the Silla kingdom from the sea. The empress acquires a set of magic jewels that has the power to control the tides. When her forces approach Silla, she uses the jewels to pull the tide out, exposing a wide beach onto which the Silla army rushes to block her forces from coming ashore. The empress then sends the tide flooding back to engulf the Silla army.

The earlier of the scenes from this legend shows the acquisition of the magic jewels. A deity wishing to assist the empress dances to call forth a sea creature. This creature will be asked to borrow the tide-controlling jewels from the dragon king of the sea.

The next scene of the scroll shows Japanese warships nearing the Silla shore and the Silla forces being overwhelmed by the tide. Several Silla soldiers can be seen struggling amidst the waves; another is being eaten by a sea monster. The left portion of the scene shows Silla ships stranded ashore. Beyond them the empress, wearing full armor and a helmet, confronts the Silla king. According to the tale, the Silla king surrenders, promising to protect Japan in the future. The empress then uses her bow to inscribe his words onto a nearby rock so that what the Silla king said can never be questioned. Magically, the inscription remains through all the attempts of the Silla people to remove it.