Japanese Ancient Romances


1. Chiisakobe-no Sugaru: tale of catching the thunder (from Nihon Ryôi-ki, Edited in the 8th Century)

2. A legend of Princess Chûjô (from Otogi Zôshi, edited in the 17th century)

3. A man who married a vixen (dans Nihon Ryôi-ki)

Chiisakobe-no Sugaru: tale of catching the thunder

Translated by Niji Fuyuno

This is a story in the time of the Emperor Yûryaku: 5th century of Japan.
At that time, Nara was the capital of Japan. Sugaru was a man who served in the Emperor's court.
The Emperor loved his wife very much. One day, he was caressing tenderly his queen in the bed. Suddenly, Sugaru rashly and carelessly entered the Emperor's room. The Emperor was in a flurry, embarrassed, and in a sometime he got a little bit angry to Sugaru.
All at once, a big peal of thunder exploded. The Emperor had a mind slightly spiteful toward Sugaru. He said to Sugaru to cover his embarrassment and bad humor, "Sugaru, you, can you..., can you catch and bring the thunder?"
Sugaru answered, "Yes, my lord, I will bring the thunder here."
The Emperor ordered him, "Good! Go and catch him!"
Sugaru departed from the palace. He went on horseback. He tied round a red band firmly around his head holding tightly a small red flag in his hand. Sugaru was passing through several small villages, and at last, he reached one village named Karu-no Morokoshi. Sugaru shouted with a big voice to the thunder.
"Listen! Listen to me, the thunder in the sky. My lord Emperor calls you!" Sugaru raised a loud cry again as running the horse on. "Even if you are the God of thunder, you don't refuse the Emperor's order, do you?"
After a while, Sugaru found the thunder fallen on the earth. In a hurry, he called one priest and he put this thunder on a palanquin. The thunder was transported in front of the Emperor Yûryaku. Sugaru said in triumph, "My lord, look! Look at him! I've brought him here!"
And just then, the thunder put himself in flamboyant brilliancy. The Emperor had a big terror seeing its strong light. So he offered many many gifts to the thunder and took him back to the place where he fell. Now we call this place "Ikazuchi-no Oka (the Hill of Thunder)": located in a hamlet Asuka of Nara prefecture.
After several years, Sugaru was dead. The Emperor Yûryaku regretted and lamented for his death. He ordered his servants to expose his corpse during 7 days. The Emperor let them make Sugaru's tomb where the thunder fell and wrote on it some words to give praise for Sugaru's honesty. And he added some more words: "The tomb of Sugaru who caught the thunder."
In the sky, the thunder found this tomb on the earth, and read these words. He burned with great anger because of some words on the tomb. His grudge and rage were so violent that he fell again with big peal on the earth. The thunder tried to trample to pieces the tomb of Sugaru. But his body was caught in a crevasse in the split tomb. The thunder was arrested one more time!!
The Emperor accepted this incident, and then ordered his servants to pull up his body from the crevasse. He was saved. For seven days, the thunder stayed absent-mindedly on the surface of the earth.
The Emperor gave orders to his servants for the reconstruction of the tomb of Sugaru. They engraved some words written by the Emperor: "The tomb of Sugaru who caught the thunder, not only when he was alive but also after he died."
Such being the case, this legend became historical source of the hill of Asuka in Nara prefecture. This hill was given the name "Ikazuchi-no Oka" (the Hill of Thunder).


The legend "Chiisakobe-no Sugaru" is one of the parts of "Nihon Ryôi-ki"

Nihon Ryôi-ki:
Ancient fantastic tales of Japan.
A man who served the Emperor Yûryaku. His profession was praying to the Gods, holding ceremonies, and attending altars.
Ancient Japanese word that means "thunder."

"Nihon Ryôi-ki" is the oldest collections of romances and legends between the 5th and the 8th centuries of Japan. The priest Kyôkai composed it, in trilogy style.
"Chiisakobe-no Sugaru" is the first story in the pages of "Nihon Ryôi-ki."
The composition and the subjects of Nihon Ryôi-ki are not mature enough, but inside, it has an abundance of buds. I say that the story of "Chiisakobe-no Sugaru" reached me vividly with its supple wit in spite of its unskillful description and infantile crudeness.
Several centuries later, "Nihon Ryôi-ki" gave its rich spirit to "Konjaku Monogatari", "Ugetsu Monogatari", and also to the new forms of drama: "Nô" and "Kyogen".

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