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Major people and plot points in the two handscrolls

First Scroll

Scene One

Jinrin, an eight-headed demon, appears while Emperor Chūai makes plans for an invasion of the Korean peninsula. The Emperor succeeds in killing the demon but is mortally wounded by a stray arrow. Before he dies, he issues an Imperial Decree that Empress Jingū assume rule, and that their unborn child later be made Emperor.

Scene Two

Already pregnant with Emperor Chūai’s child, Empress Jingū departs from  Kyūshū to attack Korea. She is joined by the Sumiyōshi kami (Sumiyōshi Myōjin, assuming the form of an old man), a Shintō diety famous as a protector of seafarers. When an enormous ox materializes and threatens to capsize Jingū’s vessel, the kami aids her journey by throwing it into the sea, where it is then transformed into an island. The old man’s act of heroism proves his trustworthiness to Jingū.

Scene Three

As the fleet goes farther into the sea, a large rock looms in the water. The Sumiyōshi kami destroys the obstacle with an arrow, allowing the ships to proceed toward their destination unharmed, further proving his mettle to Empress Jingū.

Scene Four

Empress Jingū consults with the Sumiyōshi kami to develop a plan to defeat the Silla army. The Old Man replies that they should summon the sea deity Isora and dispatch the kami to the palace of the Dragon King to borrow the sea ebbing and sea rising jewels. When Empress Jingū asks how to summon Isora, the Old Man replies that Isora loves dance. He constructors a dance floor in the sea to perform a dance to summon Isora. The stage becomes a rock that even now remains. The symbol of Hachiman, the threefold comma in a circle (mitsu tomoe) can be seen on the drum used to summon Isora. Isora arrives on the back of a turtle in white holy garb, face covered to hide the effects of being under the sea for so long. Isora’s retinue of undersea beings from the palace of the Dragon King presents the jewels atop of poles.

Scene Five

Before reaching Korea, the Empress begins to suffer labor pains. She disembarks at Tsushima and ties white stones around her hips to cool her belly. She intones a prayer saying that, in order for the child she carries to become the Emperor of Japan, he should not leave her body for another month. When the Japanese warriors (right) reach Paekche, another of the three ancient Korean kingdoms, the Korean forces approach (left). Jingū first uses the tide ebbing jewel to drain the sea and expose the enemy. She then throws the tide rising jewel, drowning the Korean army.

Scene Six

The victorious Empress returns to Japan, then gives birth to Chūai’s child, a son. Their son will become Emperor Ōjin, the sixteenth ruler of Japan, and after his death (Scroll Two spoiler alert) achieve divinity and become the deity Hachiman.

Second Scroll

Scene One

We now flash forward in time: after the death of Emperor Ōjin, a box containing the Buddha’s three most important teachings is in Kyushu at Hakozaki. A pine tree is planted over the box, at which point a miraculous sign of four red banners and four white banners appears in the sky. Because Hachiman means “eight banners” in Japanese, this is a sign that Ōjin has achieved divinity. Ojin’s son, Emperor Nintoku, sends an imperial messenger to investigate the miracle, and he is met by Hachiman, who takes the form of a golden eagle.

Scene Two

Ōjin’s spirit—taking the form first of an old smith and then a three year old child—reveals himself as Hachiman to a courtier. As a result, the courtier’s family becomes the priests charged with stewardship of the Hachiman shrine in Usa.

Scene Three

The courtier, Wake no Kiyomaro, from the capital city of Nara, is dispatched to the Hachiman shrine at Usa to ask if a Buddhist priest can rule Japan. When Hachiman replies that only members of the imperial family are eligible to become Emperor, the ambitious monk cuts off his feet. Kiyomaro returns to the shrine, riding a deer on his journey, in order to have his feet restored.

Scene Four

Returning to the shrine at Usa, Kiyomaro’s journey is justified: he is rewarded for his service by having his feet restored when they are licked by a snake.

Scene Five

A new temple to the deity, the Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine, is established outside Kyoto by the monk Gyōkō. The monk had previously spent 2,000 days in secluded practice at the Hachiman shrine at Usa. The final panel of the second scroll shows a mixed group of men and women, at least two of whom appear to be sword-bearing samurai, in worship at the shrine.

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