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The Lake Of The Lute And The Matchless Mountain

Source: Japanese Fairy World

Of all the beautiful objects in "the land of the holy gods," as the
Japanese call their country, none are more beautiful than Fuji Mountain
and Lake Biwa. The one is a great cone of white snow, the other is a
sheet of heaven-blue water, in shape like a lute with four strings.

Sweeping from twenty square leagues of space out of the plain and rising
twelve thousand feet in air, Fuji, or Fusi Yama, casts its sunset shadow
far out on the ocean, and from fourteen provinces gleams the splendor of
its snowy crest. It sits like a king on his throne in the heart of
Suruga Province.

One hundred and thirty miles to the west as the crane wings her flight,
in the heart of Omi, is Biwa Ko, the lake of the lute. It is sixty miles
long and as blue as the sky whose mirror it is. Along its banks rise
white-walled castles and stretch mulberry plantations. On its bosom rise
wooded islands, white, but not with frost; for thousands of herons nestle
on the branches of the trees, like lilies on their stems. Down under the
blue depths, say the people, is the Dragon shrine (Riu Gu), where dwell
the dragon-helmed Kai Riu O, and his consort, the shell-crowned Queen of
the World Under the Sea.

Why do the pilgrims from all over the empire exclaim joyfully, while
climbing Fuji's cinder-beds and lava-blocks, "I am a man of Omi"? Why,
when quenching their thirst with the melted snow-water of Fuji crater, do
they cry out "I am drinking from Lake Biwa"? Why do the children clap
their hands, as they row or sail over Biwa's blue surface, and say: "I am
on top of Fuji Yama"?

To these questions the Japanese legend gives answer.

* * * * *

When Heaven and earth were first created, there was neither Lake of Biwa
nor Mountain of Fuji. Suruga and Omi were both plains. Even for long
after men inhabited Japan and the Mikados had ruled for centuries there
was neither earth so nigh to heaven nor water so close to the Under-world
as the peaks of Fuji and the bottom of Biwa. Men drove the plow and
planted the rice over the very spot where crater and deepest depth now

But one night in the ancient times there was a terrible earthquake. All
the world shook, the clouds lowered to the earth, floods of water poured
from the sky, and a sound like the fighting of a myriad of dragons filled
the air. In the morning all was serene and calm. The sky was blue. The
earth was as bright and all was as "white-faced" as when the sun goddess
first came out from her hiding in the cave.

The people of Omi awoke, scarce expecting to find either earth or heaven,
when lo! they looked on what had yesterday been tilled land or barren
moor, and there was a great sheet of blue. Was it sky? Had a sheet of the
"blue field of heaven" fallen down? Was it the ocean? They came near it,
tasted it. It was fresh and sweet as a fountain-rill. They looked at it
from the hill-tops, and, seeing its outline, called it "the lake of the
four-stringed lute." Others, proud of their new possession, named it the
Lake of Omi.

Greater still was the surprise of the Suruga people. The sailors, far out
at sea, rubbed their eyes and wondered at the strange shape of the
towering white cloud. Was it the Iwakura, the eternal throne of Heaven,
come down to rest on earth out of the many piled white clouds of heaven?
Some thought they had lost their reckoning; but were assured when they
recognized familiar landmarks on shore. Many a cottager woke up to find
his house, which lay in a valley the day before, was now far up on the
slope, with the distant villages and the sea visible; while far, far
above shone the snowy head of a mountain, whose crown lay in the blue
sky. At night the edges of the peak, like white fingers, seemed to pluck
the stars from the Milky Way.

"What shall we call this new-born child of the gods?" said the people.
And various names were proposed.

"There is no other mountain so beautiful in all the earth, there's not
its equal anywhere; therefore call it Fuji, (no two such), the peerless,
the matchless mountain," said one.

"It is so tall, so comely, so grand, call it Fuji, (rich scholar, the
lordly mountain)," said another.

"Call it Fuji, (never dying, the immortal mountain)," said a third.

"Call it, after the festal flower of joy, Fuji" (Wistaria) said another,
as he decked the peak of his hat with the drooping clusters of the tender
blue blossom. "It looks blue and purple in the distance, just like the
fuji flower." Various as the meanings of the name were, they sounded all
alike to the ear. So, without any quarreling, all agreed to call it Fuji
and each to choose his own meaning. To this day, though many a learned
dispute and the scratching of the written character on the sand with
walking stick, or on paper with pencil, or on the palm of the hand with
forefinger takes place, all pronounce the name alike as they rave on the
beauties of Fuji Yama.

So went forth into the countries bounding "the four seas" the belief that
there was a white mountain of perfect form in Japan, and that whoever
ascended it would live long and even attain immortality; and that
somewhere on the mountain was hidden the elixir of immortality, which if
any one drank he would live forever. Now in one of the kingdoms of
far-off China there lived a rich old king, who had abundance of
treasures, health, and many children. But he did not wish to die, and,
hence, spent his days in studying the lore and arts of the alchemists,
who believed they would finally attain to the transmutation of lead into
gold, find the universal solvent of all things, the philosophers' stone,
the elixir of life, and all the wondrous secrets which men in Europe long
afterward labored to discover.

Among the king's sages was one old man of mighty wisdom, who had heard of
the immortal mountain of Japan, and, learning of the manner of its
appearance, concluded that the Japan Archipelago contained the Fortunate
Isles and in it was the true elixir of life. He divulged his secret to
the king, and advised him to make the journey to the Land of the Rising

Overjoyed at the good news and the faithfulness of his loyal sage, the
king loaded him with gifts and honors. He selected five hundred of the
most beauteous youths and virgins of his kingdom, and, fitting out a
fleet, sailed away to the Happy Isles of the East. Coasting along the
shore until they recognized the glorious form of the mountain, they
landed and began the ascent. Alas! for the poor king. The rough sea and
severe storms had worn on his aged frame and the fatigues of the ascent
were so great, that before reaching the top he fainted away, and before
the head of the procession had set foot on the crater edge the monarch
was dead. Sadly they gave up the search for the elixir of life, and,
descending the mountain, buried their master in the Province of Kii.
Then, in their exuberance of youth and joy, thinking little of the far
future and wishing to enjoy the present, they separated in couples,
married, and, disposing of their ship and cargo, settled in the country,
and colonized the eastern part of Japan.

Long afterward, when Buddhist believers came to Japan, one of them,
climbing Fuji, noticed that around its sunken crater were eight peaks,
like the petals of their sacred lotus flower. Thus, it seemed to them,
Great Buddha had honored Japan, by bestowing the sacred symbol of
Nirvana, or Heaven, on the proudest and highest part of Japan. So they
also named it Fuji, "the sacred mountain"; and to this day all the world
calls this sacred mountain Fuji, or Fusi Yama, while the Japanese people
believe that the earth which sunk in Omi is the same which, piled to the
clouds, is the lordly mountain of Suruga.

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