EP37 The Song the Black Fox God Sang


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Show Notes for episode 37 of our Podcast – The Song the Black Fox God Sang.

Story Notes

The Woman Behind the Stories 

The Song the Black Fox God Sang
EP37 The Song the Black Fox God Sang

The stories are through the work of Chiri Yukie, collecting tales she heard from her family. This book, the Ainu Shinyoushuu was the first of its kind about the Ainu language written by an actual Ainu. 

Chiri was born in 1903, and was brought up by her aunt and grandmother. Even though her father was a Chief of the Ainu, he did not have the financial means to care for his daughter, and she grew she heard all the old oral stories told by her aunt and grandmother.  

Eventually a linguist called Kindaichi Kyousuke visited these three women saying how  he was undertaking work in the Ainu language and so Chiri decided to devote all her time to writing down the stories she had been brought up hearing, and eventually translating them into Japanese after first transcribing them into Roman characters. 

The Song the Black Fox God Sang
Chiri Yukie

Finally aged 19 she travelled to Tokyo having collected 13 tales known as yukar (epics about humans told by men) and kamui yukar (epics chanted in the first person by a god). Working then with Kindaichi they moved to have these stories published, and though there would have been many stories to come, Chiri died on the day the book was finally finished from heart failure. 

The Song the Black Fox God Sang 

This tale involves the Black Fox, as well as the men known as Okikirmui, Shupunramka and Samayunkur. The Black Fox is evil and dreadful. Okikirmui, is descended from heaven and the typical heroic figure. Samayunkur is described as shallow, indecisive and weak. Shupunranka is known form mildness and reticence, and appear in no stories of his own.  

And so on with the tale. 

Here I found myself sitting.  
On the rocky headlands of our land. 
On the rocky headlands of the gods. 
When one day I saw right before my eyes the sea stretching out.
A calm sea, with Okikirmui, Shupunramka and Samayunkur sailing across it.
Sailing for whales my heart filled with heart.
My evil heart swelled with malice.  

On the rocky headlands of our land. 
On the rocky headlands of the gods. 
I ran from end to end. 
With my light feet and sinuous body.
Barking with the low sound of heavy wood splintering.
And I called to the storm demon within.
A violent wind came forth, the ocean began to rise and fall.
The sea plunged down before me.
And in that sea, in peril now were the three brothers. 
All three chanted, and rowed onwards.
Like a leaf I could see the boat being blown around on the water.
And yet those three men sailed onwards.

And so my heart again swelled with malice. 
I ran from end to end. 
With my light feet and sinuous body.
Barking with the low sound of heavy wood splintering.
With all of my strength I urged the storm onwards.
And eventually, exhausted, Samayunkur.
With blood running from the palms of his hands.
With blood running from the backs of his hands.
Collapsed from exhaustion.
And a laugh escaped from me.
Again I ran from end to end. 
With my light feet and sinuous body.
Barking with the low sound of heavy wood splintering.
With all of my strength I urged the storm onwards.
The remaining two encouraged one another, but eventually.
Shupunramka.
With blood running from the palms of his hands.
With blood running from the backs of his hands.
Collapsed from exhaustion.
And a laugh escaped from me.
I ran from end to end. 
With my light feet and sinuous body.
Barking with the low sound of heavy wood splintering.
But still Okikirmui did not look to have tired, he rowed and rowed until his oar snapped.
And so he reached over to take the oar of Samayunkur.
And he continued to row. 

When I saw this I was filled with rage.
Barking with the low sound of heavy wood splintering.
I ran from end to end. 
With my light feet and sinuous body.
Again I urged the storm demon on, until again the oar broke.
Okikirmui took up the oar of Shupunramka and continued on.
Until again this oar broke.
And it was then Okikirmui stood up in his boat, he could see me.
Though I could not believe so.
His face was the calm color of anger as I watched him reach into his bag.
When I saw him draw forth a little wormwood bow.
And I little wormwood arrow. 
I saw it and laughed.
What could this human hope to achieve with his little arrow I asked.
On the rocky headlands of our land. 
On the rocky headlands of the gods. 
I ran from end to end. 
With my light feet and sinuous body.
Barking with the low sound of heavy wood splintering.
I praised the storm demon.
All the while his arrow came for me, hitting me in the back of my neck. 
And what happened next I could not say.
The world fell dark. 

When I awoke.
The ocean had calmed, the weather was good once more.
Okikirmui’s boat was gone. 
There was pain everywhere, as if my skin was burning and shrinking all at once. 
Who would have thought such a small thing could cause me so much pain. 
On the rocky headlands of our land. 
On the rocky headlands of the gods. 
I screamed in pain.
And I writhed in pain.
All day and all night.
Half living, but also half dead.
Until once more I lost consciousness. 
When I awoke again.
I was sitting between the ears of a great black fox.
And after another two days Okikirmui came, appearing like a god, and
grinning wide. 
What a fine sight this is to see he said. 
The black fox god who keeps watch here, dies a good and splendid death. 
On the rocky headlands of our land. 
On the rocky headlands of the gods. 
With his strength the man took my head. 
Using my lower jaw and my upper jaw, and made out of them a latrine. 
Thus I would be tortured forever more by this horrible stench  

In the end I died a pointless death, and a horrible one. 
Therefore, all foxes to come after me, learn from my fate. 
Never harbor wicked thought. 
So said the fox god. 

I was not content in myself being a minor god. 
Because of my evil heart I died a horrible death. 

Proverb Notes

Proverbs as we have said before are known as Kotozawa in Japanese.

 Recently, while watching the news with the professor I asked a question (as I often seem to do, because there’s still quite a bit about Japanese culture I don’t understand). And the professor just looked at me, and replied with a Japanese proverb that started a whole other conversation. That conversation inspired me for the literature section this week. 
 
What English proverbs can you think of? 
 
A stitch in time saves 9 
A penny saved is a penny earned 
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. 
 
I think most of these I put here seem to come from Benjamin Franklin – a very interesting person to be sure, but not really our focus for today.

Today, let’s look at some Japanese proverbs, called “kotowaza” 諺 . Many Japanese proverbs come from agriculture, but they are also from the tea ceremony, from games such as Go, and Buddhism. And of course, Chinese philosophy.  

There’s one proverb I can vaguely recall from a conversation my first year in Japan. A teacher and I were trying to help move furniture but since the students were helping there really wasn’t much for us to do. I made a joke about being in the way, and she laughed and agree. But then she told me “Even a dead tree is useful.” I wish I could recall the Japanese and in fact I did write it down in one of my lesson notebooks but I wasn’t able to find it. Moving tends to mix things up, even if the move was over a year ago. 

A quick search resulted in the following: 

枯れ木も山の賑わい 
かれきも やまのに ぎわい 
Even dead trees give life to a mountain.

Even something that doesn’t really seem valuable can be better than nothing at all.

References

Featured Image: Black Fox by TanyaShatseva.

You can listen to the full episode over on Anchor here: Japan Archives, or wherever you listen to Podcasts.

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Be sure to check out Heather’s blog on lifes little adventures here: HeatherOverYonder.

Heavenly Spear