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Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Japan's Prehistoric Long Night


Below is a selection from The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. While mythical, its prehistoric nature implies a germ of ancient history behind the story.

Some elements in the story which we shall notice are:

1. A female ruling Japan in ancient times;
2. The breakdown of dynastic rule;
3. Anthropormorphic manifestation;
4. The Japanese practice of suicide by the defeated general;
5. Volcanic activity directly following a massive local flood which miraculously subsided;
6. The observance by astronomers of an unusually long night, and the associated attempts by astrologers to end it.

Whether this story originated with Joshua's Long Day/Night of c. 1450 BCE or not cannot be proven on the basis of the information given; however, the geographical location of Japan is inconsistent with such a juxtaposition. Astronomical evaluation of Joshua's Long Day places Japan far from the terminator. Actually, the story best fits the scenario in which a large volcanic eruption obscures the sky for days at a time. The flood may fit a scenario in which a pre-eruption tsunami breaks over a coastal range and is spent in the valley below.

Once upon a time... an Empress lived in Japan. She was
young, beautiful, kindly, and wise, and her name was
Jowka. She dreamt of living in peace, thinking of the
welfare of her people, but in the northern mountains,
a rebellion broke out led by prince Kokai. He sent a
message to the Empress, "Jowka, either you must marry
me and share the throne, or I will put your kingdom
to the flame and sword!" Jowka, who knew the empresses
never flinch at threats, replied, "Kokai, we shall
fight!", and sent an army against the rebels.
The army was strong and well led and it defeated the
rebels in more than one battle. But, just before the
most important battle of all, something terrible and
magical happened. Kokai pleaded with one of the evil
gods and it started to rain. The rivers grew swollen
with water and broke their banks. There were appalling
floods which took the Imperial army by surprise and
swept it away. Every man, from the general to the
humblest soldier, was drowned. And Kokai the rebel came
down from the mountains and approached the capital of
the Empire. Jowka sent other armies against him, but
each one met the same fate: swept away in the
swirling waters that obeyed Kokai's orders. The whole
of Japan was terror-stricken. Was power to be seized
by a merciless rebel magician? Jowka was lost in
thought over this when, one night, she heard a rustle
in the room where she was saying her prayers. Lifting
her eyes, she saw, standing in front of her, a man
wearing a long tunic and holding a stick. He had long
white hair and a flowing beard, as soft as silk.
The Empress jumped in surprise, but the old man said:
"Have no fear, Jowka, I'm a friend, I'm the God of
Fire. I heard your prayers, I know how much you are
suffering, and I'm here to help. Don't worry! I shall
join your armies and Kokai's magic will do nothing
against me." "Tell me, God of Fire, what must I do?"
the Empress murmured. "You must gather a new army to
send against the rebel. I will march at the side of
your general." And so the Empress ordered the greatest
and biggest army ever seen in Japan to be mustered,
and a huge number of men, horses and chariots set out.
Everyone, including the Imperial and rebel soldiers, knew
that the battle about to be fought would be final. The
two opposing armies slowly drew closer on a vast plain,
and the general leading the imperial troops murmured:
"It is unwise to march here. Kokai could easily flood
this area!" The God of Fire, marching at the general's
side in the guise of a bold young officer said: "Have
no fear, I'm far stronger than water." There were a
few skirmishes, then Kokai, high on the mountain where
he had made his camp, raised his arms invoking the help
of the elements. The earth shook, there was a fierce
gust of wind and an immense rush of water swept down
the mountainside onto the plain. The Imperial soldiers
screamed with terror, but the God of Fire simply said:
"Keep calm! That water will not even lap our feet."
And indeed, the huge foaming waves that seemed to
gallop towards the army, suddenly slowed down when
they reached the God of Fire, drew back, split with a
tremendous roar and were swallowed up by the earth.
"This is the end of Kokai! March on!" ordered the
general, and the entire army marched on towards the
mountain and defeated the enemy. Kokai saw that the
rebellion was now over, his power had gone and his
fortune too had disappeared. But rather than surrender
to the Empress Jowka, who would have forgiven him, he
hurled himself, head first, against the mountain and
died. But the blow was so hard that the mountain,
named Shu, cracked and from the crack gushed out fire,
poisonous fumes and lava that quickly invaded the
plain below, burning and suffocating everything on it.
A far worse danger now threatened the empire of the
wise Jowka! The Empress remained quite calm. Then
she received another terrible piece of news. The
crack in the mountain and the disaster that followed,
had also cracked the pillars that held up the sky,
damaging the pathway along which, every day, the Sun
and the Moon traveled with their chariots, carrying
the light. In a short time, in fact, a dreadful dark
shadow fell over all the world. People were afraid of
the darkness, they wept and despaired. So wise Jowka
ordered huge bonfires to be kept alight, so that the
flames would give them comfort, courage and new hope.
And she sent word to all her subjects that they should
collect blue, white, orange and red stones and bring
them to the palace. When that was done, the Empress
ground down the stones, and made a kind of paste,
something like liquid porcelain, transparent and shiny.
She put it in a pot, then with a magic spell summoned
a cloud, climbed on top of it and made it carry her
to the exact spot where the heavenly pillar was
cracked. There, she repaired the damage using the
strange coloured paste. As she went back to earth,
she said to herself, "There! The pillar is mended.
The chariots of the Sun and the Moon can take to the
road again and the light will return." Alas! Things
didn't quite happen that way! Days went by and the
light had still not come back. The Sun and the Moon
were nowhere to be seen. And the people, who had had
such high hopes, again began to weep and wail. Everyone
began to say, "Oh dear! We shall live the rest of our
lives in the dark! We will go blind, we will die of
the cold! Nothing will grow in the fields, and if we
survive the dark and the cold, we will die of hunger!"
Once again, the Empress kept calm and was unworried.
She called together all the wise men of the realm and
asked them to find out what had happened. Long
discussions took place, then a very learned philosopher
went before Jowka and told her, "Your most gracious
Highness, I know exactly what has happened! When the
pillar of heaven cracked the Sun and the Moon shut
themselves away in their palaces in alarm. And they
have never come out again. How can they possibly know
the pillar has been repaired?" "Yes! Yes! That is so!"
chorused the other wise men. The Empress then said,
"There is only way to tell them. Send a messenger!"
"A messenger?" they asked. Jowka went on. "Yes. Or
rather, two! One to gallop to the Sun and the other
to the Moon. We can't be discourteous, and if we were
to warn one before the other, then the second one
might take offense." All over the empire, a search
was made for two horsemen brave enough to face such
a long journey, and two horses strong enough to gallop
into the heart of Day and Night. It wasn't easy to
find suitable men but in the end, two young men came
to Jowka, and she told them what had to be done...
The messengers set off. It was a long and fearful
journey, from cloud to cloud, from heaven to heaven,
through winds and storms, brushing past comets and
shooting stars. But they delivered the Empress's message
to the Sun and the Moon. The pillar had been repaired,
their chariots could return to the heavenly pathways.
The Sun and the Moon thanked the messengers. The next
day, the shadows disappeared from the daylight world,
and light flooded back again, as before. the two
messengers knelt before the Empress on their return,
but Jowka made them rise to their feet, saying: "No!
Men like you shall always remain on their feet before
anyone on earth, for you have looked the Sun and the Moon in the face!"

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