Chapter Ten. At Mionoseki

Seki wa yoi toko, Asahi wo ukete; O-Yama arashiga Soyo-soyoto! (SONG OF MIONOSEKI.)

[Seki is a goodly place, facing the morning sun. There, from the holy mountains, the winds blow softly, softly - soyosoyoto.]

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THE God of Mionoseki hates eggs, hen's eggs. Likewise he hates hens and chickens, and abhors the Cock above all living creatures. And in Mionoseki there are no cocks or hens or chickens or eggs. You could not buy a hen's egg in that place even for twenty times its weight in gold.

And no boat or junk or steamer could be hired to convey to Mionoseki so much as the feather of a chicken, much less an egg. Indeed, it is even held that if you have eaten eggs in the morning you must not dare to visit Mionoseki until the following day. For the great deity of Mionoseki is the patron of mariners and the ruler of storms; and woe unto the vessel which bears unto his shrine even the odour of an egg.

Once the tiny steamer which runs daily from Matsue to Mionoseki encountered some unexpectedly terrible weather on her outward journey, just after reaching the open sea. The crew insisted that something displeasing to Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami must have been surreptitiously brought on board. All the passengers were questioned in vain. Suddenly the captain discerned upon the stem of a little brass pipe which one of the men was smoking, smoking in the face of death, like a true Japanese, the figure of a crowing cock! Needless to say, that pipe was thrown overboard. Then the angry sea began to grow calm; and the little vessel safely steamed into the holy port, and cast anchor before the great torii of the shrine of the god!

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Concerning the reason why the Cock is thus detested by the Great Deity of Mionoseki, and banished from his domain, divers legends are told; but the substance of all of them is about as follows: As we read in the Kojiki, Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami, Son of the Great Deity of Kitsuki, was wont to go to Cape Miho, [1] 'to pursue birds and catch fish.' And for other reasons also he used to absent himself from home at night, but had always to return before dawn. Now, in those days the Cock was his trusted servant, charged with the duty of crowing lustily when it was time for the god to return. But one morning the bird failed in its duty; and the god, hurrying back in his boat, lost his oars, and had to paddle with his hands; and his hands were bitten by the wicked fishes.

Now the people of Yasugi, a pretty little town on the lagoon of Naka- umi, through which we pass upon our way to Mionoseki, most devoutly worship the same Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami; and nevertheless in Yasugi there are multitudes of cocks and hens and chickens; and the eggs of Yasugi cannot be excelled for size and quality. And the people of Yasugi aver that one may better serve the deity by eating eggs than by doing as the people of Mionoseki do; for whenever one eats a chicken or devours an egg, one destroys an enemy of Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami.

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From Matsue to Mionoseki by steamer is a charming journey in fair weather. After emerging from the beautiful lagoon of Naka-umi into the open sea, the little packet follows the long coast of Izumo to the left. Very lofty this coast is, all cliffs and hills rising from the sea, mostly green to their summits, and many cultivated in terraces, so as to look like green pyramids of steps. The bases of the cliffs are very rocky; and the curious wrinklings and corrugations of the coast suggest the work of ancient volcanic forces. Far away to the right, over blue still leagues of sea, appears the long low shore of Hoki, faint as a mirage, with its far beach like an endless white streak edging the blue level, and beyond it vapoury lines of woods and cloudy hills, and over everything, looming into the high sky, the magnificent ghostly shape of Daisen, snow-streaked at its summit.

So for perhaps an hour we steam on, between Hoki and Izumo; the rugged and broken green coast on our left occasionally revealing some miniature hamlet sheltered in a wrinkle between two hills; the phantom coast on the right always unchanged. Then suddenly the little packet whistles, heads for a grim promontory to port, glides by its rocky foot, and enters one of the prettiest little bays imaginable, previously concealed from view. A shell-shaped gap in the coast - a semicircular basin of clear deep water, framed in by high corrugated green hills, all wood- clad. Around the edge of the bay the quaintest of little Japanese cities, Mionoseki.

There is no beach, only a semicircle of stone wharves, and above these the houses, and above these the beautiful green of the sacred hills, with a temple roof or two showing an angle through the foliage. From the rear of each house steps descend to deep water; and boats are moored at all the back-doors. We moor in front of the great temple, the Miojinja. Its great paved avenue slopes to the water's edge, where boats are also moored at steps of stone; and looking up the broad approach, one sees a grand stone torii, and colossal stone lanterns, and two magnificent sculptured lions, karashishi, seated upon lofty pedestals, and looking down upon the people from a height of fifteen feet or more. Beyond all this the walls and gate of the outer temple court appear, and beyond them, the roofs of the great haiden, and the pierced projecting cross- beams of the loftier Go-Miojin, the holy shrine itself, relieved against the green of the wooded hills. Picturesque junks are lying in ranks at anchor; there are two deep-sea vessels likewise, of modern build, ships from Osaka. And there is a most romantic little breakwater built of hewn stone, with a stone lantern perched at the end of it; and there is a pretty humped bridge connecting it with a tiny island on which I see a shrine of Benten, the Goddess of Waters.

I wonder if I shall be able to get any eggs!

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