Friday, May 06, 2011

A Robe of Feathers (the story) - End Notes

I first heard the Hagoromo myth (A Robe of Feathers) soon after coming to Japan. I was an exchange student in Shizuoka and the story was said to have taken place on a beach not too far from where I lived at the time. I learned there are several versions (and even an old and popular Noh Play based on the tale) and while they all differ slightly, they are more or less the same.

A fisherman comes across a celestial being bathing in the ocean early one morning (or late at night depending on the story). He sees she's left her feathered robe hanging on a tree. He takes the robe. The angel pleads to him to give it back or she can't fly home. They make a deal and she dances naked (I'm assuming) for him. He returns robe, she flies away.

Except for the naked part it's not really that good of a story.

Here's a perfectly SFW drawing of the sexy lady.

You'll notice she has a soccer ball. She's also the mascot of Shimizu, a used-to-be-its-own-town-until-it-merged-with-Shizuoka that has it's own soccer team.

So anyway, I knew the story had been to Miho Beach lots.

Then a few years ago a lady came up to me at work and said something about me liking folktales, right? Sure. And she handed me this ancient little text. She said she had it on a bookshelf and wasn't interested in it. The tiny text was pure gold. It was written before the war and had a half dozen Japanese folktales in it, but they were all different versions than the ones we hear now. (I really need to find that book again, by the way. It's lost on one of my bookshelves.)

The A Robe of Feathers story was particularly interesting because the fisherman didn't give the robe back. He hid it and proceeded to spend years promising to give it back to the poor angel while in effect he kept her hostage for most of his life. A true horror story and reminiscent of the original Grimm tales.

Now *that* was the version I wanted to use in a story.

That said, my story ("A Robe of Feathers") is more about a thirty-something, grandpa loving, girl stalking, deco chari building man-boy. The Hagoromo myth was just icing on the cake.

Here are a few photos I took of the tree that supposedly held the magical robe.

And here. The tree is said to be 650 years old.

Here's one where you can see the little shrine at the base.

Back lit by the morning sun. We went really early to take some of theses shots. Yes, I looked, no bathing angels. But the place is really stunning.

Here's one of the famous prints from the artist Hiroshige Andou.

And here's a real photo taken at the beach around roughly the same spot.

The tree was in the news recently when it was discovered a ground's keeper had been weed eating a little too close to the roots. It had been going on for some time and evidently some serious damage had occurred. I haven't been recently, but I'll have to go check it out. I haven't heard anything else about the trees imminent demise, so I'm thinking it's out of danger. I'll let you know.


Hilary said...

Thanks for posting this tale. I do know where to find a copy of your book but Frank has been hiding it from me! (not really) That tree is a beauty. I sure hope its roots were not damaged too much.

Mary Witzl said...

That cutesy girl with the soccer ball sort of ruins the image, doesn't she?

I studied Akutagawa's stories once upon a time; I still remember my favorite ones. Our kids came home from nursery school with lots of folktales about tanukis and foxes and women who were really cranes. We pretty much depended on them for doses of culture.

I'll bet you've done the Robe of Feathers story proud.