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The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/Græco-Roman and Japanese Folk-Lore and Mythology



Dr. Griffis's paper on "The Folk-Lore of Japan" is modestly called by the author "merely suggestive." It is richly suggestive, and, therefore, of the highest value. It is a very careful and thorough analysis of the sources and elements, and an admirable presentation of the philosophy, of Japanese folk-lore. It has suggested to me two lines of thought for the few remarks which I have been asked to make.

I might carry into practical operation Dr. Griffis's suggestion, that Japanese folk-lore is richly illustrated in her decorative art at the World's Fair, and might guide you to several points of view; but the lack of time to make the necessary investigations among the numberless exhibits of Japan compels a postponement of this plan. The other line of thought several times suggested by the paper of Dr. Griffis is, "Græco-Roman and Japanese Mythology and Folk-Lore." But, in the few minutes allotted to me, I shall be able only to give a mere mention of some dozen or so cases of similarity or even identity.

To go back to the very beginning, the Japanese story of the creation sounds very much like a translation from Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses. At first all is chaos, confusion, conglomeration; in this mass is the breath of life, "self-produced, including the germs of all things." Then the pure and perfect (ether) ascends and forms the heaven; the dense and impure coagulates, is precipitated, and produces the earth. Gradually the other elements (fire, water, wood, metal) are separated; then plants, animals, and beings, or gods (Kami), are evolved; and from the gods, by union with earthly elements, mankind in time is born.

It is also very early in Japanese Mythology that we find, as among the Greeks and Romans, the deification of natural


elements, phenomena and forces, such as the sun, the moon, the wind, the thunder, the lightning, etc.

In Japanese Mythology the first manifestations of the male and the female principle are Izanagi and Izanami. In one tradition (related in Dr. Griffis's paper), that many gods of various grades sprang from the rinsings of Izanagi's august person, we are reminded that blood from the wounded genitals of Uranus produced giants, fairies and nymphs. And as Venus sprang from the foam produced when the mutilated parts of Uranus fell into the sea; so her Japanese (but Buddhist) counterpart, Beuten, goddess of beauty, is fabled to have sprung from the sea. In another tradition Izanagi corresponds to Saturn, each of whom assigns to his three children the kingdoms, respectively, of the heaven, the night (Hades), and the sea. Still a third legend to which Dr. Griffis alludes is the Japanese version of Orpheus and Eurydice. Izanami had died in bringing forth her last born, the god of fire, who was then slain by his father. The latter descends to the lower world in search of his wife, who, however, speaks to him, warning him not to try to enter, but to wait patiently, as she hopes to be able to persuade the Japanese Pluto, named Emma, to allow her to return. Izanagi, however, impatiently rushes in, only to find "her corpse a mass of putrefaction."

The Græco-Roman explanation of an eclipse of the sun by a story of Phaeton's unsuccessful attempt to drive his father's chariot of the sun has a counterpart, though somewhat different, in Japanese lore. Amaterasu, the first-born of Izanagi and Izanami, is the sun-goddess, who, being provoked by her boisterous brother, Susanro, retires to a cavern, and leaves the world in darkness. After long effort, a shrewd appeal to feminine curiosity and jealousy succeeds in enticing her out once more to shine again on the world.

In Græco-Roman tradition, Philemon and Baucis, an aged and poor couple, living in a mean hut, nevertheless, do not hesitate to be hospitable to Jupiter and Mercury in disguise. The neighbors, who had been rude to the strangers, were overwhelmed in destruction; but the poor couple, who had entertained angels unawares, were bountifully rewarded. So in Japanese tradition, that unruly Susanro, on account of his misdeeds having been expelled from heaven, "on his way to the nether regions," was overtaken by a storm, and could find shelter nowhere except in the hut of a poor man named Somin. The next day the other villagers died from a plague; but Somin and his family, wearing each a belt of twisted grass, were saved. This is said to have been also the origin of the practice of fastening a straw rope across the entrance of a house at New Year's time, to keep out the plaguegod; for thus Susanro had instructed his hospitable Somin to do.

The uncanny fox of the witch of Mount Vesuvius is duplicated probably a thousand-fold in Japanese folk-lore. And, as under Mount Ætna was supposed to lie a giant (Enceladus) who, by the movements of his body, "made all Trinacria to tremble," so under the Japanese islands is said to be a huge catfish (or "trout," or "backbone fish of the world," among the Ainos), which is similarly responsible for the frequent earthquakes in Japan. The dragon-centipede, mentioned by Dr. Griffis, is an easy reminder of the hydra slain by Hercules, and the story of Raiko and the flesh-eating demon, Shutendoji, naturally seems an Oriental version of the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. Again, as Neptune, assisted by Æolus, the Tritons, the Nereids and the very fish ("cete") themselves, propelled the fleet of Æneas; so, when the Empress Jingu made her expedition against Korea, "the Wind-god sent a breeze; the Sea-god raised the billows; all the great flshes of the ocean rose to the surface and encompassed the ships;" so that "without the labor of the oar" they reached Sylla.

A story of a Japanese hamadryad, living in a willow tree, is related by Lafcadio Hearn, in the Atlantic Monthly, for July, 1892.

The deification of emperors and heroes is not only Roman but also Japanese: and the worship of the lares and the penates is duplicated in Japan in the worship of family ancestors.

To such an extent, moreover, had all the superstitious worship become a mere form among both the Occidentals and the Orientals, that they soon learned to practise deceit: in Rome; by offering not human, but garlic heads, not a living, but a dough or wax animal, to the gods; and in Japan, by appeasing the spirit of a deceased prince, not with the enenforced death of animals or servants, but by images of horses, men, etc.

In many other rites and ceremonies also are found similarities between the Grseco-Roman and the Japanese methods; but the limit of time forbids more than the mention of weddings, infant consecration, and night funerals.

This is but a bare outline of a few points of similarity, and only the opening of a subject which it is our hope more thoroughly to exploit. It may prove nothing more than that many minds run in the same channels; or it may possibly be one link in the chain of evidence, that the old and pure Japanese civilization had reached just about the same stage of development as the Græco-Roman civilization about the time of Christ.