Japan’s First Love Story: The Hare of Inaba
The Hare of Inaba is considered to be Japan’s first love story, and comes from the ancient Japanese ‘records’, known as Kojiki. The Kojiki chronicled many ancient myths, legends, and traditions, as well as the origins of the Japanese landscape, kami, and lineage of the Japanese imperial family.
古事記 (こじき) kojiki = lit. ‘Records of Ancient Matters’
神 (かみ) kami = god, spirit, deity
It’s important to note that Shintoism – a major religion native to Japan – is polytheistic, meaning there are many gods, or kami. ‘Kami’ is used describe any one of an array of phenomena which are often great and awe-inspiring enough to be considered godly. Shinto ‘kami’ also include animals and all elements of nature including islands, mountains and so on – not just living things!
You can see the importance of different animals and their unique symbolism in Japanese religion and mythology as you visit different shrines across the country. Here’s a blog post from Jez describing some Japanese symbolic animals and their meanings! For now, let’s stick with the hare!
The story takes place in modern day Tottori, where the Hakuto shrine has been erected to mark the symbolic story. The Hare of Inaba is split into two smaller tales which connect: The Rabbit and the Wani and Yasogami.
The Rabbit and The Wani
兎 (うさぎ) usagi = rabbit, hare; 鰐 (わに) wani = crocodile, shark
In some translations, ‘wani’ means shark. However, in the Kojiki, the chinese character, ‘鰐’ meant crocodile. Similar stories around East and South East Asia also use crocodiles, but in some tales sharks and sea monsters are also described.
It all began on one of the Oki islands, some 50 kilometres off the Tottori coastline (formerly known as Inaba province). Wanting to make his way to the mainland without drowning, the rabbit cunningly chooses to trick some crocodiles. Challenging them to prove their crocodile clan was larger than the hare clan, they lined up and the hare would count them as he hopped from back to back. Proud of his devious trick, the rabbit began to insult the crocodiles as he approached the shore, exclaiming ‘Ha! I fooled you’! The crocodiles began to notice and, angry, the final crocodiles snapped at the rabbit, tearing his fur away as he reached land.
Here’s where the first story leads into the second. On land, the hare meets the Yasogami, a group of 80 brothers travelling to meet and court the Princess Yakami of Inaba. The rabbit stops the group on their journey to ask for their help with his injuries. The group wickedly advise the rabbit to bathe in the sea water before drying off the in the wind, knowing the great pain the rabbit would find himself in.
Despite his brothers’ wickedness, the youngest man comes forward and offers the rabbit kind advice. He tells the rabbit to bathe in a river’s freshwater and dry off among the cattails of a nearby pond. Healed and revitalised, the rabbit reveals itself as a kami. Out of grattitude, the kami predicts that the young man would be the one to win over the princess’s heart. This young man was Okuninushi (originally known as Ōnamuji-no-Kami, descendant of one of the first gods in the Kojiki). Though the tale continues, evolving into further legends from the Kojiki, the love story ends here.
Though the story isn’t really centred around romance, the tale and the nearby shrine, Hakuto Shrine, became renowned for their ancient association with love. Often couples (and secret admirers) visit the shrine and pray for good fortune in their romance and romantic conquests. At Hakuto Shrine, you can purchase omamori and ema. The omamori are mostly dedicated to bringing good romantic fortune due to the symbolism surrounding the shrine and area. However, each omamori have different dedications such as finding love, protecting your relationship, or simply strengthening your connection such as the enmusubi charm!
お守り (おまもり) omamori = A small charm with specific lucky powers. You can purchase these to attach to your bag or keep at home.
絵馬 (えま) ema = A votive. A small wooden plaque on which you write your wish and hang at the shrine.
縁結び (えんむすび) enmusubi = Lit. a love knot, marriage tie.
If you’re unlucky in love, maybe following the white rabbit to the famous Hakuto shrine is worth a shot? If you’re not one for love, the shrine and coastal stores offer delightful, unique gifts,and the omamori make a pretty souvenir of your travels! There’s still much more than love to find in Tottori, including picturesque views and even camels! You can learn more about Tottori preferecture here! If like me, you’re enthusiastic about Japan and its expansive and incredible culture, be sure to treat yourself to an authentic Japanese gift from our bespoke selection at The Japanese Shop!
Heads up – we have a bunch of cute rabbit-themed items! Just pop ‘rabbit’ into the search bar at the top of the shop site!
Easy peasy / rakuchin-ne！