Cultural heroes named Taro/Taru and agricultural gods in elderly garb

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We highlight below an important paper by Susanne Formanek on old age in pre-Nara to Nara times, that gives us significant and valuable insights to the shamanic,  divinatory, oratory and ritual roles that the elderly played as evinced from local mythologies and folklore.

The excerpt provided here also serves as a launching point for us to establish common characteristics with certain Indo-European agricultural, weather-and-crop-growing rituals as  well as Tartar myths, specifically:

– The role of the elderly couple Ashinanuchi and Tenuzuchi is seen as having a hand in the agricultural taaruji rites, while the story recalls the familiar Greek story (Deucalion and Pyrrha/Roman mythical old couple Baucis and Philemon from Tyana) and idea that any stranger might be a God in disguise.* The Greek idiom is, “were not apparent as entertaining angels” and “having entertained angels unawares (ἔλαθόν τινες ξεσίσαντες ἀγγέλους)” See Hom. Od. i. 96 ff.; iii.-329-370; xvii. 485. Comp. also the beautiful story of Baucis and Philemon as related by Ovid (Metam. viii. 626-724).
– Hittite myth of disappearing Taru plant-storm-deity – the name Taru recalls the name of the Japanese folk hero Taro (Urashima-Taro; Momo-Taro) who became in medieval times relegated to mere cultural heroes or adventurers journeying to another realm.
– The Hittite Taru’s slaying of Illuyankas recalls Susanoo’s slaying the Orochi serpent and it should be noted that the Urashima-Taro story of the visit to the Undersea palace and marriage to the Dragon-King’s daughter, is identical in certain aspects to the royal myth of “farmer” Hoori’s journey to the Undersea palace myth to recover his brother’s fishhook, can be seen in an agricultural-cum-weather-watery dragon context. In the Hittite version, the story are reenactments in a spring festival honoring Taru, the defeat of the monster-serpent Illuyankas by Taru. The alternative version of Telipinu, the son of Taru, and the retrieval of the deity’s eyes and heart when he married the monster’s daughter … predicated favorable crop-growing weather conditions, resembled Urashima Taro‘s retrieval of a magical (or sacred) fishhook and treasure-box upon marrying the Undersea Dragon-King’s daughter (see C. Scott Littleton’s “Gods, Goddesses and Mythologies” Vol. 10, p. 695) And to see my list of more occurrences of Taru/Taro scroll down to the bottom @ endnotes.

Taaru-ji agricultural rites can (as explained below by Formanek) then be understood within the paradigm of the recalling of weather-crop deities from the Other World => Taru=>Taro also joins a class of disappearing, vanishing deities, or heroes including Amaterasu, whose disappearance mean failed harvests(either because of the sun’s or weather-storm god’s disappearance), for more on this see “Disappearing (reappearing) deities – a Near Eastern theme):

“Old Age in Nara and Pre-Nara Periods” Susanne Formanek associates the elderly couple motif with sacred marebito and New Year’s Day’s rites:

“Of gods and old people

One of the characteristics of old age in Japan most often alluded to is the close- ness of the aged to the ancestors as expressed in such sayings as “rokujû de senzo ni kaeru“, a closeness which in a setting of ancestor worship, where the souls of the dead are thought to ascend to the status of gods, endows the aged with a godlike image. Looking at the earliest written monuments of Japanese culture, old people are indeed first mentioned as holding the status of gods, or rather, gods appear in the shape of old people. When in the Dragon-Slaying myth Susanoo descends upon earth, the first beings he meets are an old man and an old woman, Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi, who present themselves as being earthly gods or kunitsu-kami. Such meetings of Heavenly Deities or their descendants and an Earthly God evoking the appearance of an aged human being one way or another, occur several times in the early myths. When the Heavenly Grandson Hononinigi is beginning his descent upon earth, he meets in his search for land a god named Koto-katsu-kuni-katsu-no-kami, of whom it is said that his other name is Shiho-tsutsu-no-oji. Although we do not learn anything about his appearance, he is equated to an old man by his name. His behavior, at least in the mentioned episode, in which he is presenting the Heavenly Grand- son with land over which he seems to reign rather confers on him, too, the char- acter of an Earthly God. This same Shiho-tsutsu-no-oji appears once more in a somewhat related episode, namely as the one who pointed out to Jinmu Tennô where the land the latter ought to extend his power to was situated, in other words, as an Earthly God who is able to bestow the land on those who are apt to reign over it.

There are still other gods who in their encounter with Heavenly Deities bear characteristics of old men, as for example Sarutabiko or Shihinetsuhiko. The latter first appears in the Nihon shoki as an Earthly God named Uzuhiko. Later on, when Jinmu Tennô’s progress is stopped by seemingly invincible indigenous enemies, this Shihinetsuhiko and a certain Ukashi disguise themselves as an old man and an old woman by putting on a kasamino (a kind of grass coat) and a mi (winnowing-tray) respectively. In this attire they break through the enemy lines to ascend Mount Kagu, thus bringing about the success of the whole enterprise…

Both the kasamino and the mi which serve to transform the young gods into an okina (old man) and anomina (old woman) are items which in Japanese folklore are heavily related to magic and religious practices. Especially the wearing of the kasamino connects this episode very closely with certain religious folk ceremonies held on New Year’s Day, where villagers descending from the mountains wearing a kasamino visit the houses of the people. The words they utter are considered as sacred benedictions or forecasts for the year to come. A related rite taking place in Yakujima in which the disguise consists of akasamino and masks representing old men with long white beards, has an even more striking resemblance with our episode. These rites have been related to the belief in the marebito, visitors from the realm of the dead, who appear on certain occasions in the villages to give benedictions to the living. In this context it should be noted that the item serving to transform Shihinetsuhiko into an okina, namely the kasamino, is the same which Susanoo wore when he was exiled to the nenokuni or Japanese Hades. By putting on a kasamino, one took on this unearthly character of a traveler coming from remote realms, alienated from the human world. This seems to reveal that the okina too was regarded as a being with such characteristics.

This similarity or closeness of the aged with the souls of the dead is also suggested by the word kamusabu as used in the Manyôshû. Meaning literally “to behave, act like a god“, this word is used to describe the transformation of the souls of the dead into gods as well as the ageing of things and of persons. The pertaining to or being connected with the other world which thus characterized the okina is also exemplified by the already mentioned Shiho- tsutsu-no-oji. In the Nihon shoki variants of the Yama-no-sachi legend he is the one helping Yama-no-sachi to reach the Palace of the Sea God which can be interpreted to be related to that other world beyond the sea where the souls of the dead went to. The whole episode seems to be a mythical relation of a kind of initiation rite in which the initiand is made to die a symbolic death to come back to life provided with the knowledge of the other world and may hint at the fact that in the remote past of Japan’s history old men played the part of the initiator in initiation rites of this kind. As to Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi, whose names have come to be interpreted as ‘spirit of the late’ and ‘of the early rice crop’ respectively[or ‘Foot-Elder’ and Hand-Elder’ in folk kagura translation], they seem to be involved in the Dragon-Slaying myth in a kind of fertility rite and may thus be the antecedents of those characters wearing masks of old men and old women who in folk culture as taaruji and yasume perform the rites of the haru tauchi or taasobi in order to secure a rich harvest.

Unlike many scholars I would be very hesitant to conclude from the above- mentioned evidence that in the early periods of Japan’s history old people where considered to be living gods, as scholars have amply done. For one thing the equation old human being – god was for example no longer true for the compilers  of the Nihon shoki itself. When, apart from the mythical episodes, Earthly Gods appear in the shape of old men or old women, these are no longer deities a priori. Rather now a deity explicitly borrows the shape of an aged person to appear in the human world. This is the tendency which was to lead not much later under Buddhist influence to the legends in the Nihon ryôiki, where Buddhist gods manifest themselves to rescue humanity by incarnating themselves in old people who, after leaving a mysterious trace in the human word, vanish never to be seen again.

If it is safe to conclude that certain gods were imagined as bearing the shape of old people, there is still no way of knowing whether those okina and omina which we encounter in the early myths were meant to be real aged men and women, or whether those records simply were descriptions – transposed into the realm of myths – of religious rites involving the appearance of characters wearing old men’s masks, as is the case in the Shihinetsuhiko episode. This certainly would have had some bearing on how the elderly were regarded in general, but it is important that even in the mythical records the equation god = old human being is true only for certain Earthly Gods, who, in all the mentioned episodes, act as subordinates to the Heavenly Gods, the latter definitely showing the behavior of young people.

Furthermore there is textual evidence that old people may have performed important roles in certain religious practices as shown by the regulation whereby old women just as priestesses were exempted from submitting to the new Chinese hair style. But as far as the worship of the Heavenly Gods is concerned, growing old could on the contrary incapacitate for service. There is for example the case of Inishiki no mikoto who transferred the duty of guarding the sacred treasure of Isonokami to his younger sister when old age crept up on him, or that of Nunaki-no-iri-hime-no-mikoto who when showing signs of decrepitude was no longer able to do the worship of the Gods. In these cases senescence is obviously but a pretext, but one that must have afforded a plausible explanation. Still more striking although belonging to another context, is the Imperial Edict of Tenmu Tennô, which stated that old and sick persons who had up till then been housed in the temples now had to have quarters built for them outside the precincts in order not to pollute the holy places, thereby clearly equating decrepitude in old age with illness and assigning it the same polluting character, which does not combine well with the image of aged people as gods.

What brought about the association of old men and women with gods does not seem to have been the fact that in everyday life old people played such a dominating role that gods only could be imagined in their shape, but rather their unearthliness. This unearthliness, far from being contradicted by the polluting character of decrepitude, may on the contrary have been prompted by it, or rather it may be just another aspect of the same thing. Senile degeneration, being considered as nuisance at times (see below), could at other times by its association with death be helpful in connecting this world with the other world. It is remarkable that in the Shihinetsuhiko episode, the old man and the old woman, being disguised in the same way as Susanoo on his being exiled to the Neno-kuni, or realm of the dead, succeed in their task, not because the soldiers are overcome with respect at their awe-inspiring sight, but because they find them difficult to look at (ana miniku) and that their appearance is greeted with great laughter. Laughter in such a mythical setting of course does not only express the ridicule for the object, but also fear, in the same way as the expression ana miniku does not only mean ugliness, but rather a frightening quality which makes people shun its sight, so that this seems to me to be a rather clear illustration of the kind of abhorrence mixed with fear and admiration in which a seance was held at times.”

Suzanne Formanek’s effort to cast the masked elderly couple figures as part of sacred seasonal, agricultural or other marebito ceremonial rites is particularly borne out as there is the tradition of the wearing of kagura masks in connection with Ashinazuchi kagura plays, see the brilliantly photo-documented “Ashinazuchi kagura masks” by Ojisan Jake.

Margaret C. Miller, however, attributes the origin of the okina old man and woman figures in kagura dances to Greek influences, see The Origins of Theater in Ancient Greece and Beyond: From Ritual to Drama.”(p.317) and at p 315, Miller that it was the feudal courtiers who formalized the rites incorporating the early Sarugaku or Dengaku dances into paddy-rice field rice-planting inauguration ceremonies.

Apart from the clearly sacred visitor-from-the-other-realm and seasonal ritual nature of the Baucis and Philemon archetype figure, the Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi couple can be inferred to be a genealogical tradition or cultural figure inherited from Turkic-Mongol-Ashina-descended clans from the East Asian continent.  Support for this view may be found in genetics, a surviving Ashina clan population in Japan, as well as the practice and tradition of including an elderly couple in a genealogy or epic on founding histories, which is characteristic of the founding father histories of most of the Turkic-Mongol tribes, see excerpts below from the paper Motif of miraculous birth in Mongolian and Korean myths and epics by Prof. Dr Alexander Fedotoff, Int Journal of CAs studies, Vol 1 1996

“- Sagadai Mergen and His Sister Nogodai Sesen: Sagadai Mergen (СагаДай Мэргэн) and Nogodai sesen (НогоДай Сэсэн) were twins. They were born a long time ago in the family of an old man Gazar Boqoli (Газар БоЋоли) and an old woman Qagiar Qara Qamgan (Хагиар Хара Ћамган) (Toroev 1943);

– Qan Sakta Abqai (Хан Сакта Абхай) was born in the family of 75 years old man and 85 years old woman who prayed before three burqans Shebeli (Шэбэли) to give them a child (Dmitriev 1936);

-In this version of Buryat “Geser-saga” one can find a story about an old man Sengel (Сэнэл) who was 70 years old, and his wife Sengelen (Сэнгэлэн) whose age was 60. They had no children. Once upon a time, when the old woman gathered wild onion, she found unusual horse tracks. She followed in the tracks and reached the Mount Segte Sumer (Сэгтэ Сумэр), on the top of which she saw a huge figure. In her fright she fainted away. Later on, when she came to herself, she realized that became pregnant… Geser and his sisters were born in the same way…

– Abai Geser hubun…In this version the story about the birth of Abai Geser resembles the previous one: his parents Sengel-qan and Sengelen-qatan had no children; wild onion; Mount Segte Sumer – unexpected pregnancy; voice from the uterum; two brothers (instead of two sisters), born from arm-pits; the third boy – ugly and snotty. That was Geser who grew up very quickly and was permanently hungry (Abai Geser hubun…

– Abai Geser Bogdo qan: Abai Geser was born in the family of an old man Ser’el Sagan (Сэрьел Саган) and an old woman Senhir Sagan (Сэнхир Саган) who was 70 years old. Once she gathered wild onion and found a boy baby. The boy happened to be sick of diarrhoea, so the parents tried to get rid of him, but failed. The old parents decided the boy was given to them by Heaven (Abai Geser Bogdo qan – 5

(улгер) which means “story”, “legend”. Both terms are directly connected with ancient Oirat and Kalmuck epic, that is why one can define the epic genre preceded “Janggar” as tuul’-uliger (тууль-улигер) (Kichikov 1992:11). In the plot structure of such tuul’-uliger one can find different structural elements including those in which we are extremely interested:

– an old qan and an old qatun (an old man and an old woman) without heir;
– prayer for a child by childless couple;
– miraculous birth of the main character;
– a main character’s betrothed;

– miraculous growth and childhood of a main character (Kichikov 1978:5).

Let us analyse these elements, in particular the motif of miraculous birth and its submotifs in Oirat and Kalmuck epic and folkloric narrative works…

Oirats and Kalmucks have epic narrations which are not included into “Janggar-saga”. These narrations are characterized by such tuul’-uliger’s motifs as a childless couple, prayer for a child, miraculous conception, miraculous birth of a main character.

Comparative Analysis of the Motif of Miraculous Birth in Mongolian (Buryat and Oirat- Kalmuck) Myths and Epic

So, the analysis of mythic and epical narrative works of Mongols, Buryats and Oirat- Kalmucks shows that in the most of these works the motif of miraculous birth is usually connected with the follow submotifs: old parents; early orphanism; ugly look of the main character; supernatural might and strength demonstrated by him in childhood. It is worthmentioning that the age of the parents decreases simultaneously with the evolution of heroic fairy tales into heroic epic. Nevertheless, childless parants do not make prayer for a heir very often. As a rule, an old woman becomes pregnant in unusual way, and the father of the son is Heaven. The link between the child and Heaven is expressed not only in his unusual way of birth, look and might, but in the birth of his several brothers and (or) sisters who immediately after the birth fly up to Heaven. This is typical to almost all versions of Buryat “Geser-saga”. Divine origin of the main character is underlined in Mongolian version of this epic. Birth of a child with golden chest and silver buttock is an universal motif for the whole Turkic-Mongolian archaic epic. This motif corresponds to the motif of invulnerability (metal body), miraculous symbols (steel navel-string, iron cradle, white snare, arrow, magic stone, etc.). This side by side with the motif of the birth of the main character with a clot of blood in his hand symbolizes his future heroic deeds and supernatural status. This motif is widely spread in Mongolian epic and in historiographic works, as well. One the other hand, the epic character of Mongolian epic quite often looks ugly, suffers from heavy diarrhoea and troubles his parents. All these features put him very close to fairy tale’s character – a foolish boy with mediocre look. As a child the main character grows up very fast and demonstrates his supernatural qualities. Undoubtedly, the miraculous birth connected with Heaven; unusual look; fantastically quick growth are rather archaic features which prove the mythic origin of the main character. Perhaps, oral and written mythic texts created in Mongolia area, but not survived till nowadays, were incorporated into heroic epic and heroic fairy tales a long time ago.”

[Note that the childless elderly couple motif appears in the Korean founding historical myths such as the “myth about T’arhae isagwum goes that once upon a time a king of Silla married the daughter of the King of Chwoknywoguk, but she bore no sons to succeed to the throne. After offering prayer for a son for seven years she brought forth a large egg from her womb. The king decided that the birth of an egg was a bad omen. He ordered a large box to be made, put the egg into it together with seven treasures and two servants, and placed it on a boat. During the long journey a boy was born from the egg and grew up to be a strong boy. An old fisherwoman pulled the boat to the sand beach, opened it and to her surprise discovered a handsome boy. After the death of King Norye T’arhae succeeded to the throne as the first king from the Swok clan (Ibid.; Kim Busik 1959)”]

Endnotes: Motifs and mythemes with global connections

*The Greco-Roman stories of Deucalion-Pyrha and Baucis-Philemon aside, the notion of hospitality’s sacred nature was widespread in the ancient world.

There is the Biblical story (i.e., part of a genealogy) of Lot and his wife had feasted them, two strangers were revealed as “two angels” (Genesis 19:1; the story is in the previous chapter). Like the story of Baucis and Philemon, Lot and his family were told to flee to the mountains and not look back, before God destroyed the city that he was living in. In addition, Hebrews 13:2 reads “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” [ The “don’t look back” or “don’t look” submotifs or mythemes have also traveled together to the East, suggesting a total cultural package.]

Similar to the Japanese idea of marebito(visiting gods), the idea that unidentified strangers in need of hospitality were gods in disguise appears to have been ingrained in the first century culture of the Hellenistic world and the Middle East. Less than two generations after Ovid’s publication, Acts 14:11-12 relates the ecstatic reception given to Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas as they ministered in the city of Lystra: “The crowds shouted, ”The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes.”

Linda Thompson suggests Sarah and Abraham are an archetype of the elderly couple who entertained the divine in “The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel: the Literary Formation of Genesis and Exodus 1-23“( at p. 91 of her work) – she states that the Biblical narrative about childless and elderly Abraham and Sarah is one example of pentateuchal historiography of scribes at work in having building into the Hebrew narrative cosmopolitan ideas contemporaneous to the Hebrew society — because of the explicit detail written that Abraham entertained the deity Yahweh by the Oaks of Mamleke, as a result of which they were blessed by a divine child who would be the founder of a nation.

The similarity in motifs and genealogical formula suggests an interaction between Western and Eastern spheres. Which raises a tantalizing notion that there might be a genetic connection for the transmission for the “genealogical narrative formula” but if it existed what might it be? And how would that have been transmitted, through a class of Brahmin-like priests? Bards, epic storytellers, or musician troubadours? Dancers? (Favoured by Margaret Miller above)  Shamanic wizards? Scribes (unlikely as most of the  nomadic tribes surveyed here didn’t have writing till later)

Here, we came across some strange “coincidences” in the names Habiru having popped up in Japan in the form of the existing Habiru clan and also in Puyo of a northern king called Haeburu, who was also according to one version, a son of Korean founding king Tan’gun – see Fedotof’s paper – this suggests to us that some of the Habiru people, proto-Hebrew stock) may have been assimilated into the ranks of the early Mongol nomadic populations(as their shaman?). Chronologically, the Greek-Roman ideas would have been contemporaneous with and drawn upon for Hebrew scribal historiographical work some years B.C., while Mongol historiography emerged around 6th c. at about the same time or a little earlier than Japan’s Nihongi and Kojiki texts.

Robert Wolfe writes in the “From Habiru to Hebrews: The Roots of Jewish Tradition” of his conclusion that the Hebrew people and Jewish traditions arose out of the Habiru people from the evidence that points to the Habiru presence at Shechem and key Abraham narrative events centred at Shechem:

“Although references to the Habiru have been unearthed all over the Middle East, far and away the most important source of information about them is the large collection of clay tablets unearthed at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt towards the end of the 19th century. Many of these tablets consist of letters written in Accadian cuneiform hieroglyphics during the 14th century BCE and sent to the Pharaoh in Egypt from various Egyptian puppet rulers in Canaan. The letters are filled with complaints about the Habiru, who are said to be leading a rebellion against Egyptian rule in Canaan and plundering the cities of those local rulers who still remained loyal to the Pharaoh. And in one such letter, reproduced on page 200 of Shechem by G. Ernest Wright, appears a threat by Abdu-Hiba, the ruler of Jerusalem, to align himself with the Habiru unless he receives more support from the Pharaoh. In particular, Abdu-Hiba threatened: “Now shall we do as Lab’ayu, who gave the land of Shechem to the ‘Apiru?”

Labayu is mentioned in many letters: he was the ruler of Shechem and the main rival of Abdu-Hiba for control of the hill country of Canaan. Whether he actually “gave the land of Shechem” to the Habiru is not clear. Perhaps Abdu-Hiba exaggerated, perhaps not. The important point is that his letter shows that the Habiru exercised a considerable degree of control over the region of Shechem in the 14th century BCE. And the reason why this point is important is because Shechem was without a doubt the main political and religious center of the Hebrews throughout their early history.

Numerous indications of the significance of Shechem for the Hebrews may be found in many of the books of Tanach, the Hebrew word (acronym actually) for what is commonly called the Jewish Scriptures or the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis, Shechem is the place where Abraham first sets foot when he arrives in the land of Israel and where he builds a sacred altar. In the Book of Joshua, Shechem is the place where Joshua convokes the Hebrews just before his death in order to enter into a solemn covenant to remain faithful to God. In the Book of Judges, Shechem is the place where Abimelech, the very first would-be king of the Hebrews, goes in order to declare his candidacy. And in the First Book of Kings, Shechem is the place where Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, is forced to go in order to try to get the Hebrew tribes assembled there to accept him as king. When the tribes decide to elect Jeroboam instead, Jeroboam makes Shechem the first capital of the kingdom of Israel. Even if some of these references are wholly or partially legendary, they still show that for the authors of Tanach, Shechem was thought to be a place which had a special meaning for the early Hebrews.”

For more evidence of this, see “The Habirus and the Hebrews: From a social class to an ethnic group” by Stuart A. West, Dor 7, 3 (1979) 101-107, and other writings on the Habiru.

The Japanese Habiru / Abiru clan (阿比留氏 Abiru-shi) said to be of West Asian descent, was a Japanese clan which served the Kamakura shogunate as local officials on Tsushima. It is believed the clan may have been derived from the Taira clan. In 1246, the Abiru rose up against their superiors, the Dazaifu authorities, headed by the Chinzei Bugyō, which oversaw the governance of Kyūshū for the shogunate. Koremune Shigehisa, at the request of Dazaifu, put down the rebellion and put an end to the Abiru clan.  Source: “宗 氏.” 戦国武将出自事典。Harimaya.com. Accessed 29 Sept 2007. The tragic Abiru clan history is part of the Tsushima island history, see the Tsushima Island homepage.

@Etymology notes: The root forms below suggest the archetype of the conquering hero has an Anatolian-to-Indo-European origin

Hittite: Taru plant-storm-deity; Tarhunta Luwian name was Tarhun (with variant stem forms Tarhunt, Tarhuwant, Tarhunta); Hattian – Taru. From the Hittite root *tarh– “to defeat, conquer”

Turk: Taru (a Turkish name noted in the Hexaglot glossary of the Codex Cumanicus)

Korean: T’arhae; Taru (King of. Paekche is mentioned in Samguk sagi,vols. 23-26.)

Japanese:  taaruji [lit. Taaru-old man]; Kin-Taro; Taro (as in Japanese folk heroes: Urashima-Taro; Momo-Taro) Taro is a common name for elder son

Ainu: Retaruseta The Ainu, the indigenous inhabitants of Hokkaido, knew the Hokkaido wolf as the high-ranking god Horkew Kamuy. In Hokkaido’s Tokachi and Hidaka regions, there flourished versions of a myth about a white wolf that mated with a goddess, or sometimes a Japanese court lady, and the offspring from this union became the ancestors of the Ainu people. Several regional versions of this origin myth exist, and some feature a white dog rather than a white wolf. The difference between wolves and dogs appears to have been less important to the Ainu, since both wolves and dogs inhabited much the same space in their classifying imagination. One version of this myth from Shizunai, in the Hidaka region, explains that the god of the mountain Poroshiri-dake, Retaruseta Kamuy (the white-wolf god), could not find a suitable mate, even though he searched the entire island. So Retaruseta Kamuy summoned his divine powers, seeing all the way to lands across the seas, and in time spotted a mate in a distant country. Again drawing on his divine powers, he coerced the woman to get in a small boat, cross the seas, and once on the island become his wife. From this union, it is said, the Ainu people were born.

[Note: A Sino-Korean or Altaic origin of the word has been proposed by Korean scholar Han-Woo Choi who suggests a common Altaic root for the Turkic, Mongolian and Korean forms, and some kind of relationship with a primitive religion or shamanism, as well as with metal-working cf. Korean tarku-/tarho-/taru- “to heat a piece of iron in the flames”. An Altaic source is also being considered for the derived forms ‘Tar+khan’, = Tarkhan (Old Turkic Tarqan; Mongolian: Darqan or Darkhan;Persian: ترخان‎, Tarxān; Chinese: 達干, Dá-gān, Ta-kan; Arabic: طرخان‎; alternative spellings Tarkan, Tarkhaan, Tarqan, Tarchan, Tarxan, Tarcan or Targan) — these are all ancient Central Asian titles used by various Indo-European (i.e. Iranian and Tokharian) and Altaic (i.e. Turkic, Mongolic, incl. Hunnic and Xiongnu) peoples, especially in the medieval era, and prominent among the successors of the Mongol Empire. However, as far as I know, nobody has yet considered the more obvious root – an origin in the Hittites or Indo-Hittites…as we have demonstrated there are clear origins of Taru in the weather-storm-agricultural deities of the Hittites, who were also earlier than all the Mongol-Turkic tartars in the use of iron-work, and in so should have been the source of the concept of a conquering Taru, from which all derivative forms and titles emerged.]

Finally, the Deucalion-Pyrrha, Momotaro versions, it has been suggested demonstrates another variant of the Elderly Couple motif where it occurs in a Deluge or Flood (does watery sea/river setting count?), with the hero or hero infant (alone or with family) laid out in a boat or ark or floating chest/jar/vessel, floating gourd or peach, often sealed or covered, and where the abandoned or exposed hero is rescued or arrives to safety on a mountain setting, see Flood Stories from around the world. On the other hand, perhaps, Momotaro does not really fall in the Deluge archetype but instead into Moses-in-the-basket-infant exposure-down-the-river-type, since Stephen Oppenheimer points out that in Deluge myths, “none of these legends ever recount the ‘hero’ of their particular tale returning to his former home. One simple explanation for this might be that the original homelands no longer existed.” Urashima-Taro and Momotaro are heroes who journey to foreign lands but they do return home, so these presumably form a slightly variant category, closer to that of the Moses- and Sargon-archetype of hero who suffered infant exposure, set out in a basket or vessel and out to water (see Otto Rank)

Further reading:

Ashinazuchi in legend and genealogy

Obayashi, Taryo “Japanese Myths of Descent from Heaven and Their Korean Parallels”  Asian Folklore Studies’ Vol. 43,1984, 171-184

Antoni, Klaus “Momotarō (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Shōwa Age”“, Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 50,1991:155-188  Fairytales with conquering hero archetypes such as Momo Taro or Tametomo often follow a narrative where the hero goes to some foreign barbaric “Devil’s Island” or foreign land where he must subdue the human-heating demon inhabitants. These tales were prone to being hijacked as propaganda during WWII. [Related: Culture War and Propaganda in Japan]

Momo Taro, the Peach Boy

The Myth of the Birth of the Hero by Otto Rank

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