Jotomba, the Takasago happy married couple Photo source: The Takasago Shrine
The Takasago Legend is recounted in the Daruma Museum web article, “Meoto Fufu (couple) and Enmusubi“:
“This legend is one of the oldest in Japanese mythology. An old couple – his name is Joo (尉) and hers is Uba (媼) known together as Jotomba – are said to appear from the mist at Lake Takasago. The old man and his wife are usually portrayed talking happily together with a pine tree in the background. Signifying, as they do, a couple living in perfect harmony until they grow old together, they have long been a symbol of the happiness of family life. The story is portrayed in a famous Noo play “Takasago no Uta”
At Takasago Shrine there is a very old pine tree, the trunk of which is bifurcated (相生の松); in it dwells the spirit of the Maiden of Takasago who was seen once by the son of Izanagi who fell in love and wedded her. Both lived to a very great age, dying at the same hour on the same day, and since then their spirits abide in the tree, but on moonlight nights they return to human shape to revisit the scene of their earthly felicity and pursue their work of gathering pine needles.
His pine tree is also called “The Pine of Sumi-no-e” (住吉の松) and hers is the Takasago pine (高砂の松). The old woman is using a broom to sweep away trouble and he carries a rake to rake in good fortune. In Japanese this is also a play of words with “One Hundred Years” (haku > sweeping the floor) and “until 99 years” (kujuku made > kumade, meaning a rake).
In Japan, at wedding ceremonies, the Takasago song is recited and Takasago figures are put on a special “Island Shelf” called called Shimadai (島台) together with auspicious Pine-Bamboo-Plum and Crane with Turtle decorations placed in the wedding room and presented to the bridal couple. Depictions of the Takasago figures can be made from lacquer, ceramics, wood carvings and textiles and are to invoke a long and fruitful married life for the newlyweds. These figurines are also given as presents for a wedding aniversary of 25 or 50 or more years. For the diamond wedding aniversary of 60 years, some communities also give Takasago Dolls to the happy couple….
Takasago city is located in Hyogo prefecture in Western Japan. It is situated on the Seto Inland Sea approximately 40 kilometers west of Kobe. …
“Takasago is well known as the birthplace of classical song “Yookyoku Takasago”, which is a famous wedding song throughout Japan, and thus the town was declared as “The Bridal City Takasago” in 1988.”
The story recounted by the Noh play of the shrine, however, focuses on the story of the twin pines.
“A priest from the Kyushu Aso Shrine arrives at Takasago. The spring weather is pleasant and the pine trees are beautiful. In the distance he hears a bell toll. An elderly couple arrive and begin to sweep the area under the pine bower. The old man recites a poem from the Kokin Wakashū (Collection of Ancient and Modern Poems), a collection of waka poetry. The poem describes Takasago and Sumioe wedded pines (相生の松 aioi no matsu), paired pine trees that, according to legend, will remain together for eternity. He explains that these wedded pines are a symbol of the marital relationship. The priest says that all relationships, indeed all life, falls short of the ideal expressed in the poem.
At this point, the old couple reveal that they are the spirits of the Takasago and Sumioe pines, and they set sail across the bay in a small boat. As the tide goes out, the priest also sets sail, at which point the “From Takasago, sailing over the bay…” chant is recited.”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
According to the Takasago Shrine in Takasago city, Hyogo, the shrine legend surrounded a pair of trees called Jō (尉 “old man”) and Uba (姥 “old woman”) – bearing the legend, “We kami reside in these trees to show the world the way of marital virtue” 「我神霊をこの木に宿し世に夫婦の道を示さん. the aioi no matsu twin pines were already in existence within the shrine grounds at its founding.
The twin pine couple, at the heart of the plot of a traditional Noh play, is considered to be a very auspicious story as it features a loving and long-married couple. The play was formerly known as Aioi(相生) or Twin Pines (相生松 Aioi Matsu).
During the play a singer chants, “From Takasago, sailing over the bay, sailing over the bay, the moon goes out with the tide, past the silhouette of Awaji Island, far over the sea to Naruo, arriving at Suminoe, arriving at Suminoe”,[note 1] referencing several places in what are now Hyōgo and Osaka Prefectures. This is considered a classic Noh chant, taken from a classical poem signifying harmony between husband and wife.
Furthermore, the shrine history is entwined with founding legends of Japan:
“When the Empress Jinguu returned in triumph from Korea, her ship stopped at Takasago port. She built a large shrine to maintain control of the country. According to the shrine’s story, when the Empress Jingu returned in triumph from Korea, her ship stopped at Takasago port. She built large shrine to maintain control of the country. It was dedicated to “Onamuchi-no-Mikoto”, one of the ancient gods, at the shrine’s foundation. At that time the Aioi Pines sprouted. In 972 this shrine was also dedicated to “Susano-no-Mikoto” and “Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto”, who were ancient gods as well as married couple. After that these three deities became the main Gods of Takasago Shrine.”
Thus we can surmise that the happy married couple folklore existed by late 10th c. (the inclusion of the twin pines tradition could have been a nod to indigenous earlier folk or village guardian deities), and was regarded as important enough to be included alongside of the three main gods venerated by the shrine.
This legend is the likely the source of the jo-to-uba stones (see photos of jo-to-uba couple stones of Gunma prefecture and Izu peninsula at the Dosojin page, Onmark Productions website), or possibly a conflation of legends behind the dosojin stones seen all over the countryside of Japan.
One of the ubiquitous Dosojin couple stones (or Dotomba stones) of the Kanto area, Asao ward, Kawasaki city, Kanagawa Photo: Japanese Mythology
Besides the Jo and Uba couple who are more like an ancestral guardian deity than a primordial pair-cosmic couple, other local legendary sources of a cosmic primordial couple exist in Japan as well, see Ainu legend of the demiurge, cosmic creation and first human couple; The most secret Primordial Pair: Kamuro-gi and Kamuro-mi; and Izanami and Izanagi.
It is nevertheless also possible and likely that the happy couple legend or stone tradition arrived from ancient continental sources, since they tend to be placed as crossroad or byroad markers suggesting their protective value to travelers. On the continent, couple or primordial pair myths too existed, eg. the Nuwa legend of the brother-and-sister primordial pair; the Miao cosmic couple; The embracing Sky Father and Mother Earth and the Heavenly Ropevine. The Do-to-Uba and Dosojin couple are more reminiscent of the other not-so-much Primordial or Cosmic Couple, as a genealogical or ancestral lineage couple, such as the Ashinazuchi ancestral couple. In many of the Mongol, and ruling Ashina clan genealogies, a key ancestral couple is featured either in passing or central to some genealogical tale (see “Cultural heroes and agricultural gods in elderly garb“). Twin tree legends or sacred tree spirits or pair deities with significance for marriage and couple fertility are even more common around the world, see The Marriage (“Lianli” or Entwined) Tree of the Forbidden City (China), Frazer’s The Golden Bough or Goddard’s The Golden Bough, p. 163 and
Sources and further reading:
“相生松と尉と姥 [Twin pines jō and uba]”. 高砂神社 [Takasago Shrine]. Retrieved 2013-07-13
“Meoto Fufu and Enmusubi“, Gabi Greve, Daruma Museum
Dosojin, Onmark Productions