The legend of Sayohime – the loving wife who turned into petrified rock

View of Karatsu Bay from top of Kagamiyama mountain, where Sayohiko is said to have been waving to Sadehiko from. Below Kagamiyama


“DURING the days of the Emperor Sen-ka Ten O (about A.D. 536 to 539) there was war between Japan and Corea. An expedition was sent to the provinces where fighting was going on, and with it went Sate Hiko, son of Otonomo Kanemura. The ships set out from Hizen, and the friends of the warriors ascended the hills to’ see them as far on their voyage as possible. Sayo Hime, the wife of Sate Hiko, climbed higher than the rest, and when on the summit of Matzoura hill stood and prayed for her dear lord’s safe and speedy return. Such was the intensity of her prayers and thoughts that she became petrified into a stony figure, and thus remains an enduring monument of what a true wife should be in her husband’s absence — cold to all. Thus it is that the name of  Sayo Hime is a household word in Japan for a faithful wife and devoted affection.” — a folktale from The  Sparrow’s Wedding

SAYO-HIME: The account according to Tajima Shrine, in which precinct, a small shrine is dedicated to Sayohime:

“The Legend of Sayo-hime At Tajima Shrine, there is a small shrine, which worships Sayo-hime. The legend of Sayo-hime was adopted and described in Manyoushu and Hizen Fudoki. In 537, Yamato-Chotei dispatched its forces from Matsura, around Karatsu Bay to the southern Korean Peninsula to help Kudara. Yamato-Chotei had allied itself with Kudara to counter the threat posed by Shiragi and the Tang Dynasty. Ootomo Sadehiko leads a military force from Heijokyou, a capital of Japan at the time, to Matsuura. A young woman in the local town is given the responsibility of taking care of the chores in support of Sadehiko’s everyday life there. Her name is Sayo-hime. She is extremely beautiful. Sadehiko falls in love with her, and they developed affection for each other. But He has to leave Matsuura to go to Korea. He gives a beautiful mirror to Sayo-hime, saying “Please hold this as if this is me.” When his vessel is leaving the Genkai Sea, Sayo-hime climbs up to the top of the Kagami Mountain, shouting his name many times and waving her Kimono sleeves even though she eventually loses sight of his ship. She can’t help chasing after the vessel.She runs down the mountain and crosses over the Matsuura River, eventually reaching Kabeshima Island. She eventually becomes petrified due to her deep sadness.”


Matsu-ura Sayo-hime 松裏佐用姫 (Princess Sayo at Matsu-ura) / Kenjo reppu den 賢女烈婦傳 (Biographies of Wise Women and Virtuous Wives) Woodblock print, oban tate-e. Sayo-hime on a rocky cliff at Matsu-ura watching the departure of her husband’s ship (The British Museum)

The version from the Noh Matsura Sayohime relates that Sayohime’s appears as a ghost…

(“Princess Sayo of Matsura”)
A travelling priest visits Matsura Bay and meets a young fisherwoman who tells him of a nearby “mirror shrine” and the story of Sayohime who had fallen in love with Sadehiko, an imperial envoy to the T’ang court in China. When the envoy’s ship finally left for China, Sayohime climbed Mt. Matsura to wave a silk cloth. As a result the mountain became known as the “cloth-waving mountain.” When the priest asks about the mirror, the fisherwoman, revealing she was the spirit of Sayohime, promises she will bring the mirror and disappears.
In the second half, the ghost of Sayohime appears to the priest and reenacts her waving the cloth as well as how, distraught by her husband’s departure, she got into a small boat and with her keepsake mirror in hand threw herself into the sea.

“The priest tells that he wishes to visit the famous site nearby. The fisherwoman suggests the “mirror shrine” dedicated to Sayohime who threw herself into the Harbor of Matsura River holding a mirror. She also points out Mt. Matsura, also known as Hirefuruyama, “cloth waving mountain.” One Sadehiko was appointed imperial envoy to the T’ang court and when his ship left Matsura, Sayohime went to the top of Mt. Matsura and waved a silk cloth. This was related in a poem by the great waka poet Yamanoue no Okura. She then sings it: “wishing for the return of the ship sailing out to the sea, Princess Sayo of Matsura could only wave her cloth”

In the Noh kyogen, the fisherwoman relates the story of Sadehiko and Sayohime with the chorus, telling how they began an affair. Vowing their love for each other they spent several nights together before he had to leave. Sayohime went up the mountain to wave goodbye …
This woman of Japan married a man who often traveled by sea. She would stand at the seashore for hours and watch for his return.
She finally turned into the “Wife-Rock” of Futami. — Source: Japanese Sea Deities (The Arcane Archive)

Photo Credit:  Karatsu Tourist Association

Pfoundes, C. The Sparrow’s Wedding  The Folk-Lore Record Vol. 1, (1878), pp. 131-133 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd  Full text here from Folk-Lore Record (1878) (Internet Archive) .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s