Rather than a stand alone myth, this story instead is a continuation of the events in the Rabbit of Inaba. Seeking a way to put an end to his brother’s numerous attempts on his life, Onamushi finds himself in the Japanese underworld. There not only does he meet the beautiful Princess Suseri, but his also faces many labors, set upon him by none other than Susano-o himself.
See our previous entries for background on Japanese gods and Onamuchi.
Onamuchi’s Journey to the Underworld
Onamuchi reached the Underworld at the insistence of his mother, to find a way to handle his brothers’ subsequent murder attempts.
He took the same path that Izanagi took when he journeyed to bring back Izanami, the Yomotsuhirozaka. However, many strange and curious things awaited Onamuchi in the depths of the Underworld. Down, down, down, in the dark bowels of the earth searched roamed for the great Susano-o. But instead, Omamuchi found the beautiful the daughter of Susano-o, Princess Suseri. The moment the two of them locked eyes, they fell instantly in love and declared themselves married (Yagami, who?).
Onamuchi’s new wife escorted him through the dark tunnels of the Underworld. All together having completely forgotten why he’d come to this dark kingdom in the first place, Onamuchi was ready to proclaim his love for Suseri to her father. When the newlyweds entered the throne room of the ruler of Ne no Kuni they didn’t get a warm reception. Not surprisingly, Susano-o was less than enthusiastic to meet Onamuchi, calling him hideous the moment he walked into his chamber. There was just no way, that Susano-o was going to let go of his precious daughter to the likes of Onamuchi. Susano-o decreed that he would consider letting his daughter go, but only if Onamuchi could accomplish a few tasks.
The Trials of Onamuchi
Susano-o lead Onamuchi to a dark room filled with snakes and told him he would have to spend the night there. Suseri was not about to let her father bully her new husband. She pulled him aside and gave Onamuchi a special scarf. “As long as you wear this while you sleep, the snakes will not harm you.” She instructed.
The following day Susano-o was upset to see that Onamuchi was still fluttering around the Underworld with his Suseri. The following night he took Onamuchi to another dark room which was crawling with thousands of millipedes and told him to sleep there for the night. Again, Suseri slipped Onamuchi a scarf to protect him while he slept. The next day, when Susano-o saw that Onamuchi was still there, his blood was practically boiling. This problem, Susano-o decided, had to be dealt with once and for all.
Trial of Fire
Susano-o summoned Onamuchi to follow him. Suseri was very suspicious of her father and went with them as well. When they reached a vast field full of tall grass, Susano-o produced his bow and fired a single arrow.
“I want you to go and bring my arrow back to me.” He said.
Relieved at the apparent ease of this task, Onamuchi quickly entered the sea of grass. However this is Susano-o, and nothing is ever going to straightforward—or safe. Once Onamuchi was deep in the field diligently looking for the arrow, he caught wind of an odd smell; could it be? He turned around and saw fire was quickly spreading around him as his father-in-law looked on menacingly. He dropped to his knees and began frantically looking for a way out.
“Hey! Hey, you!” a little voice called. A little brown field mouse looked up at Onamuchi.
“You are Onamuchi aren’t you?” it asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Come with me then!” the mouse squeaked. The mouse took Onamuchi to a hole in the field just barely big enough for a man to fit in. “Get in, get in.” the mouse yelled. With the fire growing more intense by the second, there was little time to protest and he jumped in the hole. While not very wide the hole was deep, deep enough to keep the mouse and Onamuchi safe while the fire blazed.
Suseri wept bitterly. Surely, Onamuchi is burnt to a crisp, she thought! Susano-o ignored her tears and watched until the fire completely died out, scanning the scored earth for signs of life, however he was confident there was no way Onamuchi could have foiled him again.
Once everything seemed like it had finally cooled off, Onamuchi stuck his head out the hole and looked around. He hoisted himself up on to the charred earth and began to pat himself off. The mouse too, soon emerged but quickly darted out of the hole before Onamuchi could thank him. The fire had cleared everything away, all that remained was the smell of smoke and the gaze of Susano-o, his mouth agape at the sight of Onamuchi. “Hey! Hey!” A little voice called and something pulled on his pants leg. The little mouse rushed up Onamuchi’s pants leg, around his shoulders, to his open hand and down his other leg before he could blink. He looked around for the mouse, but instead saw the arrow in his opened palm. Onamuchi grabbed the arrow tightly and held it up over head, returning his father-in-law’s gaze.
“Well, I’ll be…” Susano-o said despite himself.
Impressed, if anything, with Onamuchi’s resilience, Susano-o began to warm up to him. Suano-o decided to bestow upon Omanuchi the most honorable task of picking the bugs out of his hair. Ever helpful, Suseri pulled him over to the side and slid something into his hand.
“As you are picking the bugs out, put one of these nuts in your mouth, chew it up then spit the shells on the floor. He will think you are eating the bugs and it will really impress him.” A little perplexed, but since she had never steered him wrong, he did as he was told.
One by one, as each strange wiggly little bug was extracted from Susano-o’s long hair, Onamuchi would loudly crunch on one of the nuts. It didn’t take too long before Susano-o had been made so comfortable he fell asleep. Onamuchi concluded that if this is how Susano-o would treat him if he liked him, then he dared not think about what would happen if his favor changed— He needed to get out of there!
Taking large sections of Susano-o’s beard and hair, Onamuchi tied them to nearby stalagmites. Quicikly but softly, he left Susano-o’s chamber and went to collect Suseri. They gathered Susano-o’s sword, quiver and bow, best he not have those things to use against them, along with Suseri’s koto and made haste for the world of the living. Unfortunately, a single string on the koto was plucked in their haste, its delicate sound like a trumpet resonating in that dark world. Susano-o’s eyes popped opened and it was not long before he discovered he had been deceived. The whole of Ne no Kuni shook as its king began to free himself.
“Onamuchi!” he roared.
Now the couple was practically flying up that long tunnel, but the ground rumbled after them and they knew Susano-o was on their heels. Just a little more—they could see the sun light gleaming up head!
The renegade couple burst out of the dark cave, into the world of light, only then did they stop for a moment to catch their breaths. In that same instant Susano-o appeared at the mouth of Ne-no-Kuni. “Onamuchi!” his voice boomed, “Run no more and heed my command! You may keep my arrows and my daughter, but you must use the arrows to slay your brothers. You are now the one who will protect and unify this land! No more will you bare the name Onamuchi, from today on you are Okuninushi-no-mikoto!”
Okuninushi used the arrows Susano-o gave him to run all his wicked brothers off a cliff. At last safe and with Suseri at his side, Okuni had the whole of Japan before him. However, now he had a new problem– living up to the orders his father-in-law had given him.
Coming next time…
The many adventures of Okuninushi!
The myth continues…