The legend of Kaguya-hime, known as the Tale of the Bamboo-Cutter, dates back to the 10th century, and is the earliest surviving Japanese narrative. Her story is largely simplified, but kept mostly intact compared to other stories in Okami, except for the iron bamboo shoot. This tale is considered proto-science fiction, so it seems all the more fitting that Okami took it a step further into modern sci-fi.
The story, briefly, is as follows:
One day, an old bamboo cutter happened across a strange, glowing bamboo stalk within a grove. He cut it open to find a baby girl the size of his thumb. He and his wife had no children, so he was overjoyed to find her, and brought her home where the old couple raised her lovingly. They named her Nayotake-no-Kaguya-hime, the Princess of the Bending Bamboo that Scatters Light. After that, whenever the old man cut down a stalk of bamboo, he would find a gold nugget inside, and he became rick.
Kaguya-hime, meanwhile, grew to an ordinary size and became an extremely beautiful young woman. Hearing of her beauty, five princes came to ask for her hand in marriage. The man didn’t want her to marry them, but the princes convinced him to let her choose among them. Kaguya-hime told each of them to bring to her an item that would be impossible to find, such as the Buddha’s begging bowl or a jewel from the neck of a dragon. Three of them tried to bring her fakes, one gave up, and one was killed or severely wounded on his quest, depending on the story. All of them failed.
After that, the Emperor himself asked for her hand in marriage, but she again refused, arguing that she was not of this country.
Kaguya-hime started to act more erratic, and her parents grew worried. That summer, when she gazed at the full moon, she began to cry. She revealed that she was from the Moon and must return to her people there.
When the time came for her to return, the Emperor himself set guards all around the house to keep the people of the Moon from getting to her, but it was all in vain. The beings from the Moon blinded the guards with light, and Kaguya announced that though she loved all her family and friends on Earth, she had to leave. She wrote letters of apology to her parents and the Emperor, giving her parents her robe as a momento, and the Emperor a small vial with an elixir of immortality. As she handed the note to an Imperial guard, she was adorned with a feather robe that allows heavenly beings to fly between the heavens and the Earth. Her parents watching with tears in their eyes, the lunar entourage brought her home to the capital of the moon, Tsuki-no-Miyako.
The story doesn’t quite end there; her parents, wrought with sadness, became sick and bedridden. When the Emperor received Kaguya-hime’s letter, he asked which mountain reached closest to Heaven. So he sent his men to burn the letter at the summit of the great mountain of Suruga Province, along with the elixir, for he couldn’t bear to live forever without her. He hoped that the smoke would reach her and bear her his message.
Legend holds that the name of the mountain, Mt. Fuji, came from the word for “immortality” (fushi or fuji). The name’s kanji mean “mountain abounding with warriors”, which were perhaps inspired by the image of the Emperor’s army rising up the mountain to burn the letter. Finally, since this story arose during a time when the volcano was still active, it was said that the smoke from the letter still burns to this day.
[From a linguistic standpoint, since one of my professors mentioned this once, the name “Fuji” did not quite fit Japanese phonemes at the time it seems to have been given; it is thought to have come from the language of the people who lived in Japan before the ethnic Japanese. The Ainu are descended from these people.]
In different versions of the story, there are various reasons for why Kaguya-hime was sent to Earth. Some say it was a punishment for a crime; some say it was to protect her from a celestial war. Some also say that the gold the bamboo cutter found was compensation sent for the cost of raising her.
The Moon Tribe is depicted as a technologically advanced race, but not a divine one. Thus Kaguya rides a bamboo rocket, and is equipped with a helmet like an astronaut’s and what appears to be a jet pack, instead of a feathered hagoromo. She wears a junihitoe-styled robe with five layers (instead of the customary twelve), and a pleated train (mo, which were commonly white) with a rocket/moon motif. The bamboo leaves on her head resemble rabbit ears, furthering the moon motif, as the Japanese see a rabbit in the moon instead of a man. (The rabbit is also seen as pounding mochi, hence Yumigami’s design and the reason for the moon god being a rabbit.)
All female nobility and ladies in waiting wore robes like junihitoe, but the color combinations one chose spoke of one’s rank and character. Specific combinations would suggest personality traits or a sensitivity to the season, and some colors were restricted to certain ranks. The outer color of Kaguya’s robe may be a medium shade of kurenai, a color that was reserved for royalty, referring to her status as a princess.
More on Heian female court wear
Some color combinations
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