Wakahirume

Wakahirume (Wakahime) was the daughter of Isanami and Isanagi. She is the lady of waka poetry and song. She lived a life full of music and beauty, and did much in service to her people. This remarkable woman has left her name in Wakayama prefecture. Wakahime was a central figure in the chronicles of Wosite. She knew all the major players in the history of early Yamato in the Land of Wosite. Wakahime was forever young as waka “young” implies. Waka also means poetry, and she was known for her poetry. She taught the Awanouta song, also called Wakauta, to promote good speech and good health. She was skilled in the technology of extracting ni from the red cinnabar sand to make the vermillion coating for wooden structures such as torii. For this, she is remembered as Niutsuhime, lady of niu. She spread the technology of agriculture to her people. And, because she was always smiling and laughing, she is an aspect of Ebisu, one of the “Seven Lucky Gods.” This is the story of Wakahirume.

Hirukohime    

Tukuba yama, Mount Tsukuba, photo by N. Hiraoka

Wakahirume was the first child born to Isanagi and Isanami. It was in Tukuba (Tsukuba) that she was born in mid-day, hiru, so that she was named Hiruko, Hirukohime. Her parents were the seventh Amakami, leaders of Yamato, the land where Wosite prevailed. Her younger brother Amateru became the eighth Amakami. Hiruko was a happy, healthy baby. But she was born when Isanagi was 40 and Isanami was 31, extremely unfortunate years for a baby. Out of concern for her well-being, her parents found foster parents in Kanasaki and his wife Yesinasu. They had lost their own baby and were overjoyed to have Hiruko to raise. They immediately built a beautiful home for her called Nishinomiya. Nishinomiya is far west (nishi) of Tukuba. It lay in the region called Hirota that includes the Rokkō Mountains (Mukoyama). Hiruko grew up in a loving environment in which she learned the art of waka poetry. Waka contains Kototama sound energy of Universe. She became so skilled that she was called Wakahirume, or simply Wakahime. Nishinomiya is a town near present-day port-city of Kobe. Today, Nishinomiya Jinja is a magnificent shrine with huge grounds. Hiruko must have enjoyed growing up there.

Nishinomiya Jinja. This is where Hiruko spent her childhood. In the main hall is enshrined Hiruko Ebisu Okami, and this is the central jinja of all Ebisu jinja.

Kishiyi (Kii)

Hiruko Wakahime was joyfully reunited with her parents when she reached adulthood. At that time, they lived at Wakauta-yama, in Kishiyi (now Wakayama in the Kii Peninsula). By this time, her brothers Amateru and Tsukiyomi had been born. A bit later, youngest brother Sosanowo was born in the southern part of Kishiyi known as Sosa. Later there was a disastrous fire in which Isanami died. The name Sosa changed to Kumano which refers to this sadness and the place where Isanami had built her miya. Sosanowo was still a young child, and Wakahime and her husband raised him.

Awauta/Awanouta/Wakauta  

Around the time when Amateru became Amakami, Wakahime learned the true story of the Wakauta (also known as Awauta and Awanouta) which her parents had composed and taught. She went around the land teaching the song so that the people could speak a common language and communicate better, thus aiding in the kuni-umi nation-building effort of her parents. Wakahime understood the deep meaning of Wakauta which can be summarized as  Hi-tsuki, the cycles of Sun and Moon. Moon (tsuki) in its monthly cycle grows full and then diminishes. Sun (hi) in its daily cycle waxes at sunrise and wanes at sunset. Sun represents male and Moon, female. Throughout the cycle of life, we must accept this waxing and waning, and keep smiling.

Majinai Uta                

Wakahime was staying with Amateru and Mukatsuhime at Isawa no Miya in Mie-ken. One day, people of Kishiyi put out a call to Amateru’s government for help with eradication of homushi insects that were infesting the rice paddies of Kunikakasu. In response, Wakahime, Mukatsuhime, and other women of waka went to Kishiyi and used their Kototama powers of uta (song) to repel the pests. They sang the Majinai-uta with total success. They taught the Majinai-uta to the people so that they could repel insects themselves and save their crops. The people were so grateful that they presented miya to Mukatsuhime and to Wakahime. The miya Himae was given to Mukatsuhime. Wakahime received Tamatsushima at seaside of Wakayama city. Jinja shrines stand in those locations even today, more than two thousand years later. As Toshinori-Kami, Wakahime is kami of harvest and the calendar (toshi, year).

 Tamatsushima Jinja, where Wakahime lived, perhaps on this yama. Enshrined here as Wakahirume no Mikoto, her alternate name is Niutsuhime Okami. Tamatsushima Jinja is connected by tradition and ritual to Niutsuhime Jinja.
Hiruko Ebisu at Himae Jinja, Mukatsuhime’s miya.

Koto and waka 

Wakahime was very good at playing the ancient koto. The 3-stringed koto was called kadakaki. The koto with 5 strings was the isuki koto, and the 6-stringed koto was called the yakumo koto. Because of her skills, Wakahime was called both Shitateruhime (shita, lower), and Takateruhime (taka, higher). Ōnamuchi’s daughter Takako became a student of Wakahime as well as her assistant, and Takako received the name Takateru from Wakahime. Another student was Okurahime, grand-daughter of the metalsmith Kanayamahiko.

Mawariuta and Marriage       

One day, a messenger from Amateru came to Tamatsushima. He was Achihiko, great-grandson of Toyoke-Kami. Wakahime immediately fell in love with him. She wrote him a love song in the form of a mawariuta. A mawariuta is a palindrome, which reads the same backward and forward. Poor Achihiko was befuddled, not knowing how to compose mawariuta. He asked Kanasaki for advice, and he was told to resign himself to marrying the determined Wakahime. And so they were married. His new name, Omoikane, refers to his wondering what to do. Their miya was the Yasu no Miya on the eastern shore of southern Lake Biwa in the land of Ōmi near the Yasukawa river. It may now be the jinja called Gosha Jinja in Ōmi Hachiman. Shitateruhime (another name for Wakahime) and her husband Omoikane are gosaishin. After Isanami died in the fire, Wakahime and Omoikane took in Sosanowo, her young brother. They also fostered Oshihomimi, the son of Amateru, while raising four children of their own including their sons, Takano and Tajikarawo.

Nihu no Kami, Niutsuhime

Wakahime is known as Nihu no Kami (or Niu no Kami) and has been enshrined as Niutsuhime no Mikoto. Niu is red earth containing cinnabar crystals. Cinnabar (mercuric sulfide) melts to yield mercury, an important material for practical uses. Painting buildings, torii, and ships with niu protected the wood, as seen in vermillion torii of jinja. Wakahime sang the Awauta for successful metal casting, as told in the Aya of Awauta no Kana (metals). She may have learned metallurgy from her grandfather Toyoke who was very knowledgeable in this subject, as in many others. For this, she is known as Niutsuhime. Her main shrine is the splendid vermillion Niutsuhime Jinja in the foothills of Koyasan.                 


Niutsuhime Jinja, Ichinomiya of Ki no Kuni. When Kobo Daishi was seeking a place for his Shingon temple, Niutsuhime’s son Takano no Kami (or his reincarnation) led Daishi to the site. Daishi called it Koyasan (an alternate reading of 高野 Takano) in appreciation. Koyasan temple and the Wakahime shrines mutually protect each other. Niutsuhime no Okami (Niu Myojin) is enshrined in the first honden. In the second is her son Takano-mikoto. This is the main shrine of 108 where she is enshrined. In the Niu Daimyoujin Norito of the Tenpo period (729-749), Niutsuhime Okami is named as Wakahirume no Mikoto, sister of Amateru Omikami.
The two honden for Niutsuhime and her son Takano no Mikoto.
Vermillion torii and bridge

Wakahirume      

Wakahime was also known as Wakahirume, which contains both her birth name Hiruko and her honor name of Wakahime. She was also regarded as Nihu no Kami (Niu no Kami, Niutsuhime), Tosinori Kami, and as Ebisu the laughing god. Wakahime touched the lives of many of the important kami people of Wosite. She is an unsung heroine of Wosite. How ironic, for she promoted the songs of Wosite!

 Wakahirume spent the last part of her life with Mukatsuhime, her sister-in-law, in Nishinomiya near the Rokkō mountains. There is a shrine, the Koshiki-iwa Jinja, for Wakahirume in the Rokkō mountains. Wakahirume enjoyed the overlook of scenic Wakanoura Bay 和歌の浦 in Kii (Wakayama), and she may have passed away there, a lovely place for a lovely lady.

Waka-no-ura Bay
Wakanoura Bay, Kii Province, by Utagawa Hiroshige

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