Two Stories from the Sea



Joken Zaki means “Woman’s sword” and the hero of this story is a young man who did not speak.  

The people of Amakura lived on the plentiful fish they caught in the seas which surrounded them.  But suddenly, overnight, the fish all disappeared.  No matter how skilfully they cast their nets, nor how deep, not a single fish could they catch.  All they knew was that sometimes they heard a rumbling deep in the ocean, which they thought must be due to earthquakes.  Soon after, the captain of a fishing vessel had anchored his boat one evening under the cliff known then as Cape Fudo.  He kept watch whilst his men slept on deck.  Suddenly her heard the rumbling sound coming directly from the spot where the anchor was submerged, and up through the water came the ghostly figure of a girl dressed in white, who glided across the sea towards them, moaning.  The captain awakened his men, who drew their knives and prepared for battle, but the ghost just drifted past, weeping and they seemed to hear her saying “If only I were back in the world, oh, if only I were back in the world again”.  Just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone.  They stayed awake all night, but she did not return.  In the morning, the captain and his crew went ashore to ask the villagers about the apparition. No-one however, had ever seen it before.  The villagers discussed the matter with one of the elders, who suggested that maybe this was the ghost of some poor girl who had drowned, and that the god of the sea was angry that her body still lay down there, so he had sent away the fish, and the roar was his anger.  Everyone agreed that this was likely and the solution was to dive down and bring up the body.  However, nobody wanted to do the job.  One of the villagers had an idea. “There’s that young man, Sankichi” he said “He’s a strong swimmer, and he’s no good to any of us - he’d be no loss if he didn't come up again”.  The captain asked why this was “Oh, he’s dumb and doesn't speak” said the villager, and all the rest nodded. So someone went to fetch him.  Now Sankichi may not have been able to speak, but he was energetic, kind hearted, strong and he was also very devout.  So when the problem was explained to him, he communicated through his gestures that he would be happy to volunteer - that his life was as nothing compared to that of all the fishermen and the community who needed the sea to be cleansed.  The next morning, he boarded the boat and the crew rowed him out to the deep water, where, watched by all the villagers on shore, he dived into the ocean.  When he reached the sea bed, he looked around, but could not see any sign of a body. What he did see was something lying on a rock, wrapped in cloth. Seizing it, he found that it was a sword in a scabbard, and drawing it out, he was dazzled even under water by its shining silver beauty.  Sankichi thought to himself “ They say that the sword is the spirit of Japan.  Maybe the owner of this sword is angry that it is at the bottom of the sea, and this is the reason she has sent the fish away”.  Taking the sword, he swam quickly upwards and was jailed on deck, teeth chattering with the cold.  That night, for the first time, the villagers treated him as one of themselves, and gave him a hero’s feast.The village elder declared that the sword should be venerated, and had  a shrine built on the cape, which from then on was known as The Cape of Joken Zaki. As for Sankichi, he was given the honoured  post of caretaker of the shrine, and he ended his days as a valued member of the community.