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Myths From Many Lands
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By Frank Binder

WHEN the five tall pine-trees on the windy heights of Mionoseki were but tiny shoots, there lived in the Kingdom of the Islands a pious man. His home was in a remote hamlet surrounded by mountains and great forests of pine. Tsunu had a wife and sons and daughters. He was a woodman, and his days were spent in the forest and on the hillsides. In summer he was up at cock-crow, and worked patiently, in the soft light under the pines, until nightfall. Then, with his burden of logs and branches, he went slowly homeward. After the evening meal, he would tell some old story or legend. Tsunu was never weary of relating the wondrous tales of the Land of the Gods. Best of all he loved to speak of Fuji-yama, the mountain that stood so near his home.

In times gone by, there was no mountain where now the sacred peak reaches up to the sky; only a far-stretching plain bathed in sunlight all day. The peasants in the district were astonished, one morning, to behold a mighty hill where before had been the open plain. It had sprung up in a single night, while they slept. Flames and huge stones were hurled from its summit; the peasants feared that the demons from the under-world had come to wreak vengeance upon them.

But for many generations there have been peace and silence on the heights. The good Sun-Goddess loves Fuji-yama. Every evening she lingers on his summit, and when at last she leaves him, his lofty crest is bathed in soft purple light. In the evening the Matchless Mountain seems to rise higher and higher into the skies, until no mortal can tell the place of his rest. Golden clouds enfold Fuji-ưama in the early morning. Pilgrims come from far and near, to gain blessing and health for themselves and their families from the sacred mountain.

On the self-same night that Fuji-ưama rose out of the earth, a strange thing happened in the mountainous district near Kyoto. The inhabitants were awakened by a terrible roar, which continued throughout the night. In the morning every mountain had disappeared; not one of the hills that they loved was to be seen. A blue lake lay before them. It was none other than the lute-shaped Lake Biwa. The mountains had, in truth, traveled under the earth for more than a hundred miles, and now form the sacred Fuji-yama.

As Tsunu stepped out of his hut in the morning, his eyes sought the Mountain of the Gods. He saw the golden clouds, and the beautiful story was in his mind as he went to his work.

One day the woodman wandered farther than usual into the forest. At noon he was in a very lonely spot. The air was soft and sweet, the sky so blue that he looked long at it, and then took a deep breath. Tsunu was happy.

Now his eye fell on a little fox who watched him curiously from the bushes. The creature ran away when it saw that the man's attention had been attracted. Tsunu thought, "I will follow the little fox and see where she goes." Off he started in pursuit. He soon came to a bamboo thicket. The smooth, slender stems waved dreamily, the pale green leaves still sparkled with the morning dew. But it was not this which caused the woodman to stand spellbound. On a plot of mossy grass beyond the thicket, sat two maidens of surpassing beauty. They were partly shaded by the waving bamboos, but their faces were lit up by the sunlight. Not a word came from their lips, yet Tsunu knew that the voices of both must be sweet as the cooing of the wild dove. The maidens were graceful as the slender willow, they were fair as the blossom of the cherry-tree. Slowly they moved the chessmen which lay before them on the grass. Tsunu hardly dared to breathe, lest he should disturb them. The breeze caught their long hair, the sunlight played upon it. The sun still shone. The chessmen were still slowly moved to and fro. The woodman gazed enraptured.

"But now," thought Tsunu, "I must return, and tell those at home of the beautiful maidens." Alas, his knees were stiff and weak. "Surely I have stood here for many hours," he said. He leaned for support upon his axe; it crumbled into dust. Looking down he saw that a flowing white beard hung from his chin.

For many hours the poor woodman tried in vain to reach his home. Fatigued and wearied, he came at last to a hut. But all was changed. Strange faces peered curiously at him. The speech of the people was unfamiliar. "Where are my wife and my children?" he cried. But no one knew his name.

Finally, the poor woodman came to understand that seven generations had passed since he bade farewell to his dear ones in the early morning. While he had gazed at the beautiful maidens his wife, his children, and his children's children had lived and died.

The few remaining years of Tsunu's life were spent as a pious pilgrim to Fuji-yama, his well-loved mountain.

Since his death he has been honored as a saint who brings prosperity to the people of his native country.

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