Inaba no Shiro Usagi (The hare of Inaba) (因幡の白兎)

Inaba no Shiro Usagi is one of Izumo mythologies. In 'Inaba no Shiro Usagi ("Kojiki" [The Records of Ancient Matters]), the Chinese characters for shiro usagi (plain hare) is correct. In "Kojikiden" (Commentaries on the Kojiki) Norinaga MOTOORI used the description naked rabbit, and Inaba no Shiro Usagi was a name used to refer to this. The popular belief of shiro usagi (white rabbit) spread because the Chinese character '素' that means plain can be read as shiro (white). When the Chinese character '素' for plain is read as shiro, it implies 'ordinary' as in 'shiroto' (amateur), and not white. Also, in the case the Chinese character '素' is read as 'su' as in su-ashi (barefoot) and su-de (bare hand), it means naked or bare.

Because of the popular belief of the 'white rabbit,' in extreme cases there are pictures that depict an albino European rabbit indigenous to Europe. In the case of wild hare, it does not have white winter coat when cattails flower, and in areas where sharks or crocodiles (mentioned later) are found in the shallow waters the hare's fur does not even turn white in winter.

A hare tricked wani (crocodiles) into lining up in the sea and stepped on their backs in order to go from Oki no shima Island (location unknown) to Inaba Province. However, in the end, the hare's clothing was ripped away by the crocodiles. Obeying what Yasogami told him, the hare bathed in the seawater and let the body dry in the wind, which made the skin crack. The story goes that Onamuji no kami (Okuninushi no kami) saved the hare that was suffering.

The story

Okuninushi had many brothers (Yaosgami). Onamuji no kami went out to have Yagamihime of Inaba as his wife, Yasogami made Onamuji no kami carry all of his belongings. When they arrived at Keta no Misaki (Cape Keta) there was a naked hare lying down.
Yasogami told him, 'you, go bathe in the seawater, go to the top of a high mountain, lie down and let the wind blow on you.'
When the hare did as he was told his skin cracked as the seawater dried with the blowing wind.

Onamuji no kami, who was running behind, came across the hare who was crying in pain. Onamuji asked what happened, and the hare answered as so.
I was on Oki no shima Island and I wanted to come over here, but since I had no way of doing so, I said to the wani in the sea, 'let's have a race to see whether there are more of you or more of us. Get as many of your friends as possible and make one line to Keta no Misaki. I'll run over you and count as I cross over.' The wani made a single line as they were told, and I stepped on them, and just when I was about to get off on land I said 'you were all tricked,' and the wani caught me and tore off my clothes. I did as I was told by Yasogami, who just passed by, and I have wounds everywhere.'

Onamuji no kami told the hare to go to the mouth of the river and wash the body in fresh water, take the pollen from the cattails (hou, cattail pollen) that grow there and sleep on them (cattail pollen is called hou, which makes good medicine for treating wounds.)
When the hare did as he was told his body recovered. This hare later came to be called usagi kami (rabbit god).

The hare said to Onamuji no kami, 'Yagamihime will choose you instead of Yasogami.'
Based on this myth, Hakuto-jinja Shrine enshrines white rabbit, which is considered as a matchmaker deity that brings about marriage to a specific person instead of bringing about marriage with someone in general, and it is considered to have the benefit of realizing a matchmaking with a particular person in mind.

The other shiro usagi lore

A lore, that is completely different from the myth of Inaba no Shiro Usagi written in the Kojiki, is passed down in former Yakami in the mountains of Yazu-cho, Yazu County, Tottori Prefecture.

According to the picture scroll of Joko-ji Temple of Seiryu-ji Temple in Kado, Yazu-cho, and the record of Jiju-ji Temple of Hajimomoi, Yazu-cho, it is noted as follows.
'Amaterasu omikami, upon her visit to Yakami, was looking for a suitable place for angu (temporary lodging built to accommodate an Imperial visit), when a white hare appeared. present-day Mount Akakura) she was moved by the beauty of the frost-covered trees, and she named the mountain Hieno-yama.'
The white hare put Amaterasu omikami's costumes in its mouth, guided her to a flatland near the summit of Reizeki-zan Mountain, which present-day Iseganaru, and the white hare disappeared from there. '
Amaterasu omikami observed the area using a mikoiwa near the site of angu, and she placed her crown there. '
Later, when Amaterasu omikami was leaving Inaba by passing through Hyonokoe at Hyono-sen Mountain.'
In Tsukuyone settlement at the foot of Hyono-sen Mountain, an ohomi uta (a poem written by an emperor or empress) has been passed down that is said to have been read by Amaterasu omikami on this occasion.

Based on this lore, there is the former Hakuto-jinja Shrine in Hajimomoi, Yazu-cho, and there is also a Hakuto-jinja Shrine in Ikeda and Fukumoto. At Hakuto-jinja Shrine in Fukumoto, before the merger with another shrine during the Taisho period, there was a shrine building that was constructed during the Edo period. At the front, waves, a rabbit and the chrysanthemum crests are engraved. Currently, this shrine building is reused as the shrine of the main hall at Seiryu-ji Temple in Kado, Yazu-cho. Also, on the Hyonokoe pass there used to be Inaba-do Hall, and it was known to have enshrined a white hare.

In various localities in Yazu County many carvings of waves and rabbits have been discovered. They are considered to be associated with the lore of Amaterasu omikami and the shiro usagi lore that have been passed down in Yagami.

Hakuto-jinja Shrine, that still exists in Yazu-cho, originally seems to have been located along the straight line that connects the sunrise at summer solstice and the sunset at winter solstice. Menuma-jinja Shrine (enshrines Yakamihime) and a mountain tumulus (there is a theory that it might be Yakamihime's okutsuki [Shinto tomb]) of Hiketa, Kawahara-cho, Tottori City are positioned along the line that extends to the southwest from that line. Furthermore, there is Enazuka (literally, a placenta mound) on the line that extends to the northeast. Based on these relative locations it can be seen that rituals may have been performed that were intended for resurrection and rebirth.


This myth is not mentioned in the "Nihonshoki" (chronicles of Japan). In the "Nihonshoki," although not in the main text, the chapter that comes after the defeating of Yamata no orochi is the story of creating the nation by Okuninushi.

Stories in which a land animal deceives an aquatic creature to cross a body of water (river in most cases), can be found in Southeast Asia and in India. There is a view that a lore, that was originally unrelated to Okuninushi, was incorporated into the "Kojiki" as a story of Okuninushi.

There is a theory that views that the island of 'Oki no shima' where the hare used to live is Okino-shima Island, and there is another theory that views that this is not specified and that it is simply an 'oki no shima' (an offshore island). Also, there exists 'Oki no shima' just as mentioned in the "Kojiki" about 80m off shore from what is presently called 'Hakuto Kaigan' (white rabbit beach). However, there is one theory that views that in the traditional lore, the distance was short such as in a river whose water level had increased due to flooding. Near Hakuto Kaigan there is Hakuto-jinja Shrine that enshrines the white rabbit god.

According to what is noted in "Chiribukuro," a dictionary from the Kamakura period, the hare was originally an old hare that used to live in the bamboo grove of Takakusa County. Because it encountered a flood it drifted off to an island (Oki no shima Island), and it tricked the fish (crocodiles) in order to return to the place where it used to live. The panels, that present the lore of shiro usagi, set up at Hakuto Kaigan and some recounting of the stories and folklore collections depend on this description.

The Shark Theory

Wani' (crocodile), in general, is considered to be 'wanizame' (crocodile shark), but it is not actually specified, and it refers to sharks. Wanizame' is a name in Japanese created as a result of further classification, and it means a ferocious shark. In the dialect of the Sanin region that includes the former Inaba province (present-day eastern Tottori Prefecture) sharks are called wani in some areas ("Nihon Kokugo Daijiten" [Complete Japanese-language dictionary]). Actual crocodiles are rarely illustrated in the picture books of this story, but this is a result of misinterpretation of this point. Needless to say, wild reptilian crocodiles do not inhabit in Japan currently.

However, Tatsuo SANEYOSHI points out in his book the possibility of estuarine crocodiles drifting to the shores of Japan.

The Crocodile Theory

Because of the following reasons there is a view that views wani as a crocodile.

According to Norinaga MOTOORI, it is noted in Wamyo-sho (a dictionary compiled in the Heian period) that 'wani has four legs,' 'it means crocodiles,' 'when a large deer crosses the river it drags it into the water' (Kojikiden).

The area in which sharks are called wani is limited to one part of Sanin region, and in other parts they are called same (sharks) or fuka (sharks).

It is unnatural to say that wani was an old name for sharks, and that this name was abandoned in all areas other than Sanin.

The Chinese character for crocodiles can be read as wani in the Japanese way of reading it.

The act of lining up and floating on the surface of the water is consistent with the behavior of crocodiles. However, this is impossible for sharks that cannot breathe air (other than the bottom dwellers) and that would suffocate when staying still.

The heads can be an exception, but a picture of a hare hopping across the backs of sharks that have dorsal fins cannot be drawn.

The behavior of crocodiles catching their food in the air is observed often, but this is not possible for sharks from a stand-still position.

Based on the mention of wani of the sea, existence of river wani is suggested. There are crocodiles in rivers but not sharks.

In the "Kojiki," there is a story of a wani giving birth in a birthing room on land. Considering the movement of crocodiles in mangrove forests, it can be explained logically in the story of 'Yamasachihiko and Umisachihiko' that the larger the crocodile the slower it is.

In the stories of India and Southeast Asia, deer and monkeys step on the backs of reptilian crocodiles in order to get across something, and this association has been pointed out by researchers. Other than this, there is a story in the Kojiki that seems to share its origin in potato cultivation in Southeast Asia, which supports the fact that Southeast Asian stories have been passed on to Japan.

Japanese people have continued to have the correct understanding of crocodiles, unlike that of lions and orcas.

God of medicine

Okuninushi is considered as a god of medicine and healing based on the mention of him establishing treatment methods for illnesses in this story, along with the story of Sukunabikona of the "Nihonshoki." There is a tendency that interprets this story as well as the story of Yasogami afflicting harm as a part of ancient medicine being passed down to the present.

The older-brother god's instruction to 'cleanse in the seawater' at first seems like something full of malicious intent, but it is also said that this act suggests to 'disinfect in salt water.'
However, in reality, washing in seawater does not disinfect, and letting a wound dry in the wind interferes with regeneration of skin. The older-brother god's instruction is not an example of medical treatment, but has a totally opposite effect.

The instruction of Okuninushi gave to 'wash in the fresh water at the mouth of the river' means that near the mouth of a river there is an area of brackish water, so that the water there can be said to resemble physiological salinity, and the tips of cattails are known as hou in Chinese medicine for their hemostatic effect in, and it can be considered reasonable for treating wounds.

[Original Japanese]