April 06, 2023

#08-298: The Feathered Robe

A scene from the Noh play Hagoromo (Wikipedia)

Note: This charming story blurs the boundaries between heaven and earth as a fisherman gets an angel to dance for him before recovering her robe of feathers.

Get Ready: What might you do if you encountered a real fairy or angel?

This sweet little Japanese story has been set in various cultures worldwide. I even heard one version that was set in China, though in that version the protagonist was a monk.

Miho no Matsubara (the Pine Grove at Miho) is a scenic area in what is now the modern Japanese city of Shizuoka. Seven kilometers long, it's a narrow, pine-planted strip with the ocean to the east and a magnificent view of Mount Fuji across a bay to the west.

This magical setting gave rise to a story sometimes called "Hagoromo," or "The Feathered Robe."

Once a poor fisherman spent all night at sea in his boat, casting his net here and there, but in the end had nothing to show for it.

By the cold light of dawn he pulled his boat ashore at Miho and, as he shivered, suddenly felt a warm wind ruffling his clothes and hair, fragrant with the scent of a hundred types of flowers.

Then actual flowers began to rain down, and the air was filled with sweet music. The fisherman wondered if he wasn't in Miho after all. Perhaps he had sailed to a mystical land--or perhaps he was dead! But sighting Mount Fuji, he knew he must be home.

As he looked around, he saw a robe made of feathers hanging on a branch of one of Miho's 30,000 (some say 54,000) pine trees.

The robe was made up of the feathers of every kind of bird that could fly, from hummingbirds to swans to eagles.

The fisherman lifted the robe from the branch, intending to take it home. But as he left, he was accosted by a tennin, a heavenly creature not unlike an angel or a fairy. "Give me my feather robe," she demanded, holding out her hand.

"Why should I?" asked the fisherman. "Finders keepers!"

The fairy snatched at the robe, causing some feathers to fall out.

"Careful!" admonished the fisherman. "You'll wreck it!"

But she explained she was a Moon Fairy, and couldn't return home without her robe. She would die far from home, all because--

"All right!" interrupted the fisherman. "I get it! But first you must do something for me."

"Anything!" she replied.

"Good!" said the fisherman. "I will give you the robe, and then you must dance for me the mystic dance that makes the moon turn round."

And so she swept her feet through the yellow sand as she sang of the gold and silver mountains of the moon, and the sweet singing of the birds of Heaven as they cycled through the phases of the moon. At last she rose to heaven, and the fisherman, contented, saw her no more.

After gazing long after her, he looked down and found a single gray feather in the sand. He smoothed it with his finger and hid it in his belt, then made his way home.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. accosted
  2. ashore
  3. contented
  4. dawn
  5. fragrant
  6. gazing
  7. mystical
  8. ruffling
  9. scent
  10. shivered

  1. disturbing; rumpling
  2. supernatural; spiritual
  3. looking intently
  4. confronted; approached aggressively
  5. a smell
  6. shook with cold
  7. the first light of day
  8. sweet-smelling
  9. satisfied; at peace
  10. onto land

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 6, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. j; 3. i; 4. g; 5. h; 6. c; 7. b; 8. a; 9. e; 10. f