The White Hare of Inaba: A Medicine Story from the Japanese Creation Myths

Last night my dear friend complimented me on the phone saying that my stories were ‘medicine stories.’ A lovely and kind thought.

I woke up feeling pretty happy, the words ‘medicine stories’ still reverberating in my mind. I wondered if my story about the cat was in any way a medicinal story. To me it feels more like a snapshot of a daydream, now that Aurora’s slapped me in the face by leaving a gift of poo and puke in my office. Cats are stunning in their capriciousness.

When I wake up early, like this morning (surprising, the clock sprung forward only yesterday), I see magpies flying low and rabbits scurrying in the garden. Rabbits seem so cautious, it’s almost like they can sense me watching from my window upstairs. The sight of rabbits gave me an inspiration to write about the story of The White Hare of Inaba from the Japanese creation myths that my Mum used to sing about at bed time. This is the story of Onamuchi, god of medicine and magic, performing what is said to be the first medical treatment in Japan. It is also regarded as the first romantic love story in Japanese history.

* * *

Onamuchi was the youngest of many bothers, native gods of the land.

One day the brothers decided to travel to Inaba to meet a beautiful princess they’d heard of called Yakami. Older bothers rushed against each other to arrive at her side to ask for her hand in marriage, while Onamuchi journeyed much slower, laden with all the luggage he was made to carry.

Onamuchi arrived at Cape Takeno to find a white hare crying wistfully. When asked, the hare told the god how he had tricked sharks so he could cross the ocean, which angered the sharks so much that they skinned him alive. Onamuchi’s brothers who had come by earlier told the poor hare that he needed to wash his body in sea water, go up to the mountain, and stand against the wind to heal the wound. This made his skin crack and now he was in agony.

Onamuchi, filled with compassion, told the hare to go to the river and wash his body in fresh water, then gather the fluff from cattails growing by the riverbank, spread them on the ground and roll in it. He assured the hare that the cattail pollen would stop the bleeding and he would be completely healed.

Wound healed, the grateful hare prophecised that the princess would decline all the other brothers’ proposals and choose Onamuchi to be united in love.

* * *

There are several versions of the story and they are all just as gory as many other creation myths around the world. In one of them, Onamuchi is murdered twice by his jealous bothers for being the chosen one, and has to go through many trials to be resurrected. All the stories agree, though, that he goes on to establishing the world as we know it, in the Middle World. After many more trials and tribulations, he goes on to ruling the Spirit World, which includes the after life as well as The Under World, outside of the time continuum.

What I read from this story is the importance of compassion as well as discernment in order for the healing to take place. What healed the white hare, in my opinion, was correct information delivered with compassion. I cannot help but to link this back to Covid-19. I feel discernment of what we are being informed of is crucial, so not to exacerbate the discordance in ourselves and in others. My friend, who I mentioned earlier, has quite often said ‘hare means to look twice.’ So take it from him too, it’s important to double check and verify.

This story also teaches me about what we can give back in return for our healing; kind words. I feel that our gift of speech comes with a heavy responsibility, words can be a blessing or a curse every time we speak. The hare promises the god love, in return for his kindness. The love does cause him to endure many trials but, hey, he becomes a powerful -just- ruler in the end. What doesn’t kill you (well, twice but not three times) makes you stronger. It is my wish that the whole of humankind would come out of our current predicament stronger, wiser, and even more compassionate.