By Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831)
Long ago, there was a waka poet called Saeki Tomoo who worked for the Emperor Seiwa. He was just as famous for his good looks and sensuality as he was for his poetry skills.
One day, Tomoo went fishing in at Oozawa Pond in Saga. He was on his way home with a basket full of spoils when he saw the moon rising behind Mount Arashi. The light sprinkled across the green water of the pond, making it sparkle like a dream.
Before he knew it, Tomoo was entranced. His manservant brought out his sake and food once more, and for a while Tomoo enjoyed the view with a good drink.
A small serpent came crawling out of the orange daylillies and latched onto his toe. It pulled, but Tomoo was so wrapped up in the scenery before him that he didn’t notice. His manservant noticed Tomoo on the edge of being dragged into the water and grabbed his sleeve. It was then that Tomoo noticed what was going on. But he was already half in the water, and panicking, he clamoured back into the shore. But something on the lake bottom grabbed him, and pulled him in even further. In the bustle, Tomoo’s body disappeared into the water.
Tomoo’s manservant alerted his family and friends, who came running to help. They set off in the pond on a boat, and skilled divers searched the every nook and cranny of the water, but they could not find anything.
The next day, a close friend of Tomoo’s by the name of Etaru was passing by the pond. The sun was sinking behind the mountains in the west, and the night winds blew through his clothes. From the sad waters of the pond, Etaru heard a voice call out his name incessantly.
Finding this strange, Etaru looked around. A man, his body thin and wasting away, emerged from the water. He wore a lotus leaf on his head, and his body was covered in seaweed. Etaru glared at the man, and gripped the handle of his long sword.
“So. You are the monster that pulled Tomoo into the water. I will kill you by my own hand.”
The dubious man interrupted him.
“Wait. I am Tomoo. The other day, a water goddess fell in love with me and dragged me into the pond. She forced me to marry her. But I will never forget my home town. My wife knew this, and would not leave my side for a minute. I don’t know why, but yesterday she departed for a pond in Hirozawa. Luckily, she left me alone, and I have been waiting for you to pass since.”
He handed over his wicker basket, and pleaded.
“Please, won’t you deliver this to my house?”
Suddenly, the water of the pond rippled. The waves intensified, and a voice called out Tomoo’s name.
“It would appear that my wife has returned. Goodbye.”
Tomoo disappeared into the water at once.
Etaru returned home, dumbfounded. He went to visit Tomoo’s home to inform them of what happened. When he opened the wicker basket, he found a wet strip of paper inside.
“So too is the water of a pond a muddied world, and the floating weeds, a tribute to those who are about to depart.”
The poem told of a man who cursed a world where no-one came to visit him anymore. Tomoo’s father broke down in tears, and in unbearable pain, he once more set out in a boat to stubbornly search the waters for his son.
A long drought had persisted, and the waters of the pond dried up. The water plants were withered, and as they dug through the muddy bottom of the pond, they found a large, smooth rock with a hole in it. It was full of water. Looking inside the suspicious hole, they found a small serpent coiled up on top of a white skeleton.
“There can be no denying that Tomoo-sama was imprisoned by this monstrous snake. You are my master’s enemy…”
His menservants attempted to stab the thing with their lances, but the snake saw them coming and dodged with incredible speed. Suddenly black clouds formed overhead, and it began to rain. Lightning struck above the pond, and thunder rang out like the sound of a mountain breaking in half. The tiny serpent transformed into a dragon and flew off into the skies. Everyone’s complexions turned the colour of mud with shock, and all they could do was run home as fast as their feet would take them.
These days, you can find a small shrine by the waterway behind Mount Atago. Written upon it is “Uga.” It is said to enshrine the god Ugajin, but there are also legends that it is for the worship of the snake from Oozawa Pond. It is written in many poetry books that “the god Ugajin takes on the form of a snake and becomes the wife of men.” Furthermore, the name “Tomoo” can now be found engraved on a broken, mossy stone monument by that small shrine.