The Daimyo and the Silver Carp
September 5, 2011 · 6:00pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
The folk legend of the daimyo (feudal lord) and the silver carp is a very old story and some say it truly happened. It is about a daimyo whose greatest joy was to sit and watch the beautiful carps that swam in the pond in the center of his garden. After he returned home from battle his greatest pleasure was to sit by the pond and contemplate the carps swimming among the lotus flowers and the water lilies. Doing this not only brought pleasure to him, but calmed his spirit and made him happy.

A lovely young maid named Okoyo respected, admired and loved the daimyo from afar, knowing that he was not only a great warrior, but also a poet and a painter. She had never spoken to him, or got close to him, since she was only a house maid. She was in the service of the daimyo's old mother. Still, the more she learned about him the more she loved him and she prayed to Kannon, the goddess of mercy, for his happiness every day, even neglecting to pray for her own.

One day, before going to battle, the daimyo asked his wife to care for his carps during his absence.They needed to be fed, plus winter was coming and more water should be added to the pond so the carps could survive if the pond''s surface should freeze. The daimyo did not trust anyone else to care for the carps that meant so much to him but only the ladies closest to him, the ones who knew him best.

The wife agreed, but as soon as the daimyo left, her attention veered to her own interests and she did not think again about the daimyo's request. In her mind she was too far above that sort of mundane task, so she just asked the lord's concubines to take care of the carps. They also felt they were far too high class to do the work and they asked the servants to do it, but they did this in such a careless way, without giving it much importance, that the servants soon forgot about it, and went on with their many chores. Not surprisingly, the carps died.

When the daimyo returned, weary of war, he sat by the pond and waited in vain to see his beloved carps. Day by day his spirit and his health began to decay. He sat by the pond even at night, still hoping to see a sign of life in the water. When Okoyo saw him she understood what had happened and she felt his sadness, and immediately she prayed to Kannon for help.

That night, when the daimyo was sitting by the pond, when the moonlight touched the water, he saw a beautiful reflection of silver light moving among the lilies. It moved with grace and speed and the daimyo's heart rejoiced. One of his beloved carps had survived, and this one was the most beautiful he had ever seen, so delicately white that she looked as if she was made of polished silver. Every night he came to the pond to watch the carp swim and his spirit began to soar once again. One night, a storm with very cold winds suddenly broke but even then the daimyo sat by the pond for as long as he could. Once he saw the silver carp, he was contented and went back into his house. But after that night the daimyo did not see his carp again and he grew desperate. Then he received a message from his mother and he went to see her. The old woman told him about Okoyo. It was not a silver carp was he had been watching those nights, she explained. It was actually the young maid, who would hide among the reeds and then immerse herself in the pond, naked, and swim among the lilies for him. But the night of the storm she had got so cold that she became sick and since then she had become worse and worse. The daimyo ran to Okoyo who was lying on her mat, unable to move, and embraced her with gratitude. He promised her to bring back his own physician so she could be healed. When the daimyo left, his mother went to Okoyo's side and asked her why she had not told him that it was his wife and concubines who had caused the death of the carps. Okoyo said that if the daimyo knew that the women closest to him had treated him with such contempt he would be ashamed. He would feel less of a man and that would hurt him badly. It would cause him an even deeper grief than the loss of the carps. Okoyo added that she knew she was going to die, but she wanted the older lady to promise that she would never tell the daimyo about what his wife and his concubines had done. The old woman agreed and promised to build her a shrine so whoever visited it could pray for her spirit. Okoyo thanked her, but then she told the old woman that she would be a lot happier if she would order a wooden plaque to be placed before the shrine asking that every woman who visited the shrine should light incense and say a prayer, not for her soul, but for the daimyo''s. Thus his spirit would remain happy and proud forever. If that was done, then she would be happy too.

As she lay dying, the goddess Kannon appeared and said that hers was true love indeed, which is the love that is more concerned with what it gives than with what it receives. And by touching her forehead she gave her an eternal gift. She transformed her soul into a silver carp and took it with her so it could be brought back when the shrine was finished . The silver carp became a symbol of the joy of true love, the only one the Divine recognizes, and a reminder of it to those who, like the daimyo, could appreciate its beauty.

When the daimyo returned with the physician it was too late. She had already died. He was grief stricken, but his mother warned him against allowing his spirit to be downcast. She told him that he had been privileged enough to have experienced true love at least once. Even if it was brief, it was still a special gift, for most mortals never experience it at all. "This was the love of your life", she said, "and although you touched one another for only a moment, in her you were able to embrace and feel true love. So, you should be thankful."

The shrine was built, with a pond in its garden in which Kannon placed the silver carp that soon became many, and is still a symbol of true love. Even today, women who visit the shrine light incense and say a prayer for the daimyo's soul, as Okoyo asked, and some say that every time this happens the silver carps in the pond seem to swim with more joy.


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