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Fisherman, samurai legend marks Hakugindo's 400th anniversary

Date Posted: 2009-08-13

Hakugindo a shrine tucked alongside a highway just south of the Itoman City, attracts thousands of visitors each year who take time to stop, ponder the legend of two men whose paths crossed four centuries ago, and ultimately led to wisdom and peace.

Itoman City’s Chamber of Commerce Tourism Section has marked the Hakugindo shrine’s 400th anniversary with a symposium, reaching out to the community to highlight the patience and goodwill a lowly fisherman displayed in an encounter with a rich mainland Japanese samurai. Masaru Kinjo says the exchange between the two is what makes the Ryukyu Kingdom’s history and culture so rich.

The story begins with the poor fisherman borrowing money from the samurai to buy a fishing boat, nets and tools. When the samurai returned to collect his loan, he became angry and wanted to kill the fisherman because the catches had been poor and the fisherman had no money to pay. Drawing his sword, the samurai was ready to end the fisherman’s life. As he raised his sword, the fisherman admonished the samurai to “put back your hands when you get mad, and calm your anger when you want to strike me.” The fisherman knew Ryukuan people didn’t have arms to fight back, so he asked the samurai to “please try.” The stunned samurai walked away, and returned to his mainland home where he found a stranger’s footwear in front of his door.

Angry and suspicious his wife was sleeping with another man, he drew his sword and entered the room to slay him. As he raised his sword arm, he remembered the fisherman’s words and stopped short, lowering the blade. At that moment he looked closely at the stranger and quickly realized the stranger was his mother. She explained to her son she’d worn a man’s kimono because she wanted to protect his wife from another stranger when the wife was home alone when the samurai was away.

A year later the samurai returned to the Ryukyu Kingdom, immediately going to the fisherman’s home. The fisherman immediately wanted to give the samurai his money, explaining he had good fishing catches all the time. “No, no, I don’t want the money anymore,” the samurai said, “because you saved my wife and my mother’s lives. I almost killed both of them, and now I’ve come to see you to say thank you for saving my family.”

Rejecting the fisherman’s insistence the money be repaid, the two finally decided to bury the money inside a nearby cave, and make a shrine on top of it. They declared it to be a spot for prayer to the safety of fishing and fisherman, and to promote village peoples’ lives. That spot is Hakugindo, where today thousands go to pray for safe sea trips. Masaru Kinjo says the shrine is open to people who believe in god, and instills in people a reminder Ryukyuan people thus had created a bank system. What is important, he says, is to contemplate the differences the fisherman and the samurai had, and remember that everything can be worked out.

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