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 The Empress Jowka


Once upon a time... an Empress lived in Japan. She was young, beautiful,
kindly, and wise, and her name was Jowka. She dreamt of living in peace,
thinking of the welfare of her people, but in the northern mountains, a
rebellion broke out led by prince Kokai. He sent a message to the Empress,
"Jowka, either you must marry me and share the throne, or I will put your
kingdom to the flame and sword!" Jowka, who knew the empresses never flinch at
threats, replied,
"Kokai, we shall fight!", and sent an army against the rebels. The army was
strong and well led and it defeated the rebels in more than one battle. But,
just before the most important battle of all, something terrible and magical
Kokai pleaded with one of the evil gods and it started to rain. The rivers
grew swollen with water and broke their banks. There were appalling floods which
took the Imperial army by surprise and swept it away. Every man, from the
general to the humblest soldier, was drowned. And Kokai the rebel came down
from the mountains and approached the capital of the Empire. Jowka sent other
armies against him, but each one met the same fate: swept away in the swirling
waters that obeyed Kokai's orders. The whole of Japan was terror-stricken. Was
power to be seized by a merciless rebel magician?
Jowka was lost in thought over this when, one night, she heard a rustle in
the room where she was saying her prayers. Lifting her eyes, she saw, standing
in front of her, a man wearing a long tunic and holding a stick. He had long
white hair and a flowing beard, as soft as silk. The Empress jumped in
surprise, but the old man said:
"Have no fear, Jowka, I'm a friend, I'm the God of Fire. I heard your
prayers, I know how much you are suffering, and I'm here to help. Don't worry!
I shall join your armies and Kokai's magic will do nothing against me."
"Tell me, God of Fire, what must I do?" the Empress murmured.
"You must gather a new army to send against the rebel. I will march at the
side of your general." And so the Empress ordered the greatest and biggest
army ever seen in Japan to be mustered, and a huge number of men, horses and
chariots set out.
Everyone, including the Imperial and rebel soldiers, knew that the battle
about to be fought would be final. The two opposing armies slowly drew closer
on a vast plain, and the general leading the imperial troops murmured:
"It is unwise to march here. Kokai could easily flood this area!" The God of
Fire, marching at the general's side in the guise of a bold young officer said:
"Have no fear, I'm far stronger than water." There were a few skirmishes,
then Kokai, high on the mountain where he had made his camp, raised his arms
invoking the help of the elements. The earth shook, there was a fierce gust of
wind and an immense rush of water swept down the mountainside onto the plain.
The Imperial soldiers screamed with terror, but the God of Fire simply said:
"Keep calm! That water will not even lap our feet." And indeed, the huge
foaming waves that seemed to gallop towards the army, suddenly slowed down when
they reached the God of Fire, drew back, split with a tremendous roar and were
swallowed up by the earth.
"This is the end of Kokai! March on!" ordered the general, and the entire
army marched on towards the mountain and defeated the enemy. Kokai saw that
the rebellion was now over, his power had gone and his fortune too had
disappeared. But rather than surrender to the Empress Jowka, who would have
forgiven him, he hurled himself, head first, against the mountain and died. But
the blow was so hard that the mountain, named Shu, cracked and from the crack
gushed out fire, poisonous fumes and lava, that quickly invaded the plain
below, burning and suffocating everything on it. A far worse danger now
threatened the empire of the wise Jowka!
The Empress remained quite calm. Then she received another terrible piece of
news. The crack in the mountain and the disaster that followed, had also
cracked the pillars that held up the sky, damaging the pathway along which,
every day, the Sun and the Moon travelled with their chariots, carrying the
In a short time, in fact, a dreadful dark shadow fell over all the world.
People were afraid of the darkness, they wept and despaired. So wise Jowka
ordered huge bonfires to be kept alight, so that the flames would give them
comfort, courage and new hope. And she sent word to all her subjects that they
should collect blue, white, orange and red stones and bring them to the palace.
When that was done, the Empress ground down the stones, and made a kind of
paste, something like liquid porcelain, transparent and shiny.
She put it in a pot, then with a magic spell summoned a cloud, climbed on
top of it and made it carry her to the exact spot where the heavenly pillar was
cracked. There, she repaired the damage using the orange coloured paste. As
she went back to earth, she said to herself, "There! The pillar is mended. The
chariots of the Sun and the Moon can take to the road again and the light will
return." Alas! Things didn't quite happen that way! Days went by and the light
had still not come back. The Sun and the Moon were nowhere to be seen. And the
people, who had had such high hopes, again began to weep and wail. Everyone
began to say, "Oh dear! We shall live the rest of our lives in the dark! We
will go blind, we will die of the cold! Nothing will grow in the fields, and if
we survive the dark and the cold, we will die of hunger!"
Once again, the Empress kept calm and was unworried. She called together all
the wise men of the realm and asked them to find out what had happened. Long
discussions took place, then a very learned philosopher went before Jowka and
told her,
"Your most gracious Highness, I know exactly what has happened! When the
pillar of heaven cracked the Sun and the Moon shut themselves away in their
palaces in alarm. And they have never come out again. How can they possibly
know the pillar has been repaired?"
"Yes! Yes! That is so!" chorussed the other wise men. The Empress then said,
"There is only way to tell them. Send a messenger!"
"A messenger?" they asked. Jowka went on.
"Yes. Or rather, two! One to gallop to the Sun and the other to the Moon.
We can't be discourteous, and if we were to warn one before the other, then the
second one might take offense." All over the empire, a search was made for two
horsemen brave enough to face such a long journey, and two horses strong enough
to gallop into the heart of Day and Night. It wasn't easy to find suitable men
but in the end, two young men came to Jowka, and she told them what had to be
The messengers set off. It was a long and fearful journey, from cloud to
cloud, from heaven to heaven, through winds and storms, brushing past comets
and shooting stars. But they delivered the Empress's message to the Sun and the
Moon. The pillar had been repaired, their chariots could return to the heavenly
pathways. The Sun and the Moon thanked the messengers.
The next day, the shadows disappeared from the daylight world, and light
flooded back again, as before. the two messengers knelt before the Empress on
their return, but Jowka made them rise to their feet, saying:
"No! Men like you shall always remain on their feet before anyone on earth,
for you have looked the Sun and the Moon in the face!"

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