Everyone has a nature scene which reminds them of childhood. For me, it is pampas grass. I used to play in a field full of pampas grass, trying to catch red dragonflies till it became dark. And if there is one special field of pampas grass, it is Sonikōgen. I remember being overwhelmed by its huge expanse of pampas grass when I visited there for the first time on a school excursion.
Nowadays, the pampas grass seems a little less overwhelming, perhaps because of ecological changes.
After spending some time strolling around amongst the pampas grass, I recommend that you also climb the hill behind and enjoy the beautiful views from above.
Sunset from there can be wonderful. You can also see the whole of Okame pond. The pond also seems smaller these days. However, although ecosystems change, what continues through the generations is the Okame legend:
Once upon a time, a beautiful young woman called Okame, from Toro village in Ise, came to marry a young man in a village near Troji pond.
Okame gave birth to a boy.
However, one day, she disappeared.
Her husband, who could not satisfy the needs of his hungry son, went to Taroji pond and called for Okame. She appeared and fed the boy. She then told her husband never to come again.
However, when his son again began crying with hunger, the husband went to the pond to call for Okame. Okame again appeared, but this time in the form of a giant snake. She was very angry and chased her husband and son away.
Since then, this pond has been called ‘Okame pond’.
(The original story can be found at Nara prefecture Walking Portal)
I’m sure Okame must have had some reason for behaving in this way!
Snakes appear in many legends all over the world. In his ‘The Stories of Snake Grooms in Vietnamese Folktales’, Mr. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Nhung says that in Vietnam, too, marriages between snakes and humans often appear in stories. He also says that in 60% of Japanese stories involving humans and animals, the non-human partner is a snake, and in these, male snakes outnumber female snakes by a ratio of 2:1. The Okame story is one of the latter. It is interesting to see how the stories told by people living in wet places show feelings of both fear and respect towards snakes.
When you visit, try calling for Okame from top of the hill, although there may not be any snakes living here anymore.