the online database of Japanese folkore

Ohatsu

お初
おはつ

Translation: none; this is her name
Alternate names: Akamatsu ike no orochi, Akamatsu ike no ryūjin
Habitat: Akamatsu Pond in Tottori Prefecture
Diet: omnivorous

Appearance: Ohatsu is a serpent who lives in Akamatsu Pond on Mount Daisen in Tottori Prefecture.

Legends: Long ago in Matsue, Izumo Province, lived a man named Matsuura Tanomo. He was a chief retainer to the lord of Matsue. Tanomo and his wife longed for a child, but for many years they were unable. One day he heard that the god of Akamatsu Pond on Mount Daisen could grant wishes. He climbed the mountain to visit the pond and prayed to the gods for a child.

Sure enough, the Matsuura family was soon blessed with a daughter. They named her Ohatsu. She was well loved by her family and their servants. As she grew, stories of her stunning beauty traveled far and wide. Eventually she caught the eye of Lord Matsudaira Kō, who desired her for his bride. Ohatsu did not wish to be married, but there was no way a retainer like her father could turn down a lord’s request. So Ohatsu’s parents prepared to send her away to the castle. Before she left to become a bride, Ohatsu asked to visit Akamatsu Pond to give thanks to the god who granted her life. Her parents naturally agreed.

Ohatsu climbed Mount Daisen with an escort of her family’s servants and guards. They arrived at Akamatsu Pond. Its surface was like a mirror, reflecting the clear sky and verdant mountains surrounding it. Ohatsu’s servants suggested that she wash her hair in the beautiful pond; its water would surely make her hair even more beautiful for her lord. Ohatsu dipped her hair into the water and began combing it. With each stroke of the comb, her hair grew longer, as if creeping towards the water’s edge. Then Ohatsu stood up and stepped out onto pond, walking on the surface of the water. Her servants called out to her, but she did not turn back. When she reached the center of the pond, a whirlpool churned beneath her and she sank down into the depths.

The servants panicked. They called out to the pond and begged Ohatsu to come back. A whirlpool once again opened up in the center of the pond. Ohatsu reemerged from the maelstrom, but from her waist down she appeared to be a giant serpent. She spoke to her servants: “I am a serpent who lives in this pond. When Tanomo came to me and begged for a child, his wish was so sincere that I decided to become Ohatsu and live a human life for some time. But that time is over now, and I must return to my pond. Thank you, everyone, for raising me and caring for me these many years. From here on, I will give happiness and fortune to all who come to pray for me.” Then, she sank beneath the surface of the water and was never seen again.

A small stone shrine was built for Ohatsu besides the pond. She is worshiped there as the dragon god of Akamatsu Pond, and is said to grant wishes to pilgrims and protect the local villages against drought. Her festival is held every year on Mount Daisen on June 18th–the day that she returned to her serpent form.

And in the Matsuura house in Matsue City, every year on June 18th they would remember Ohatsu by raising eight folding screens around a water basin in their banquet hall. The sand found in the bottom of the water basin the next day was proof that Ohatsu had visited.

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