Japanese Folklore: The Golden Hairpin

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Ancient Japanese folklore is full of fascinating stories rich with fated love, spiritual artifacts, and the supernatural. Due to their popularity, many museums dedicated to Japanese folklore are scattered around the country.

Murotsu Museum of Folklore. | 663highland

A prime example of a classic folk story is the Golden Hairpin, a tale of supernatural love.

Once upon a time, there was a samurai named Hasunuma from the northern city of Sedai. He was honorable and much loved. He and his wife were soon blessed with a daughter whom they named Hasu-ko (Little Lily), or Ko. On the same day Hasunuma’s daughter was born, his close friend Saito, also a samurai, had a son named Kônojô. Being such old friends, the two fathers decided to have their children wed each other when they came of age. Both of the wives were also thrilled with the decision. To bind the promise, Saito gave Hasunuma a golden hairpin that had been in his family for many years. After a few months, Saito caused his feudal lord displeasure. This in turn caused him to be dismissed from service. Saito , his wife, and  Kônojô left Sendai without telling anyone.

Many years passed, and O Ko San grew to be the fairest woman in all of Sendai. She also had a younger sister named O Kei who was just as beautiful. Many men sought the love of O Ko but she remained faithful to her promised Kônojô. She waited in vain for him; soon she grew ill and died.

On the day O Ko was to be buried, her mother lovingly prepared her remains and placed the golden hairpin on her hair to bind O Ko’s spirit with Kônojô even in death because he was thought to also be dead. But Kônojô was far from dead. He came calling on Hasunuma to claim his betrothed. Kônojô explained that his family had gone to Yezo island where his father had lost all his money and had died in poverty. His mother soon followed.  Kônojô wanted to be worthy of O Ko’s hand in marriage and earn enough money–that’s was why it took time for him to come.

Kônojô found a golden hairpin on the floor one day and kept it without knowing it was O Kei’s. One night, O Kei professed her love to Kônojô who learned to love her as well. Fearing Hasunuma’s disapproval, they decided to leave Sendai. A year later they returned and Kônojô was prepared to beg for forgiveness from Hasunuma. But Kônojô found out that O Ko’s spirit had taken the form of O Kei and that the only way for her to rest in peace is if Kônojô would marry O Kei.

O Kei and Kônojô were married with Hasunuma’s blessing.  The golden hairpin was given to a shrine at Shiogama for crowds to worship.

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