“Yama no Bankun” (Guardian Dog of the Mountains)
Ōkami (wolf) 狼（おおかみ）
Also known as: Okuri-inu 送り犬 (escorting dog), Okuri-ōkami 送り狼 (escorting wolf), Yama-inu 山犬 (mountain dog)
Officially, the last of the Japanese wolves was extinct in 1905 and no wolves now exist in Japan. The Hokkaidō or Ezo wolf, cousin to the grey Honshū wolf (Canis lupus hodophylax, or ōkami, the smallest of all wolves) located in Hokkaidō fell victim to extinction in 1889.
It is however thought locally, that the wolf, also very much a creature of folklore and religion is still living, deep in the Japanese mountain forests and many people continue to claim they have seen one. This is probably based on the Wolf’s unique ability to keep so well out of sight of man, that it was almost invisible, allowing it to also keep an unwatched eye on man! Local Hongu saying: “The wolf can hide even where there is only a single reed.”
Wolf Deities – The Wolf in Myth and Legend
The wolves association with the mountains also remains very clear with places names such as Okamitaira (Wolf Plateau), Okamizawa (Wolf Marsh), Okami’iwa (Wolf Rock) and Kobirotoge (Howling Wolf Pass) in the Kii Peninsula mountains abounding.
The wolf, closely connected with the god (kami) of the mountains is considered to be the gods pet or their messenger (otsukai お使い) in the Tamaki Jinja and Takataki Jinja shrines located in Totsukawa Mura. In some cases it is even thought to be a god in its own right, “great kami (大神)”, and the Ōguchi-no-makami (大口真神, “true god of the great mouth”) is a wolf figure that is worshipped at Mitsumine Shrine in Saitama Prefecture,
“Yama no Bankun” (Guard Dog of the Mountains)
The Japanese wolf is commonly known as Yama-inu,(mountain dog), and as with domestic dogs that display guard-like behaviour, in myth and legend the okuri-inu or okuri-ōkami (“escorting wolf”) can also be seen as man’s protector, frequently from the dangers of other wolves when they are alone in Japan’s deep mountain forests. Another type of wolf is thought to escort in the form of stalking mankind as prey, malevolently attacking if their human “prey” should fall or trip and taking many different forms in order to deceive and bewitch humans. This has led in South/Central Honshū and Shikoku, to the belief that the wolf is a supernatural being. But one which if treated with respect by humans is also an honest creature, willing to offer protection when asked to spare a life and in the face of submissive human behaviour towards them.
Canis Hodophylax – the Japanese scientific name linked to the legend of the benign okuri-ōkami (“escorting wolf”) derives from the Greek word for “way/path” – Hodo, and the Greek word for “guard” – phylax, together creating “guardian of the way.” ** This also relates to the Ice wolves of Europa – Guardians of the Wolf-Gates and Pathfinders of the Wolf-Ways (interstellar pathways/gateways between worlds)
Such wolves are encouraged to remain protective with rewards consisting of their favourite foods (salt or sekihan -azuki beans and rice) when they have ensured safe passage for those concerned, helping to cement the relationship between man and wolf. Sekihan was also offered in congratulation, according to tradition in Yamanashi Prefecture, to the She-wolf when her wolf-cubs were born. It was believed that by the giving of this ceremonial food, usually served at the time of newly birthed human babies, would lead to return gifts of congratulation from the wolf when the villagers babies were born, in the form of deer, boar, hares etc.
“The Cypress of Dog Howls”
http://youtu.be/tupOeH4bcfw Wolf Howl in Asahiyama (Hokkaido, Japan)
North of Hongu high in the Tamaki mountains “The Cypress of Dog Howls” is found – a giant tree where on the eve of the 1889 Great Flood that killed numerous inhabitants of Hongu and surrounding areas, prophetic wolves howled continuously. They materialised on the Tamaki mountains to protect and aid the vulnerable villagers from the disaster that had overtaken them.
Wolf Charms and Boar Deterrents
Villagers would often pray to the wolf. “Lord Wolf [oino tono], please protect us and stop the ravages of the deer and wild boar.” Especially in the Sendai region, this would happen whenever the wolf was spotted, as it was believed they would protect the mountain farms and help to control the ever increasing and destructive boar population. So strong was this belief, that even charms were used in the wolf’s absence, enshrined in the shrine of the village. In Hongu and even across Japan they had and still do, a wolf charm (ofuda) they called a boar deterrent (shishiyoke) to guard against the wild boars.
Japanese Wolf’s Natural Symbolism of Society in Japan
The quality and nature of the wolf’s relationship to humans, also reflects its moral relationship to them. This can be clearly seen in “Japanese wolf lore” which relates tales not of good or bad wolves but of good or bad people. Wolf lore promotes the wolf as a “natural symbol of society”
There is a strong message to the Japanese people that the exchanges they share with the wolf are also a model of how they should conduct the relationship between themselves and nature.
The wolf symbolises both the wildness and the control of the mountains (Yama) and although the original Japanese wolf may now be extinct, it is most certainly not out-dated or superseded. The reintroduction of wolves to Japan – as has been appealed for over recent times would have many positive influences:
· The wolf would help restore order to the ecology of Japan’s forests
· Nature would also be restored in the process
· Human control would be reinstated
· The Japanese mountains would become manageable again…..
But in order for human control to be reinstated, first the return of the Yama no bankun, the “guard dog of the mountains” is a required necessity.
1. John Knight ~ “On the Extinction of the Japanese Wolf.” Asian Folklore Studies
2. “Japan Guide Book” ~ japanguidebook.com