There are two cultures that couldn’t seem any more different than the Ancient Japanese and the Ancient Scandinavian peoples. A cool sophistication, calm and calculating vs. the drama and passionate, heated violence. But both groups of people really cared about what other thought of them. Honor, Pride, Integrity, and Strength.
In The Jeweled Branch from Paradise (Japanese myth), the prince is trying to win the hand of the maiden Kayuga-hime, goddess in human form. She sent him on a quest to retrieve a jeweled branch from a magic forest. Instead, the prince went and stayed with some jewelers and craftsmen, who he promised to pay to make the branch. He then returns to present her with it. After he does so and leaves the room, the workmen come and explain that they were never paid for what they had done. Snce they discovered that the branch was a fake, they gave it back to the prince and Kayuga-hime paid the workmen. “Life can hold no humiliation more bitter,’ said the prince. “I have not won the girl and I am ashamed to think what the world thinks of me” (317) and he leaves, presumed dead. This shows a high cultural reverence for honesty, rightly so. But why did the prince wander off to perish? Because he was caught in the lie, not because he lied to begin with.
In The Fenris Wolf (Scandinavian myth) we are told “At Ragnorock [end of the world] Fenris will break loose and devour the sun.” (375) Fenris is a great destructive wolf, harnessed by a magic chain. He bred with a giantess to make children (puppies?) that steal the moon and sun. But that’s not the worst of it. In the chaining of Fenris, Tyr (a god who later evolves into Odin) tries to calm and distract him by putting his hand on the wolf’s snout. Fenris then chomps it off when he realizes he’s been tricked. Tyr just sort of deals with it, because you gotta look tough in Norse mythology, have to be a tough guy, mighty warrior. It seems that the Norse, though, are very worried about the loss of light I the world, darkness, and the ability to see or grow food stuffs.
We see in both cultures it doesn’t pay to be dishonest, even if you think it’s for a legitimate reason and may help the greater good. We also see that there is a need in both cultures to be accepted within the norms of that culture. The Scandinavians expect their gods and heroes to be strong in battle, tough, rugged, if not always brilliant. The Japanese expect all the same things, but hold personal honor, loyalty, and adhesions to rules of conduct in very high regard.
These two myths tell us that people, everywhere, even very different people, hold honesty and community strength that grows from that honesty, in their hearts.
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Powell, Barry B. World Myth. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2014. Print. 18 Aug 2015.