_But this is wrong, sensei – insisted Naosuke.
_These books contain only folk tales and grandmother's stories about how gods fished the earth from under the seas, about talking animals and flying ogres... surely you don't expect me to learn anything of use from them.
_What sort of thing you seek to learn? - the old man calmly replied.
_Everything! - Naosuke lost the temperance expected from a monk - The truth of our history, of how it all became as it is. I want straight answers that I may understand the world and our history, and not just passing stories and superstitions that change with every hamlet we visit.
_So you want knowledge, then? That is unfortunate, I suppose, for myths cannot tell you much of what happened. That subject is too vast for our language and yet, too devoid of meaning to our minds – the old man said with a smile, then chuckled, then continued – No... myths can tell you how different people perceived things that were and happened, in what they believed, to what they aspired, and how those things changed them. It is a vaster, richer and more satisfying tale, one whose truth must be understood, not read or heard. Myths do not offer knowledge, they hold wisdom.
The old sensei was known for never giving a truly proper answer to anything, but Naosuke wouldn't be discouraged again.
_And how could you find wisdom in lies? These books praise Ota Maeda as a hero of the Empire, as a liberator! A man who murdered by the hundreds, who crushed the Emperor's army and plotted to take his head. A man who refused to take his own life to clean his family's honor, who betrayed his old loyalties and groveled for his life...
Naosuke was now completely out of line, and sensei's smile was long gone.
_A man who valued life more with each one he took, a man who had the courage to amend his errors and to stand up to his clan, a man who wept in face of the horrors of war and still faced them... and the most loving father I have ever met in my long days.
Sensei sat down again and, after a sip of sake, allowed a smile to return to his wrinkled face. After a few moments, he calmly added:
_In every war ever fought, both sides battled for what was right and decent, to defend something more valuable than the only life they would ever live. Always both heroes and villains, martyrs and defilers – you humans really are curious things.
The Kame's Myth of Beginning and End
Everything has a soul. The river that runs besides us, the little pebbles you just threw in it and the waves they produced. The sound of the water has a soul, and the memory you carry of it also has a soul, and is alive.
We do not know the past. We cannot say what gods created what there was, or when they did it or how they did it. But we do know this: the spirits of what was before the mountains and the sea awoke from their slumber, and, in doing so, started sharing the same condition and fate of all living things that would follow – impermanence, and death.
Everything is alive and ephemeral. All that is alive changes and vanishes. In the same way that a boy grows into a man, the world grew as forests and lakes and rivers and beasts formed through the change of their awakened spirits. The mountains were raised from under the seas to become home for the gods, and men built cities, castles and temples from the dirt of the soil.
The world is not the things that are. We know little of their beginning and end. The world is rather how things are. The world is that spring follows winter and autumn follows summer. The world is that children grow, men work and the elderly die. Beasts run in the wild, birds prey from the sky, fish clutter the sea and terrors lurk in the deep. The farmer sow, the warrior battle, the wise council and the Emperor rules. These things are how it is now – the only world we know.
Life is the struggle to live. Whatever means brought you here, be it either awakening or birth, the strength that keeps you in this passing world will fade and vanish. We – and even the gods above us – are all but a small moment of how things are. One day, the fish won't be in the sea anymore, nor will there be birds in the sky or beasts in the forests. No spirit alive today will live in the mountains and no men will be found in the cities.
The throne will be empty. But even if no more familiar sounds are uttered, it doesn't mean that there will be silence. This world will perish, scattered away in the winds of a new world that follows – a world full of new spirits and things about which we will never have knowledge. The sounds of new things will go on forever, each of them unique and priceless, for they are only heard once.
And then there will be silence.
The Okami Tale of the First Men
When the oldest gods awakened, they were mesmerized by the beauty the world held in its infancy. They strove to replicate such beauty, weaving a wondrous world of light, that men call heavens, and a sinister world of shadows, that they call the underworld.
The spirits of the world were, in turn, enchanted by the gods and their abilities, auras and appearance. The gods had incredible skills – powers that stretched beyond the reach of the mortal world, and because of that, many of the spirits that inhabited the world soon started desiring to become like them.
Among those were two great rivals, both terribly fierce and much revered. The first was a bear spirit, a strong elder who craved the gods' discipline, and the second was a tiger spirit, a brutal warrior that craved the gods' might.
The noblest god in the heavenly world was then the goddess we call Wolf. She heard the claims of the rival spirits and decided to test them, so she would know if any of them were worthy of being like her. She changed their appearance, giving them a body like the gods', and taught them to stand. These were the first two humans, whom we call Mother Bear and Father Tiger.
The Wolf brought them into a cave to teach them to behave like gods. First she taught the bear that the foundation of the gods' discipline was the ability to overcome one's own desires. Then she taught the tiger that the foundation of the gods' might lies in cultivating strength one does not seek to use.
The Wolf taught them many ways to develop themselves. She taught them the arts of war, of calligraphy, of poetry and music, but with every lesson they realized that in order to attain their goals they would need first to abandon them. That went on until Father Tiger could not stand the cave anymore – he could not bear being separated from the sunlight, from the battlefield, from the hunt and from the world he loved, specially if the purpose was not fulfilling his desires.
The Tiger broke free from the cave and returned to the world. He took from his master only the wisdom and skills he chose, and returned to his own purposes of war, hunt and conquest. He became a powerful man and fulfilled his desires, but he never got to reach what lied beyond his own sight.
The Bear stayed in the cave, though, until the end of her training. She never became as beautiful, skillful or disciplined as the Wolf was. If anything, she only realized how little and humble she was. But she treasured that realization, for it allowed her to grow on her own to limits beyond what she could have conceived otherwise.
The Wolf was very pleased with Mother Bear, so she decided to give her a parting gift. She knew the sons of the Tiger and the daughters of the Bear would forever quarrel, so she gave her favorite pupil one last weapon.
She took her youngest cub and turned him into a man, and gave him to be married to Mother Bear's oldest daughter. This would start an Imperial dynasty in the mortal world, one that would rule over the daughters of Mother Bear, bringing them peace, civilization and prosperity. Around the Emperor, men would be braver, stronger and more inspired, and as long as he sits on the throne, there will always be hope.