The Gallant Jiraiya
9. The Gallant Jiraiya

Jiraiya, literally `Young Thunder', was the scion of a powerful clan from Kyushu. When the family fell on hard times he went to Echigo province, now Niigata Prefecture, became a freebooter and rose to the position of chief of a chivalrous band of robbers. He was initiated into toad magic by an immortal who resided on Mount Myoko, popularly known as Echigo Fuji. He failed to overcome and kill a hated rival, an older man named Sarashina, who was the cause of his family's ruin.

Jiraiya fell in love and married Tsunade, a beautiful young woman who was skilled in snail magic. Later, one of Jiraiya's followers, Yashagoro, was overcome by the spell of a serpent and became skilled in serpent magic. He took the name Orochimaru (Orochi means `monstrous snake') and attacked Jiraiya. Together with his wife, Jiraiya did battle with this magician, but they were infected with the serpent's venom and fell unconscious. Fortunately another of Jiraiya's followers, whose life he had once saved, came to his rescue. At this point, without conclusion, the tale abruptly ends.

Toad, serpent, bird, spider, and snail magic were the principal types of magic practiced by thaumaturges in old Japan. They were supposed to be incompatible with each other, but in this story, at least, love found a way.

All this is recounted in a serial novel titled Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari (The Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya) written by different hands and published in 43 installments from 1839 to 1868. Kunisada, among others, provided the illustrations. The playwright Kawatake Mokuami composed a drama based on the first ten parts of the novel, which was produced, under the same title, at the Kawarasaki Theater in Edo in the 7th month of 1852 with Ichikawa Danjuro VIII in the leading role.

The character of Jiraiya is said to have been modeled after that of Prince Mitsuuji in the play Genji Moyo Furisode Hinagata (see Chapter 5 on Prince Genji), in which the same actor, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, had scored a big hit the preceding year. It is interesting to note that Danjuro committed suicide by cutting his throat in a hotel room the night before the opening of Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari in Osaka in 1854.