I went to Saiku Historical Museum in Mie prefecture last Tuesday on 19th. What’s Saiku? Saiku is the palace of Saio, who was also called “Itsuki-no-himemiko”. What’s Saio then? Saio was unmarried Emperor’s daughter who served at the Grand Shrine of Ise (Ise Jingu), which is the most important shrine for Japanese Shinto.
A new Saio was selected among those unmarried Emperor’s daughters by the fortune-telling whenever the Emperor changed. The appointed Saio had to go to Saiku, the palace and serve God, and couldn’t go back to the capital until the Emperor changed.
Usually changing Emperor means hid dead. That’s why, being appointed Saiku means that she and her father Emperor couldn’t see each other for ever.
The Saio system started in the 7th century and had continued for about 660 years until 11th century. And 64 princesses became Saio during the period.
As I mentioned, each Saio was chosen by the fortune-telling called Bokujo. A small piece of a sea turtle shell was cast into a fire built by a cheery twig, and when it was cracked, an oracle was told by a diviner.
A diviner’s telling with the crack of a turtle shell determined girls’ lives! The youngest Saio was just 5 years old. She was chosen by the crack of a small piece of a turtle shell and had to spend most of her life at the Saiku palace far removed from the capital!
The journey from the capital to Saiku was called gunko or mass procession, about 500 servants accompanied her. It seems that the mass procession meant not only going to Saiku but also showing people the Emperor’s authority. But the journey was not just gorgeous and beautiful, but hard and tough. It took 5 nights from the capital to Saiku palace.
Saio was able to ride on a litter, but it must have been really tough to keep sitting for such a long time in a small box! And for his servants, the journey must have been hard. There’s a famous pass called Suzuka on the way to the palace from the capital.
Anyway, I saw and did many things at the museum: seeing many excavated exhibits and the replicas, trying food cooked in the then style, wearing ancient wears, for example. The museum’s building itself was built by the then method of construction, and it has no nails. It interested me very much.
I had a nice time studying many things about an ancient system and thinking those 64 ladies’ checkered lives there. You can find many things and enjoy at the museum, I think. How about visiting there once? http://www.pref.mie.jp/saiku/hp/index.htm
. Finally, I’ll introduce an ancient fiction on Saio. I try to translate it into English.
There is a man long time ago. One day he goes to Ise on duty, he is treated very kindly by Saio. Since he is very pleased and next day sends a message to her, which says “I’d love to see you”. She doesn’t refuse it. But there are many people around the palace and it’s very hard to see each other for them.
At midnight, he sees a figure in the darkness outside since he can’t fall asleep because he thinks of her. The figure is the Saio. The man is very excited and invites her to his room. But they cannot spend a long time together. She goes back after a while, and it makes him very sad.
Next morning, he wants to get in touch with her, but he cannot. After a while, he gets a message. It’s not a letter but a poem.
You came to me or
I go to you just before
I can’t remember
Did I see you in my dream?
Did I go to you indeed?
The man cries when he reads her poem, and sends a poem to her as well.
My heart seems to break
I’m lost and I have an ache
I’m not sure what happened
How about coming to me tonight
And finding what’s the real world?
The stream is shallow
It looks like our relations
For me it’s sorrow
I’ll come through the place ‘cause it
Means to see someone again
And then he leaves for another place. They never meet again.