Prologue – The God of Words / Douglas Penick

Prince Shotoku Taishi (572-622) was the legendary hero who, at the beginning of literacy in Japan, made Buddhism and Confucian governmental principals two of the foundation stones of  Japanese culture. He wrote the earliest commentaries on Buddhist Sutras and commissioned the first histories in Japanese. He is also credited with beginning the traditions of Noh theater, archery, tea Ceremony, sculpture and architecture, among other cultural forms. He is, in his person, a well-spring of forms



It is told: “Once Emperor Yuryaku went with his court on a pilgrimage up Mount Kudaraki to pay respects at the tomb of his father,Emperor Ingyō. All were dressed in silk robes dyed midnight blue and adorned with red silk ribbons.

At the same time, a group exactly like the Emperor’s entourage was seen climbing the mountain from the other side. The appearance of the groups, their manner, weapons and garments could not be distinguished. There was not the slightest difference between them,

As they approached the mountain peak, they came into sight of one another.

The Emperor said: ‘There is no other king in this land. Who dares approach my father’s tomb looking like this?’ The leader of the other party shouted back, echoing these words exactly.

The Emperor suddenly did not know what was real or not. He became enraged and put an arrow to his bow. All others in his party did likewise. Then all in the other group did the same.

Before firing, the Emperor shouted: Whoever you are, before battle, we should make ourselves known to each other.

The leader of the other group replied: ‘Since I have been asked first, I will reply first. I am The Word-Deciding Deity, Pito Koto Nusi No Opo Kami. I am The God That Is Language.’

The Emperor immediately apologized for his discourtesy. ‘I did not know you had an outer form,’ he said. And with that he and all his courtiers offered their weapons, their musical instruments, their writing implements and their outer robes.

The god accepted them. Like an image and its reflection in a mirror, the two proceeded to make offerings at the deceased Emperor’s tomb. No one who witnessed this could tell which was which.”


The hum beneath the soil, the faint vibration as you lie with your head on the grass as you watch white clouds drift, leaves shine and shudder, branches bend, hear water of a distant stream in spate, and you fall into deep anonymity. 

You feel the words rushing in streams beneath the soil; cascading down. The subtle and continuous outpouring of languages. You are not speaking, not formulating words. Still the streams of languages course through you. Winds above the sky, streams far beneath soil and rocks. The movement of secret longing, unsought gifts, unwanted outcomes, the restlessness that is never at ease. 

Words are vibrating

Between the past, the world of the dead,

Ever present,

And now.

And it is you, the reader, bringing the past, the word into this moment.

There are words in which Shōtoku Taishi is entombed

They are the medium in which, as you read,

He lives.

He lives in these names:

Shōtoku Taishi

Prince Shōtoku

Prince Umayado

Prince Kamitsumiya

Inhabiting these names, he remains among the living. He does not depart. He does not die. He changes form and adapts to the needs of changing times Whenever these names are read or heard, he returns.

Douglas Penick’s work has appeared in Tricycle, Descant, New England Review, Chicago Quarterly, Publishers Weekly Agni, Kyoto Journal, the Utne Reader, among others. He has written novels on the 3rd Ming Emperor (Journey of the North Star), spiritual chaos (Dreamers and Their Shadows), and, on a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation, three separate episodes from the Gesar of Ling epic. Wakefield Press published his and Charles Ré’s translation of Pascal Quignard’s A Terrace In Rome.

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