Japan and its history through the cigarette case scenes The Takasago Legend of the Happy Couple and the twin pines

The Takasago Legend (高砂) is one of the oldest legends in Japanese mythology, telling a story of an old couple - a husband Jo (尉, "old man") and his wife Uba (媼, "old woman"), known together as Jotomba (a Japanese form of Darby and Joan). The old man and his wife are usually portrayed talking happily with each other, with a pine tree in the background. The couple is living in perfect harmony while they grow old together. They have long been a symbol of the happiness of family life. The story is portrayed in a famous Noh play "Takasago", written by Zeami Motokiyo in the 15th century.

According to Takasago Shrine there have been aioi no matsu twin pines within its grounds since the Shinto shrine was established. A pair of trees bear the legend:
"The spirit of the Maiden of Takasago, residing in the pine tree trunk, was seen one day by the son of Izanagi, who fell in love and married her. Both lived to a very great age, dying at the same hour on the same day, and since then their spirits reside in the tree, but on moonlight nights they return to human shape to revisit the scene of their earthly felicity and pursue their work of gathering pine needles."

His pine tree is also called the "Sumi Pine" (住吉の松, Sumi-no-e) and hers is the "Takasago Pine" (高砂の松). The old woman is using a broom to sweep away trouble and he carries a rake to rake in good fortune. In Japanese this is also a homophone (play of words, which sound the same but have different meaning) with "One Hundred Years" (百年, "haku-nen"), where "haku" also has a meaning of "sweeping the floor", and "until 99 years" (99まで, kuju-ku ma-de), where the last 3 kanji sound as "kumade" (熊手, rake).

A Japanese painting scroll showing the Jotomba under a pine tree (left) and a cigarette case from Fujii Yoshitoyo (right).

The story recounted by the Noh play "Takasago", however, focuses on the story of the twin pines:
"A priest from the Kyushu Aso Shrine arrives at Takasago. The spring weather is pleasant and the pine trees are beautiful. In the distance he hears a bell toll. An elderly couple arrive and begin to sweep the area under the pine bower. The old man recites a poem from the Kokin Wakashu. The poem describes Takasago and Sumi-no-e wedded pines (相生の松, aioi no matsu), paired pine trees that, according to legend, will remain together for eternity. He explains that these wedded pines are a symbol of the marital relationship. The priest says that all relationships, indeed all life, falls short of the ideal expressed in the poem.
Then, the old couple reveal that they are the spirits of the Takasago and Sumi-no-e pines, and they set sail across the bay in a small boat. As the tide goes out, the priest also leaves, and the "From Takasago, sailing over the bay..." chant is recited."

Another cigarette case depicting the Jotomba. From the O. Komai workshop.

Takasago is the birthplace of a classical song "Takasago" (高砂歌), which is a famous wedding song throughout Japan. In 1988 the city even was declared as "The Bridal City Takasago". At wedding ceremonies, the Takasago song is recited and Jotomba figures are put on a special "Island Shelf" called Shimadai (島台), together with auspicious Pine-Bamboo-Plum, Crane and Turtle decorations placed in the wedding room and presented to the bridal couple. Jotomba figures are made from lacquer, ceramics, wood carvings and textiles, and are to invoke a long and fruitful married life for the newlyweds.