Goshiki Fudo – The Five Fudo Temples of Tokyo

Sourced from Japanese Wikipedia, OnMarkProductions, Hamadayori.com, and Other Sources

Goshiki Fudo Statue

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Five temples stand guard at strategic stations around the city of Tokyo, each at different points on a pentagram. Inside these five temples are five statues of the god Fudo; each statue has eyes of a different color, completing a magical circle of protection that guards the city from harm and ensures its prosperity. This mystical circuit is called the Goshiki Fudo—the Five Fudo Temples—and still protects Tokyo to this day.

Or is it all a lie?

What Does Goshiki Fudo Mean?

The kanji for Goshiki Fudo (五色不動) is simple—it translates as Five-Colored Fudo. The number five itself is significant. It comes from Buddhist traditions, where sequences of five are considered sacred, such as the Five Buddhas (五佛; gobutsu) or the Five Wisdoms (五知; gochi). These in turn are based on the idea of the Five Senses (五識; goshiki) and the theory of the Five Elements (五行; gogyō).

(Most of this section is sourced from the brilliant OnMarkProductions. Check out his site for a much more in-depth look at the number five in Buddhism—and everything else.)

The five colors (五色; goshiki) are associated with the five elements and the five directions. There are different combinations of colors depending on what sect of Buddhism you belong to (and maybe even a secret sixth color if you are a mystical type).

One of the most common sets is:

  1. Blue = East, Green (compound color), Spring, Wood, Meditation
  2. Red = South, Scarlet (compound color), Summer, Fire, Zeal
  3. White = West, Crimson (compound color), Autumn, Wind, Faith
  4. Black = North, Purple (compound color), Winter, Water, Wisdom
  5. Yellow = Center, Brown (compound color), Earth, Memory

These five colors were used for all sorts of magical items, such as the Five-Colored Cords (五色の糸; goshiki no ito) used for rituals in the Heian period, or the Five-Colored Water (五色水; goshiki sui) ceremony held in some temples to commemorate the historical Buddha’s birthday.

There are more examples, but the gist is this—put those five colors together and you are talking some serious magic.

For the remaining kanji, you have the god Fudo (不動), whose name translates literally as “unmovable.” He is a particularly cool god. Fudo looks like an oni with his fierce visage, proudly upheld sword, and flaming throne. There’s really too much to be said about Fudo to go into it here, but suffice it to say if you were going to pick a god to defend your city in a magical circle of protection, Fudo is a good god to gamble on.

Blue Fudo

The Legend

According to legend, in the early 17th century the new shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu asked the abbot Tenkai to establish a mystical circle of protection for Edo, the new capital of Japan. To complete his task, Tenkai drew a symbol of the onmyōji—a 5-pointed star—around the city. He consecrated each point of the star with a temple. Inside each temple was a statue the god of Fudo, each with a different eye color. The statues combined to bind the power of the five sacred colors and provide the desired mystical protection.

The Facts

The facts are far less fun.

The Goshiki Fudo does not exist. If you look at a map, the designated the temples don’t make a pentagram, except in the most imaginative sense. There aren’t even five temples. And on top of that all the Goshiki Fudo temples are conveniently located along the central Yamanote train line that circles Tokyo.

Meguro Station

Meguro Train Station from this site.

That’s right; the legend is a tourist trap, with little historical basis.

The oldest known mentions of the Goshiki Fudo comes from the Meiji period. Apparently there is some connection to a mystery novel that was popular at the time. The story used the idea of the five-temple circle of protection as a plot device. The details are tenuous and I wasn’t able to track down the actual name of the novel, but most sources agree that this is where the legend began (or perhaps this mysterious book is a legend itself?). The legend grew from the popularity of the book, and people just assumed that the locations were real.

Goshiki Fudo Map

Map of the Goshiki Fudo from this site.

Just as every year tourists flood London seeking 221B Baker Street in a quest for Sherlock Holmes’s apartment, and Platform 2 ¾ to catch the train to Hogwarts, during the Meiji period people heard of these magical five temples and went in search of them. As we will see below, the Black Eye and White Eye temples were easy enough to find, but the other ones were a little bit harder—due to the fact that they didn’t exist. With all those tourist dollars up for grabs, it didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to turn these fictional locations into reality.

Enterprising priests were quick to take advantage of the legend-seekers and started to declare themselves the home of the missing three Fudo. They painted the eyes of their statues to match the legends and try to draw in the crowds.

The end result is that you get multiple locations, all vying for authenticity. Finally, these settled into the six temples known today, with at least two temples claiming to be the authentic “Yellow Eye.” In reality, with the exception of the Black and White Eyes, all of the statues can be traced to around the 1880s.

The Five (I mean Six!) Temples of Fudo

The Goshiki Fudo Statues

Image of the six Fudo statues from this site.

At least two Goshiki Fudo locations appear to be genuine: Ryosen-ji and Konjyo-in, known also as Meguro (目黒; black eye) and Mejiro (目白; white eye).

The temple Ryosen-ji dates back to the 9th century, and has an ancient black-eyed statue of Fudo known by the name Meguro Fudo (Black-eyed Fudo). This is the only authentic Fudo statue in the set. The Yamanote line train stop for this area of Tokyo is also called Meguro, and is a name most Tokyoites are familiar with.

Meguro Temple

Another train stop down the line is called Mejiro. While this is read as White Eye (目白), the area is named after a type of bird—the zosterops japonicus AKA Japanese White-Eye—and not a Fudo statue. However there is a nearby temple, Konjyo-in, that dates back to the 16th century. Like many temples, Konjyo-in has a Fudo statue. Over the years, people noticed the Black Eye/White Eye dichotomy and their imagination made a connection.

During the Edo period, there was some vague mention of the “Three Fudos,” of which the Black- and White-Eye Fudos may be connected. The Meaka (Red Eye) is usually considered as the third candidate for the triumvirate, but there are several thousand Fudo statues in temples around Tokyo and nobody really knows for sure. There is also mentions of statues of the Four Deva Kings (known as the Nio in Japanese) positioned to protect Edo. Along with the mystery story, these have probably morphed into the modern Goshiki Fudo legend.

Goshiki Fudo Blue Eyes

The Red-Eyed Fudo from this site, which has more pictures

The current declared temples are:

  • Meguro (目黒;Black Eye) – Ryosen-ji (Spring Waterfall Temple) – Dating from 808 AD
  • Mejiro (目白;White Eye) – Konjyo-in (Parliament of the Power of Money) – Dating from 1594
  • Meaka (目赤;Red Eye) – Nankoku-ji (South Valley Temple) – Dating from 1616. – Claims to be associated with Red-Eyed Fudo from 1788. Fudo statue and temple burned in WWII. Reconstructed in 1985. Relocated in 2011, with old temple grounds turned into a parking lot.
  • Meao (目青;Blue Eye) – Saisho-ji (Great Victory Temple) – Dating from 1882, built over the top of a previously ruined temple. Blue-Eyed Fudo statue installed as part of construction.
  • Meki (目黄;Yellow Eye) – Eikyu-ji (Eternity Temple) – Dating from 1880, Constructed with Yellow-Eyed Fudo installed as part of construction. The book Kanto no Fudosan to Shinko identifies this as the true Meki.
  • Meki (目黄;Yellow Eye) – Saisho-ji (Great Victory Temple) – Same name as Meao, but unrelated. Dating to 860. Moved to Hirai ward in 1912. Exact date of association with Goshiki Fudo unknown.

There are still others that claim to be authentic. Ryugan-ji, for example, claimed to be the real Meki in 1930, but no one is really buying it and it rarely makes it on the tourist maps. There are others as well, but none of note.

The SkyTree Building

Tokyo SkyTree

Image from the Tokyo Times site

Real or not, many still believe in the power of the Goshiki Fudo. Like other mythical locations of dubious heritage, the legend has become the fact—enough to where some in Tokyo actually worry about disrupting the magical circle. Most notably in the case of the SkyTree Building.

Built in 2010 and completed in 2012, the building’s official name is Tokyo SkyTree, which was chosen as part of a naming contest. When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, people went looking for answers and some laid the blame (perhaps egged on by the slightly mad governor of Tokyo, Ishihara Shintaro) on SkyTree breaking the power of the Goshiki Fudo.

According to legend, the Goshiki Fudo was established to protect Edo against the north. In geomancy, the northern direction is called the Gimon or Demon Gate and is considered unlucky. Tokyo SkyTree was built in the North, which was rare for sizable Japanese buildings. Some Feng Shui practitioners say its shape resembles a Poison Needle, drawing the unlucky power of the North down into the soil of Tokyo. Some modern spiritualists further say that the Tokyo SkyTree building is constructed over a Ley Line, disrupting its flow of power into Tokyo.

To the contrary, the building’s designers claim the Tokyo SkyTree is a Gorin-to—a 5-Story Pagoda—and thus adds extra protection against the unlucky northern direction.

Neither advocates nor distractors can quite explain how the Goshiki Fudo failed to protect against neither the 1923 Great Kano Earthquake nor the WWII firebombing of Tokyo long before the building of the disruptive SkyTree.

Translator’s Note

This started out as a simple research question for Wayward, but ended up in a deep exploration of the true nature of the Goshiki Fudo. It was a trail that lead to a somewhat disappointing end, mainly because I prefer to believe in the magical and mystical. However, the tourist trap nature of the Goshiki Fudo was inescapable. But then I wondered if that even mattered. After all, it is often the belief that creates the reality, not the reality that creates the belief.

The fact that it was originally devised as a tourist trap doesn’t stop people from believing in its power. The symbolism and story is more important than history. Thousands visit the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto every year, even though it was only built in 1955 and finished in 1987. They pay homage to the graves of the 47 Ronin, even though that is a tourist trap as well. The sites serve more as a focus of belief and cultural heritage–a way to reinforce what it means to be “Japanese”—than as some record of history.

It is no different from Christians going on pilgrimages to see holy icons. They aren’t “real.” Any amount of research reveals that they were tourist traps, from the Shroud of Turin to pieces of the True Cross. But that doesn’t affect the honest emotions they summon up for believers.

Or for that matter American pilgrims going to see the Liberty Bell. The fact that it could not possibly have been rung on July 4th, 1776 (as the legend goes) does not mean that the story isn’t good, or prevent it from being a powerful symbol of the country. Every country has similar venerated forgeries. The Wallace Sword on display in Scotland mostly likely did not actually belong to William Wallace.

And when I was in London, I went to 221 Baker Street to see the home of Sherlock Holmes. I knew it was pure fiction, but that didn’t dampen the feeling that I was standing in the home of the Great Detective.

After all, as a wise man once said “When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.”

Update on Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost

Yurei_Japanese_Ghost_Cover

First off, my deepest gratitude to everyone who preordered my book Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost. It really means everything to me to have your support. And equally my sincerest apologies on the continual delays. The most disappointing part of this whole process is knowing I have let you down, and lost some of your confidence. I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be to see books fall from publication date and continually be delayed.

I met with my publisher recently and we created a schedule to get the book back on track, aiming for an early 2015 publication date in either January or February. I feel confident that this is a target we can hit.

Without going into too many background details, the cause for the delays was due to several factors. We were operating under a tight schedule to try and hit an October publication date and hopefully pick up some Halloween boost from booksellers. In order to hit that deadline, everything would have needed to be absolutely perfect with no margin of error. Unfortunately, that means we skipped some steps in our rush that only caused further delays down the road instead of speeding up the process.

On top of that, the book designer we hired delivered a book that was totally out of synch with the style of my writing and what I was trying to accomplish. It was more “Pop culture” and less “Classic” than I was aiming for. With that, we had a hard decision to make which was to trash the current design and got back to the drawing board; look for a book designer that could do something more in line with my sensibilities—a move that would cost both time and money—or just publish the book as-is in order to meet our deadlines and have a book on the market.

Ultimately, I decided it was more important to me to think long term instead of short term, and to delay the book by several months in order to have a book I could be proud of for years to come. My publisher has supported me on this, for which I am very grateful even though we are losing money for every month the book is delayed. Ultimately, we decided the integrity of the book is more important than the money, which is probably not a decision that a larger publisher would have made.

The new book designer is brilliant and exactly in line with what I want to achieve. I feel very confident about the direction the book is heading. Things are moving along, and you can expect to see a really wonderful book at the start of the new year.

Again, thank you for your continued support, and my sincerest apologies for the delays. In the modern publishing world, with a first-time author working with a small press publisher, every single reader is extremely important and appreciated. Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost just needed a little more time in the oven than we imagined, and I am sure you will all appreciate the final efforts even more.

(And if you haven’t yet, PLEASE consider preordering my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost! Every single order is HUGELY important (more than you could possibly know. Trust me on this!) and I promise that the book really is coming out soon! And it will be worth the wait!)

Nurarihyon – The Slippery Gourd

Nurarihyon Sawaki Sushi Hyakkai Zukan

Translated and Sourced from Koshiki Haidokubara, Gazu Hyakki Yagyo, Yokai Jiten, Ichiban Kuwashi Nihon Yōkai Zukan, Gegege no Kitaro, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Soruces

For more adventures of Nurarihyon, check out the comic book Wayward

The Yōkai Sōdaishō, Supreme Commander of Yokai. The leader of the Hyakki Yagyō, the Night Parade of 100 Demons. The King of the Chiryomoji, the Spirits of Earth and Air. In modern Japan, Nurarihyon is a yokai of many grand titles. All of which obfuscate his origins and a humble sea monster, floating in the Seto Inland Sea.

What Does Nurarihyon Mean?

The confusion over Nurarihyon starts with his name. It is most often written in hiragana only, as ぬらりひょん, which gives no inherent meaning. There is kanji that can be used, 滑瓢, combining 滑 (namera; slippery) + 瓢 (hyo; gourd) giving you something meaning “slippery gourd,” but it is thought that this kanji was added later to match the name. Old accounts of Nurarihyon only ever use the hiragana.

As to the meaning, there are two ideas. The “Nurari” part is almost universally accepted as meaning “slippery or evasive.” “Hyon,” can either mean “floating on the sea,” as it does in Okayama prefecture, or “gourd” as a reference to Nurarihyon’s oddly shaped head. And according to an Edo period Japanese-Portuguese dictionary, “hyon” simply means “mysterious.”

There is a further confusion as to the correct name for this yōkai. Some accounts speak of a creature called Nurarin or Nurihyon instead of Nurarihyon. The best guess is that in the past these were separate yōkai, but merged over time due to the similarities of their names.

Nurarihyon the Sea Monster

The oldest accounts of Nurarihyon—and the ones that owe more to folklore than commerce—come from Okayama prefecture. Nurarihyon is described as a type of Umi Bozu, The “slippery floater” of these legends is described as a bulbous mass that floats on the Seto Inland Sea, eternally bobbing up and down between the surfaces of the water.

This Nurarihyon is thought to be a yōkai version of the jellyfish called the Portuguese Man-o-War. Some consider it to be a “baby umi bōzu” that eventually grows up into the full-sized monster.

Nurarihyon the Nopperabo

The ukiyoe-zoshi Koshiki Haidokubara (好色敗毒散) has a one-sentence mention of Nurarihon.

“Nurarihyon looks like a catfish, without eyes or a mouth. It is a spirit of deception.”

There isn’t much to go on, but this account places Nurarihyon in the realm of the faceless yōkai like nopperabō. The “catfish” portion shows that at this time Nurarihyon was still considered a sea creature.

Nurarihyon the Unwanted Houseguest

Sekien Nurarihyon

The most common version of Nurarihyon in the modern world is that of the unwanted houseguest. He is almost always described in this way:

“One hectic days when the household is running around with barely a second to think, Nurarihyon slips casually into the house and sits down to a cup of tea acting as if he were the Lord of the Manor. People who see him and the casual ease with which he takes authority assume that he must indeed be the Lord. They fall upon themselves serving him, and don’t realize how they have been deceived until he is gone.”

The evolution of this version of Nurarihyon is unknown. It is thought to rise from Toriyama Seiken, who drew Nurarihyon as an old man with an oversized head, draped in a fine kimono and stepping out of a fancy palanquin into a home for his Gazu Hyakki Yagyo (Illustrated Night Parade of 100 Demons). In Murakami Kenji’s Yokai Dictionary, he says that the modern appearance of Nurarihyon is entirely and invention of Toriyama. In fact, Murakami notes that Toriyama didn’t intend for this to be Nurarihyon at all, and titles the character “Nurihyon.” Toriyama didn’t include any story or explanation of his yōkai, just the word “Nurihyon” next to his illustration.

Nurarihyon Bakemono Zukushi B

As is common with yōkai, Toriyama’s version of Nurarihyon became the standard image. All artists to follow copied his style. Nurarihyon appeared in a few yōkai collections, such as the different versions of the Bakemono Zukushi (化物づくし) and the Yōkai Zu-maki. These started out as direct copies of Toriyama’s illustration, eventually moving on to heavily stylized images of an old man with a massive head wearing a fine kimono.

Toriyama’s image of a wealthy yōkai showing up in his fancy palanquin, as well as descriptions of Nurarihyon as a spirit of deception, must have inspired writers to bring the two together into the role of the unwanted houseguest.

Nurarihyon the Supreme Commander of Yōkai?

Nurarihyon Bakemono Zukushi C
In addition to the description above of the unwanted houseguest, the 1970s yōkai encyclopedia Ichiban Kuwashi Nihon Yōkai Zukan (いちばんくわしい日本妖怪図鑑; Most Detailed Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan’s Yokai) includes this addition.
“Nurarihyon is the Yōkai Sōdaishō (総大将), the Supreme Commander of Yōkai.”

The idea of Nurarihyon as a leader of yōkai is a modern one, coming from the manga era not the ukiyo-e era. During the Edo period, the Yōkai Sōdaishō was often considered to be the massive Mikoshi Nyudō. In some stories, Mikoshi Nyudō was married to the long-necked courtesan Rokurokubi, and their child was the Tofu Kozō. Nurarihyon was a relatively unimportant yōkai.

Nurarihyon Kitaro

The idea of Nurarihyon’s elevated status comes from Mizuki Shigeru’s seminal yōkai comic Gegege no Kitaro. When Nurarihyon and Kitaro first meet, Nurarihyon announces himself as the Yōkai Sōdaishō. Originally, it was meant to be an extension of the air of authority he exuded as an unwanted houseguest. Nurarihyon was the type of monster to make grand, unsupported claims about this own importance. However, as the comic continued the character changed into an actual yōkai leader. This was especially true of the animated series, where they required someone to be the “archvillain” for Kitaro and his friends to battle. Taking off from the comics, Nurarihyon was cast in the role. (In much the same way Bluto became the main antagonist for Popeye, a rivalry that did not exist in E.C. Segar’s original comic strip.)

Gegege no Kitaro Nurarihyon

Mizuki Shigeru’s influence on yōkai lore is no less than Toriyama’s, and so Japan accepted Nurarihyon as the leader of all yōkai, a position he still occupies in the country today.

Nurarihyon the Leader of the Hyakki Yagyō?

Nurarihyon on Film

One of the most illogical titles given to Nurarihyon is that he is the “Leader of the Hyakki Yagyō.” I say illogical, because all you have to do is look at the old Hyakki Yagyō picture scrolls to see that—not only is Nurarihyon not the leader of the night parade—he doesn’t even appear.

As a concept, the Hyakki Yagyō (Night Parade of 100 Demons) comes from the Heian period (794-1185), with the illustrated scrolls that first gave yōkai their individual shapes and personalities appearing in the Muromachi period (1337-1573). Toriyama Seiken’s original illustration of Nurarihyon did not appear until 1776, centuries after the mania for Hyakki Yagyō picture scrolls had disappeared.

Even then, there is no leader of the Hyakki Yagyō. The twist ending of the night parade is that the end of the parade is almost always the rising sun. The yōkai flee backwards against the light of the sun, forming a loop.

The only reference to Nurarihyon and the Hyakki Yagyō comes from an Edo period book by Sagae Masumi which states that:

“In twilight times, when the sky is thick with clouds and the cover of light rain, men and women meet for illicit meetings under the cover of darkness. On those days also yōkai like Nurarihyon, Otoroshi, and Nozuchi march in the Night Parade of 100 Demons.”

The origin of this title seems to come from the manga Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clans which depict Nurarihyon as a clan leader who organizes the night parade to march under his banner.

Nurarihyon_no_Mago_Japanese_Vol_1_Cover

Translator’s Note:

Wow! It has been far too long since I posted a new entry! I have been incredibly busy recently working on all sorts of projects, which hasn’t left me as much time as I would like to post new entries to hyakumonogatari.com. But thanks to everyone for patiently waiting!!!

I got interested in Nurarihyon as he is one of the main characters in the yōkai comic Wayward that I work on. (From Image Comics! You should totally check it out!) It is almost taken for granted that Nurarihyon is a leader amongst the yōkai, but I couldn’t find anything to support this in any of my Edo period books, so I went searching for answers. I was surprised to find that this was almost entirely an invention of Mizuki Shigeru. It shows just how influential his work is in Japanese yōkai culture!

And if you are curious as to what I have been up to (aside from my long-delayed book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost … sigh … thanks everyone for the preorder, and I apologize for the delays … ) check out some of the following!

Three Tales of Okiku

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Yoshitoshi_Ogiku

Night Stories of Takemata

Translated from Takemata Yawa; 1557

Around the time after the Kakitsu Revolt (1441), there lived a man named Odagaki Shumesuke, a chief retainer in a prestigious family in the Hatama country of Aoyama (Modern day Himeji city). Oda lived in a magnificent mansion in the mountains. In his household was a beautiful serving girl named Hanano, who was the object of many desires.

A young samurai named Kasadera Shinemon pursued Hanano, writing her love letter after love letter; but she always refused him.

One of the great treasures of the Odagaki family were five precious abalone drinking cups that they had received from the lord of the clan. One day Odagaki noticed that one was missing. He questioned Hanano about the missing cup, but she could only express her surprise. In a rage, Odagaki tortured Hanano, demanding the return of the priceless heirloom.

In truth, the cup had been hidden by Kasadera in revenge for Hanano’s repeated rejections. Kasadera eagerly joined in the persecution, beating Hanano severely while demanding return of the cup. Finally, while bound and hanging from a pine tree, Hanano died.

From then on, the terrible power of Hanano’s rage could be felt at the mansion every night, and the tree from which she died became known as the Hanging Pine.

 

Kunichika_100_Roles_Baiko_Okiku

The Plate Mansion of Ushigome

Translated from Tosei Chie Kagami; 1712

A samurai named Hattori lived in the Ushigome area of Edo. His wife was surpassingly jealous. One day the wife discovered that her husband’s mistress had broken one of the ten heirloom plates that the house had from Nanking, rendering them unsuitable for service to guests. The wife would not take money, but insisted that the mistress replace the broken plate. As the plates were quite old and rare, the wife knew this was an impossible demand.

Until the matter was settled, the wife had the mistress confined to a cell. She was given neither food nor drink, and the wife expected she would starve to death. However, on the fifth day the wife checked in and found the mistress still alive. Out of patience, the wife took matters into her own hand and strangled the mistress in her cell. She then paid to have her body taken from the house. To everyone’s surprise, the mistress suddenly revived insider her coffin and begged for release. Exasperated, the wife paid four strong men to strangle the mistress, and bury her body in an unmarked grave. With the deed done, the wife thought she was at last free of her rival.

But suddenly, the wife’s throat began to swell. She could no longer swallow food, and even had difficulty breathing. A doctor came to attend to her, but it was too late. The doctor could find no cause for her condition, and decided it must have been the onryō of the mistress coming for revenge. Later, it was found that the four men who had killed the mistress had died in the same way.

Hokusai_Sarayashiki

A Doubtful Record of the Plate Mansion

Translated from Sarayashiki Bengiroku; 1785

The Yoshida Mansion sits in the 5th ward of Ushigome-Gomon. The lot on which it was built was once the home to the palace of Lady Sen before she made her journey to Akasaka in Edo in 1626. After that, another building once stood in that lot which was burned down to the ground—the home of the minor lord Aoyama Harima.

In the house of Aoyama a young girl named Okiku worked as a maidservant. On the second day of the second year of Jōō (Jan 2nd, 1653), Okiku accidently broke one of the ten precious plates that were the heirloom of the Aoyama clan. Harima’s wife was furious, and said that since Okiku had broken one of the ten plates it was fair to cut off one of Okiku’s ten fingers in return. The middle finger on her right hand was chosen, and Okiku was confined to a cell until the punishment could be carried out.

During the night, Okiku managed to slip her bonds and escape from her cell. She ran outside and threw herself into an unused well, drowning at the bottom.

The next night, from the bottom of the well came a woman’s voice. “1 … 2 … “ Soon, the sound of her voice could be heard echoing throughout the mansion, counting the plates. Everyone was so terrified their hair stood up all over their bodies.

Harima’s wife was pregnant, and when she gave birth her child was missing the middle finger on its right hand. News of this made it back to the Imperial Court, and the cursed Aoyama family were forced to forfeit their territories and holdings.

The sound of the counting of the plates continued. The Imperial Court held special ceremonies to calm Okiku’s spirit, but all in vain. At last, they sent a holy man to the cleanse the spirit. That night, the holy man waited inside the house. He waited patiently as voice counted “ 8 … 9 …” and then he suddenly shouted “10!”

Okiku’s yūrei was heard to whisper “Oh, how glad I am” before she disappeared.

Translator’s Note

I just finished editing the Okiku chapter for my upcoming book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and figured I would post these translations as a little preview! There is lots more about Okiku in the book itself.

Okiku is one of the most interesting yurei in Japan. She is a true folktale, with multiple versions spread across the country. Anywhere there is an old castle and a well, there is a legend of Okiku. She isn’t always named Okiku, and she isn’t always counting plates, but the same details are there.

Here are three translations of some different versions of the legends. I started with the oldest, so you can see how the tale has changed over time. Over the course of learning about her, Okiku changed from a yurei I thought was kind of boring, to one of my favorites. She is the most Japanese of Japan’s famous ghosts.

And I hope people aren’t getting too sick of my sales pitch, but if you can PLEASE preorder my book! I cannot emphasize enough how important preorders are going to be for my book’s overall success. If you enjoy my translations and articles on hyakumonogatari.com, the best way to support the site and show appreciation is to preorder a copy of my book! Thank you!!!

Kosodate Yūrei – The Child-Raising Yūrei

Kosodate_Yurei_Shigeru_Mizuki

Translated and Sources from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara, Nihon no Yūrei, Inga Monogatari, and Other Sources

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Yūrei require a tether, something to connect them to the physical world, something strong enough to prevent them from moving on to the next world. Depending on the nature of this bond, a different type of yūrei can manifest. The bond of a mother to her child is one of the oldest and strongest of these tethers.

What Does Kosodate Yūrei Mean?

The kanji for the kosodate yūrei is descriptive. Kosodate (子育て) means child-raising. An alternate term substitutes amekai (飴買い) for the amekai yūrei meaning the candy-buying yūrei. Variations of the story can be found all over Japan, but most kosodate yūrei stories follow a consistent pattern.

The Legend of the Kododate Yūrei

Beisai_Kosodate_Yurei

There are multiple versions of the kosodate yūrei told all across Japan. Most of them follow an identical pattern. This version is told in Nihon no Yūrei by Ikeda Yasaburo as a personal recollection of a story that had been told to him:

“The name Tsukiji nowadays brings to mind a bustling fish market in Tokyo, but it was not always so. In the olden days, the area known as Tsukiji was packed with temples, mostly belonging to the Honkan-ji temple complex. The area was also covered in cemeteries.

Along the banks of the Sumida River that flows near Tsukiji, there were also stands selling fresh fish and the sweet sake for children known as amazake. In one story, late every night a woman clutching a child would come to a certain amazake dealer to buy the sweet sake from him, which she would then give to her child to drink. The sake dealer, sensing something mysterious about this woman, followed her from his stall one night and watched her as she made her way towards the main hall of the temple, where she disappeared like a blown-out candle. When she vanished, the sake dealer could hear the cry of a baby coming from somewhere in the cemetery. Tracking the sound to a freshly-dug grave, the sake dealer enlisted the help of some others to dig up the grave, and when opening the coffin discovered a crying baby nestled in the arms of its mother’s corpse.”

The legend has its origins in China, where it can be traced back to the book Yijian zhi (1198; Records of Anomalies), with the story of the mochikae onna, the rice cake-buying woman:

“One time, a woman who was pregnant died, and was buried in the ground. After that, a nearby rice-cake dealer began to have a strange customer come night after night, an odd woman carrying a baby. The woman always bought a rice cake for the baby. The dealer was suspicious, and stealthily tied a red string to the woman the next time she came in. After she left, he followed the red string and found that it led to a grave hidden under some bushes. After telling the bereaved family, they dug up the grave to find that the woman had given posthumous birth in her coffin. The bereaved family happily took the child to raise, and had the mother’s body cremated.”

Rokumonsen – Six Coins to Pay the River Crossing

Kosodate Yurei Painting

Another part of the kosodate yūrei legends are the use of rokumonsen, the six coins placed with dead bodies in order to pay the toll across the underworld River Sanzu. In many versions of this legend, the kosodate yūrei is using these coins. Often the story continues for five nights, until the body is dug up and the final coin is found resting in her dead hand.

Many other merchants receive even less. In several of the tales, the mother uses the tanuki trick of passing off leaves as coins, and the merchant is left with only a wallet of foliage after the true nature of the woman is discovered.

But coins or leaves, the loving mother rarely buys food for her child, no rice or nourishment, but often the small sweet candies or toys that a child would crave, caring more for the baby’s happiness than its welfare.

Kosadate Ame

Kosodate Ame

Kosodate yūrei remain a popular figure in Japanese folklore. To this day, a small shop in Kyoto still sells kosodate ame—child-rearing candy—and claims to be the very shop where the kosodate- yūrei came to buy candy.

Translator’s Note:

The kosodate yūrei is so similar to another type of ghost—the ubume—that they can almost be considered a different name for the same spirit. There are differences, however. The ubume is closely associated with blood, and with the Buddhist hell of Chi no Ike, the Lake of Blood, where women who died while pregnant were said to be consigned. Ubume also try to get someone to hold their baby, which kosodate yūrei never do.

Previous Older Entries

Copyright notification

All translations and other writing on this website were created by Zack Davisson and are copyright to him.

Copyright notification

In accessing these web pages, you agree that any downloading of content is for personal, non-commercial reference only.

No part of this web site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of Zack Davisson.

Copyright notification

For rights clearance please contact Zack at:

zack.davisson (at) gmail.com

Thank you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 951 other followers

%d bloggers like this: