Shichinin Dōgyō – The Seven Pilgrims

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

This is a legend from Kagawa prefecture, and is one of several legends about someone out for a walk who runs into a mysterious band on the road, and dies as a result.

The Seven Pilgrims cannot be seen under normal circumstances. According to legend, only those with the ability to wiggle their ears can see them unaided. Everyone else has to look beneath the legs of a cow in order to make the invisible visible. Cows in particular are said to be sensitive to the presence of the Seven Pilgrims. If a farmer is out walking with his cows, and they come to a sudden stop at a crossroads, the wise farmer bends down and peeks from between his cows’ legs until he is sure the coast is clear. But, if he sees seven dark pilgrims walking single file … then his time has come.

Along with the Seven Pilgrims, Kagawa prefecture also has the legend of the Seven Boys. This is essentially the same story as the Seven Pilgrims, substituting a group of wandering young boys. The Seven Boys are also encountered on crossroads, and because of this the Nakatado District of Kagawa is spotted with long-abandoned crossroads where no human dares to walk.

The Seven Pilgrims and the Seven Children are most likely the same entity. Whether they look like weary travelers or small children, in truth, no one knows. No one has ever survived an encounter.

In Kochi prefecture, there is a similar legend of the Seven Miseki . They say that people who drown in the ocean are chained together in gangs of seven. The number is always seven, and there is a hierarchy. In order to gain their freedom and go on to the afterlife, the Seven Miseki need a new member in the form of a drowning victim. Then, the ghost in the front gets to heaven, while the rest of the members move up a rank. And the Seven Miseki feel no need to wait for an accidental drowning. They will kill if they can, to gain new members and free themselves from their torment.

So powerful is this bond that not even invoking the Nembutsu (prayer to the Ahmida Buddha) can help the Seven Miseki. Far better to save your prayers for yourself, and hope that they don’t come to you one night, looking for someone to step into the back row.

Translator’s Note

As I have said before, Japanese folklore runs the gambit from funny, to strange, to terrifying. After doing Eyeball Butt, I was in the mood for a monster that was honestly scary. Well, except for looking between a cow’s legs … that’s just weird.

One of the interesting things about the Seven Pilgrims is they show the fine line between yurei and yokai in Japanese folklore. The pilgrims are referred to either as “shiryo” (dead spirits) or “borei” (departed spirits), but they don’t follow the normal rules and tropes of Japanese ghosts. Generally, Japanese ghosts require some purpose or reason to manifest, whereas the Seven Pilgrims act as if they are under a curse. Unless their reason is more mysterious than we know.

The kanji used for the Seven Pilgrims is七人同行, which translates literally as “Seven Fellow Travelers,” although in this case “travelers” implies “walkers of the path” which is a reference to Buddhist pilgrims. Their alternate form, the Seven Boys is 七人童子, or Shichinen Doshi. Based on that term, they don’t necessarily have to be boys—you could say the Seven Little Kids—but that is the most common usage.

The terrifying Seven Miseki uses katakana for the name (七人ミサキ) which implies that “miseki” has no further meaning other than being a name. But I will need to look into that further. They are pretty cool and are worth their own article some day.

Further Reading:

For most ghostly tales on hyakumonogatari.com, check out:

Shōrōkaze – The Ghost Wind

The Gratitude-Expressing Yurei

How Do You Say Ghost in Japanese?

The Yurei Child

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. carlotspeak
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 04:31:17

    This is one of the best story, once again. Like you said..reading, it started of as an amusing folk tale, but then it began to grow darker. I can imagine peering under a cow and seeing silly people walking in file and about to laugh (at myself -being under cow- and at them) when all of a sudden everything changes to horror… ^_^

    Reply

  2. Bill Ellis
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 07:32:09

    Very interesting discussion. Reminds me of the famous scene in Kurosawa’s movie Yume (Dreams) in which the little boy goes out and spies on the foxes having their wedding procession. When he returns home, his mother hands him a knife and says a fox had left it so he could commit suicide.

    There is also a widespread British legend (Motif D.1825.6.1) of the custom of watching at the porch of a church on St. Mark’s Eve (April 25) around midnight. At that time a procession of wraiths (separable souls, dopplegangers) of all the people fated to die during the coming year will walk past you and enter the church door. The danger, of course, is that one of the figures in the procession will turn out to be you, in which case your death is imminent (but you get to tell the story first). If you fall asleep before they come or leave before the procession starts or while it is still ongoing, you die anyway.
    ]
    This was evidently quite a popular form of what is now called “legend-tripping” in the 1700s and 1800s, and those who did it (or led people to believe that they did it) gained an eerie sort of social power. Good academic survey: S. P. Menefee, “’Dead Reckoning': The Church Porch Watch in British Society,” in H.R.E. Davidson, ed., _The Seer_ 80-99 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1989).

    Reply

  3. carlotspeak
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 11:49:32

    Neat stuff.

    Reply

  4. Mouryo
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 12:23:16

    Cool, there are quite a few similar stories from the British isles. For example if you see a ghostly group of people carring a coffin you know that your time has come.

    Reply

  5. Zack Davisson
    Aug 31, 2012 @ 15:34:05

    The Fox Wedding is real Japanese folklore. They are said to happen on days when it is raining, but the skies are clear. The foxes are particular about who sees them, and it is best to stay inside on those days.

    The sea connection of the Seven Miseki is interesting as well. Japanese ghosts with an ocean connection–like the Funa Yurei–don’t quite follow the same rules as average Japanese ghosts. There is also the difference of a group of ghosts instead of an individual.

    Reply

  6. angrygaijin
    Sep 03, 2012 @ 10:45:18

    Super creepy! I personally liked Eyeball Butt, but this story was much, much more frightening. Interesting, the relation to Buddhism. Was that the ‘7-fold path’? …or was that an ‘8-fold path’..?

    Now to try to sleep! :(

    Reply

  7. vilajunkie
    Sep 08, 2012 @ 21:51:06

    Cool! Reminds me a lot of:

    * The American (and British?) folktale “There’s Always Room For One More”, where a crowd of dead people try to talk you into riding in a hearse, a faulty elevator, or similar places. I think it’s a folk ballad as well.

    *The French-Canadian Chasse Galerie (“The Hunting Party”), a canoe in the air at night full of hunters and fishers who sold their soul to the Devil to hunt and fish for eternity. Also hunters who didn’t follow the proper traditions, like only killing as much as you need.

    * The Santa Compaña (“Holy Company”)/Güestia of Spain, basically the same thing as the Seven Pilgrims, except you’re given a slim chance of escape if you keep silent and don’t look behind you until daylight comes.

    Reply

  8. russyt
    Sep 21, 2012 @ 01:52:23

    There’s more on the Seven Miseki here: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%83%E4%BA%BA%E3%83%9F%E3%82%B5%E3%82%AD These guys are truly terrifying (I don’t like the idea of the Santa Compaña, either, @vilajunkie!) and I would not like to meet them.

    Don’t know if you know or remember but there was a game for GCN/PS2 called ‘Killer 7′ in which inhabiting the body of a hitman were 7 personalities, each one a hitman also. Knowing now about the Seven Miseki, I think the game loosely appropriated the legend for the idea. Good to make these connections!

    Reply

  9. Trackback: Konjaku Monogatari selections | gaikokumaniakku

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