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