Ushi no Koku Mairi – Shrine Visit at the Hour of the Ox

Ushi_no_Koku_Mairi_Mizuki_Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Kaii Yokai Densho Database, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

At the Hour of the Ox (between 1-3 A.M.) a lone figure creeps silently towards a sacred tree. She is dressed in white, and on her head an upturned trivet is worn like a crown, three candles burning in the night. In one hand, she carries a doll made of bound straw in the form of a person; in her other hand, a small wooden hammer and a set of long, iron spikes. The hatred in her heart blazes brighter than the candles, appropriate for one completing the curse-ritual known as Ushi no Koku Mairi, the Shrine Visit at the Hour of the Ox.

The Ritual

Ushi no Koku Mairi (丑の刻参り; also known as 丑の時参; Ushi no Toki Mairi, both of which translate as Shrine Visit at the Hour of the Ox) is an ancient, famous, and terrible Japanese curse-ritual. It has been performed for millennia—some sources trace it back as far as the Kofun period (250 – 538 CE), although in a different form. While the costume and ritual have changed over the centuries, the basic rite of pounding nails into dolls remains the same.

To perform an Ushi no Koku Mairi, you first make a straw doll (藁人形; waraningyo) to serve as an effigy of the person you want to curse. For the best effect, the doll should have some part of the person in it, some hair, skin, blood, fingernails, or other DNA. In a pinch a photograph will do, or even their name written on a piece of paper. This done, you done the ritual costume, and sneak into a shrine late at night. Many Shinto shrines have sacred trees, called shinboku, that are the homes of kami spirits. Nail the doll to the sacred tree using long, iron spikes called gosunkugi (五寸釘).

ushinokokumairi

As stated in the name, the timing is very important. The ritual can only be completed at the Hour of the Ox, between 1-3 A.M. in the ancient method of counting time in Japan. The Hour of the Ox is the traditional Witching Hour in Japan, a time when yurei and yokai and other evil spirits come haunting.

And most importantly—the ritual must be done in secret; it is said that if anyone sees you performing Ushi no Koku Mairi, the curse will rebound on the caster. Unless, of course, the eyewitness is immediately slain.

How many times you perform the ritual vary; some say that you must go back seven nights, pounding in a single nail each night. The final nail goes into the head, which will kill the cursed person. The results of the curse vary as well—some say the cursed person will sicken and die. Some say that, like a Voodoo doll, the cursed person will feel pain where the spikes are hammered in. Some say it is a summoning ritual, and that performing an Ushi no Koku Mairi summons a vengeful spirit to torment and ultimately destroy the recipient.

The Costume

An important component to the ritual is the costume. One does not simply waltz into a shrine and pound a doll into a tree. The costume is a demonstration of your intention, and is more than just decoration; the curse is said to be so terrible that in order to be effective you must become a demon yourself.

SekienUshi-no-tokimairi

Although the costume has changed over the years (and there are numerous variations depending on your source), the most recognizable version comes from the Edo period, and is still associated with the ritual.

• A white kimono and obi, with your face painted white (to look like a supernatural creature)
• An upturned trivet on your head, with three candles burning on the legs
• A mirror (a sacred symbol of Shinto) worn over your chest like a necklace
• A shortsword tucked into your sash, to kill anyone that sees you
• Tall, one-toothed geta clogs (or barefoot, if you can’t walk in them)
• A wooden comb (in some accounts, a razor) held between your teeth (It is important not to utter a sound once you enter the shrine, and the comb keeps you silent.)

Some variations of the costume swap out a headband and two candles for the trivet, but I think if you are going to do it, go all out.

The History of Ushi no Koku Mairi

No one really knows how old the ritual really is. In the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the is an 8th century relic from an archeological dig of a doll made of bound wooden strips with an iron nail shoved through the chest. This is from a time when iron had just been introduced into Japan, and would have been a rare commodity. In the ruins of Datecho in Shimane prefecture, Matsue City, archeologists found a wooden plaque with a painting of a court lady that had wooden spikes pounded through it. It is known that dolls for curses were used by Onmyoji , the yin/yang sorcerers of the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE).

Going to the shrine at the Hour of the Ox has not always been associated with curses, however. Old records show that people originally snuck in to pray, and that during these nighttime visits your pleas to the kami were more likely to be answered. Somehow, along the way, these prayers for a kami’s blessing turned into prayers for a kami’s curse.

One of the oldest written accounts of the ritual comes from the Sword scroll of the Kamakura period epic poem The Tale of the Heike. It differs from modern accounts—the costume calls for you to bind your hair into five braids, to use bound-together pine branches threaded into an iron ring for torches, and to cake your face in red vermillion clay instead of painted white. Also, instead of a late-night sneak visit to a shrine, the curser runs down the street shouting their curse for all to hear. According to the story, the ritual was taught to a woman by a kami spirit, after she prayed for revenge at a local shrine. The woman would transform into the monstrous Hashi Hime (Bridge Princess), still wearing her frightful costume.

In the Muromachi period (1337 to 1573 CE), a Noh play called Kanawa (鉄輪; Iron Ring)is credited with drawing a connection between the Onmyodo doll ritual and the costume of the Hashi Hime, creating the first account of the Ushi no Koku Mairi as it is known today.

A_woman_makes_a_cursing_ritual_ceremony

By the Edo period, the Ushi no Koku Mairi was firmly established and illustrated by artists in kaidan-shu collections of stories of the strange. One of the main differences in Edo period artists was the results of the ritual—many preferred to show some evil spirit or god lurking in the background, waiting to be summoned by the completed ritual.

Where to Perform the Ritual

Not all shrines are created equal for Ushi no Koku Mairi. Kifune Jinja in Kyoto and Ikurei Jinja in Niimi, Okayama, are famous sites for Ushi no Koku Mairi, as is Jishu Jinja, a small shrine located near the Kyoto Buddhist temple Kiyomizudera. If you look carefully, these sacred sites have shinboku trees that still bear the scars of centuries of iron nails pounded in by vengeance-seekers.

Ushi no Koku Mairi Tree

And if all this seems like a lot of work to put together, don’t worry. In the modern world, a complete Ushi no Koku Mairi kit can be ordered online. But be careful, performers of the ritual can be prosecuted under Japanese law.

Ushinokokumairi_kit

Translator’s Note

The Ushi no Koku Mairi was a difficult project–difficult in knowing what to leave in, and what to leave out.  There are SO many different variations on the ritual it would be impossible to include them all.  I tried to add in what I thought was relevant, and appeared in the highest number of resources.  But this is by no means a complete account.

This is the second of my trivet-wearing yokai stories. Next up is a direct ancestor of the Ushi no Koku Mairi, the Hashi Hime.

Further Reading

For related kaidan stories, check out

Gotokoneko – The Trivet Cat

What are Teruteru Bozu?

The Mistress of Tonbu and Nezu

What are Teruteru Bōzu?

Translated and sourced from Yokai Jiten and other sources.

Teruteru Bozu, the small tissue-paper men, are a not unusual site on overcast days in Japan. Looking exactly like the tissue-paper ghosts American children make on Halloween, they hang from the eaves of houses, each one a wish for sunny weather from a child who wants to go outside and play.

But what the children don’t know—and most likely the parents don’t know either—is that what looks like a simple folk-custom is actually a prayer to ancient Chinese gods and to one of Japan’s monster clan, the yokai called Hiyoribo.

Hiyoribo (日和坊)– The Weather Monk

Hiyoribo is a legend that has been passed down for many years in Japan. He is said to come from the mountains of Hitachi-no-kuni—modern day Chiba prefecture—and his season is the summertime. Hiyoribo is said to be a yokai who brings sunny weather, and who cannot be seen on rainy days.

Toriyama Seiken illustrated the Hiyoribo in his picture-scroll “Supplement to the Hundred Demons of the Past,” and explained that this yokai was the origin of teruteru bozu. He said that when children hang up teruteru bozu and pray to them to bring sunshine into the rain, it is actually the spirit of the Hiyoribo that they are praying to.

Teruteru bozu (てるてる坊主) – The Sunshine Monk

Teruteru bozu are made from white cloth or tissue bound together with a bit of string. They are usually hung upright from the eaves of a house, and are used as talisman in the hopes that tomorrow will bring good weather.

In some areas of Japan the dolls are used by farmers on days when they hope for rain instead of sun. The dolls are are hung head-downwards and called furefure bozu or ameame bozu (both meaning roughly The Rain Monk) or ruterute bozu which is simply teruteru bozu said backwards.

And although teruteru bozu is the most common name, they are also known as teretere bozu and sometimes hiyori bozu. Researcher Miyata Noboru has found that in certain places in West Japan they are still called Hiyoribo and remembered as yokai.

Teruteru bozu appeared around the middle of the Edo period in Japan. In the book “Kiyu Shoran” (Inspection of Diversions) the author writes of the custom that if the teruteru bozu is successful, and the following day is clear, then its head is washed with sacred sake and the doll is sent into a river to be washed away. In Edo period Japan, rivers were thought to connect to the afterlife and the realm of the gods, so sending the teruteru bozu down the river was returning it home in the same way that candles and lanterns were floated down the river during Obon, the Festival of the Dead. There was also a custom where—as with Daruma dolls—a face was only drawn on the teruteru bozu if it had been successful in bringing fair weather.

The origins of the custom are vague. Some say that it comes from China, where untou ningyo (cloud-clearing dolls) and ameku musume (rain banishing girls) are just a few of the similar customs that can be found. Folklorist Fujizawa Morihiko sees the origin of both the yokai Hiyoribo and the teruteru bozu in a Chinese drought-god with similar properties.

The Teruteru bozu Song

Like many Japanese customs, there is a warabe uta—a folksong. The lyrics are allegedly about a story of a monk who promised farmers to stop rain and bring clear weather during a prolonged period of rain which was ruining crops. When the monk failed to bring sunshine, he was executed.

Japanese:
てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしてをくれ
いつかの夢の空のよに
晴れたら金の鈴あげよ

てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしてをくれ
私の願いを聞いたなら
甘いお酒をたんと飲ましょ

てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしてをくれ
それでも曇って泣いてたら
そなたの首をちょんと切るぞ

Romaji:

Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Itsuka no yume no sora no yo ni
Haretara kin no suzu ageyo

Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Watashi no negai wo kiita nara
Amai o-sake wo tanto nomasho

Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Sore de mo kumotte naitetara
Sonata no kubi wo chon to kiru zo

Translation:
Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky in a dream sometime
If it’s sunny I’ll give you a golden bell

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
If you make my wish come true
We’ll drink lots of sweet sake

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
but if it’s cloudy and I find you crying (i.e. it’s raining)
Then I shall snip your head off

The Mistress of Tonbo and Nezu

Translated from Nihon no Yurei

The Ginza area of Tokyo is overflowing with local legends and gossip. This is one of them.

The restaurant itself is no longer standing, but from the Meiji era through the Taisho and Showa eras, the name Tonbo would have been familiar to any residents of the Ginza.  The popular restaurant flourished for decades, and appears as a setting in several historical accounts.  This is a story concerning the mistress of the restaurant.

As a restaurant, Tonbo was famous for the fierce loyalty of its customers.  A Tonbo customer did not stray to other establishments.  And none obeyed this code more stringently than the name named Nezu, Tonbo’s most loyal customer. Such was the extent of his patronage that the two had become synonymous.   “Nezu’s Tonbo” the restaurant was called, just as he was called “Tonbo’s Nezu.”

Now Nezu was a man of strong passions, and one of his passions was for a woman named Mochizuki.  Although they were not married, such was their relationship that Mochizuki accompanied Nezu when he took trips abroad.  It so happened that, on the day Nezu died in his home, his lady Mochizuki had happened to come calling to his house and discovered his body.   The Ginza gossip said that it was almost as if the Buddha had summoned her at that exact moment to tend to her love.  To no one’s surprise, it was only a day before Mochizuki too passed away, following Nezu into the afterlife.  Nezu must have called for her from the other world, everyone said. 

It turned out Nezu was not as loyal to his women as he was to his restaurant, for with Mochizuki also dead yet another woman, an employee of an antique shop, came forward as Nezu’s lover and offered to attend to the funeral arrangements as was her duty.  Her assistance was not long, as she too soon died and joined Nezu in the other world.

With his lovers gone, the obligation of arranging the funeral now fell to the Mistress of Tonbo.  Feeling safe that Nezu was well-comforted in death, the Mistress of Tonbo dutifully performed the purification rites and attended at the funeral of her most loyal customer.  In spite of this show of affection and duty, Nezu was not content to bring only his two lovers with him to the afterlife.

A year had passed, and on January 4th, the exact day of Nezu’s death anniversary, the Mistress of Tonbo also died.  Her funeral was on January 8th, the same day that Nezu’s funeral had been held.  Some said this was mere coincidence.

Now, the Mistress of Tonbo had no children, but she was very fond of costumes and clothing.   For reasons unknown, prior to her death the Mistress of Tonbo had already prepared her funerary wear, ordered from her favorite kimono shop.   The head clerk of this shop, a woman named Nishi, had been the one to discover the Mistress of Tonbo’s body when she stopped by to pay her traditional New Year’s greeting.  Everyone said that the Mistress of Tonbo had foreseen her own death, citing both the preparation of her funerary wear as well as the timing of the expected visit from Nishi.  After these events, Nishi of the kimono shop suddenly died.

Next up was a man named Koya.  An old friend of the Mistress of Tonbo’s father, Koya had often looked after her when she was growing up, and his presence at her funeral was taken for granted.  When Koya failed to appear, the Ginza was abuzz with gossip over the reason why, until the day of the funeral Koya’s daughter came to give her regrets and say that Koya too had passed away.

Not only had Koya died on January 4th as well, but his own funeral had been held on January 8th, and it was thought that the Mistress of Tonbo had somehow brought Koya along with her to the afterlife.  At least that is what everyone believed.

I first heard this story from my aunt, but because the legend of the Mistress of Tonbo and her loyal Nezu are so famous almost everyone is familiar with this haunting tale of coincidental death.  My aunt could not resist adding a personal touch, however, and whenever she finished the story she would say with a slight smile that there was more to the story.

During wartime, such a grand restaurant as Tonbo could not expect to operate, and it was forcibly shut down by the government and its resources re-allocated.  The Mistress of Tonbo could not stay idle, however, and in a different location she soon opened a much smaller neighborhood shop.  Such was her pride, however, that she could not bring herself to stand in the shoddy booth day-after-day taking customer orders. So the Mistress of Tonbo asked my aunt if she wouldn’t mind coming in and taking over the running of the new shop?

To my aunt, this seemed a somewhat mercenary request.  The Mistress of Tonbo would collect all the cash while my aunt did all the work.  Still, a job was a job, and my aunt mulled it over for awhile.  Finally, my aunt decided that she too had pride and that perhaps it would be for the best to recede from the company of the Mistress of Tonbo.  My aunt instead recommended Okiku, a girl who had worked at Tonbo restaurant for some time, to stand in as mistress of the new shop.  Although disappointed at my aunt’s refusal, the Mistress of Tonbo soon warmed to the idea of Okiku, and it was just a short while before they were in business together.

Of course, their little venture was cut short of January 4th of that year when the Mistress of Tonbo suddenly died.  And it was only half a year later before it was Okiku’s turn, who found that her Mistress had a pull on her in death as well as life.

My aunt dutifully attended Okiku’s funeral, but sure that Okiku would also want to drag someone along with her to the afterlife, my aunt placed two small dolls in Okiku’s coffin.  My aunt always bragged that it was she and her little dolls that ended the chain of deaths.  In such times of violent war people took such death superstitions seriously.

There was no doubt in my aunt’s mind that Okiku had taken her place in more than the restaurant.  If my aunt had not transferred that job to Okiku and completely severed her ties with the Mistress of Tonbo, then it would have been my aunt’s cold body lying in that coffin.  And surely Okiku would not have been clever enough to think of the two dolls, and the situation would have dragged on even further.

Now when you normally hear the story of Nezu and the Mistress of Tonbo, it ends with the death of the Mistress.  But my aunt liked to flavor the story with her own personal experience.  That is typical of these local legends swapped in the Ginza.  Each person twists the details, or emphasizes parts intended to reinforce the moral lesson they wish to tell, or even just to boast of some personal triumph over the supernatural.

But if you look back into folklore and history, there is some precedence to the story’s conclusion and the two dolls my aunt says she placed in Okiku’s coffin.  The ancient story of Nomi Sukune tells of a samurai who defied the custom of committing ritual suicide in order to accompany his empress into the afterworld when she died.  Instead, Sukune placed a set of unglazed clay warrior figures, called haniwa, into her coffin for company.

My aunt’s dolls served the same purpose as these haniwa, nullifying the dead person’s curse and satisfying the need for someone to accompany them to the afterlife.

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