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!

Utsuro Bune – The Hollow Ship

Utsuro Bune Print

Translated and Adapted from Toen Shōsetsu, Hyōryū kishū, Ume no Chiri, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

Legend or fact? In the early 1800s, a strange iron ship with crystal windows drifted ashore off the coasts of the Hitachi province, modern day Ibaraki prefecture, where it was found by locals. By most accounts, inside was a mysterious woman with pale, pink skin and white-frosted red hair. She spoke an unknown language and clutched a square box made of some pale material, which she would not release. Unsure of what to do, the locals packed her back in her ship and pushed her back to sea.

It would seem to be a fairy tale, but the same woman and the same mysterious ship has been recorded drifting to shore in different locations, and the various accounts match each other almost exactly. Ufologists have co-opted the story claiming it is evidence of an early UFO siting, although this is extremely dubious. After all, the “F” in UFO stands for “Flying,” and that is something the Utsuro Bune definitely did not do. It is strictly a boat. Other’s claim it is some form of early submarine, or an attempt at a new technology for ocean-going vessels. Whatever the Utsuro Bune was, it remains a unique entry in Japan’s weird history.

What Does Utsuro Bune Mean?

In defining Utsuro Bune, the “bune” part is easy. 舟 (bune) means “boat,” plain and simple. “Utsuro” presents more of a challenge. When written, the hiraganaうつろ (utsuro) is used almost exclusively, giving no clue as to the exact definition. There are a few different meanings that could be attached. The most common translation is “empty” or “hollow.” Another reading is “quiver” like a quiver for arrows.

Another, obscure usage of utsuro describes the hollowed-out tree trunk of a sacred tree. There is some speculation that “utsuro bune” originally described a hollowed-out tree trunk into which a sacrificial victim was stuffed and then put out to sea; although there is very little evidence for this other than the name.

The Legend of the Utsuro Bune

The oldest account of the Utsuro Bune comes from a book thought to have been published in 1815, called Oushuku Zakki (鶯宿雑記; Miscellaneous Notes from the Nightingale Inn). The one-sheet text and illustration gives a short description of the event, and lays down the basic facts.

Oshuku Zakki Utsuro Bune

The most well-known account—and the most detailed—comes from Kyokutei Bakin and his book Toen Shōsetsu (兎園小説; Stories from the Rabbit Garden). Kyokutei lived in the late Edo period. He was what was called a bunkajin, meaning an intellectual, a cultured man of letters. Kyokutei was brimming with curiosity, and like many in the Edo period had a passion for the supernatural and the weird. He hosted a monthly gather of knowledge-seekers such as himself, called the Toenkai, Meeting of the Rabbit Garden. Kyokutei and his fellow bunkajin would gather to swap tales and share interesting or weird stories they had heard—something like what we would call a Writer’s Circle in the modern parlance.

The Rabbit Gardern knew all of the best weird tales of the day. They swapped first-hand accounts of yōkai and yūrei and urban legends, anything with the ting of the occult. The Utsuro Bune was a type of tale was called a michi tono sogu (未知との遭遇, eye-witness account). They chose the best of these stories and Kyokutei edited them and compiled them into the Toen Shōsetsu collection. Several of Japan’s famous weird tales come from that edition.

Kyokutei’s account of the Urotsu Bune is unusual for being so specific, even though it was written 22 years after the incident occurred. It is highly possible—and even probably—that one of Kyokutei’s “rabbits” read the account of the Miscellaneous Notes from the Nightingale Inn and decided to fill in the details.

——————————————————
Urotsu Bune no Banjo – The Foreign Woman in the Hollow Boat

Translated from Toen Shōsetsu

Utsuro Bune Tales from the Rabbit Garden

On the 22nd of February, in the 3rd year of Kyowa (1803), in the Year of the Ox, a strange object that looked like a small boat was spotted off the shore of Tsuruhama. The fisherfolk who lived in that area observed the strange vessel and took to their boats and rowed out to meet it. With great effort, they towed the mysterious objects into the shallows and drug it onto the beach. It was unlike any boat they had ever seen.

The vessel measured about 3.30 meters tall and 5.45 meters wide. It was round as a ball, and resembled a covered incense burner. The top half was made of what looked like red-lacquered rosewood, with windows patterned like folding screens—only with glass panels instead of paper. The whole thing was sealed watertight; with the seams plugged with something like pine pitch. The bottom of the vessel was bound with ribs of metal—possibly bronze or iron. It is speculated that the metal plating protected the boat from impact with sea rocks. Everyone was much amazed when the top swung open, as if hinged by some hidden latch or mechanism. Then the woman appeared.

Her face was a pale pink color, and her hair and eyebrows were vivid red. Here hair hung down her back, and had been lengthened with strips of something white, either animal fur or a kind of fabric. The extensions had been covered in white powder, almost like flour. What it was exactly, we have no way of knowing. Her dress was elegant and of strange material, tight at the top and loose at the bottom. The village women were very interested in seeing how she had achieved the effect of her hair and dress, but it remained a mystery.

When the villagers attempted communication with the woman, she responded in an unknown language. She was about 1.5 meters tall, and carried a square box. This box appeared very important to her, and she would not release her grip on it for an instant. She would not let anyone even get close to it.

The villagers checked the interior of the mysterious ship, and found two sheets, and two small containers of water (the water supply was insufficient for survival, so the ship must have had some means of generating fresh water). There was some form of baked goods and some kind of meat twisted together like a rope that served as provisions.

The villagers had a discussion about what to do with the strange woman and her boat. An elder of the village proposed the idea that perhaps she was a princess of some distant country. Perhaps the princess had been married, but took a commoner as a lover. As punishment, her father the King had her lover’s head chopped off and put into a box, then the princess was placed in this odd vessel and abandoned at sea. After all, he reasoned, you couldn’t directly execute a beloved royal princess. This way her life was in the hands of the gods.

The elder said that would explain her devout attachment to the box, and her resistance to relinquishing it or letting anyone look inside. The elder said he had heard of things happing like that before, and he remembered some story of a woman washing ashore in similar circumstances long ago.

It was decided that the best thing to do would be to put the girl back into her hollow boat and return her to the sea. It seemed cruel, but the villagers did not want to interfere with the intentions of some foreign state. So they put the girl back in and rowed her back out into the deep sea and set her adrift again, leaving her to her fate.

It was also noted that the inside of the hollow boat was covered in strange writing. Some suggested that perhaps it was the writing of Great Britain, or perhaps the girl was some lost princess from the distant country of America. But there was no way to know for sure.
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Other accounts of the Usturo Bune soon surfaced, each with a slight variation. If you believe all the accounts, the poor girl kept drifting ashore to various spots in Japan, each time only to mercilessly returned to the ocean. It seems no one was willing offer her a helping hand.
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Translated from Hyōryū kishū (1835: 漂流紀集: Diary and Stories of the Castaways)

Utsuro_Bune_Castaways

Hitachi province, Shakehama. An odd boat looking the same as this illustration drifted ashore. Inside was a woman between the ages of 18-20, with a pale complexion, red eyebrows, and hair that matched the red color of her eyebrows. Here teeth were white, and her lips a deep crimson. Here arms were slender, and she could be considered beautiful. She was well-mannered and calm. As you see in the picture, she was carrying a wooden box that seemed to be very important to her. We do not know the contents as she would allow no one to handle the box. She spoke, but not in a language that could be understood by any of those present. We assume she is a foreigner, not only by her strange speech but because her features and coloring are not those of a Japanese or other Asian person. Inside her strange vessel she has some provisions, what looks like baked goods and some meat that has been treated in some manner. But the exact contents are unknown to us. She has a large tea cup. The construction of her ship was also unknown, made of equal parts metal, wood, and some form of ceramics. Inside we could clearly see the writing that is reproduced on this picture.

Description of the Boat: It was about 3.3 meters tall, and 5.4 meters wide. The body appeared to be lacquered rosewood bound with iron or bronze. There were windows made of crystal or glass. The woman appeared to be about 18-20 years old. She had a pale complexion, with red hair. There was writing on the left side of the ship, reproduced faithfully.

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Urotsu Bune no Banjo – The Foreign Woman in the Hollow Boat

Translated from Ume no Chiri – (1844; 梅の塵 : The Dust of Plums)

Utsuro Bune Color

This happened in the spring of the 3rd year of Kyowa (1803), in the vicinity of Haratonohama. A strange vessel drifted ashore.

This vessel was shaped like a hollow sphere, looking something like an iron cooking pot. Around the circumference it was edged like the lip of a pot. The top half of the sphere had the appearance of black lacquer, and was covered in windows. The windows looked like shoji paper screens, and were covered in some sort of pitch. The bottom half of the sphere was bound with iron ribs, as protection from rocks. It looked like the high-quality iron that comes from the Western countries. It was 3.60 meters tall and 5.40 meters wide.

Inside the strange vessel was a lone woman, who appeared to be about 20 years old. She stood roughly 1.50 meters tall. Here skin was as white as snow, and her long black hair hung down her back like a plume. The beauty of her face was enough to render us all speechless. Her clothes were like nothing we had ever seen before, made of some remarkable and mysterious fabric.

She spoke no language that we could understand.

She carried a small box, the contents of which are unknown. Under no circumstances would she allow others to hold the box or even get near it.

Inside the boat, there were two sheets laid down as some sort of carpeting. They were softer than anything we had ever felt before. For food, she had some sort of baked goods, and some kind of meat. We saw a single drinking bowl like a large tea cup. Everything was patterned with some sort of design, but we could not determine its meaning.
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Truth Behind the Legend?

うつろ舟/江戸時代のUFO?

Who knows. This is one of those fanciful bits of history where the real story will probably never be known. It is VERY different from other weird tales of the Edo period, by virtue of being so specific in detail and lacking any supernatural element.

The Utsuro Bune is a classic case of “the legend has grown in the telling.” Modern legend trippers have taken up the story, added their own details, and twisted the story like a modern game of telephone. Modern Japan has embraced the legend—and commercialized it like their own Roswell—creating a recreation/play space of the Utsuro Bune at one of the locations where it apparently touched shore.

Utsuro_Bune_Park

But at the core is always Kyokutei’s original account of a strange woman in a strange boat. And that mystery is good enough without embellishment!

Translator’s Note:

I discovered the Utsuro Bune completely by accident, and then became hooked on it. A little too much, I think, because I started researching and translating Utsuro Bune legends when I should have been working on other things!

There is SO much written on the Utsuro Bune that I could barely cover it here. Separating out all the different elements can be difficult. If you are interested in reading more, the English Wikipedia article is very extensive and has lots of good links and resources. In fact, the Wikipedia article is so good I almost didn’t bother to do this entry. But I noticed the one thing that was missing was translations of some of the original Utsuro Bune stories! So I tracked down a few of them and translated them!

The Kabuki Ghost of Kohada Koheiji

Kohada Koheiji Hokusai Full

Translated and Adapted from Fukushu Kidan Asaka no Nema and Japanese Wikipedia

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

What happens when a man who is a master of playing a yūrei in kabuki dies and becomes a yūrei himself? That is the question answered in the strange story of Kohada Koheiji, the kabuki actor who finally assumed the role he was born to play.

The Strange Story of Revenge in Asaka Swamp

Matsusuke Onoe I as Kohata Koheiji by Toyokuni
Kohada Koheiji was a third-rate kabuki actor struggling to make a living on the Edo kabuki stage during the time of Ichikawa Danjūrō II (1688-1758). Kohada lacked both natural talent and experience, and could not be cast in a role. Feeling sorry for him, Kohada’s drama instructor bribed a director to cast Kohada in some role—any role. Just so that Kohada would finally be able to take to the stage.

The director took one look at Kohada and saw that he bore a natural resemblance to the yūrei characters of kabuki. His skin was white, his eyes dark and sunken, and his hair long and unruly. The director thought he could save some money on make-up and costume and cast Kohada in the yūrei role of the play.

While it wasn’t exactly his dream role, Kohada saw this as his big break and threw himself into studying. He went to the morgue to observe dead faces, and learned how to slack his face muscles and hold his body like a dead man. His diligence and hard work paid off, and Kohada was an overnight success. His fame spread, however his skill was limited. He could only be cast in yūrei roles, which led his fellow actors to nickname him Yūrei Kohada.

Kohada had a wife named Otsuka whom he was deeply in love with. Otsuka, however did not return the affection and thought Kohada was an embarrassing fool. Behind his back she was having an affair with a fellow actor named Adachi Sakuro. Together they hatched a plot to get rid of Kohada.

Kohada Koheiji Utagawa-Toyokuni

When they were away together on a tour, Adachi invited Kohada to go fishing. Suspecting nothing, Kohada went out with Adachi on a boat into the Asaka Swamp. Once they were far out from shore, Adachi surprised Kohada, pushing him off the boat and holding him under the water until he drowned.

Adachi was thrilled with his deed, and hurried back to let Otsuka know that he had cleared the path to their love. But he was not the only one. Kohada was not content to lie dead at the bottom of the swamp. He rose again a yūrei, and went to meet Adachi and Otsuka in Edo.

As might be expected, Kohada was a fabulous yūrei. More than any man alive, he had practiced enough to perfect the role. His new dead self looked exactly has he had on the stage, and he knew every trick to elicit terror in the cheating, murderous couple. He haunted them relentlessly, driving them had and eventually to their own unnatural deaths.

The Historical Kohada Koheiji

Kohada-Koheiji--Utagawa-Kunitoshi

Kohada Kojeiji was a popular figure in Edo period romance fiction and kabuki theater. His story and image appear in numerous plays and art, including Hokusai’s famous portrait of his skeletal form peering over the mosquito net.

It was always assumed that the story was true. It was passed around town as an urban legend, with bits and pieces being gathered and attached here and there. The story was finally written and published in the 3rd year of Kyowa (1803), written by Santō Kyōden with illustrations by Kitao Shigemasa, under the title Fukushu Kidan Asaka no Nema (復讐奇談安積沼; The Strange Story of Revenge in Asaka Swamp). It was adapted for the kabuki stage in the 5th year of Bunka (1808), written and directed by the playwright Tsuruya Namboku VI under the title Iroe Iri Otogi Zoku. (彩入御伽艸; Colored Nursery Tales).

We know the details of Kohada Koheiji’s story thanks to Yamazaki Yoshishige, a historical investigator who wrote the journal Umiroku (海録; Record of the Sea) from 1820 to 1837. Yamazaki investigated the story of Kohada Koheiji, and found that glimmers of the story began around the 1700s. Piecing everything together, he discovered the model for the story, a traveling entertainer whose name was actually Kohada Koheiji. Kohada had apparently been a terrible actor who killed himself out of despair for his lack of talent. His wife was not saddened by the loss, and asked a friend to help cover up the embarrassing death, hoping to report Kohada as missing or run off. They did not do a good job, and the deed was uncovered.

The real wife was rumored to have an affair with the real Adachi Sakuro, and Kohada’s body was discovered in Chiba prefecture in Inba Swamp. When that story became news, it was only a small leap from the true story for townspeople to speculate that Kohada’s wife and Adachi had actually killed Kohada. From there, the story gained traction as the details were filled in and the supernatural elements added.

Kohada’s Haunting

small_The-actor-Bando-Hikosaburo-in-two-roles-The-ghost-of-Kohada-Koheiji-and-his-sleeping-wife-Otawa-in-the-play-Iroiri-Otogigusa

Like another kabuki ghost, Oiwa, Kohada is said to still be haunting the kabuki theater. He is said to especially haunt those who take on his role in kabuki adaptations. The only way to get out of this curse is to make an offering at his grave before taking on the role. Ever since the Edo period, actors taking on the yūrei roles were thought to take their lives into their own hands.

During the Edo period, children were less afraid than the adults. They had a saying of “Yūrei aren’t scary! Look, I’m eating Kohada!” referring to the small shad fish called kohada.

Translator’s Note:

I did a translation of the story of Kohada Koheiji for Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and figured I would post it here as a little preview! (Which, if you haven’t preordered yet, please do! Cue the quick sales pitch—it is getting down to the time when books stores will place their initial orders, and having strong preorder sales will make all the difference!!! 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!!!)

Kohada Koheiji is an interesting figure in that he is one of the few male yūrei from the Edo period to show up consistently in art. Oiwa, Otsuyu, and Okiku were regular attractions in ukiyo-e, but only Kohada joins their ranks for the men’s team. Artists almost universally chose the scene of Kohada peeking over the mosquito netting for their work. Because it is so darn spooky!

Hokusai_Kohada_Koheiji

 

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