Suppon on Onryo – The Vengeful Ghosts of the Turtles

Mizuki_Shigeru_Suppon_no_Onryo

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

You can still see turtle restaurants in Japan today offering a full-course suppon meal, including a glass of blood served with sake. But they are much rarer today than they were during the Edo period. A few strange stories come down to us from those times about ghostly goings-on in the turtle shops. This is one of them.

A man named Kiroku had a successful suppon shop in Nigata city. Every day he butchered and served up hundreds of turtles. One day at work, his body suddenly felt heavy. At the same time, everything became cold and dark, and it felt like he was being submerged under water. He tried to shout, but no voice came out. He felt around with his hands, and felt something even colder. It was a turtle shell. All around him were hundreds of turtles, crawling over his body and dragging him down.

Finally, Kiroku managed to let out a cry of horror, which brought his wife running into the room. When she opened the door, all of the turtles vanished.

This happened night after night, until finally Kiroku had enough. He had learned his lesson, and swore an oath against the taking of life. The wrathful turtle ghosts never came again.

Translator’s Note:

The second story of the dangers of overindulgence of suppon and ghostly revenge for Thanksgiving. This tale comes from the Edo period kaidan-shu Hokuetsu Kidan (北越奇談; Strange Stories from Hokuetsu), where it was illustrated by the famous artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Hokusai_Suppon_no_Kaii

The original story was called Suppon no Kaii, which used the term怪異 (Kaii; strangeness). Mizuki changed it to the term onryo (怨霊), which refers specifically to a grudge-bearing spirit. The word is used almost exclusively for the yurei of human beings, so it is a bit odd seeing it used in the context of these turtles who are angry at being eaten. But it just goes to show the flexibility of folklore.

Mizuki Shigeru adds a footnote to this story, saying that living things must consume other living things in order to stay alive—that is the very nature of life. Even the turtles in this story needed to kill in order to live, so logically they object to the gluttony of so many of them being eaten, not the very fact they were eaten at all. Go ahead and eat turtles, Mizuki says, just appreciate their sacrifice and don’t eat too many!

Further Reading:

For more tales of magical turtles and over-eating yokai, check out:

Suppon no Yurei – The Turtle Ghost

The Appearance of the Spirit Turtle

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

Mizuki_Shigeru_Salty_Choji

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Ehon Hyakumonogatari, and Japanese Wikipedia

In Kaga province (modern day Ishikawa prefecture), there lived a wealthy man known as “Salty Choji” who kept 300 head of horses. Now, these horses weren’t for riding. This man had a taste for horse flesh, and would slaughter his horses like cattle then pickle them in salt or preserve them in miso paste to get them tasting just right. Every night he tucked into a pile of salty horse meat with gusto.

Such was the man’s appetite that Choji ate his way through 299 of his own horses, until all that was left was an ancient animal that wasn’t good for labor or food. One night Choji just couldn’t stand it any longer, and he shot the old beast anyways, then slathered it in salt and ate it down in a gluttonous frenzy. That night, however, the tables turned against Choji—the spirit of the old horse came to him in a dream and bit him on his neck.

From that night on, whenever the clock stuck the hour of the time when Choji had killed the old horse, its spirit appeared and entered Choji’s body. But this wasn’t your normal possession; the horse forced his way through Choji’s mouth, and crawled straight through to his stomach. The pain was intense, and Choji felt every inch of the massive horse stretching his innards and intestinal tract. As he lay in agony night after night, Choji bitterly regretted all of his evil deeds and his ravenous appetites that lead him to this fate. But his regrets did him no good. For it was too late.

Choji summoned every manner of doctor and exorcist to aid him in his suffering. They tried everything they could but without effect. No amount of medicine or prayers for reprieve could lessen his agony. Choji’s torment continued for 100 days until at last he died. It was said his corpse was broken and shattered, like an overburdened packhorse.

Translator’s Note:

Another tale of overeating for November, and the American Thanksgiving holiday. There are a few more to come in their series! This story comes from the Edo period kaidan-shu Ehon Hyakumonogatari (絵本百物語; Picture Book of 100 Stories).

ShunsenShionoChoji

The tale of Salty Choji isn’t as strange as it seems. Although rare nowadays, horse is a standard part of Japanese cuisine, mostly eaten raw and sliced as the sashimi called basashi. I have eaten it many times. It’s delicious! So the shock of the story isn’t really what Choji was eating, but how much of it. All things in moderation is the moral of the story. That and Choji forgetting an important fact of Japanese folklore—the older an animal is, the more likely it is to have developed supernatural powers. Salty Choji should have left that old horse alone, and just gone shopping for some new ones.

The story of Shio no Choji (Salty Choji) inspired a story for the anime series Kyogoku Natsuhiko Kosetsu Hyaku Monogatari (京極夏彦 巷説百物語; Natsuhiko Kyogohe ku’s Hundred Stories), most commonly known in English as Requiem From the Darkness. I say “inspired by” instead of “adapted from” because the version of Salty Choji found in the series is VERY different from the original folktale. There is cannibalism involved, and fratricide, and all sorts of things that never appear in the simple story of Shio no Choji who could couldn’t control his appetite.

Requiem_From_The_Darkness_cover

Further Reading:

For more tales of hungry yokai and yokai food, check out:

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

Jinmenju – The Human Face Tree

Katabira no Tsuji – The Crossroad of Corpses

Katabira_no_Tsuji_Mizuki_Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, A Diplomat in Japan, Part II: The Diaries of Ernest Satow, 1870-1883, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

At the beginning of the Heian era, during the reign of the Emperor Saga, lived the Empress-Consort Tachibana no Kachiko (橘嘉智子; 786-850CE). A devout Buddhist and holy woman, Tachibana founded the great Buddhist temple complex and learning center of Danrin-ji, and because of this was known as the Empress Danrin.

All of her life the Empress wanted to use her position and education to forward and spread the teachings of Buddha. But she had one major problem—Tachibana no Kachiko was cursed with a beautiful face. So much so that whenever she tried to teach people of the Buddha and warn them of the impermanent nature of life, she found herself constantly assailed by love letters and obscene offers instead of interested students . Even when she went to the mountain retreats to practice ascetic disciplines amongst the holy brothers—those who should have been spiritually armored against the temptations of flesh—the unwanted attentions were never ceasing.

This troubled Tachibana deeply. She knew that the beauty of her face and body were nothing; mere illusion that would fade and disappear. Yet with everyone so distracted by her transient beauty, how could they learn about the deeper truths of eternity? It was a question that would cloud her entire existence.

When the Empress died at the age of 64—still beautiful—her last will and testament was opened, and shocked the entire royal family. Instead of a state funeral and proper internment, the Empress requested that her body be garbed in the simplest cloth, then flung onto the streets. When people saw her delicate flesh rot away, the meat of her body picked at by crows and wild dogs, and her beautiful body reduced to unlovely bones, at last they would understand the impermanence of things and perhaps learn the lesson she had been trying to teach them.

And that is exactly what happened. The body of the Empress Tachibana no Kachiko was flung onto a dirty street in Kyoto, where it slowly rotted away and was picked at by crows and wild dogs. The body was dressed only in a simple katabira—the white kimono worn by Japanese corpses—and so the street where her body lay became known as the Katabira no Tsuji – The Crossroad of Corpses. Although many have forgotten the reason, the name remains and you can still go to Katabira no Tsuji today (Stop B1/A9 on the Arashiyama and Kitano lines in Kyoto).

Katabiru no Tsuji Train Sign

Translator’s Note:

Another grim tale for Halloween, but one that involves no actual ghost. In fact, according to Japanese tradition it would be impossible for Katabira no Tsuji to be haunted because the Empress got exactly what she wanted—she would have no lingering attachments or resentments keeping her tied to the living world. But you have to love the gruesome image, and the story that goes with it.

Katabira no Tsuji was included in Takehara Shunsen’s Yokai Catalog, the Ehon Hyaku Monogatari (絵本百物語; Picture Book of a Hundred Stories).

ShunsenKatabiragatsuji

There is slightly more to the story. The devout Empress Tachibana no Kachiko’s final act did not go unnoticed, and started an entirely new kind of Buddhist painting known as Kyuaizu (九相図; The Nine Signs). These paintings juxtapose scenes of a person beautiful and alive with the nine stages of their corpse as it decomposes. These pictures were extremely realistic, and obviously drawn from studies of actual corpses decomposing over time.

Kyuaizu were generally painted of famous, beautiful woman to show how their charms and wonders were nothing more than rotting flesh and death—only the soul mattered. The honored courtesan Onono Komachi was a popular subject of Kyuaizu, which lead to some mixing between her story and the story of the Empress Tachinbana.

Ernest Satow, a diplomat stationed in Japan, was being shown around Kyoto in the late 1800s when he related this story in his diary:

“Passed Katabira ga Tsuji where the body of Onono Komachi was flung out to be devoured by kites. Kukakusa no Shosho made love to her and was refused. She promised to be his if he would visit her first during 100 continuous nights. He walked 3 ri there and 3 ri back, but when the 100th night came she was from home.”

This blog shows the Kyuaizu of Komachi in its entirety.

Stage 1 – Still Living (生前相)

Kyuaizu Stage 1

Stage 2 – Freshly Dead (新死相)

Kyuaizu Stage 2

Stage 3 – Filled with Gas (肪脹相)

Kyuaizu Stage 3

Stage 4 – Consanguinity (血塗相)

Kyuaizu Stage 4

Stage 5 – Flesh Rot (肪乱相)

Kyuaizu Stage 5

Stage 6 – Discoloration (青瘀相)

Kyuaizu Stage 6

Stage 7 – Food for Beasts (噉食相)

Kyuaizu Stage 7

Stage 8 – Skeletal (骨連相)

Kyuaizu Stage 8

Stage 9 – Nothing but Dust (古墳相)

Kyuaizu Stage 9

Further Reading:

For other death customs of Japan, check out:

What is the White Kimono Japanese Ghosts Wear?

Nagarekanjyo – A Death Custom

Shoraida – The Rice Paddy Ghosts

Shoryoda Mizuki Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from the Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, An Explanation of the Tateyama Mandala and the Tateyama Faith, and Other Sources

The great Hida mountain range of stretches between Gifu and Nagano prefectures. In the mountain range, on the summit of Mount Norikura, lies the Swamp of Senchogahara. One day the mountaineer Uemaki Taro was traveling near Senchogahara, when he came on a group of men and women together—about 10 of them—drinking from the swamp water.

Uemaki was justifiably terrified when he saw their were wearing the white katabira robe and triangle hat that are the garb of yurei. He was even more terrified when the group of yurei looked up and saw Uemaki watching them, and their eyes began to glow red as if on fire. Uemaki closed his eyes tight against the terrible sight and chanted the Amida Buddha’s name over and over again. With this display of devotion, the horrible ghosts vanished instantly.

Uemaki reasoned that the ghosts were making their trip to the Hell Valley of the sacred Mount Take, and had stopped to appease their thirst along the way. When he returned from the mountains, he told others of his terrifying tale and warned them of wandering ghosts on Mount Norikura. Over the years Uemaki’s story passed into legend, and the ghosts of the mountain became known as the Shoraida (精霊田)—the Rice Paddy Ghosts.

Translator’s Note:

Another Halloween tale of Japanese ghosts! This one is short, but has a few unusual characteristics. First is the name. The kanji used here–精霊田—is unusual. Well, the reading is unusual. Normally the kanji 精霊 is read either Seirei or Shoryo (See What is the Japanese Word for Ghost?) This is the only instance I know of it being read Shorai. Also the kanji 田 (ta; rice paddy) is an odd addition since the yurei appear at a swamp (沢) and not a rice paddy. But Japanese yokai have never been known for adhering to strict naming conventions.

Also, this is another tale of Tateyama (立山; Mount Tate). Tateyama—whose name translates as “standing mountain” has a long history of ghosts and the supernatural. Along with Mount Fuji and Mount Haku, it is one of the “Three Holy Mountains of Japan (三霊山)” and was the center of its own religions cult from the Heian period to the end of the Edo period.

Tateyama Jigoku TaniPhoto of the Tachiyama Jigokudani from this personal blog

Up near the summit of Tateyama is a placed called Jigokudani (地獄谷)—Hell’s Valley. The place earned its name due to the desolation of its volcanic rock surface and the sulfurous steam that pours of vents in the mountain. There are also several mineral-laden pools of boiling water that are a deep red color and called Lakes of Blood (血の池; Chi no Ike). This references a specific level of Hell in Japanese Buddhist mythology, and there are several “Chi no Ike” across Japan.

Tateyama_Pool_of_BloodImage of the Pool of Blood sold to pilgrims to Tateyama. Image comes from the Tachiyama Museum

Around the Heian period a religion sprang up based on the Tateyama Mandala, which showed a map of the mountain including pilgrimage sites. Tateyama was considered an actual portal to Hell and the gods, and someone walking the true path would find themselves in the welcoming arms of the Amida Buddha. Itinerant priests and aesthetics would carry copies of the Tateyama Mandala with them to preach the faith, and through a form of sympathetic magic guide the faithful through the map of the mountain which was said to have the same benefit as making the pilgrimage itself.

Stories sprang up based on the Tateyama Shinko (立山信仰Tateyama Faith), including ones of bands of yurei taking the trip together to the far mountain. It is implied from most of these stories that the dead are on their way to the Jigokudani instead of the merciful arms of Amida. But you shouldn’t feel too bad for them. Later variations of the Tateyama Shinko placed the every-helpful Jizo in the Jigokudani, allowing the suffering a final way out of their plight and into the Western Pure Land.

Further Reading:

For more Japanese ghost stories, check out:

Gatagata Bashi – The Rattling Bridge

Chikaramochi Yurei – The Strong Japanese Ghost

The Ghost of Oyuki

The Yurei Rock of the Cemetery

The Speaking Skull

Tesso – The Iron Rat

Mizuki_Shigeru_Tesso_Iron_Rat

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

In Japanese folklore, if you make a promise you had better keep it—even if you are the Emperor of Japan. Otherwise, the person you betrayed might hold it against you and transform into a giant rat with iron claws and teeth and kill your first-born son. That is the story of the Emperor Shirakawa, his son Prince Taruhito, and the Abbot of Miidera temple Raigo—better known as Tesso, the Iron Rat; or more simply as Raigo the Rat.

What Does Tesso Mean?

The kanji for Tesso is about as straight-forward as you can get. 鉄 (te; iron) +鼠 (sso; rat). The name Tesso was given to this yokai by artist Toriyama Sekien in his yokai collection Gazu Hyakki Yako (画図百鬼夜行; The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons,), although the character is much older.

SekienTesso

Toriyama’s Text: The Abbot Raigo transformed into a monsterous rat.

Tesso is different from many yokai in that he is a singular character. There is only one Tesso. Until Toriyama came up with the much cooler name for his collection, Tesso was known as Raigo Nezumi (頼豪鼠), meaning Raigo the Rat.

The Story of Raigo the Rat

The tale begins with the Emperor Shirakawa, who was desperate for an heir to his throne. He enlisted the aid of the Abbot of Miidera temple, a powerful Buddhist monk named Raigo. Emperor Shirakawa promised Raigo vast rewards if he could use his spiritual powers to give the Emperor a son. Accepting the offer, Raigo threw himself into meditation and prayer and magic. Soon enough a son was born to Emperor Shirakawa, the Prince Taruhito.

Yoshitoshi_The_Priest_Raigo_of_Mii_Temple

Raigo went to the Emperor for his promised reward, and asked only for the funds to build an ordainment platform at his temple of Miidera. The Emperor was too happy to oblige, until temple politics interfered.

Miidera had a rival temple, the powerful Enraku-ji in Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. The monks of Enraku-ji were not normal, peaceful monks, but a terrible army of militant warriors feared across all Japan. It was said the Emperor could influence all on Earth except three things—the blowing of the wind, the rolling of dice in a cup, and the monks of Enraku-ji. Even though they were both of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, Miidera and Enraku-ji has split into different factions after the death of their founder. Enraku-ji was not about to allow new Tendai monks to be ordained at Miidera, a privilege they reserved for themselves.

The Emperor had no choice but to break his promise to Raigo. He asked if there was anything else he could give, but Raigo was adamant. So adamant, in fact, that he went on a hunger strike and died after 100 days, cursing the Emperor with his final breath. At the house of his death, a figure in white was said to have appeared beside the cradle of the 4-year old Prince Taruhito, who died soon afterward. What Raigo had given, Raigo had taken away.

What happened next was strange—up until now this is the usual ghost story with Raigo returning as a yurei. But the tale does not end there. Raigo used black magic to ensure he was reborn after death as a dread yokai. He twisted his body into the form of a giant rat as large as a man, with a body as strong as stone and with claws and teeth or iron.

The newly-named Raigo the Rat invaded Enraku-ji with an army of rats, devouring their rare and valuable Buddhist scriptures, and even eating statues of the of the Buddha himself. This reign of rat-terror when on until a shrine was built to appease Raigo, transforming him from a deadly emissary of vengeance into a protecting kami spirit. Because that’s how evil spirits roll in Heian-period Japanese folklore.

Raigo the Onryo

Old texts describe Raigo as an onryo, the name for the grudge-bearing spirit popular in Japanese horror films. Raigo wouldn’t be seen as an onryo nowadays—his transformation into a rat makes him more of a monster than a ghost. But in the Heian period the word onryo had a more specific meaning, being something with a grudge against the Emperor of member of the Imperial family. And that label suits Raigo just fine.

Raigo and the Heike Monogatari

The story of Raigo comes from the Heike Monogatari (平家物語; Tale of the Heike) an epic poem from the Heian period that tells of the Heike/Taira wars that split Japan as two factions struggled for the throne. The Heike Monogatari is often called Japan’s version of The Odyssey, freely mixing historical fact with the supernatural and mythological.

Because the Heike Monogatari comes from an oral storytelling tradition, there are multiple versions of it with variations of the story of Raigo the Rat. In one of the older versions—the Engyo Hon (延慶本; Book of the Engyo Period), the story ends with the death of Prince Taruhito. In later versions Raigo gets more and more monstrous. The 48-volume Genpei Seisuiki version has Raigo attacking Enraku-ji with his army of rats, and in the 14th century historical epic Taiheiki (太平記; Record of the Great Peace) Raigo is described as having a body of stone and claws and teeth of iron. This Raigo ate not only the sacred texts of Enrakuji, but also their statue of Buddha.

Other Tales of Raigo

Raigo the Rat was a popular enough character that other writers continued the story after the Heike Monogatari. For example, a collection of Tanka poems from Otsu city, Shiga prefecture called Kyoka Hyakumonogatari (狂歌百物語; A Hundred Stories of Satirical Poems) featured the poem Raigo of Miidera and retold the story from the Heike Monogatari.

During the Edo period, author Gyokutei Bakin wrote the story Raigo Ajari Kaisoden (寺門伝記補録; The Tale of the Abbot Raigo who Transformed into a Monsterous Rat), illustrated by famous ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Raigo_Ajari_Kaisoden

Gyokutei puts Raigo into a different historical narrative, telling the story of Shimizu Yoshitaka (also known as Minamoto no Yoshitaka), the orphaned son of Minamoto no Yoshihara. Yoshitaka was on a pilgrimage of holy sites when he had a vision of the Raigo, who told Yoshitaka he would teach him the secrets of black magic and help him amass an army to take vengeance against his father’s killers. All Yoshitaka has to do is write an official request for help, and place it before Raigo’s shrine along with a donation.

Yoshitaka does as requested (of course), and soon finds himself in possession of Raigo’s shape-changing ability and mastery over rats. As an additional twist, Yoshitaka is hunted by Nekoma Mitsuzane (who’s name ironically begins with the kanji for “cat” in a traditional cat-and-mouse game). In one scene, Nekoma finds Yoshitaka and is about to kill him when a massive rat leaps to Yoshitaka’s defense. In another scene, Nekoma is torturing Yoshitaka’s mother-in-law and Yoshitaka leads and army of rats to her defense, saving the day.

Hundreds of years later, Raigo still has a hold on the popular imagination. Modern author Kyogoku Natsuhiko used the story of Raigo as the basis for his mystery novel “Tesso no Ori” (鉄鼠の檻; The Cage of the Tesso).

The Historical Raigo

Although the tale of Raigo the Rat is fictional, most of the key players are historically verified. Shrine records show Raigo was the Abbot of Miidera, and at one time petitioned Emperor Shirakawa for funds to build an ordination platform—a petition that was denied. There is little doubt that rival temple Enraku-ji played some hand in the denial. At the time, Enraku-ji’s power was absolute.

The only person not involved in the affair was Prince Taruhito. Records put the young Prince’s death in 1077, while Raigo himself died in 1084. This contradicts the facts of the legend.

Hokusai_Tesso_Monster_Rat

Rats, of course, were an actual source of fear to the fragile book collections of temples across all of Japan. So it is no wonder that a double-punch of an angry spirit and a scroll-eating rat was a natural mixture for Kaidan.

Tesso Shrines

There are a couple of supposed shrines to Raigo, each claiming to be THE shrine that ended Raigo’s scroll-devouring revenge.

In Hyoshi Taisha, in the Sakamoto district of Otsu city, Shiga prefecture, there is a shrine called the Shrine of the Rat that some connect to Raigo. Shrine records, however, say that the shrine is dedicated to the Rat God of the Chinese Zodiac and not to Raigo.

Tesso Shrine of the Rat

Miidera shrine has the most obvious connection, and has a small monument and shrine dedicated to Raigo also called the Shrine of the Rat. This shrine faces directly at Mt. Hiei in Kyoto and is said to be placed in defiance of Enraku-ji’s role in Raigo’s curse.

However, Mt. Hiei has their own shrine—the Shrine of the Cat—that looks directly at Miidera. Some suspect the two shrines are connected by an older legend of a monk who summoned a giant cat to destroy a giant rat that was menacing the area.

In truth, probably both of these Shrines of the Rat were re-dedicated to suit interests in the story. Like Relics in Catholic churches, a shrine or artifact connected to a popular legend can mean tasty tourist dollars and neither Buddhist temples nor Shinto shrines never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Especially one that attracted tourists.

Translator’s Note:

This was translated for Mike Mignola, who picked out Tesso from a copy of Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara that I showed him at Emerald City Comic Con. Mignola liked the illustration of Tesso, and I am only too happy to give him the story behind the image.

Plus, I did a lot of cats last year. It is only fair that at least one rat gets to appear as well.

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 754 other followers

%d bloggers like this: