To learn more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost
Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Legends of Tenri, and Other Sources
This peculiar story comes from Tenri city, in Nara prefecture. In the span separating Kabata ward from Inaba ward, there is a stone bridge nicknamed the Konnyaku Bridge. This is why.
Long ago, a rice dealer named Magobei was making his way across the city at night when he went to cross the stone bridge. Before he could cross, a female yurei appeared on the center of the bridge, with a large piece of konnyaku hanging from her mouth. Terrified, Magobei dropped to his knees and began chanting the name of the Amida Buddha over and over again. When he reached the 99th repetition of the Buddha’s name, the bizarre konnyaku yurei disappeared. With the way cleared, Magobei ran home as fast as his legs could carry him.
He later heard that there had been a married couple in town who had quarreled over a piece of konnyaku, and that somehow lead to the wife’s death. The details were unclear, nor did anyone know exactly what the woman wanted. It is said that she appeared from time to time on that bridge, always with the same chunk of konnyaku dangling from her mouth. And that stone bridge has been known as the Konnyaku Bridge ever since.
Another short and sweet yurei tale for Halloween! This one is a local legend that Mizuki Shigeru collected, from the town of Tenri in Nara prefecture. I lived in Nara for several years, but unfortunately didn’t know this story at the time. I would have gone in search of the Konnyaku Bridge!
There are actually several Konnyaku Bridges across Japan. Some have legends attached to them, like the Konnyaku Ghost of Tenri, but most likely these legends came long after the name. Traditionally, Konnyaku Bridges were low water wooden crossing bridges that tended to wobble and shake like the eponymous konnyaku. The sturdy stone bridge in Tenri being called a “Konnyaku Bridge” is odd enough for someone to create a ghost story about.
They are fairly unsafe, and most of these have been replaced by modern bridges although they retain their names. Like many vanished parts of Japan, those wobbly Konnyaku Bridges are nostalgic enough for a sappy pop song to be written about them.
Here’s a picture of a Konnyaku Bridge in Hyogo, from this blog
If you aren’t familiar with it, konnyaku is a unique Japanese food that is almost impossible to describe. The dictionary calls it “solidified jelly made from the rhizome of Devil’s Tongue.” It usually comes in a squishy block of …. yeah, OK. “Solidified jelly” is about the best term there is. So a block of “solidified jelly” that is sliced and added to salads, or boiled and added to soups like nabe and oden, or put on a stick and grilled. I made konnyaku once, and it is a process as bizarre as the food sounds. It makes you wonder who on Earth saw the nasty, starchy root called Devil’s Tongue and figured that it you pounded it and boiled it enough you could render it into something edible.
Needless to say, konnyaku is an acquired taste. I like it myself, mainly grilled and slathered with hot karashi mustard, but I know far more people that loathe it than love it. At least amongst the non-Japanese. In Japan it is just standard fare.
Oh …. And although it doesn’t relate to this story, konnyaku is known to be a killer. Because of its solidified jelly status it can literally be hard to swallow. Konnyaku has been known to get stuck in the throats and suffocate those whose throat muscles aren’t strong enough to move it down—mainly small children and the elderly. With the konnyaku hanging out of this yurei’s mouth, it makes you wonder if her husband didn’t kill her by shoving a piece down her throat. Not a pleasant way to die.
There is another story from Wakayama prefecture called the Konnyaku Yurei, but instead of the ghost of a woman it is about an old piece of konnyaku that somehow became a yokai. A story for another time.
Bridges are a popular haunting spot for Japanese ghosts and monsters. Check out: