On Cutting a Spider’s Leg During a Game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

Tonoigusa_Hyakumonogatari_Spider

Translated from Tonoigusa

The brave young men had gathered together for a single purpose. “Tonight, we will exchange 100 stories and see if the legends are true; see if something terrifying awaits us at the end.”

They were ardent tellers of tales. As the night passed, they soon arrived at the closing of the ninety-ninth weird story. The room was thick with anticipation.

“Let us not be impatient.” said one of the men. “A drink and some food together before the final tale is told.” All in agreement, they produced lacquered boxes packed tight with delicacies. These were shared between the intimate gathering. They sat in a circle, enjoying the brief respite.

Without warning, a great hand appeared on the ceiling. It appeared to stretch wide, reaching its fingers out in a colossal grasp.

The frightened men were bowled over at the sight, except for a single stalwart who sprang to action. With a flick of his wrist, his sword flew from its sheath and struck at the hand. However, much to everyone’s surprise instead of a giant finger the sword sliced off a spider’s leg, about three inches in length. One of the men chuckled, “I guess this was a true Test of Courage after all.”

As to the spider, it appeared to be of the variety known as the orb-spinning spider. It would flatter it too much to call it a Joro spider (joroguma). Its color was not right to call it an earth spider (tsuchigumo). But it was no common pit spider either (anagumo). After all, in its web it had killed a giant weevil, so it must have a dreadful poison.

But its color was blue/green, like the kind of insect that could disappear between blades of grass. Perhaps it was a sea spider, blown here by an ocean breeze that carried it far from its home, floating in the air as if on the waves. It is pitiable; this spider carried so far from its home, trying to make do in its new environment, spinning a web on unknown surfaces. We should admire its perseverance. It was only sitting there, sleeping in the summer heat, never asking for the intrusion of these storytellers. And here was its fine works undone.

Our own fine works are made of individual threads that can be pulled apart. We can be killed on the street walking home, joining Yorimitsu in the spirit realms. Or maybe tomorrow will come. It is not for us to decide.

Tonoigusa Hyakumonogatari Spider

Translator’s Note:

This story comes from the 1660 kaidan-shu Tonoigusa by Ogita Ansei. It is one of the earliest known accounts of the game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

I’ve read numerous accounts of this story, but had never read it myself until recently. I was surprised to find the epilog about the spider, as it is not included in most translations.

Further Reading:

For more spider tales and tales of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, check out:

The Web of the Water Spider

Aoandon – The Blue Lantern Ghost

What is Hyakumonogatari?

Yurei FAQ – Five Facts About Japanese Ghosts

Hokushū Shunkōsai Ghost of Oiwa

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

Yurei—Japanese Ghosts—follow certain rules; obey certain laws. They have a specific appearance and purpose. These rules supply authenticity, making them culturally relevant and recognizable. Also, these rules make them more horrifying than the constantly changing Western ghost, which can be played for laughs, romance, or fear at any given moment.

Each aspect of a yurei is bound by centuries of culture and tradition. There is a “why” behind everything, and the story of the individual aspects of the yurei can be as fascinating as the yurei stories themselves.

Click the title of each to be taken to the full story.

5. How Do You Say Ghost in Japanese?

yurei

A country as obsessed with ghosts as Japan is obviously going to have more than a single word. Just as in English, there are several words meaning “ghost,” but each with a different usage and feel.

4. What is the White Kimono Japanese Ghosts Wear?

dead body

Black hair. White face. White kimono. Whisper the word Japanese ghost to anyone, and that is the image that will appear in their head. For Americans, the image generally comes from Japanese horror films where white-kimonoed girls crawl from TV sets or rise from wells. But to Japanese people, the costume of a white kimono has a more somber feel. Most likely over their lives they will wrap more than one loved one in the traditional burial garment called a kyokatabira.

3. What is the Triangle Headband Japanese Ghosts Wear?

yureisankakuboshi

What are those odd, triangle-shaped hats or headbands worn by some Japanese ghosts? That is a difficult question to answer because, while there are several opinions, nobody really knows.

2. Why do Japanese Ghosts Not Have Feet?

Yurei_Japanese_Ghost

The gentle drops of falling rain. A lonely willow tree standing near a graveyard. And a Japanese ghost, called a yurei, waiting below. This is our image of a yurei, and when we imagine this picture of the yurei, it has no feet.

1. What’s the Difference Between Yurei and Yokai?

Yokai_or_Yurei

What is a yokai? What is a mononoke? What is a bakemono? Are yurei also yokai? These seemingly basic questions have no precise answers. Almost everyone has their own ideas, and they seldom agree with each other. Because folklore isn’t a science.

Neko No Kai – The Cat Mystery

Neko_no_Kai_-_The_Cat_Mystery

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

March 17th: A black-spotted, two-tailed cat appeared suddenly, slinking around the Motoyoshi family farmhouse. The son of the family, Genjiro, was fond of cats and decided to take the cat in and care for it. Genjiro was a healthy boy, but since taking care of the cat he started looking haggard, getting emaciated and weak. He didn’t have any particular illness, and no one could explain the decline in his health.

Genjiro’s parents blamed his condition on the cat. They noticed that the cat curled up in Genjiro’s bedclothes every day, the same clothes that Genjiro slept in. Without a doubt, he was catching some sort of infection or allergy from the cat. Genjiro’s parents tried many times to get rid of the cat—throwing it out the door, even carrying it to different towns to abandon it—but the cat always managed to find its way back. Eventually, the cat stayed away from everyone but Genjiro. The parents could no longer get close to it.

But Genjiro’s condition worsened, and his parents insisted that he get rid of the cat. His mother had Genjiro take up the cat, and she followed them as they walked to a distant town, going so far that the cat could never find its way back.

They made it as far as Koshinzuka, when Genjiro’s mother suddenly lost sight of him. She looked around, but couldn’t find Genjiro anywhere. She recruited some local children to help in the search, but it was fruitless. No sign of Genjiro was found, and his mother was forced to return alone.

April 9th: In the vicinity of Saidaiji temple, a dog was seen carrying a human arm in its mouth. The arm had scraps of a torn kimono hanging off of it, and these kimono scraps were taken to Genjiro’s mother for her to see. She confirmed that they were Genjiro’s, the same kimono he was wearing the day of his disappearance.

The official finding was that the cat must have attacked and killed Genjiro, and devoured most of his body. Given the strange nature of the cat, no one was really surprised.

Translator’s Note:

I haven’t done a magical cat story for awhile. And it’s been even longer since I translated a story from this book! I’ll probably do more of this style while working on the final edits for my book, Yurei: The Japanese Ghost. The full “yokai encyclopedia” style entries take a LOT more work and research than translating stories.

This was an actual newspaper report about a disappearance and death, printed in one of Japan’s kawaraban clay block printed newspapers, probably from around the 17th century. It comes from the Natural History collection of Waseda University.

It’s a strange story in that the cat was identified as a nekomata right at the beginning. You would think that if a two-tailed cat suddenly showed up on your doorstep, you would know better than to take it in and try and make it into a

Further Reading:

For more magical cat stories, check out:

Nekomata – The Split-Tailed Cat

Bakeneko Yujo – The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo

Bakeneko – The Changing Cat

Kasha-The Corpse-Eating Cat Demon

Gotokoneko – The Trivet Cat

The Cat’s Grave

Iriomote Oyamaneko – The Iriomote Great Mountain Cat

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