Moidon – The Lords of the Forest

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

The Moidon’s name tells you exactly what it is. The word moi (森) means “forest,” and the word don (殿) means “Lord.” It is a title of honor bestowed upon grand and aged trees. In ancient Japan, long before there was any sort of organized religion, people believed that these great trees were deities and the land they inhabited was a sacred space. Southern Kyushu in particular is home to moidon, although on Osumi peninsula they are called moriyama. In Kagoshima prefecture you can find more than a hundred moidon.

Long before any shrines were built, moidon served as places of worship to the ancient Japanese. Very old and massive trees were said to be the bodies for gods. In particular, broad-leaf evergreen trees were considered to be moidon, such as beech, camphor, and fig trees. In modern day Shinto, you can still see moidon that existed long before the buildings were built. Indeed, many of those oldest shrines were built around a particular moidon, as the area was already considered a sacred space by virtue of the tree.

In Hioki ward, Ichiki city, there is a moidon whose festival is celebrated every year. On November 5th, by the counting of the old Japanese lunar calendar, people eat festive red rice to mark the occasion, and a dish is always set in front of the tree as an offering. However it is said that if you take a single leaf home, or if any part of the great tree is burned as firewood, you will fall under its curse.

Moidon were long worshiped as gods, but they were also greatly feared. It is said that moidon are quick to take offense, and bestow curses more readily than blessings. Those who ask too much of them, or who gather their fallen branches to burn, will find themselves stricken with various illnesses, including a burning, itchy skin. Sometimes doing so much as to touch the tree brings about its curse, so villagers are often careful to give their moidon trees a wide birth except at festival time.

Because of their ability to curse, it is thought that these lords of the forest may be one of the origins of yokai legends throughout Japan.

Translator’s Note

A new translation at last! Sorry about the delay, but work has kept me very busy as of late.

The moidon is a choshizen type of yokai, referring to a sort of natural phenomenon. As Mizuki Shigeru says, you can still see these ancient trees in old Shinto shrines, usually demarcated by a straw rope and other sacred symbols. When I lived in Nara prefecture, I used to go to Miwa shrine that had a massive, ancient tree that was said to be much older than the shrine itself, which was already several centuries old.

Other magical tree stories on Hyakumonogatari.com

Jinmenju – The Human-faced Tree

Enjyu no Jashin – The Evil God in the Pagoda Tree

Ochibanashi nantoka – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfalled Leaves

Jinmenju – The Human Face Tree

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara

This tree is found in mountain valleys. The fruit of the tree looks like a human head. It doesn’t say a word, but it is constantly laughing. It is said that if the fruit laughs too heartily, it falls from the tree.

According to the Edo period Hyakka Jiten encyclopedia Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会; A Collection of Pictures of Heaven, Earth, and Man from China and Japan), the Jinmenju trees are found in the south, and the fruit of the tree is called the jinmenshi, or human-faced child. They ripen in the fall, and if you eat the fruit they have a sweet/sour taste. It is said that the Jinmenju seed also has a human face, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. It is possible that the trees were all eaten and it is why we don’t see them today.

In the past however, it was said that people planted great orchards of the laughing Jinmenju. That must have been a beautiful sight.

The legend of the Jinmenju comes from China, and was passed onto Japan where it was considered to be a yokai due to its peculiar nature. There are also stories of trees bearing human-faced fruit from India and Persia, usually with the faces of beautiful girls. Even now, when you walk through the forest you can see trees whose roots bear a resemblance to human and yokai faces. I have five pictures of trees like this in my photo albums. I wonder if this is some new species of Jinmenju?

Translator’s Note

Most people think of yokai as some kind of monster, but the Jinmenju is a type of yokai called choshizen, or super-nature, which includes mysterious plants and animals. Toriyama Sekien included the Jinmenju in his collection Konjyaku Hyakki Shui (今昔百鬼拾遺; Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past). All Jinmenju stories have their origin in a Chinese book Sansai Zue(三才図会; A Collection of Pictures of Heaven, Earth, and Man).

This entry was translated for Dan Tsukasa, who is developing a Japanese folklore video game called Kodama. (Which you all should all check out!) I am helping Dan out with some yokai info for the game, part of which takes place in a magic forest. So look forward to some more choshizen offerings.

Further reading:

Read more yokai magical tree tales on hyakumonogatari.com:

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Enju no Jashin – The Evil God in the Pagoda Tree

Kimodameshi – The Test of Courage

Translated and sourced from Japanese wikipedia and other sources

Are you brave enough? That is the question that will be answered by playing kimodameshi, the Japanese test of courage. You will have to walk a dark, lonely path to a haunted location and set down your token to prove that you had been there.

The Meaning of Kimodameshi

Kimodameshi (肝試し) is most often translated into English as Test of Courage, which is not literally accurate. The word kimo (肝) actually refers to the liver, while dameshi (試し) does in fact mean “test.” In Japan the liver is associated with courage—for example kimo ga suwaru, or to sit on your liver, means to be brave or self-assured. So a more literal translation of kimodameshi would be to “prove your guts.”

The History of Kimodameshi

Like most folkloric practices, the factual origin of kimodameshi is lost to legend. But there are two possible beginnings, both of which could be equally true.

In the closing years of the Heian Period, during the reign of Emperor Shirakawa (1073 to 1087), the book “O-kagami” (大鏡; “Great Mirror”) was written by an unknown author. In the book was a story of three sons of Fujiwara Kaneie. One night during the Hour of the Ox (around 3 A.M.), the sons dared each other to go to a nearby house that was known to be the home of an oni. Only the son who was the leader of the martial arts school was brave enough to take up the challenge, and as proof of his courage he used his sword to slice a chip from the lintel of the house which he brought back to show the others.

Whether the story of the sons of Fujiwara Kaneie is true or not is unknown, but it is also said that kimodameshi began as a way for those of the samurai class to condition their children against fear, and that the game served as a kind of training.

During the Edo period, the 100 candles game hyakumonogatari kaidankai—which this site is based on—was a form of storytelling kimodameshi. The earliest recording of this game comes from the kaidan-shu “Tonoigusa” (1660) where a group of samurai gather to test their courage by telling ghost stories one by one.

Modern Kimodameshi

There are no set rules to kimodameshi, and there are as many variations as there are people who play it. Kimodameshi can be played impromptu, with only a few friends egging each other on to go somewhere scary or haunted, or it can be an organized event with a preset course, often inside a prepared haunted house with actors playing the roles of spooks.

In its most pure version, a group chooses a destination, one guaranteed to inspire fear. Common examples are dark forests, grave yards, Shinto shrines, abandoned buildings, or known haunted and mysterious spaces called shinrei spots. Challengers can go alone or as a duo. They go to the chosen spot at night, to ensure maximum fear, and they either bring something back to prove that they had gone the distance, or leave some sort of token that can be recovered the next day.

Like all Japanese ghost traditions, kimodameshi traditionally takes place in the summer. In Japan, summer is when the land of the living is thought to intersect with the land of the dead, and it is the time when yokai and yurei come out to play. All organized haunted house kimodameshi will take place during the summertime. It isn’t unusual to see TV celebrities during the summer being filmed walking through a haunted house or to some famous location in a game of kimodameshi.

There are some legal issues with kimodameshi. When an abandoned building becomes a popular spot, the police have been known to set up stings to arrest trespassers. Some of the locations themselves are dangerous, such as long, dark tunnels on country roads where a car can come through at any time.

School Kimodameshi

Many Japanese people experience kimodameshi when they are young, in Elementary or Junior High School. The game is played when the children go on school camping trips, or sometimes at school during school festivals. When played with school children, the game is a set-up.

In order to keep them safe, and still provide a good scare, the location is scouted before hand and scary objects like skulls and horror-props are planted along the way. Teachers and other volunteers dress in ghost costumes and hide along the path to spring out at the children. All of the students are told a scary story about that particular location, then sent off in groups to prove their guts once the Sun has gone down.

Students can also create their own kimodameshi events at school during school festivals. They dress up in costumes and turn one of the classrooms into a haunted house for other students to enter and test their courage.

Enju no Jashin – The Evil God in the Pagoda Tree

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara

Long ago in Koshu (Modern day Yamanashi prefecture), on the base of Mt. Minobu, there was a dark forest where great trees lined up in a row. Inside the forest was an ancient Japanese Pagoda Tree. The tree was worshiped as a spirit, and a shrine had been built near the tree. However, anyone who passed by that tree after sundown had to leave an offering of silver and gold, or fine clothing, or anything of monetary value. Those who ignored this custom would suffer a terrifying curse. Now, I say that the tree was a spirit, but those in the town called it the mori no jyashin, the Evil God of the Forest.

At one time, a poor but hardworking farmer heard that his mother was dreadfully ill. He fled back home to see her, but the quickest path to her house took him right in front of the tree, and he had nothing to leave as an offering. There was nothing to be done, and as the famer rushed by the tree he prayed to the evil god, making a promise that he would come back later with an appeasement. But from the tree an empty suit of armor appeared and followed the man. The farmer dropped to the ground, bowing his head against the ground and begging the evil god for forgiveness. Appearing to accept the promise, the armor disappeared.

The following day, because the farmer terribly poor, he could only muster 500 mon in coins for an offering. Apparently this amount did not please the evil god, who cast the farmer into a giant pot and set him to fire preparing to make a dinner of him. The farmer prayed most solemnly for his life, and his prayers were heard. The son of the diety Fudo Myo appeared, and dispensed with the evil god. Not only that, all of the money and goods that had been paid to the evil god by the village was returned.

Although the villagers called the entity in the tree a spirit, I think it is more likely that some kind of yokai had settled down there.

Translator’s Note:

The name of this story is Enju no Jashin (槐の邪神). The enjyu tree is a species called Sophora japonica, and is known in English as either the Japanese Pagoda Tree or the Chinese Scholar.

Further Reading:

Check out other magical tree tales from hyakumonogatari.com:

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Translated and adapted from Japanese Wikipedia and other sources

This is a story from the Edo period.

In Honjo, in the Hiradoshinden-han fiefdom, in the house of Matsura, there stood a Daimyo’s mansion. More than a simple mansion, this was the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, where the Daimyo lived during his year in residence in Edo by edict of the Shogun. The Daimyo’s shimo-yashiki was in his native land, but the Daimyo currently resided in Edo.

This kami-yashiki was bordered by a large wall, which ran parallel along the banks of what was then called the Great River, but what we now call the Sumida River of Tokyo. Planted in the Daimyo’s garden was a prodigious chinkapin tree whose leaves hung over the wall. The leaves from this tree never fell.

Now, chinkapin trees are evergreen, not deciduous, but even then at least a few of their leaves fall with the seasons. But not the tree in the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki. No one had ever seen so much as a single leaf fall from its branches.

The Daimyo’s gardener was a diligent fellow, but not even he could clean up every leaf that ever fell. This particular chikapin tree was truly a wonder. And what was the origin of this chikapin tree’s fantastic abilities? Well that is a mystery still to this day.

The Daimyo was unsettled by the tree—perhaps fearing some unknown fox power or mysterious spirits—and used his kami-yashiki as little as possible. But the fame of the tree spread until the mansion was no longer known as the Matsura house, but was locally called the Chinkapin Tree Mansion. The tree hanging over the wall near the banks of the Great River was considered an elegant scene and was popular for strolls.

When the stories of the Seven Wonders of Honjo became popular in Rakugo storytelling, the Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves was included in the ranks.

Neither the Daimyo’s mansion nor the famous chinkapin tree survive to the modern world. During the Meiji era, the territory was purchased by the Yasuda zaibatsu financial conglomerate who created a private garden called Yasuda Park. In the fifteenth year of Taisho, the Yasuda zaibatsu donated the garden as a public park. The park is now located in the Sumida ward, in the Honjo district. Like all of the Seven Wonders of Honjo, the old location of the Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves is marked with a sign and stone monument.

Translator’s Note:
The print is by Kobayashi Kiyochika and shows the Ochiba Naki Shii (落葉なき椎), one of the Honjo Nana Fushigi (本所七不思議) meaning one of the Seven Wonders of Honjo.

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