The Demon Lady of Uji Bridge

In the time of Minamoto no Yorimitsu, known as Raikō, strange things happened throughout the land. One of the strangest was the unexplained disappearance of many people from their own homes, in full view of friends and family. They didn’t leave the room, they didn’t fall down and die; they simply vanished, as if blotted out. No one could find out where they had gone, or how it had happened. Nor did they know how to stop it — all the land was in a great panic.

Yorimitsu called his advisors and diviners to investigate. They learned that in the days of the Emperor Saga Tennō, (about one hundred and fifty years earlier), there was a lady of the court, the daughter of a high official, who feared that she was losing her lover to another woman. This lady became so jealous that she secluded herself in the shrine of Kibune for seven days, and prayed to the kami of the shrine:

“Grant that I may be changed into an oni (demon), so that I can kill the woman who is stealing my lover.”

The kami pitied the woman, and granted her wish.

“If you wish to become an oni, you must change your appearance and bathe in the Uji River for three times seven days.”

Overjoyed, the lady returned home and hid herself away. The divided her long hair into five tresses, which she shaped into five horns. She reddened her face and body with vermilion, and on her head she placed a tripod with a torch attached to each leg. In her mouth she held another torch, flaming at both ends. In this attire she rushed south down the Yamato highway after dark. The poor people who saw her thought for sure that she was a demon — some of them were so terrified that they died from their fear.

NewImageHashihime, From The Illustrated One Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past, Toriyama Sekien, 1779
Image: Wikipedia

The lady reached the Uji river and bathed there for three times seven days, and as the kami had promised, transformed living into an oni. She became known as Uji-no-Hashihime, or the Lady of Uji Bridge. As an oni, she killed not only her rival, but her lover as well, along with all of their relatives, rich and poor. When she wanted to kill a man, she would show herself as a woman, and when her intended victim was a woman, she would show herself as a man. All the people of the city were so terrified that they would shut themselves in their homes after the Hour of the Monkey (4 pm), neither going out nor allowing anyone in.

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The Lady Aoi

A friend turned my husband and me on to Mishima’s Five Modern Noh Plays; I’ve read a couple of them now. I wasn’t familiar with Noh plays, other than the fact the Kurosawa borrowed some Noh stylings for Throne of Blood (the stylized, dance-like movements, and makeup made to look like Noh masks). Mishima’s adaptations have given me a place to start.

The two plays that I’ve read are both ghost stories (all five plays are supernatural). Sotoba Komachi is a karma fable about a beautiful woman who was cruel to her lover, and is now, as an old and homeless woman, being tormented by his spirit. Mishima’s retelling is fairly faithful to the original: the stupa that the old woman sits on is updated to a park bench; the priests, to a poet.

Sotoba Komachi was pretty good, but I liked the second play that I read even better: The Lady Aoi. The original play, Aoi No Uye, is itself taken from The Tale of Genji. The Lady Aoi of the title is Lord Genji’s wife; though her marriage to Genji hasn’t been all that great, the two have reconciled, and Lady Aoi has only recently won a little roadside battle with one of Genji’s former lovers, an older woman and former Crown Princess named Lady Rokujo (Aoi had Rokujo’s carriage driven off the road when it was in the way of her own carriage). Rokujo’s jealous spirit has already left her body once before, to kill Yugao, the woman who replaced her as Genji’s lover. Now, her spirit is tormenting Aoi.

Neither Aoi or Genji are in the play; it begins in Aoi’s sick room, with a folded red kimono placed onstage to represent Aoi. Aoi’s attendants have called in a witch to summon whatever evil spirit is tormenting Aoi. The witch succeeds in summoning Rokujo’s spirit, which pours out Rokujo’s jealousy and bile. She becomes so angry that she transforms herself into a demon and attacks Aoi.

NewImageA demon-mask. From The Nō Plays of Japan, by Arthur Waley, 1921.

Aoi’s attendants rush to fetch a priest, who confronts the Rokujo-demon. The priest’s prayers cause Rokujo to repent her ways. Aoi dies anyway.

Here’s a snippet from a traditional Noh performance of Aoi No Uye (the first 1:20 or so of the video). This is the scene where the Lady Rokujo turns into a demon, and then is exorcised by the priest. I think the foot stamp the priest makes at the end of the scene is the traditional signal that the ghost has disappeared.

The comedy play in the second half of the video (about two servants who have been tied up to keep them from drinking all the sake) looks fun, too.

Mishima’s adaptation starts with the original play, and takes it somewhere familiar, and yet so different.

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Life From Death: Dema Deities

This is the story that started my current mini-obsession with food origin myths: the story of Ogetsuhime, as mentioned in volume 13 of the horror manga The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Note that the panels read right to left (and so do the voice balloons).


Ogetsuhime is a Shinto goddess of food and grain, and is also associated with Inari (or Oinari), the goddess of rice. The story above is similar to the story of Dewi Sri, the Javanese rice goddess, that I posted a few days ago. Though the vomiting and defecating of the banquet food in the Japanese tale is… different.

There is an Indonesian tale (from the Molucca Islands) with the same motif: Hainuwele, the coconut girl.

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Something You Can’t Do With an Ebook

Browsing the Mai-Do stationery store at the Japantown Mall today, and I found these:


They are little plastic bookmarks with a bit of sticky-tape at the end, so you can mark your pages, PostIt-style. How could I resist?

Here are two of them in action:


And a couple more close-ups:



Five sheets, six different bookmarks. Maybe I’ll make some headway on that inexorably growing stack of books by my bed….

O-Kame: A Japanese Vampire Tale

After watching Kwaidan last week, I spent some time flipping through Shadowings and Kotto, which I’d never read before. I found this little vampire-style story in Kotto. It seems familiar; I think I’ve read a similar tale before, possibly a Chinese version.

I don’t believe the vampire myth, as we know it in the West, exists in Japanese folklore. However, (at least according to Wikipedia) the Japanese do have two kinds of “hungry ghosts”. The gaki are the ghosts of jealous or greedy people who have been cursed with insatiable hunger (so O-Kame might qualify). The jikininki are ghouls (corpse-eaters). Neither type seems to suck blood or life essence, as a vampire does. So it’s likely that Lafcadio Hearn transposed a folk motif (or several) from another place, either Europe or perhaps China, to Japan.

Either way, it’s a good story. Enjoy.

Illustration from Kotto: being Japanese curios, with sundry cobwebs (1902).

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Research, Re-links, and Japanese Monsters

I killed part of the long, long flight from Paris to Los Angeles at the end of our vacation by reading Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. One of the tales that he relates is entitled “Rokuro-kubi”. It is the story of a fifteenth century samurai turned Buddhist monk who encounters, and defeats, a band of monsters that he calls Rokuro-kubi: creatures that appear human, but their heads detach from their bodies, fly around and eat people.

Yumoto C Nukekubi

Nukekubi. Photo:Wikipedia

My first thought: “I’ve read this — this is a Hellboy story.” My second thought: “I wonder if they are related to aswang.” Aswang are a similar Filipino monster, except the entire upper torso of the aswang flies around, not just the head. They were also featured in a comic, Lynda Barry’s autobiographical (I think) One! Hundred! Demons!.

Oh cool, fodder for the blog! Only not entirely as I expected.

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