A-Yokai-A-Day: Shuten-dōji

How is everyone doing on the yokai poster contest? Have you figured almost all of them out yet? Don’t forget to submit your answers before Halloween!

Anyway, on to today’s yokai: another oni, and a famous one to boot!

Shuten-doji
Shuten-dōji

Shuten-dōji (酒呑童子)

There are three monsters who are considered the greatest and most evil yokai in all of Japanese folklore: the ghost of Emperor Sutoku, a nine-tailed kitsune named Tamamo-no-Mae, and the dreaded king of the oni, Shuten-dōji. (Sometimes just for fun, Nurarihyon is thrown in there to make it the four most powerful yokai in all of Japan.)

Shuten-dōji, who’s name could be translated as “little alcoholic,” was not born an oni. There are many legends about how he came to be, but most of them say that he was originally a human boy who was born over a thousand years ago either in present-day Shiga or Toyama. His mother was a human and his father was the dragon Yamata-no-Orochi (I talked a bit about him some time back). How he changed from boy to demon varies greatly from story to story, but the version I like the best goes like this: he was supernaturally strong for his age, and abnormally intelligent. Those around him called him a demon child for his strength and wit, and he soon grew terribly anti-social and resentful of those around him. At age six, his mother abandoned him, and he became an apprentice priest at Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. He was stronger and smarter than his co-acolytes, and he grew resentful of them as well, and did not do well in his studies as a result. He also fell into drinking, which was forbidden to monks; however he could outdrink anyone and everyone who was willing to drink with him.

One night there was a religious festival at the temple, and the little boy showed up very drunk. He put on an oni mask and went around scaring his fellow priests. At the end of the night, when he tried to take off his mask, he couldn’t — it had fused to his body. Ashamed, and scolded by his masters for being drunk, he fled into the mountains where he would no longer have to be with people whom he saw as weak and foolish. He lived on the outskirts of Kyoto, stealing food and alcohol from villagers, and generally living in a drunken rage. He fell in with a group of bandits, who stuck with him loyally and became the foundation for his gang.

In his exile, he grew in power and knowledge, Learning and mastering strange, dark magics. He met another demon child like him, named Ibaraki-dōji, who became his chief servant. His gang of thugs also gradually transformed into oni, and eventually he had a whole clan of oni and yokai thugs who prowled the highways.

Shuten-dōji and his gang eventually settled upon Mount Ōe, near Kyoto. There, in his castle, he drank his time away, plotting to take the capital of Japan and rule as its emperor. He and his gang rampaged through the capital, capturing noble virgins, drinking their blood and eating their organs raw. His various exploits are detailed in many stories of the Heian era. Finally, a band of heroes led by the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu assaulted his palace, and with the help of some magical poison, were able to assault the oni band during a bout of heavy drinking, and cut off Shuten-dōji’s head. Even after cutting his head off, it continued to bite at Minamoto no Yorimitsu, and because it was an unholy demon head, they had to bury it outside of the city, at of Oinosaka. The cup and bottle of poison that Yorimitsu used are said to be kept in safekeeping at Nariaiji temple in Kyoto.


Do you like Japanese ghosts and demons? Are you a fan of strange Japanese horror? Then get my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons from Amazon.com today!

13 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Shuten-dōji”

  1. 11,520 of ’em? And I just compared the paintings you drew of Nurarihyon, Shuten-doji and the Kyuubi(Not Tama). The cuddly little furball looks so inappropriate! That said though, I’d love to see a painting of a more beast-like, tails-raised sort of Kyuubi. Maybe even a painting containing all four of them, that would be amazing!

  2. Hello, I’m an postgraduate student majority in Japanese Literature. I start to make a thesis about Shuuten Douji. I really like the story, but, i can’t find out the name of the author in my Shuuten Douji’s book. Is anyone here know the author?. Please let me know, i would be thankful for that.

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