A-Yokai-A-Day: Oiteke-bori

I hope everyone is safe from Hurricane Sandy! I lost power for a few hours, which caused a bit of delay in today’s painting, but I was able to finish it in time. Today’s yokai is a fun little kaidan (ghost story) from old Edo.


Oiteke-bori (置行堀)

This one’s name is hard to translate eloquently, but it means “the leave-it-and-get-out-of-here canal.” It comes from Honjo, a neighborhood in Sumida ward, Tokyo.

Long ago, Honjo was full of canals and waterways, and those canals were teaming with fish. It was common for people to make their living catching and selling fish caught in the moat system.

One night, two fishermen were fishing in a particular spot in Honjo at sunset. They noticed that they were catching many more fish than usual, and so they fished and fished, filling their baskets to the brim. After some time, when they could hold no more fish, they happily packed up their tackle and prepared to carry their large catches home. Just as they were about to leave, they heard an eerie, terrible voice come up from the canal: “Oiteke (leave it and get out of here)!”

What happens next depends on who is telling the story… some say that both fishermen dropped their baskets and fled, and when they returned later that night, both baskets were empty. Others say that they fled home with their baskets, but when they got home and looked inside, there wasn’t even a single fish in the baskets. But the most chilling version goes like this:

Both fisherman turned and fled, one of the, dropping his basket and the other taking his with him. The fisherman who dropped his basket ran all the way back to his house and bolted the door. The fisherman who fled with his basket ran didn’t get far — a ghostly hand rose up out of the canal and dragged him into the water, basket and all. He was never seen again.

Oitekebori Print
Signed prints available here!

Finally, in some versions, the second fisherman makes it home, but later that night he wakes up with kanashibari, and lies helpless as a ghostly shape drags him out of his bed and into the canal, never be to be seen again.

So what exactly is oiteke-bori? Nobody really knows… However, by far the most common explanation is that a kappa was responsible, hungry and too lazy to fish himself. Others blame a tricky tanuki. Still other explanations exist, covering everything from a yūrei, a kawauso, a mujina, and even a suppon (a Chinese soft-shelled turtle turned yokai).

Are you interested in yokai? Can’t get enough of strange Japanese culture? Then you should check out my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, on Amazon.com and learn the story behind over one hundred of these bizarre monsters!

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