Today’s A-Yokai-A-Day comes from a famous ghost story originating in Honjō, Tokyo (a neighborhood located in Sumida Ward). It is known as one of the “Seven Wonders of Honjō.” Lots of places in Japan have their own local list of seven wonders or mysteries. We looked at the yonaki ishi the other day, which is one of Shizuoka’s “Seven Wonders.” And in fact we’ve actually looked at another one of Honjō’s Seven Wonders before on this blog: oitekebori. So here is another one to add to your checklist.
“foot washing mansion”
Ashiarai yashiki is one of the few yokai stories which is relatively well known in the English-speaking world. It has been featured in a couple of English language books on yokai, and has been covered numerous times by blogs listing as many “wacky Japan” stories as they can. I’m pretty sure it gets featured on Reddit at least once a month, along with shirime. Of course you can’t blame people for coming back to it: it’s a fantastic story!
This story takes place at a certain mansion in Honjō, Edo, which belonged to Aji no Kyūnosuke, one of the shogun’s retainers. One night a thunderous, echoing voice was heard overheard:
“WASH MY FOOT!”
Then, with a splintering crack, the ceiling tore open and a big, dirty, foot covered in thick, hairy bristles descended into the mansion. The terrified inhabitants of the mansion quickly assembled and did as the voice bade, washing the foot until it was thoroughly clean. Afterwards, the giant foot ascended back up through the roof, apparently satisfied, and disappeared.
The following night, and every night thereafter, the same thing occurred: a voice would boom out “WASH MY FOOT!” and then a giant foot would crash through the roof, while the servants would scramble to wash it clean.
After a few nights of this, Kyūnosuke had had enough. He ordered his servants to ignore the foot if it came back. That night, the foot appeared as normal, crashing through the ceiling. However, when its commands were ignored, it thrashed around violently, destroying vast swaths of the mansion’s roof in the process.
Kyūnosuke was beyond frustrated with this nightly occurrence. He complained to his friends about what was happening every night, and they were very interested. One of them wanted to witness the event so badly that he offered to swap mansions with Kyūnosuke. Kyūnosuke agreed. However, as soon as his friend moved into Kyūnosuke’s mansion, the giant foot never once appeared again.
As with oitekebori, there’s no definite conclusion as to what caused this strange occurrence. It’s often blamed on a mischievous tanuki, for they have the power to create something as devastating as this, and they do love playing tricks on people. On the other hand, “washing your feet” is also a Japanese idiom for rehabilitating a criminal. A culprit whose “feet have been washed” can be said to have paid his debt to society. Is it possible that Aji no Kyūnosuke had been doing something illegal or immoral, and this yokai appeared demanding he stop? And why didn’t the foot appear again after Kyūnosuke moved out? We’ll never know…
Incidentally, the Aji mansion is no longer standing today, but we do know it’s general location. Here it is on Google maps. Not much there to see now, just a totally ordinary city block.