A-Yokai-A-Day: Ino Mononoke Roku

This year for #ayokaiaday we’ll be looking the bizarre occurrences which took place at the Ino house in Miyoshi, Hiroshima, for 30 days and nights during July* of 1749. These occurrences all revolve around the master of the house, a boy named Ino Heitaro. (Because of the many ways Japanese is transliterated, you may also see it written as Inou, Inoh, or Inо̄, but on this site I’ll just keep it simply Ino.) His story is called Ino mononoke roku, but it is not a just single story. Ino mononoke roku is just one way to refer to the collection of scrolls, books, and legends which collectively form the narrative of a supernatural phenomenon that took place 270 years ago.

The Ino household, where our story takes place

What’s remarkable about this collection of tales is that, while we don’t know exactly what happened at Ino Heitaro’s house that month, there is substantial record that something happened. What we do know is that Ino Heitaro was a real person, and the names and places in his story all point to real people and places which have been discovered and excavated. Whatever actually happened, it was big enough and widespread enough that sightseers came from all around the country to sleepy little Miyoshi just to gape at the Ino household. So many sightseers came, in fact, that the officials in Miyoshi had to pass new laws to handle the influx of visitors and the disturbances they were causing.

The events in these stories were reported as facts in their time. The full record of what happened was only collected and formed into a narrative decades later, after it had been told and retold, and embellished and elaborated and expanded upon. There are so many versions of the tales written compiled by so many different authors that literary scholars have been analyzing texts and writing styles trying to identify the original authors, find the core story embedded in all of the variations, and decode the true origins of the tale.

We won’t be going into the textual criticism here, but you can get a much deeper look into the complex history of Ino mononoke roku if you visit the Mononoke Museum in Miyoshi, which houses the original scrolls I am using as a source for this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day. Keep in mind that, like other folklore, there are differences and contradictions between different versions of this story. So if you hear different versions of Ino Heitaro’s tale somewhere else, it doesn’t mean that this version or that version is wrong. It’s folklore, and the contradictions and variations are part of the fun.

So, to begin with our story, today I’m going to introduce you to the protagonist, Ino Heitaro, and give you some background about the strange events we’ll be looking at this month.

Our main characters: Heitaro and Gonpachi

Ino Heitaro was a 16 year old samurai living in Miyoshi. His parents had died young, and so he lived in a big samurai villa with his young brother Katsuya, 4 years old, and their retainer Gonpei. Heitaro regularly visited his neighbor and friend Gonpachi, 30 years old, a sumo wrestler.

It was a balmy and pleasant end of May*, 1749. The young Heitaro got into an argument with Gonpachi. What the argument was is lost to history, but the end result is that Gonpachi challenged Heitaro to a test of courage to see who was braver. They decided to climb nearby Mount Higuma at night to see who was braver. Mount Higuma was supposedly haunted, and if you climbed it at night, you were sure to encounter evil spirits.

And so they waited until night fell, then climbed up to a well known unholy site on the mountain: tatari iwa, a cursed boulder that was supposed to summon yokai if you touch it. Neither of them was scared, so they decided to play a game of hyakumonogatari (“a telling of 100 ghost stories”).  They lay out a sheet to sit upon, lit candles, and told ghost stories at the foot of the cursed stone. However, when they had finished, there was no sign of anything supernatural. No ghosts. No yokai. No strange sounds or sights. Neither of them felt the slightest bit of fear, nor any supernatural presence. Not even a single goosebump. They were seriously disappointed, and climbed back down the mountain, grumbling the whole way.

The next morning, Heitaro awoke and felt refreshed, without the slightest bit of fear or strangeness. Similarly, Gonpachi awoke with no curses or ill feelings either. Their disagreement faded away as things do, and the whole incident and the disappointing night that followed were soon forgotten.

Little did Heitaro know what he had awoken that night…

* The story technically uses the old Japanese lunar calendar, which doesn’t accurately line up with today’s 12 months. However, for the sake of simple storytelling, I’m just going to call “the fifth month” May, and “the seventh month” July. If you’re a stickler for accuracy, just keep in mind that it’s not an exact date.

10 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Ino Mononoke Roku

  1. Fantastic, Matthew! I love Japanese folklore depicting the supernatural, especially when it’s local legends which are not even famous for the Japanese! I often encounter this phenomenon here. Looking forward for A-Yokai-A-Day for this month! Gambatte〜!

  2. Pingback: Ino Mononoke Roku (index) | Matthew Meyer

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