Happy Halloween everyone!
Whew! We made it! Another year of A-Yokai-A-Day. Today’s entry marks the final one for this year’s yokai series, but before that, on to the results of the Hyakki Yagyō poster contest:
I was really impressed by the results of the contest! Naming all of those yokai took a lot of work and research, and a lot of people got them all correct! I wrote down all of the names with the correct answers and picked one at random, and the lucky winner, chosen by whatever yokai controls luck and fate, was Neal from Pennsylvania! Congratulations!
Now, on to today’s yokai. This was a request from a fan at my gallery show in Fukui this August. I saved this one for last because a) it was one of the most difficult to find information to translate, and b) the opportunity for beautiful fall colors deserved to wait until late October, when the reds and yellows are at their peak. Plus, it has a little bit of Halloween flavor to it, with the demon of the story disguising herself as a beautiful princess. Enjoy!
This story takes place long long ago, in what is now Nagano prefecture, during fall. It was the season of fall-leaf-viewing, when groups of people would gather in the mountains for festivals and parties under the falling red, orange, and gold leaves.
During this time, a samurai named Taira no Koremochi was charged by a local Hachiman shrine with hunting oni. His hunt had taken him to Togakushi mountain, where a particularly nasty kijo (a female oni) was said to live.
Koremochi and his retainers climbed the beautiful mountain, and they came upon a small aristocratic leaf-viewing party. Koremochi sent one of his retainer ahead to investigate who was having the party. The retainer approached, asking about the party, and was told that a noble princess was hosting it; however the ladies in waiting would not tell him the princess’ name. Just as Koremochi and his retainers decided to continue on their mission, a lady-in-waiting approached and told them that her mistress had heard of Koremochi, and she wanted to invite them to her party. Koremochi was unable to be rude to such a princess, so he and his companions agreed.
At the party, the warriors were introduced to Princess Sarashina, an extremely beautiful young woman. They all sat and enjoyed drinking sake, watching the leaves, and dancing. Eventually, Koremochi asked the princess if she would dance for him, and she did. Soon the drunk men became sleepy and dozed off under the beautiful trees.
As he slept, Koremochi dreamed of Hachiman and his mission. The god told him that Princess Sarashina was actually the kijo Momiji in disguise, and that he must kill her with the holy katana, Kogarasumaru (“Little Crow”). When Koremochi woke up, the sword he dreamed of was in his hand — a gift from the god — and he knew that what he dreamed was real. He ran after the women, and all of a sudden a huge storm broke out. Fire and wind lit up the mountain. Suddenly a ten foot tall kijo with horns made of burning trees appeared, and an intense battle between the samurai and the demoness took place. In the end, thanks to his magical sword, Koremochi was successful, and slew the Witch of Togakushi Mountain.
The full tale of Princess Sarashina/Momiji is much longer than that, but this version of her story is famous for being told in Japanese theater. Momijigari (“Hunting Momiji”) first appeared hundreds of years ago, during the Muromachi period, as a noh play. During the Meiji period it was remade as a kabuki play. The plays are noted for both the beautiful costumes featuring demon masks, as well as the actor’s transformation in character from the beautiful princess into the violent demon. The play was put to film in 1899, becoming the first narrative filmed in Japan. It was designated an Important Culture Property in 2009.
Do you like Japanese ghosts? Are you a fan of strange Japanese horror? Then get my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons from Amazon.com today!