Today’s yokai is a two-fer! Bonus!
Continuing the mini-theme of the week—hell—we come across this nasty pair. Datsueba is very famous, but much less-known is her husband/consort Keneou. See if you can find them on the map of Meido from the other day!
Datsueba and Keneou are kind of the Japanese equivalent of Charon, the guardian of the underworld in Greek mythology. I know I cautioned earlier about this kind of cross-cultural comparison (and I stick by that!) but I still think it is a fun observation to make. Both Greece and Japan view the underworld as a physical place that can be accessed from Earth, and both of them are guarded by a real-world river which flows underground and becomes the border between the land of the dead and the land of the living. In Japan, this river is called Sanzu no kawa, or the Sanzu River.
That’s where the similarities end. Where Charon is a boatman who takes you across the river, Datsueba and Keneou are far worse, waiting at the opposite end to really mess up your day. Of course, if you’re a kid, it gets even worse.
The souls of children are not allowed to cross the Sanzu River. Instead, they are forced to sit on the riverbanks in a sort of limbo called Sai no Kawara. Their souls remain in Sai no Kawara until enough prayers have been said for them to earn enough merit to cross. Here they sit, building towers out of pebbles, adding one pebble each time someone says a prayer for them. When a tower is completed, the child can finally cross; however, Datsueba and Keneou roam the banks and constantly knock the pebble towers over, rendering the effort meaningless. The only way for children to leave Sai no Kawara is to be saved through intercession by Jizō Bosatsu, the guardian deity of children. This is why Jizō is such a popular god in Japan; prayers to him go towards saving the souls of lost children.
Click on the image below to view the whole story. And don’t forget that you can own this great story by purchasing a copy of The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits, which contains a chapter on hell and the afterlife, including all of these mini-hell-week entries!