Today’s story is somewhat rare in that it is a morality tale. With a few exceptions (like Dōchin’s lesson about pride), most of the stories in Shokoku hyakumonogatari read like news reports, simply explaining what happened without commentary or justification for why something happens. Like Matsuura Iyo’s bakemono, or the henge that killed Itagaki Saburō, Japanese folktales often lack logical explanations.
During the Edo period, the shogunate strongly promoted Buddhism—a striking reversal from earlier policies. The temples became a very powerful institution. Many old folktales were re-imagined as morality plays with Buddhist messages that sometimes feel tacked on. Stories like today’s are entertaining on the one hand, but they also serve a secondary purpose of educating people about sin and virtue, and reminding them of their consequences.
How Kiya no Sukegorō’s Mother Ate a Dead Man in Her Dream
There was a man named Kiya no Sukegorō in the Kitano area of Kyōto. His mother was exceedingly greedy and had no interest in performing charity or good deeds. She was stingy and always gossiping about other people, envying their good fortunes and reveling in their misfortunes. She put no thought at all towards her next life.
One morning, she felt ill and stayed in bed longer than usual. Sukegorō went out early that morning to Ichijō Modoribashi on an errand. Underneath the bridge, Sukegorō witnessed an old woman tearing up dead people and eating them.
Looking closer, he saw that the old woman was the spitting image of his own mother. Sukegorō was shocked, and he hurried home. When he woke up his sleeping mother, she seemed greatly disturbed.
“I just had the most awful dream,” she said.
“What kind of dream?” asked Sukegorō.
“I saw myself underneath the bridge at Ichijō Modoribashi. I was tearing up dead people and eating them. It was miserable! But then, thankfully, you came here and woke me up,” she explained.
Sukegorō’s mother’s illness rapidly worsened, and she soon died. Truly she had descended directly from the living world into hell. Sukegorō was overcome with worry about her next life, and his grief was immeasurable. Not long after, Sukegorō entered the priesthood and became a monk.