Tonight’s tale uses us the generic term “bakemono” in the title again. However, within the story the original text uses the word kijin—鬼神 meaning oni goddess—to describe her appearance. I made the rare decision to translate kijin into English (as “demon”) rather than leave it in Japanese because in this case the text is talking about her appearance rather than her actual identity.
Kijin is a tricky word. It can refer to several types of supernatural creatures. Extremely powerful oni, like Ōtakemaru, are called kijin. They are like “gods among oni.” It can also refer to Buddhist deities with terrifying, demonic appearances. Although these kijin look monstrous, they are not evil creatures at all; they are “demonic-looking gods” who fight ignorance and fight fiercely for humankind’s salvation.
Tonight’s bakemono is neither of those. Since this particular bakemono haunts a grave, we can be sure that she is not a Buddhist goddess here to save mankind. She also does not seem to be a creature from hell here to hurt people. Since she appears in a burial mound, very likely she is the ghost of an ancient noblewoman. When she takes the form of a demon, this illustrates that she has been corrupted by jealousy or attachment and transformed into a terrifying monster rather than passing on peacefully to the next life.
The Bakemono of the Twin Mounds of Rendaino
In Rendaino in Kyōto, there are two ancient burial mounds separated by about 220 meters. Every night at one of the mounds, mysterious fires were seen every night. At the other mound, a terrible voice could be heard saying, “Come! Come!” Everyone who heard the voice was terrified, and after sundown nobody would go anywhere near the mounds.
One stormy night, a group of young men gathered together and said. “Is there anyone among us brave enough to go visit the bakemono at Rendaino this night?”
Among them was one man, strong of body and stout of heart.
“I will go,” he said, and he left.
The night dark and the rain was pouring. It was a dreadful night. Yet, he was a brave man, so he ventured to one of the mounds.
As usual, a voice called out:
The man replied, “Who are you, calling out like this each night? Show me your true form and speak to me!”
A woman of about forty with a sickly pale face stood up out of the mound and said, “There’s no particular reason I call out like that. Now, please take me to that mound over there.”
The man was afraid, but he was prepared for something scary to happen, and so he calmy hoisted the woman up onto his back and took her over to the other burial mound. He put her on the ground and she entered the mound. Then the inside of the mound began to rumble.
A moment later, the woman took the form of a terrible demon, eyes shining, body covered in scales, and dreadful beyond compare.
Then she said to the man, “Take me back to the original mound.”
The man thought he must be insane, and that surely he would be killed, but he put her back on his back and carried her back to the other burial mound. The demon was pleased. She entered the mound, and a moment later returned in the form of a woman.
“Well well, nobody is as brave as you! I am so happy that my wish has finally been fulfilled!” she said, and she gave him a small bag filled with something heavy.
The man, feeling as if he had just narrowly escaped death, hurried back to his friends. He told everyone what happened and showed them the bag. Inside was one hundred gold coins!
After that, nothing strange ever happened again at the burial mounds.