A-Yokai-A-Day: Sugiyama Hyōbu of Dewa Province’s Double Wife Disaster

Today’s story deals wit another henge—a generic term for a yōkai animal that shapeshifts to trick people. Henge are often kitsune or tanuki, but they can also be mujina, itachi, or just about any other animal. This story reveals two clues about henge and how to identify them: one is that they have round hands. This is of course an allusion to the shape of the animal’s paws. The other is that after dying, a henge will return to its animal form. If you kill a person who was actually a shapeshifting animal, they will turn back into that animal when they die.

Sugiyama Hyōbu of Dewa Province’s Double Wife Disaster

There was a samurai from Dewa Province named Sugiyama Hyōbu. One night his wife went out the back door to use the outhouse, returned a little while later, and went to bed. A short while later there was a knock on the door.

“Who’s there?” asked Hyōbu.

His wife’s voice answered. Hyōbu was perplexed. He opened the door to let her in. Then he lit a lantern and inspected the two women closely. They were identical to each other in every way. He was even more perplexed.

When morning came, Hyōbu put both of his wives to work in different areas of the house. No matter how he tested them, there was no difference between them at all. He continued to scrutinize them, to no avail, when finally, someone told him:

“A henge will always have round hands, like paws.”

So Hyōbu inspected both of his wives’ hands. As it turned out, one of the wives’ hands were slightly round! Surely she was the henge. So Hyōbu immediately cut her head off.

Unfortunately, that one turned out to be his actual wife.

Therefore, the other wife must surely be the henge! Hyōbe went to cut off her head too. She tried everything to stop him, begging, lamenting, and cursing him, but he did not listen. He cut off her head.

But upon close inspection, this one turned out to be his actual wife.

Hyōbe was completely perplexed. He left the wives’ corpses out for a few days, but neither one changed at all.

Such strange things do happen, don’t they?

Two identical-looking wives glare at each other while doing housework.

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