A-Yokai-A-Day: The Ghost of Honnōji Shichibyōe’s Wife

One thing I love about the stories in Shokoku hyakumonogatari is that they are so specific about the locations these stories take place. Some of them go right down to the neighborhood, street, and even extremely specific places. It makes them feel more real and close to us when you can literally visit and stand in the spot these events are said to have happened in.

One question I am frequently asked is for suggestions on locations to visit when looking for “yokai sites.” This is actually a very hard question to answer. The fact is that while there are so many places connected to folkloric legends, very few of them have signs or obvious markers pointing them out. With few exceptions, you don’t find bronze plaques saying things like, “On this spot in 1604, the ghost of Honnōji Shichibyōe’s wife appeared to some monks and asked for a glass of water.” But if you’re interested in making that kind of pilgrimage, you can use books like Shokoku hyakumonogatari as a guide.

The Ghost of Honnōji Shichibyōe’s Wife

At the temple of Honnōji in Kyōto there was a prominent monk who was a great physician and a healer. Among his parishioners there was a man named Shichibyōe. One day, Shichibyōe’s wife became very sick. They asked the monk for help. He came to their house and treated her as best as he could, but her illness was a fatal one, and his ministrations had no effect.

Several days before she died, the monk visited Shichibyōe’s wife again. This time her hair was standing up on end and her face had turned scarlet red. Her visage was frightful beyond description. The monk returned home astonished. Three days later, she finally died, and her body was immediately taken to Honnōji.

Three more days after that, the monk and his younger brother were studying in the room adjacent to the woman’s remains, separated by a sliding door. Around midnight, the monk’s younger brother heard the sound of footsteps coming from just outside the back door.

“I heard a thief!” he said.

The older monk heard it to. He said, “I’m ready for them!” and he drew his sword and waited.

The intruder tried to open the shoji doors, but they would not budge. Then it sounded like the intruder was going around to the back door. A few moments later, the brothers heard the voices of two servants, who had been sleeping in the kitchen, cry out, “Oh no! How terrible! How terrible!”

The brothers ran in to the kitchen. “What happened?”

The two servants were covered in sweat. “It was the most terrifying thing!” they said. “Shichibyōe’s wife came in here and said she was thirsty and asked for some water! We were so scared, so we told her there was some water over there that she could drink. She went to the sink and drank some water out of a ladle. After that we don’t know where she went!”

Thinking this was strange, the older monk went to investigate. He found the water was running, and a ladle had been left in the sink. What a dreadful thing!

A woman with bright red skin and white hair standing on end, wearing a burial kimono.

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