The yōkai in tonight’s story is unnamed, but it is referred as both a bakemono and a henge. The assumption, then, is that it is probably a shapeshifted animal of some kind.
The story mentions the “hour of the ox.” The hour of the ox was the deepest, darkest part of the night. It was around 2 am or so. In olden times, Japan did not use the same clock that we use today. The days were divided into 12 “hours” roughly 120 minutes long, based on the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The hour lengths varied depending on the seasons and the amount of sunlight. The hours were anchored around sunrise, high noon, and sunset. In the summer, due to the increase in sunlight, the 6 daytime hours were longer while the 6 nighttime hours were shorter. And in winter, the daytime hours grew shorter and the nighttime hours became longer.
The hour of the ox was the time when evil spirits were at their strongest. The name also evokes the famous ushi no koku mairi curse, and has long been associated with yōkai and the supernatural. So it’s no wonder that tonight’s bakemono happens to come out at during the hour of the ox.
The Bakemono of Onoderamura in Sagami Province
In the village of Onoderamura in the province of Sagami there was a house in which bakemono lived, and in which no human was willing to live. One day, a traveler came from the capital and stayed in this village. The innkeeper owner spoke with him about many things, among them the house with the bakemono.
The traveler was a brave warrior, and so he said, “This is a rare thing. I will see what kind of bakemono it is, and then I will have a great story to bring back to the capital.”
The innkeeper tried to stop him. “There’s no reason to do such a thing!” But the traveler did not listen.
Around midnight, the traveler entered the house. He closed the door tightly and locked it from the inside, taking up a strategic position. He waited in a room 8 tatami mats in size, with a window in the eastern wall. About 110 meters past the window there was a thickly wooded grove.
That night, at around the hour of the ox, something flashed like a bolt of lightning from the grove. The traveler thought, “Oh my!” and drew his sword and waited.
After some time, the grove lit up like it had before. The room also lit up as bright as noon. The traveler looked around and saw a man of about 40 years old. He was shimmering like hot air, emaciated, and had a pale, lifeless face. He was clinging to the window, breathing heavily, and starting at the traveler inside. The horror was beyond description.
But the traveler was a military man, and so with a smooth motion he drew his sword and waited, ready to slay the man if he came inside.
The bakemono said, “There is no door here. I will enter through the kitchen.”
He easily kicked down two, then three doors, and entered the house. The traveler thought it would be hard to slay this man if he were some kind of henge, and so he decided to try and grab him. He jumped at the bakemono, but it kicked him in the chest. The traveler was knocked unconscious by the kick, and the creature got away.
The next morning the innkeeper and several villagers were worried about the traveler and went to the house to check on him. The found him fainted in the floor. The villagers were astonished and gave the traveler medicine to revive him. The tried to restart his breathing, and finally the traveler came to. When they asked what had happened, the traveler told them the whole story. The villagers checked the doors that the bakemono had kicked in, but the latches were all in place just as they had been the night before. There was nothing anyone could do but say how strange it all was.
Afterwards, people were even less willing to live in that house.