A-Yokai-A-Day: The Mayoinomono That Was Afraid of the Go’ō of Nigatsudō

Tonight’s story features a great word that I haven’t heard in other stories: mayoimono! This is another word for ghost, and literally means “lost/wandering thing.” I love it. It reminds me of mayoibune, the wandering ghost ships on the Sea of Japan. While mayoimono is beautifully descriptive word, it’s also pretty undefined. Our ghost tonight resembles what is called a fudakaeshi, a ghost that asks strangers to remove protective talismans (fuda) from doors so that they can enter and cause mischief!

Two other words in the title also may be a source of confusion. First Go’ō. Go means cow and ō means king/lord. This is one particular way of saying the name of Gozu Tennō (“cow-headed celestial king”), a major Shinto-Buddhist god with the head of a cow. Gozu Tennō goes by many names besides Go’ō, and is a tatarigami who is an incarnation of the Shinto deity Susano’o and the buddha Yakushi nyōrai. The Gion district in Kyoto is named for him, and the Yasaka Shrine in Gion is one of his major shrines. It was created in 656 CE as a way to enshrine this hostile god of pestilence and disaster and to protect the city of Kyoto from it. Gods like Gozu Tennō are scary if you’re on their bad side, but great if you’re on their good side, which is why the ghost in tonight’s story was so afraid of his talisman!

Finally, Nigatsudō is a major temple that is part of the extremely famous temple complex Tōdaiji in Nara. Being such an important temple, the talismans sold here must be quite powerful. So its no wonder they held this ghost at bay.

The talisman in the painting tonight is the actual Go’ō talisman from Nigatsudō that is sold today. I don’t know if that is what it would have looked like in the mid-17th century when this story would have been written, but it’s a safe guess that it might not have changed too much.

The Mayoinomono That Was Afraid of the Go’ō of Nigatsudō

At a certain graveyard, there was a burial mound that burst into flames three times every night and called out in a woman’s voice: “I’m so lonely! So lonely!” It was so eerie that nobody was willing to investigate it.

Three young men held a meeting and decided to go investigate. So one night at midnight, they went there together, and the bravest one of them sat down upon the mound. Sure enough, from within the mound came a terribly sad voice that seemed to lament, “I’m so lonely! So lonely!” Then, an icy hand strongly grabbed the man’s waist from behind.

The man was brave by nature, so he did not make any fuss, but merely called his two companions over and had them check his back. The two of them were terribly surprised, and they ran home without looking back.

So the man said, “Who are you to grab onto my waist? Explain yourself!”

The voice in the mound replied, “Well, well, I have never seen a man as brave as you before. I am the wife of a blacksmith in Sanjō Muromachi, and I was poisoned by the woman next door. Moreover, not even three weeks after I was murdered, the woman next door married my husband. The more I think about it, the more angry I feel. Every night I go to their door, but a talisman from the Go’ō of Nigatsudō is affixed to the gate, and I am too scared to enter. And so I am lost in the darkness of my devotion. Please, please remove the Go’ō talisman from the blacksmith’s gate. If you do so, the flames of resentment for this world will clear away.”

The man took pity on her. He went to see the blacksmith’s house, and lo and indeed there was a talisman of Go’ō affixed to the gate. He tore off the talisman and stood off to the side to watch. Suddenly a mass of black clouds whirled up, then a light the size of a paper lantern appeared above the blacksmith’s house and flew inside.
Two voices screamed. Then, the ghost came out of the blacksmith’s house carrying the heads of the husband and wife.

She turned to the man and said, “Well, well, thanks to you I am free from my obsession of so many years. I am grateful.” She handed him a sack. “This is in return for your kindness,” she said, and then disappeared into thin air.

The man was amazed. He opened the bag and looked inside to find ten gold coins. He used the money to purchase a new grave tablet and hold a memorial service for the woman, and nothing strange ever happened at the burial mound after that.

a ghostly hand reaches up to remove a paper talisman attached to the lintel above a gate

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