A-Yokai-A-Day: The Three-Way Magic Contest in the Presence of Michinaga

Tonight’s story features several famous figures from Japanese history: Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – 1028), Kanshū (945-1008), Abe no Seimei (921 – 1005), and Tanba no Shigemasa (946-1011). Not much background on these figures is really necessary to understand the story, but it’s worth knowing that all three of them were established and well-regarded men of their time. Michinaga was a powerful statesman of the Fujiwara clan and the power behind the imperial throne. Kanshū was a Tendai monk  from Mt. Hiei who was appointed as a high priest under Michinaga’s reign. Abe no Seimei was an onmyōji of such fame that his name is practically synonymous with the art. Tanba no Shigemasa was a doctor, acupuncturist, and court physician to Emperor Ichijō. So this is a story about the real big names of the Heian period, and serves as a testament to how masterful their skills were—Seimei’s gift of foresight, Kanshū’s power of prayer, and Shigemasa’s surgical technique.

The Three-Way Magic Contest in the Presence of Michinaga

During the Chōtoku era (995-999 CE), high priest Kanshū of Mt. Hiei, Abe no Seimei, and the doctor Tanba no Shigemasa sat together before Minister Fujiwara no Michinaga. Some melons were served as refreshment.

Seeing them, Seimei prophesied, “One of these melons is poisonous.”

Upon hearing this, Michinaga said, “If that is the case, use your magic to tell which one of these melons has the poison.”

Kanshū faced the melons and gestured with his fingers and incanted. One of the melons moved, and that melon was immediately removed.

Shigemasa produced a needle from his pocket and stabbed the melon, and it stopped moving.

When Michinaga cut the melon open, inside was a snake. The needle had pierced the snake’s eye, and it was dead.

Michinaga was highly impressed by how well-versed all three men were in their skills.

a split open melon containing a snake that was killed by a needle through the eye

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