I’m resting my broken arm today to make sure I don’t over-stress it, so my wife has kindly taken over for the illustration again.
Tonight’s story features a daija—aka a giant snake or dragon. This daija is called the “lord of the swamp.” The Japanese word used here is nushi, which translates as lord or master of a particular location. A head of a household is a nushi, a ruler of a land is a nushi, and a supernatural monster that claims dominion over a particular area is the nushi of that place, and is often treated like a deity. Snakes and dragons in particular, but also giant yōkai fish or animals, often show up in folklore as the nushi of small local geographical features.
When the wife offers her stepdaughter as a bride to the lord of the swamp, what she really means is that she is offering her up as a human sacrifice. The daija will be free to do whatever it wants with the girl—eat her, tear her to shreds, turn her into a dragon and make her rule by her side… All of these have precedence in folklore. So while it sounds bad enough to be married off to a giant snake, it’s actually far worse, and the father’s reaction at the end is far more understandable than if it were just an awkward supernatural marriage.
How Hating a Stepdaughter Backfired in Shimōsa Province
In Shimōsa Province there was a man named Matsumoto Genpachi. He had a daughter who was twelve or thirteen years old. After her mother passed away, Genpachi remarried, but his new wife hated her stepdaughter. One day the stepmother brought her stepdaughter to a nearby swamp and said, “I offer this girl to the lord of the swamp. Come and be her husband!”
She did this five or six more times. Once, when they went back to the swamp, the sky suddenly became cloudy, a terrible wind blew, and heavy rain fell incessantly. They were frightened and went back home.
When the daughter told her father everything that her stepmother had done, Genpachi was furious. He was about to kill the girl’s stepmother when a daija around 500 meters long came. It raised its head and flicked its red tongue, and then turned towards the girl.
Genpachi said, “Hey, serpent, this girl is my true daughter. Even if her stepmother consented to it, you cannot take my daughter without my permission. In her place, I offer you her stepmother.”
The daija turned towards the stepmother and flicked its tongue. Meanwhile, Genpachi took his daughter and fled.
The daija coiled its body around the stepmother seven or eight times, then summoned a rainstorm. As lightning flashed around them, it took her down to the swamp. The stepmother hated her stepdaughter, but in return, retribution came to her.