A-Yokai-A-Day: Watanabe Shingorō’s Daughter and Her Affection for a Chigo in Wakamiya

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Tonight’s story is another one dealing with attachment. And once again, snakes are used as a symbol for that attachment.

One term that might be unfamiliar to some readers is chigo. This term pops up a fair amount of yōkai stories, and while it literally just means a child, it refers to young boys who were apprenticed to temples but too young to shave their heads and officially become monks. Chigo served as pages and attendants to elder priests, who often dressed them up and had pederastic relationships with them. This adds a layer of complexity to the situation between the boy and the girl in the story. Was the reason he was disinterested in her that he simply did not like her that way? Was it because he was still too young to see this girl as a romantic partner? Were her affections towards him so strong that they made him uncomfortable? Or was he maybe being pressured by an elder lover at the temple to break things off with her? The ambiguity in the story means each reader will probably see it slightly differently.

Watanabe Shingorō’s Daughter and Her Affection for a Chigo in Wakamiya

There was a man named Watanabe Shingorō in Kamakura. He had a fourteen year old daughter. One day she went on a pilgrimage to Wakamiya, and when she first laid eyes upon the priest’s chigo, she fell so deeply in love that she became gravely ill from lovesickness.

The girl confided her feelings to her mother, and so her father, who had been worried about her illness, sought out a good intermediary and contacted the chigo’s parents. The chigo’s parents gave their permission for the girl to begin seeing the boy.

However, as the chigo was still very young, he did not have very deep feelings towards the girl, and the idea of marrying her disinterested him. The girl’s spirit grew ever weaker, and finally she died. Her grieving parents had her cremated, and placed her bones in a box in a certain room with the intention of interring them in Zenkōji in Shinano.

Later, the chigo also became ill, and although various remedies were tried, they had no effect. Afterwards, he did not like to be near other people. His mother and father were perplexed, and so they spied on him through a crack in the door to discover him sitting across from a giant serpent and speaking with it. His parents were so grieved and saddened by this that they asked priests and yamabushi to pray for his protection, but these had no effect either, and finally he died.

When they buried the chigo in the mountains west of Wakamiya, a giant serpent was found in the coffin entwined around the chigo’s corpse, and they had to bury it together with the chigo. Later, when the daughter’s remains were taken to Zenkōji to be interred, the mother discovered that all of the bones had either turned into or were currently transforming into tiny snakes.

How terrifying a thing it is that the daughter’s attachment possessed and finally killed the chigo.

a pair of hands holds a bone urn containing ashes, bone chunks, and white snakes