Tonight’s story features another oni and another chigo. The chigo here is presented as a sex symbol, the embodiment of the ideal male youth. The oni is born from the strong, obsessive attachment of the long-distance admirers, and the bored apathy of the uninterested chigo.
An interesting part of this story is that it stars Ikkyū, a character who is only somewhat known in the West but is extremely famous in Japan. Ikkyū was a real person, but there are so many stories about him that he has become a legendary figure as well. He’s beloved for being a mischievous monk who breaks all the rules but still always winds up on top. He does everything a monk is not supposed to do; he eats meat, he drinks sake, visits brothels; but he is also able to perform miracles, and shows those who criticize him how their perception is wrong. One of my favorite stories about him is when he meets the courtesan Jigoku tayū.
In tonight’s story, true to form, Ikkyū does the opposite of what most monks would do. He fearlessly enters a haunted temple when any normal person would run away. When the oni tries to kill him, he does the opposite of what any priest would do; he neither prays nor recites scripture, nor screams. He just sits there, chill, and watches. I love it.
How the Obsession in Love Letters Became an Oni
In a place called Kūhachi in Iga Province, there were sixty temples. When Ikkyū was training and the sun set here, he looked around the temples for a place to stay, but there was not a single person around. Ikkyū thought this was odd, so he checked every last temple, until at a certain temple he discovered a beautiful chigo all alone.
Ikkyū approached him and said, “Please let me stay here.”
“Certainly. But every night a monster comes to this temple and take a person,” the chigo said.
“I am a monk, so that does not bother me,” replied Ikkyū.
“Very well then, please stay the night,” said the chigo. And he let Ikkyū into the reception hall, while the chigo slept in the next room. Around midnight, several flames the size of temari came out from under the veranda of the chigo’s room, floated towards the chigo’s heart, then suddenly transformed into a six-meter-tall oni and came into the reception hall.
“Where is the monk staying in this temple tonight? I’m going to catch and eat him!”
The oni searched around the room. Since Ikkyū neither prayed, nor chanted, and just sat there unfazed, the oni was unable to find him. Before long, dawn broke, and when the oni looked like it was about to return to the chigo’s room, it disappeared.
Ikkyū was mystified and said to the chigo, “Show me underneath the veranda where you slept.”
Under the veranda, Ikkyū found countless blood-stained letters. When he asked about them, the chigo told him that people from all over had fallen in love with him and were sending him love letters, which he never replied to but just tossed them all off of the veranda. The obsession of the writers of those letters had piled up more and more, until it became the oni which visited the chigo every night.
Ikkyū retrieved all of the letters, piled them up and burned them away, then recited scripture. After that, there were no more strange occurrences.