Category Archives: Folklore and Urban Legends

Japan has many interesting and sometimes disturbing urban legends and folklore. Discover harvest festivals, myths, and even bathroom ghosts!

The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima

There is a tradition in the Nabéshima family that, many years ago, the Prince of Hizen was bewitched and cursed by a cat that had been kept by one of his retainers. This prince had in his house a lady of rare beauty, called O Toyo: amongst all his ladies she was the favourite, and there was none who could rival her charms and accomplishments. One day the Prince went out into the garden with O Toyo, and remained enjoying the fragrance of the flowers until sunset, when they returned to the palace, never noticing that they were being followed by a large cat. Having parted with her lord, O Toyo retired to her own room and went to bed. At midnight she awoke with a start, and became aware of a huge cat that crouched watching her; and when she cried out, the beast sprang on her, and, fixing its cruel teeth in her delicate throat, throttled her to death. What a piteous end for so fair a dame, the darling of her prince’s heart, to die suddenly, bitten to death by a cat! Then the cat, having scratched out a grave under the verandah, buried the corpse of O Toyo, and assuming her form, began to bewitch the Prince.

Vampire Cat of Nabéshima

But my lord the Prince knew nothing of all this, and little thought that the beautiful creature who caressed and fondled him was an impish and foul beast that had slain his mistress and assumed her shape in order to drain out his life’s blood. Day by day, as time went on, the Prince’s strength dwindled away; the colour of his face was changed, and became pale and livid; and he was as a man suffering from a deadly sickness. Seeing this, his councilors and his wife became greatly alarmed; so they summoned the physicians, who prescribed various remedies for him; but the more medicine he took, the more serious did his illness appear, and no treatment was of any avail. But most of all did he suffer in the night-time, when his sleep would be troubled and disturbed by hideous dreams. In consequence of this, his councilors nightly appointed a hundred of his retainers to sit up and watch over him; but, strange to say, towards ten o’clock on the very first night that the watch was set, the guard were seized with a sudden and unaccountable drowsiness, which they could not resist, until one by one every man had fallen asleep. Then the false O Toyo came in and harassed the Prince until morning. The following night the same thing occurred, and the Prince was subjected to the imp’s tyranny,  while his guards slept helplessly around him. Night after night this was repeated, until at last three of the Prince’s councilors determined themselves to sit up on guard, and see whether they could overcome this mysterious drowsiness; but they fared no better than the others, and by ten o’clock were fast asleep. The next day the three councilors held a solemn conclave, and their chief, one Isahaya Buzen, said—

“This is a marvelous thing, that a guard of a hundred men should thus be overcome by sleep. Of a surety, the spell that is upon my lord and upon his guard must be the work of witchcraft. Now, as all our efforts are of no avail, let us seek out Ruiten, the chief priest of the temple called Miyô In, and beseech him to put up prayers for the recovery of my lord.”

And the other councilors approving what Isahaya Buzen had said, they went to the priest Ruiten and engaged him to recite litanies that the Prince might be restored to health.

So it came to pass that Ruiten, the chief priest of Miyô In, offered up prayers nightly for the Prince. One night, at the ninth hour (midnight), when he had finished his religious exercises and was preparing to lie down to sleep, he fancied that he heard a noise outside in the garden, as if some one were washing himself at the well. Deeming this passing strange, he looked down from the window; and there in the moonlight he saw a handsome young soldier, some twenty-four years of age, washing himself, who, when he had finished cleaning himself and had put on his clothes, stood before the figure of Buddha and prayed fervently for the recovery of my lord the Prince. Ruiten looked on with admiration; and the young man, when he had made an end of his prayer, was going away; but the priest stopped him, calling out to him—

“Sir, I pray you to tarry a little: I have something to say to you.”

“At your reverence’s service. What may you please to want?”

“Pray be so good as to step up here, and have a little talk.”

“By your reverence’s leave;” and with this he went upstairs.

Then Ruiten said—

“Sir, I cannot conceal my admiration that you, being so young a man, should have so loyal a spirit. I am Ruiten, the chief priest of this temple, who am engaged in praying for the recovery of my lord. Pray what is your name?”

“My name, sir, is Itô Sôda, and I am serving in the infantry of Nabéshima. Since my lord has been sick, my one desire has been to assist in nursing him; but, being only a simple soldier, I am not of sufficient rank to come into his presence, so I have no resource but to pray to the gods of the country and to Buddha that my lord may regain his health.”

When Ruiten heard this, he shed tears in admiration of the fidelity of Itô Sôda, and said—

“Your purpose is, indeed, a good one; but what a strange  sickness this is that my lord is afflicted with! Every night he suffers from horrible dreams; and the retainers who sit up with him are all seized with a mysterious sleep, so that not one can keep awake. It is very wonderful.”

“Yes,” replied Sôda, after a moment’s reflection, “this certainly must be witchcraft. If I could but obtain leave to sit up one night with the Prince, I would fain see whether I could not resist this drowsiness and detect the goblin.”

At last the priest said, “I am in relations of friendship with Isahaya Buzen, the chief councilor of the Prince. I will speak to him of you and of your loyalty, and will intercede with him that you may attain your wish.”

“Indeed, sir, I am most thankful. I am not prompted by any vain thought of self-advancement, should I succeed: all I wish for is the recovery of my lord. I commend myself to your kind favour.”

“Well, then, to-morrow night I will take you with me to the councillor’s house.”

“Thank you, sir, and farewell.” And so they parted.

On the following evening Itô Sôda returned to the temple Miyô In, and having found Ruiten, accompanied him to the house of Isahaya Buzen: then the priest, leaving Sôda outside, went in to converse with the councilor, and inquire after the Prince’s health.

“And pray, sir, how is my lord? Is he in any better condition since I have been offering up prayers for him?”

“Indeed, no; his illness is very severe. We are certain that he must be the victim of some foul sorcery; but as there are no means of keeping a guard awake after ten o’clock, we cannot catch a sight of the goblin, so we are in the greatest trouble.”

“I feel deeply for you: it must be most distressing. However, I have something to tell you. I think that I have found a man who will detect the goblin; and I have brought him with me.”

Capturing the Vampire Cat

“Indeed! who is the man?”

“Well, he is one of my lord’s foot-soldiers, named Itô Sôda, a faithful fellow, and I trust that you will grant his request to be permitted to sit up with my lord.”

“Certainly, it is wonderful to find so much loyalty and zeal in a common soldier,” replied Isahaya Buzen, after a moment’s reflection; “still it is impossible to allow a man of such low rank to perform the office of watching over my lord.”

“It is true that he is but a common soldier,” urged the priest; “but why not raise his rank in consideration of his fidelity, and then let him mount guard?”

“It would be time enough to promote him after my lord’s recovery. But come, let me see this Itô Sôda, that I may know what manner of man he is: if he pleases me, I will consult with the other councilors, and perhaps we may grant his request.”

“I will bring him in forthwith,” replied Ruiten, who thereupon went out to fetch the young man.

When he returned, the priest presented Itô Sôda to the councillor, who looked at him attentively, and, being pleased with his comely and gentle appearance, said—

“So I hear that you are anxious to be permitted to mount guard in my lord’s room at night. Well, I must consult with the other councilors, and we will see what can be done for you.”

When the young soldier heard this he was greatly elated, and took his leave, after warmly thanking Buiten, who had helped him to gain his object. The next day the councilors held a meeting, and sent for Itô Sôda, and told him that he might keep watch with the other retainers that very night. So he went his way in high spirits, and at nightfall, having made all his preparations, took his place among the hundred gentlemen who were on duty in the prince’s bed-room.

Now the Prince slept in the centre of the room, and the hundred guards around him sat keeping themselves awake with entertaining conversation and pleasant conceits. But, as ten o’clock approached, they began to doze off as they sat; and in spite of all their endeavours to keep one another awake, by degrees they all fell asleep. Itô Sôda all this while felt an irresistible desire to sleep creeping over him, and, though he tried by all sorts of ways to rouse himself, he saw that there was no help for it, but by resorting to an extreme measure, for which he had already made his preparations. Drawing out a piece of oil paper which he had brought with him, and spreading it over the mats, he sat down upon it; then he took the small knife which he carried in the sheath of his dirk, and stuck it into his own thigh. For awhile the pain of the wound kept him awake; but as the slumber by which he was assailed was the work of sorcery, little by little he became drowsy again. Then he twisted the knife round and round in his thigh, so that the pain becoming very violent, he was proof against the feeling of sleepiness, and kept a faithful watch. Now the oil paper which he had spread under his legs was in order to prevent the blood, which might spurt from his wound, from defiling the mats.

So Itô Sôda remained awake, but the rest of the guard slept; and as he watched, suddenly the sliding-doors of the Prince’s room were drawn open, and he saw a figure coming in stealthily, and, as it drew nearer, the form was that of a marvelously beautiful woman some twenty-three years of age. Cautiously she looked around her; and when she saw that all the guard were asleep, she smiled an ominous smile, and was going up to the Prince’s bedside, when she perceived that in one corner of the room there was a man yet awake. This seemed to startle her, but she went up to Sôda and said—

“I am not used to seeing you here. Who are you?”

“My name is Itô Sôda, and this is the first night that I have been on guard.”

“A troublesome office, truly! Why, here are all the rest of the guard asleep. How is it that you alone are awake? You are a trusty watchman.”

“There is nothing to boast about. I’m asleep myself, fast and sound.”

“What is that wound on your knee? It is all red with blood.”

“Oh! I felt very sleepy; so I stuck my knife into my thigh, and the pain of it has kept me awake.”

“What wondrous loyalty!” said the lady.

“Is it not the duty of a retainer to lay down his life for his master? Is such a scratch as this worth thinking about?”

Then the lady went up to the sleeping prince and said, “How fares it with my lord to-night?” But the Prince, worn out with sickness, made no reply. But Sôda was watching her eagerly, and guessed that it was O Toyo, and made up his mind that if she attempted to harass the Prince he would kill her on the spot. The goblin, however, which in the form of O Toyo had been tormenting the Prince every night, and had come again that night for no other purpose, was defeated by the watchfulness of Itô Sôda; for whenever she drew near to the sick man, thinking to put her spells upon him, she would turn and look behind her, and there she saw Itô Sôda glaring at her; so she had no help for it but to go away again, and leave the Prince undisturbed.

At last the day broke, and the other officers, when they awoke and opened their eyes, saw that Itô Sôda had kept awake by stabbing himself in the thigh; and they were greatly ashamed, and went home crestfallen.

That morning Itô Sôda went to the house of Isahaya Buzen, and told him all that had occurred the previous night. The councilors were all loud in their praises of Itô Sôda’s behaviour, and ordered him to keep watch again that night. At the same hour, the false O Toyo came and looked all round the room, and all the guard were asleep, excepting Itô Sôda, who was wide awake; and so, being again frustrated, she returned to her own apartments.

Now as since Sôda had been on guard the Prince had passed quiet nights, his sickness began to get better, and there was great joy in the palace, and Sôda was promoted and rewarded with an estate. In the meanwhile O Toyo, seeing that her nightly visits bore no fruits, kept away; and from that time forth the night-guard were no longer subject to fits of drowsiness. This coincidence struck Sôda as very strange, so he went to Isahaya Buzen and told him that of a certainty this O Toyo was no other than a goblin. Isahaya Buzen reflected for a while, and said—

“Well, then, how shall we kill the foul thing?”

“I will go to the creature’s room, as if nothing were the matter, and try to kill her; but in case she should try to escape, I will beg you to order eight men to stop outside and lie in wait for her.”

Having agreed upon this plan, Sôda went at nightfall to O Toyo’s apartment, pretending to have been sent with a message from the Prince. When she saw him arrive, she said—

“What message have you brought me from my lord?”

“Oh! nothing in particular. Be so look as to look at this letter;” and as he spoke, he drew near to her, and suddenly drawing his dirk cut at her; but the goblin, springing back, seized a halberd, and glaring fiercely at Sôda, said—

“How dare you behave like this to one of your lord’s ladies? I will have you dismissed;” and she tried to strike Sôda with the halberd. But Sôda fought desperately with his dirk; and the goblin, seeing that she was no match for him, threw away the halberd, and from a beautiful woman became suddenly transformed into a cat, which, springing up the sides of the room, jumped on to the roof. Isahaya Buzen and his eight men who were watching outside shot at the cat, but missed it, and the beast made good its escape.

So the cat fled to the mountains, and did much mischief among the surrounding people, until at last the Prince of Hizen ordered a great hunt, and the beast was killed.

But the Prince recovered from his sickness; and Itô Sôda was richly rewarded.

This story emphasizes the idea of loyalty and vigilance samurai needed to aspire toward. Sôda is willing to risk bleeding to death or becoming crippled in order to protect his lord. Stabbing himself in the thigh in order to stay awake is a drastic measure in a time period where wounds had the real danger of becoming infected. The story is also a commentary on the mysteriousness of cats. After all, they seem to disappear and reappear. They are also nocturnal. In our age of artificial light, we can’t really understand just how threatening night was in the past. Candles and lanterns gave little light. Vast swaths of land went black when the sun went down. Anything could lurk in such darkness.

The story also points to women as being suspect. After all, the vampire cat took the from of a woman. Keep in mind that Japan was a patriarchal society. Women are often portrayed as vain, untrustworthy, and suspect.

The story mostly focuses upon how a samurai is supposed to behave: putting his lord’s welfare and life ahead of his own.  Sôda , however,, isn’t a samurai. He is an ashigaru, or peasant soldier. Despite his low rank in the military, he has the soul of a samurai. This may involve killing oneself for one’s lord or almost doing so as in Soda’s case.

[They] saw that Itô Sôda had kept awake by stabbing himself in the thigh; and they were greatly ashamed, and went home crestfallen.

The samurai were ashamed by the superior vigilance and dedication of an ashigaru. Shame is deeper than emotion. it involves a loss of honor and status. Sôda  is promoted to the samurai class, which in feudal Japan is rare. This story opens an interesting window to feudal Japan’s concerns and hopes. A peasant who becomes an ashigaru is better off than the serf. The ashigaru who is elevated to samurai safeguards not only his lifestyle, but he also changes the fortunes of his entire family.

And all thanks to a cat.

References

Milford, A. (1871). Tales of Old Japan. http://ftp.utexas.edu/projectgutenberg/1/3/0/1/13015/13015-h/13015-h.htm

Musings III: On the Use of Premodern Japanese in Anime

Hard but hardly useful?

As a master student of Japanese Studies, I am obliged to concern myself not only with modern popular culture and anime but also with the subject of Premodern Japanese. To be precise, I’m learning to read texts from the Edo period and older which use bungo, or premodern grammar. I’m also doing  ‘Kanbun’, which is basically a Japanese trick of reading ancient Chinese using said grammar. It’s quite cool to think about all the yōkai legends I’ll be able to read once I’ve mastered bungo, and to realize I have just understood a story written in China in 200 BC (!) – but the practical, everyday applicability of Premodern Japanese does seem rather limited. However, I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t found

A back door.

Pop-cultural products – anime, manga, and video games – do actually use premodern Japanese, here and now. In many cases, admittedly, the use only barely qualifies as ‘premodern’, and it is mostly done to give the show a bit of an “ancient” feel. In this way, it is similar to the drawing style of historical anime which sometimes evokes murals, picture scrolls, or woodblock prints. An interesting example, in both aspects, is the 2010 anime Katanagatari, which is set in a parallel universe’s version of feudal Japan. In the opening narration, a text appears in wild brushstrokes, which uses the premodern negation auxiliary ‘nu’ instead of modern ‘nai’. Katanagatari 1 opYet the sentence ends with the modern ‘atta’ (‘there was’) instead of a proper premodern form (such as ‘ari-keri’)… and even ‘nu’ is still used in modern Japanese, albeit rarely. So producers can assume that everyone will understand it, whereas ‘ari-keri’ would probably confuse people. This reminds me of the way ‘samurai’ in anime sometimes use ‘de gozaru’ for ‘to be’, to showcase the period the story is set in. It can be assumed that even viewers unfamiliar with the word will understand its meaning quickly, as it is used in exactly the same way the modern alternative is.  So far, so unsatisfying.

Gods and Monsters and the Prayer of Purification

Then I watched another episode of Noragami Aragoto (2015), the second season of the Noragami anime which continues the story of a hardly known Japanese deity, Yato, his sword-which-is-actually-a-dead-soul Yukine, and their friend Hiyori. They vanquish monsters and try to evade the battle goddess Bishamon-ten, who holds a grudge against Yato. Yato 1

Now, as Yato was making the little speech he always delivers before slaying a monster, to my infinite delight, I made out the premodern auxiliary ‘mu’, one of the functions of which is to signify intention.[i] 

Both the language style and the repetition of the speech before every showdown give these monster extermination sequences an aura of ritual. And premodern language patterns tend to survive in the formulaic speech of rituals, as Western Christians may have experiences themselves – think of  the Catholic Lord’s Prayer, which still uses the second person singular pronoun ‘thou’ and corresponding verb inflection.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but I wonder if Noragami isn’t referencing norito prayers here. Norito are the ancient prayers of Shinto, the Japanese indigenous religion, and one of the oldest forms of Japanese preserved.[ii] Since the main characters of Noragami are Shinto gods and their regalia, it wouldn’t be surprising if the makers had taken some inspiration from the actual Shinto prayer of purification when they devised the little speech Yato makes before purifying (i.e. slaying) monsters. A strong hint for this is the word Yato uses for Japan, Toyoashihara-no-nakatsu-kuni (something along the lines of “The Country Amidst the Plains of Plentiful Reeds”). The term is based on Shinto legend; it is one of the names given to Japan in the Shinto creation myth, if I am not mistaken. (This should be verifiable in the English translation of the Kojiki (A Record of Ancient Things), Japan’s oldest chronicle, but I am still unable to get my hands on a copy.) The term used for Heaven in the series, Takamagahara, originates from the same mythology. Finally, Yato also uses the same words for spiritual pollution (kegare) and cleansing (harau) as the prayers do. There are even a number of Kanji visible in the background during the sequence, but never long or clear enough to actually recognize them. I wonder if they are taken from a religious text?

In addition, Yato himself has definitely seen the Edo era (based on the clothes and buildings seen in his flashbacks), and would be able, perhaps even likely, to fall back to premodern speech patterns when under stress or in a repetitive situation – no matter how contemporary (and jerk-like) he usually acts.

The common suspects and the odd one out

I asked around for suggestions of other anime with potential use of bungo, and among those recommended were a few I had actually seen already, just without realizing – Ayakashi and Mononoke (2006/2007), Mushishi (2005-6), and Hōzuki no Reitetsu (2014), for instance. The first three can all be placed the context of historical (horror) fiction and/or monster-fighting fantasy; thus I assume the use of bungo can be attributed to the feel of magical/religious ritual and historical flavour I described above. I have also looked at two series I hadn’t come across before, Shōnen Onmyōji (2006-7, about the grandson of the famous Feng Shui magician Abe no Seimei) and Otogi Zōshi (2004-5, another dark historic fantasy which also features Seimei), and these also fit the bill. The aforementioned Hōzuki no Reitetsu is a bit of a special case, though. Set in present day, it portrays an unlikely oni (demon) named Hōzuki and his calm in the face of the daily struggles which come with his post as chief secretary of Enma Daiō – the King of (Buddhist) Hell.[iii]

Hōzuki is a very episodic and intensively intertextual comedy series which playfully joins Eastern (and a bit of Western) religion and folklore with a parody of modern trends and pop culture. Many of the jokes will go over your head if you don’t have some basic knowledge of Buddhism, Japanese folktales and literary classics. And modern Japanese pop culture. And koalas.

Well and sometimes, in the middle of all that, you’ll get some bit of bungo. For example, in episode 3, during a big sports tournament between the Chinese and the Japanese afterlives, the legendary beauty and poet Ono no Komachi pens a short waka poem for the title character. So basically, Hōzuki no Reitetsu opens up a third dimension of the use of bungo in anime: as an ironic citation in a postmodern (con/inter)text. And at this point, I’ll close my musings on the use of premodern Japanese in anime, at least for the time being.

Notes and References:

[i] See the beginning of this clip from episode 5 of the original series for reference.

[ii] For the following, I have mostly used this website  and outgoing links.

[iii] The opening introduces the 272 Hells of Buddhism, but the only version on YT is in pretty bad quality, see here. For those interested in the matter, Matthew Meyer’s yōkai anthology The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits includes a very interesting and intensely readable description of Hell (Jigoku).

Crackling Mountain: The Story of the Farmer and the Tanuki

Below is one version of one of the most popular tanuki stories in Japan. The translation dates to the early 1900s. During this time, the character for tanuki was translated as badger.

If you want to learn more about tanuki, check out my ebook, Tanuki: The Folklore of Japan’s Trickster

800px-Rabbit's_Triumph_-_climax_of_the_Kachi-kachi_Yama.markings_of_Ogata_Gekko.detail_-_image_for_k-k_y_article.version_1.wittig_collection_-_painting_22

Scene from Kachi-kachi Yama c. 1890

Long, long ago, there lived an old farmer and his wife who had made their home in the mountains, far from any town. Their only neighbor was a bad and malicious badger. This badger used to come out every night and run across to the farmer’s field and spoil the vegetables and the rice which the farmer spent his time in carefully cultivating. The badger at last grew so ruthless in his mischievous work, and did so much harm everywhere on the farm, that the good-natured farmer could not stand it any longer, and determined to put a stop to it. So he lay in wait day after day and night after night, with a big club, hoping to catch the badger, but all in vain. Then he laid traps for the wicked animal.

The farmer’s trouble and patience was rewarded, for one fine day ongoing his rounds he found the badger caught in a hole he had dug for that purpose. The farmer was delighted at having caught his enemy, and carried him home securely bound with rope. When he reached the house the farmer said to his wife:

“I have at last caught the bad badger. You must keep an eye on him while I am out at work and not let him escape, because I want to make him into soup to-night.”

Saying this, he hung the badger up to the rafters of his storehouse and went out to his work in the fields. The badger was in great distress, for he did not at all like the idea of being made into soup that night, and he thought and thought for a long time, trying to hit upon some plan by which he might escape. It was hard to think clearly in his uncomfortable position, for he had been hung upside down. Very near him, at the entrance to the storehouse, looking out towards the green fields and the trees and the pleasant sunshine, stood the farmer’s old wife pounding barley. She looked tired and old. Her face was seamed with many wrinkles, and was as brown as leather, and every now and then she stopped to wipe the perspiration which rolled down her face.

“Dear lady,” said the wily badger, “you must be very weary doing such heavy work in your old age. Won’t you let me do that for you? My arms are very strong, and I could relieve you for a little while!”

“Thank you for your kindness,” said the old woman, “but I cannot let you do this work for me because I must not untie you, for you might escape if I did and my husband would be very angry if he came home and found you gone.”

Now, the badger is one of the most cunning of animals, and he said again in a very sad, gentle, voice:

“You are very unkind. You might untie me, for I promise not to try to escape. If you are afraid of your husband, I will let you bind me again before his return when I have finished pounding the barley. I am so tired and sore tied up like this. If you would only let me down for a few minutes I would indeed be thankful!”

The old woman had a good and simple nature, and could not think badly of any one. Much less did she think that the badger was only deceiving her in order to get away. She felt sorry, too, for the animal as she turned to look at him. He looked in such a sad plight hanging downwards from the ceiling by his legs, which were all tied together so tightly that the rope and the knots were cutting into the skin. So in the kindness of her heart, and believing the creature’s promise that he would not run away, she untied the cord and let him down.

The old woman then gave him the wooden pestle and told him to do the work for a short time while she rested. He took the pestle, but instead of doing the work as he was told, the badger at once sprang upon the old woman and knocked her down with the heavy piece of wood. He then killed her and cut her up and made soup of her, and waited for the return of the old farmer. The old man worked hard in his fields all day, and as he worked he thought with pleasure that no more now would his labor be spoiled by the destructive badger.

Towards sunset he left his work and turned to go home. He was very tired, but the thought of the nice supper of hot badger soup awaiting his return cheered him. The thought that the badger might get free and take revenge on the poor old woman never once came into his mind.

The badger meanwhile assumed the old woman’s form, and as soon as he saw the old farmer approaching came out to greet him on the veranda of the little house, saying:

“So you have come back at last. I have made the badger soup and have been waiting for you for a long time.”

The old farmer quickly took off his straw sandals and sat down before his tiny dinner-tray. The innocent man never even dreamed that it was not his wife but the badger who was waiting upon him, and asked at once for the soup. Then the badger suddenly transformed himself back to his natural form and cried out:

“You wife-eating old man! Look out for the bones in the kitchen!”

Laughing loudly and derisively he escaped out of the house and ran away to his den in the hills. The old man was left behind alone. He could hardly believe what he had seen and heard. Then when he understood the whole truth he was so scared and horrified that he fainted right away. After a while he came round and burst into tears. He cried loudly and bitterly. He rocked himself to and fro in his hopeless grief. It seemed too terrible to be real that his faithful old wife had been killed and cooked by the badger while he was working quietly in the fields, knowing nothing of what was going on at home, and congratulating himself on having once for all got rid of the wicked animal who had so often spoiled his fields. And oh! the horrible thought; he had very nearly drunk the soup which the creature had made of his poor old woman. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” he wailed aloud. Now, not far away there lived in the same mountain a kind, good-natured old rabbit. He heard the old man crying and sobbing and at once set out to see what was the matter, and if there was anything he could do to help his neighbor. The old man told him all that had happened. When the rabbit heard the story he was very angry at the wicked and deceitful badger, and told the old man to leave everything to him and he would avenge his wife’s death. The farmer was at last comforted, and, wiping away his tears, thanked the rabbit for his goodness in coming to him in his distress.

The rabbit, seeing that the farmer was growing calmer, went back to his home to lay his plans for the punishment of the badger.

The next day the weather was fine, and the rabbit went out to find the badger. He was not to be seen in the woods or on the hillside or in the fields anywhere, so the rabbit went to his den and found the badger hiding there, for the animal had been afraid to show himself ever since he had escaped from the farmer’s house, for fear of the old man’s wrath.

The rabbit called out:

“Why are you not out on such a beautiful day? Come out with me, and we will go and cut grass on the hills together.”

The badger, never doubting but that the rabbit was his friend, willingly consented to go out with him, only too glad to get away from the neighborhood of the farmer and the fear of meeting him. The rabbit led the way miles away from their homes, out on the hills where the grass grew tall and thick and sweet. They both set to work to cut down as much as they could carry home, to store it up for their winter’s food. When they had each cut down all they wanted they tied it in bundles and then started homewards, each carrying his bundle of grass on his back. This time the rabbit made the badger go first.

When they had gone a little way the rabbit took out a flint and steel, and, striking it over the badger’s back as he stepped along in front, set his bundle of grass on fire. The badger heard the flint striking, and asked:

“What is that noise.’Crack, crack’?”

“Oh, that is nothing.” replied the rabbit; “I only said ‘Crack, crack’ because this mountain is called Crackling Mountain.”

The fire soon spread in the bundle of dry grass on the badger’s back. The badger, hearing the crackle of the burning grass, asked, “What is that?”

“Now we have come to the ‘Burning Mountain,'” answered the rabbit.

By this time the bundle was nearly burned out and all the hair had been burned off the badger’s back. He now knew what had happened by the smell of the smoke of the burning grass. Screaming with pain the badger ran as fast as he could to his hole. The rabbit followed and found him lying on his bed groaning with pain.

“What an unlucky fellow you are!” said the rabbit. “I can’t imagine how this happened! I will bring you some medicine which will heal your back quickly!”

The rabbit went away glad and smiling to think that the punishment upon the badger had already begun. He hoped that the badger would die of his burns, for he felt that nothing could be too bad for the animal, who was guilty of murdering a poor helpless old woman who had trusted him. He went home and made an ointment by mixing some sauce and red pepper together.

He carried this to the badger, but before putting it on he told him that it would cause him great pain, but that he must bear it patiently, because it was a very wonderful medicine for burns and scalds and such wounds. The badger thanked him and begged him to apply it at once. But no language can describe the agony of the badger as soon as the red pepper had been pasted all over his sore back. He rolled over and over and howled loudly. The rabbit, looking on, felt that the farmer’s wife was beginning to be avenged.

The badger was in bed for about a month; but at last, in spite of the red pepper application, his burns healed and he got well. When the rabbit saw that the badger was getting well, he thought of another plan by which he could compass the creature’s death. So he went one day to pay the badger a visit and to congratulate him on his recovery.

During the conversation the rabbit mentioned that he was going fishing, and described how pleasant fishing was when the weather was fine and the sea smooth.

The badger listened with pleasure to the rabbit’s account of the way he passed his time now, and forgot all his pains and his month’s illness, and thought what fun it would be if he could go fishing too; so he asked the rabbit if he would take him the next time he went out to fish. This was just what the rabbit wanted, so he agreed.

Then he went home and built two boats, one of wood and the other of clay. At last they were both finished, and as the rabbit stood and looked at his work he felt that all his trouble would be well rewarded if his plan succeeded, and he could manage to kill the wicked badger now.

The day came when the rabbit had arranged to take the badger fishing. He kept the wooden boat himself and gave the badger the clay boat. The badger, who knew nothing about boats, was delighted with his new boat and thought how kind it was of the rabbit to give it to him. They both got into their boats and set out. After going some distance from the shore the rabbit proposed that they should try their boats and see which one could go the quickest. The badger fell in with the proposal, and they both set to work to row as fast as they could for some time. In the middle of the race the badger found his boat going to pieces, for the water now began to soften the clay. He cried out in great fear to the rabbit to help him. But the rabbit answered that he was avenging the old woman’s murder, and that this had been his intention all along, and that he was happy to think that the badger had at last met his deserts for all his evil crimes, and was to drown with no one to help him. Then he raised his oar and struck at the badger with all his strength till he fell with the sinking clay boat and was seen no more.

Thus at last he kept his promise to the old farmer. The rabbit now turned and rowed shorewards, and having landed and pulled his boat upon the beach, hurried back to tell the old farmer everything, and how the badger, his enemy, had been killed.

The old farmer thanked him with tears in his eyes. He said that till now he could never sleep at night or be at peace in the daytime, thinking of how his wife’s death was unavenged, but from this time he would be able to sleep and eat as of old. He begged the rabbit to stay with him and share his home, so from this day the rabbit went to stay with the old farmer and they both lived together as good friends to the end of their days.

How a Man Got the Better of Two Foxes

This story comes from the Ainu, a group of people native to the northern islands of Japan. The Japanese fox, called kitsune, comes from China, but long before the Chinese fox crossed into Japan, the Ainu told stories like the one below.

If you want to learn more about kitsune and read more stories like this one, check out my book Come and Sleep: The Folklore of the Japanese Fox. In the book, I summarize all the different aspects of the fox and reveal some surprising stories and events in her life.

The ebook costs 99 cents. I decided to price it low in the hopes you will read it…and fund my other writing projects.

This Ainu story came from my research and can be found in Come and Sleep:

A man went into the mountains to get bark to make rope with, and found a hole. To this hole there came a fox, who spoke as follows, though he was a fox, in human language: “I know of something from which great profit may be derived. Let us go to the place to-morrow!” To which the fox inside the hole replied as follows: “What profitable thing do you allude to? After hearing about it, I will go with you if it sounds likely to be profitable; and if not, not.” The fox outside spoke thus: “The profitable thing to be done is this. I will come here to-morrow about the time of the mid-day meal. You must be waiting for me then, and we will go off together. If you take the shape of a horse, and we go off together, I taking the shape of a man and riding on your back, we can go down to the shore, where dwell human beings possessed of plenty of food and all sorts of other things. As there is sure to be among the people some one who wants a horse, I will sell you to him who thus wants a horse. I can then buy a quantity of precious things and of food. Then I shall run away; and you, having the appearance of a horse, will be led out to eat grass, and be tied up somewhere on the hillside. Then, if I come and help you to escape, and we divide the food and the precious things equally between us, it will be profitable for both of us.” Thus spoke the fox outside the hole; and the fox inside the hole was very glad, and said: “Come and fetch me early to-morrow, and we will go off together.”

The man was hidden in the shade of the tree, and had been listening. Then the fox who had been standing outside went away, and the man, too, went home for the night. But he came back next day to the mouth of the hole, and spoke thus, imitating the voice of the fox whom he had heard speaking outside the hole the day before: “Here I am. Come out at once! If you will turn into a horse, we will go down to the shore.” The fox came out. It was a big fox. The man said: “I have come already turned into a man. If you turn into a horse, it will not matter even if we are seen by other people.” The fox shook itself, and became a large chestnut [lit. red] horse. Then the two went off together, and came to a very rich village, plentifully provided with everything. The man said: “I will sell this horse to anybody who wants one.” As the horse was a very fine one, every one wanted to buy it. So the man bartered it for a quantity of food and precious things, and then went away.

Now the horse was such a peculiarly fine one that its new owner did not like to leave it out-of-doors, but always kept it in the house. He shut the door, and he shut the window, and cut grass to feed it with. But though he fed it, it could not (being really a fox) eat grass at all. All it wanted to eat was fish. After about four days it was like to die. At last it made its escape through the window and ran home; and, arriving at the place where the other fox lived, wanted to kill it. But it discovered that the trick had been played, not by its companion fox, but by the man. So both the foxes were very angry, and consulted about going to find the man and kill him.

But though the two foxes had decided thus, the man came and made humble excuses, saying: “I came the other day, because I had overheard you two foxes plotting; and then I cheated you. For this I humbly beg your pardon. Even if you do kill me, it will do no good. So henceforward I will brew rice-beer for you, and set up the divine symbols for you, and worship you,—worship you for ever. In this way you will derive greater profit than you would derive from killing me. Fish, too, whenever I make a good catch, I will offer to you as an act of worship. This being so, the creatures called men shall worship you for ever.”

The foxes, hearing this, said: “That is capital, we think. That will do very well.” Thus spake the foxes. Thus does it come about that all men, both Japanese and Aino, worship the fox. So it is said.

Wanyûdô, The Wheel Monk

fairy-tale-contest-winnersJasmin Boehm writes about an encounter with one of Japan’s ancient haunters, the Wheel Monk.

This story won our Japanese Fairy Tale Contest. She won the book Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.

It is a strange event that I will tell you of, a moments when I was brushed by the shadow of something other. Do not shake your head. You know what I mean. I am sure of it; you, too, have once inadvertently hurried your step when you found yourself alone, in a silent place, in the murky light of an overcast sky, or you felt a strange shudder passing a bridge, or you saw something, in the corner of your eye, and then told yourself there was nothing, that there could not possibly have been anything… Am I right?

But they are rare, now. With every passing century, the twilight beings have receded further; I think they need a loneliness and silence lost to us. Who knows, now, what real darkness feels like, or utter silence? So, they no longer parade the streets or terrorize the traveller. But sometimes, I believe, they still lurk in the corners of our world, at borders and crossroads; when day turns to night, when summer’s heat and night’s cool intermingle in the streets during the short nights of summer, or when the sun blinds you over New Year’s snow. They may be without form, but they are waiting. Still waiting, on the threshold to elsewhere, to claim those foolish or ignorant enough to challenge them.

I was the happiest person on the planet the day they told me I won the scholarship for an exchange semester in Kyôto. Five months to explore the city, its countless temples and shrines – I would walk through the incense-infused half-light glimmering on the arms of a thousand thousand-armed gilded statues of Kannon, and sweat on the steep steps of Fushimi Inari’s mountain trek rimmed by Torii shrine gates, orange and red in the lush emerald forest, during the plum rain. And so I did. Every weekday was spent in language school, one day of every weekend I was round and about, exploring.

kyoto-streetOne day in July, I was on my way back from the south of the city, cycling up Higashi Ôji, the Great Eastern Road. It was dreadfully hot, this stuffy kind of heat you get in a city walled in by mountains, and the sun was blazing on the concrete. Then something caught my eye. It was a plastic GeGeGe no Kitarô figurine, perhaps half a metre tall, which was mounted on a sort of balcony around the first floor of one of the shops ahead. Coming nearer, I saw that this balcony was more than odd. The house was panelled with dark wood all over the first floor, and a curious mixture of old, discoloured and broken things was stacked along the slim balcony which ran all around the house. Next to the Kitarô figurine hung a couple of Tengu masks, a broken clock and what appeared to be steel helmets of American WWII soldiers. Around the corner were a number of carriage wheels, the head of a Buddha, some faded anime character posters, a beckoning cat, and a blue robot statue.

I was intrigued. Even more so, I was fascinated, for myth and fantasy have always been a subject close to my heart. So, although I had no idea what I hoped to find in the shop, I just dragged by bike up to the pavement, locked it to a cable pole and walked up to the entrance.

I looked in.

No, I can’t tell you what I saw, my memory is all but blank. Sometimes I think there was a man behind the counter, and another man he was talking to, standing with his back to me. But I don’t remember their faces, and I don’t remember hearing their voices either. All I can recall, so vividly it still gives me nausea when I remember it, is a wave of repulsion washing over me, an impulse so strong I was driven off like a leaf before the wind. I took a step backwards, turned, and almost broke into a run, my heart clutched by an invisible fist of fear. Unlocking my bike, I swung onto it, and tread the pedals like someone hunted by something invisible. And maybe I was. It did not occur to me to question my behaviour until I had reached the student accommodation where I lived. I guess I should have been glad they were content to scare me away… But that’s now how people are, right?

kyoto-cornerSo, the strange shop stayed in my mind, and curiosity reared its head, as soon as fear stopped barking. I could not understand what had happened to me, and that made me even more keen to return, so, after dinner, I was back on my bike. Down Teramachi Road I went, with the wind whispering in the trees of the Imperial Gardens, probably whispering about my folly; then I turned left into Marutamachi and crossed Kamo River. There were still a lot of people around, enjoying the cool at the waterside. I turned right after the bridge and followed the Kamo southward for a while.

Kyôto has a long, rich and sometimes bloody history, and I wondered – had it been a summer night like this, near to a hundred and fifty years ago, when Kondô Isami took a fraction of the men of the Shinsengumi militia into what should be their most famous fight – the slaughter of the rônin conspirators at the Ikedaya Inn? They were only up against men, and they were trained warriors, while I was but a nosey girl; yet here I was, going to confront what might be anything from yakuza to yôkai. Gangsters or Monsters! What the hell am I doing, I thought, but at that point going back would have felt even more foolish.

Unsurprisingly, Gion was still pretty lively. I hadn’t done much exploring in the ancient pleasure quarters yet, but I had visited the Yasaka Shrine only a few hours ago. As I passed it again, the doglike stone lions atop the stairs watching the main entrance seemed more significant to me, and less ridiculous. I retraced my steps northward on the Great Eastern Road and finally left my bike at a lamp post in a side street, a crossing or two before the weird shop. There was a great big sign telling me it was forbidden to leave bikes there, but I just hoped the Kyôto Police wouldn’t come around in the next half hour or so. Slowly, I walked on, my heart suddenly beating in my mouth as those cartwheels came back into my mind. I knew which yôkai that could be, from a book entry I had read back home. Wanyûdô, the head of a man, perhaps a monk, sitting in the middle of a burning wheel, who had murdered a woman’s child because she looked at the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons, instead of her baby. Probably there was a sutra to defend against him. Not that that would help me, now.

There were still a few pedestrians about, even though the shops were closed, and occasionally a car passed by. Yet I felt quite alone when the place I was looking for came in sight. Generally, the Japanese lit their cities as brightly as Christmas trees – but this particular house was sitting in what must have been the only comparably dark corner between here and the Pacific Ocean! That did not bode well. Warily, I approached, looking out for – what, foxfires? But no. It was just a dark, closed shop and quite prosaic on second glance, Kitarô figurine and all. I had probably only felt compelled to leave because the owner had glared at me, disapproving of a blue-eyed ginger Westerner sticking her head into his premises, I reasoned.

So I stood there for a minute or two, feeling both embarrassed and embarrassingly relieved. I had been so quick in running away before, I hadn’t even noticed what kind of shop this was! The sign, half-hidden by the junk around the upper level, was written in fading white paint, hard to read in the dark. I crossed the street, went up to the front to see better, and raised an eyebrow. The paint was not just faded; it was more like someone had tried to scrub it off, and given up halfway. But it definitely said ‘eye’ and ‘way’, and I remembered that the latter character was used in a couple of yôkai names, Wanyûdô among them. What was worse, up close the thing looked a lot like the signs used to indicate the names of temples. Where they selling leftovers from a dismantled holy site? When I went to the other side of the shop-front, squinting my eyes to peer through the gloom, I found some familiar-looking broken up carved boards up there, too. Not grey like this, but painted, brilliantly blue and green, offset with white against the orange building, such boards formed the eaves of many a temple. What might have happened to bring them here?

‘Hey, you.’

Every hair on my back stood on end. Someone had just addressed me in not-too-respectful Japanese, and there was a soft orange glow coming from behind me, a light which had not been there before and which was just strong enough to highlight a few items on the façade in front of me… and one grey, naked space. In front of the blue robot, a cartwheel was missing.

I did not turn. I did not think. I ran.

If I had been afraid in this afternoon, that was nothing compared to what I felt now. Judging by the flicker, the flames were already right behind me when I wrenched open my bike lock and jumped into the saddle, and I rushed down the street as fast as I possibly could. I did not even pause to put away my lock, instead holding it in my hand as I flew through the brightly lit streets, unaware of direction – until the steps with the stone lions appeared to my left.

This was the wrong way! I was going south, not north; away from the fragile promise of shelter in my home, instead of towards it. Panic had me in its claws, sharp and bitter. I didn’t bother to lock my bike anywhere, just left it on the side and ran up the steps, two at a time, no matter how steep they were. As I flew past bewildered late-hour shrine visitors, dark heads turned and someone said something in a disapproving tone, but I just kept going. I had no plan, no notion of where I was headed. I don’t think my conscious self had anything to do with it.

When I finally ran out of breath and clutched a stone torii for support, I found myself at a small Inari Shrine. The light of a single lamp shone on two white stone foxes guarding the entrance. Composing myself, I entered through the torii gate and walked up to them.

I have always likes these shrines. Foxes are the messengers of Inari, the god (or sometimes goddess) of rice – or alternatively, s/he likes to take their form her/himself. So, the shrines are guarded by stone foxes instead of the usual lions, making them easy to recognize. I was fond of foxes even before I came to Japan, and learning about the magic powers of the Japanese kitsune and how it grows an extra tail every hundred years of its long life, had quite intrigued me. I knew that foxes were often tricksters and shape-shifters and not exactly cuddly. But looking now upon the snarling jaws, the muscular bodies and strangely alive eyes of Inari’s foxes, I felt much safer than before. I passed the statues and walked up to the shrine proper. A small building of wood it was, of orange lacquered beams, filled in with white, their tips painted black, and the traditional bulky bronze roof was clean and shiny. Atop the miniature stairs of the shrine, in front of the gold-inlayed doors of the sanctuary housing the deity, stood a perfectly round polished mirror in a wooden stand. It reflected nothing but the bell on the rope which hung above the wooden box of offerings, but I wondered if I was looking upon a shintai – mirrors, like jewels and swords, often serve as such ‘god-bodies’ and become inhabited by the deity in rites and festivals. But would the priests expose it this way, instead of keeping it inside the sanctuary, behind the tiny golden doors?

When I pushed my hands into my pockets, I found a few coins. Small change from one of the rice cakes, mochi, I had become addicted to and bought far too often, no doubt. I bowed twice before the mirror and prayed, as good as I could. Inari-sama. I might have offended someone, but I am very sorry. Please help me. Protect me. I did not know the right words, and I was pretty sure you were supposed to address a deity in the most elaborate polite speech, but this way the extent of my Japanese proficiency, especially under duress. So I pulled the money out of my pocket, threw it into the offertory box and pulled the rope so that the bell rang merrily. Then I bowed again, took a deep breath and passed the stone foxes, leaving the way I came.

The thing was waiting for me as I stepped onto the walkway.

It was a grotesquely huge male head, twice the size of a human’s, mounted in the middle of a cartwheel; the spikes sprang from his cheeks, his temples, his chin, the crown of his head. Weirdly enough, I wasn’t even afraid now, despite the orange, strangely silent flames dancing all over the wheel, the spikes, and the grim face with its rolling eyes and enormous, yellow teeth.

‘You cannot run away!’, he said. His voice rumbled, like, well, like a cart on a bad road, and his speech was old-fashioned (or as I later assumed, regional dialect), but I recognized the word stem and the negation suffix.

‘It looks like it’, I replied after a pause. That seemed to surprise him. He stared rolling, circling me, drawing closer, and I stated back. ‘The barbarian girl speaks?!’ he thundered. Or maybe, ‘can speak?’ Evidently he had not expected me to be able to understand him, or even respond. Hope flickered up in my heart.

‘Yes.’ I lowered my head, then remembered I was in Japan and bowed, deeply, without rising. ‘I am sorry.’

He said something I didn’t quite understand, but he sounded more puzzled than angry. So I put everything on the line. I went down to my knees and cowered on the ground. ‘I am sorry I tried to enter the shop. I am sorry I came back to look at it. I am sorry I have… (I could not remember what ‘to offend’ meant) made you angry. Please forgive me.’ My heart was beating painfully now. Please, please, let this work… Please, make him go away.

‘Quite impressive’, a different voice said. Startled, I looked up, followed the gaze of the Wheel Monk, who looked surprised himself, and found a slender little fox sitting on top of Inari’s shrine gate. Now it descended, running down the post vertically for a bit, like a cat, before it jumped onto the footpath. Its red and white fur glistened in the light of the lamps in copper, gold and silver.

‘Do you still have a quarrel with this human, Wheel Monk?’ the fox asked. It spoke in the same, old-fashioned regional dialect as the Monk, but from now on I understood every word, although afterwards I have never been able to recall the words, only the meaning.

The Monk’s fiery brilliance seemed somewhat dimmed. ‘No’, he finally said. ‘I accept the apology.’

‘Then be gone’, the fox told him. ‘Your place is not here.’

So he rolled away, shimmering and fading as he went, until he was gone, like a mirage born of summer heat on the streets.

‘Thank you, thank you so much’, I said to the fox. It tilted its head and look up into my face.

‘You did well, all things considered’, it said. ‘But you called for help, and so I came. Be more careful from now on.’

‘Yes, I will. I promise.’ I put a hand on my heart.

‘Good. Remember.’ It beckoned me with its left forepaw, and as I crouched down, my braid slid over my shoulder. The fox came up to me, stood with its front legs on my thighs, the claws digging sharply into the thin jeans fabric, and sniffed. Its breath tickled my neck, smelling of sweet tofu. ‘No, you’re human’, it said. ‘With that hair, I thought you might be a granddaughter of ours.’ It sat down on its hind legs, again reminding me of a cat, and held its left paw before me. When I stretched out my hand, it put the paw in my palm, let it rest there for a moment, and then pulled back. Looking at my hand, I found a tiny bag made of silk brocade, tied with an elaborate symmetrical knot – a mamori or protective charm. ‘Thank you!’ I called out again – but the footpath was empty now, and only silent stone statues guarded Inari’s shrine.

Hugging the charm to my breast, I bowed again to the shrine a couple of times, and then I stumbled back, out of the shrine precinct, down the steep steps to the Great Eastern Road. Miraculously, my bike was still where I had left it.

I cycled home and went straight to bed. The next morning, I wondered if I had dreamt the whole thing. You may choose to believe that. But sometimes, when I show a certain green mamori to friends, they all say the same thing about the embroidered image.

‘A fox chasing a wheel? Curious!’

Legend of the Twin Baku

fairy-tale-contest-winnersDavid L. Simon accounts a tale of brothers who ate dreams.

This story won our Japanese Fairy Tale Contest. He won the book Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide. You can find more of his work on DeviantArt.

Long ago, before the gods had split the world into many lands, there lived twin Baku brothers named Aoi, the Blue and Akai, the Red. The brothers fed on the dreams of mortal creatures, for when mortals such as humans or kappa dream, they create new experiences in their heads. These new experiences created by dreaming do not simply disappear when the mortal awakens, though. As a mortal’s dream goes on, it is turned into a waste product called “Yumebutsu.” In the times before Japan, there was so much Yumebutsu that the gods did not know what to do with it all, and thus the Baku were born.

Every night, the Baku Brothers received permission from the gods to descend from Heaven to seek out delicious dreams to devour. They ventured from person to person, consuming the Yumebutsu as they dreamt and leaving just enough behind so that the mortal could remember the experience in the morning. Sometimes, one of the brothers would consume too much and erase the memory of the mortal’s dream. For the most part, however, they left just enough behind to preserve the delicate memory, and the gods were pleased.

Akai preferred the sweet-tasting Yumebutsu that came from good dreams. Dreams of wealth, family, love, and happiness produced the sweetest, nectar-like byproduct that Akai couldn’t get enough of. Aoi, on the other-hand, preferred the bitter-tasting waste of nightmares. Dreams of terror, anger, agony, and fear caused this kind of waste, and Aoi gorged on it until their was nothing left, allowing the mortals who dreamt to never have to remember the horror of their nightmares. At first, all was well. Akai would leave just a little sweetness for the mortals to wake up with happy memories, and Aoi would consume the nightmares whole so that no one was fearful in the morning.

The sweetness and tenderness of the dreams Akai consumed caused the Baku to grow feelings of love, happiness, and morality. Akai found himself growing ever concerned for the mortals’ well-being. Very often, Akai would plead to the gods to give the peasants fair crop and weather, and to give the nobles guidance to be fair. The gods would agree, and the peasants thanked the Red Baku for their good crops, fair rule, and good dreams.

Aoi, who was consuming dreams of evil, began to develop feelings of hatred, jealousy, vanity, and anger. Aoi was jealous that the peasants worshipped his brother, and not him. After all, it was he who rid the people of their nightmares, the same bad dreams that they once feared with extreme emotion. “How dare they forget the one who stays their worst fears!” Aoi cried out in rage. As he grew more and more vain with every nightmare he devoured, so too did his hatred for mortals. With his feelings of discontent growing more and more, Aoi found himself embracing the darkness that his meals offered him with open arms. At last, Aoi decided to enact revenge upon the ungrateful creatures who he hated so much by eliminating the one they worshipped, his own brother Akai.

Aoi approached his brother, Akai, as he slept peacefully and dreamed of his beloved mortals. Aoi began to consume the dreams of his brother, every last bit. Since Baku eat only dreams, their life essence is made up dreams. As Aoi devoured his brother’s sweet dreams, he also devoured his essence. Aoi ate and ate, until there was nothing left of Akai. The blue Baku laughed in devilish glee, knowing that those he hated would suffer and his revenge would be complete.

The blue Baku flew down to Earth to watch the people suffer. The common folk cried for Akai to return to them, and their crops withered as they starved. Aoi laughed as he flew around and observed the confusion as to what happened to his beloved brother. However, when Aoi came across a young mother and her starving children, who cried and begged to the gods for help, something bubbled up inside of him; regret. Aoi was confused at the feeling, and fled the scene that caused his guilt. As the blue Baku observed more people, the feelings of sadness and guilt grew larger and larger, and Aoi realized that by consuming Akai’s essence. he brought upon himself his brother’s sweet and gentle nature. Aoi began to weep. “What have I done?” The Baku whispered as he cried. “I have murdered my good brother in cold blood for selfishness and vanity! I have allowed the darkness I have consumed to consume me instead! What I would give to have my brother back!” As Aoi repented his evil actions, he flew up to Heaven to give himself up to the gods’ justice.

Susanoo

Susanoo, the Storm God

 

Aoi prostrated himself before the Council of Gods and told them of his grim deeds. “I only ask of you one thing,” Aoi requested, “take me and return my brother to the world, for I have shamed both myself and Heaven.” Susanoo, the Storm God, spoke up first. “While it is true that you have brought shame to Heaven and to the gods,” he began solemnly, “you have also repented and begged for this to be made right. For that, you shall be made to make up for your deeds, not be punished for them.”

“I agree,” spoke Amaterasu, the Goddess of Fire, “There must always be a dream eater to keep the Yumebutsu from building again, but if Baku can be so corrupted by the darkness of nightmares, then how are we to stop this from happening again?”

“The answer is simple,” chimed in Fūjin, God of the Winds, “there must be only one Baku who consumes both good dreams and nightmares. If balance is kept, then he shall not be corrupted by the evils of bad dreams.” The rest of the gods agreed to this, and it was decided that in exchange for forgiveness of his actions, Aoi would continue to serve the gods as the only dream eater, eating both good and bad dreams. Susanoo laid out the rules. “From this day, you shall be known as Murasaki, the Purple Baku, for your blue essence will be melded with that of your brother’s red one. You will continue to consume the Yumebutsu of dreams, both bad and good. However, sometimes you must consume whole good dreams and leave a bit of the essence of nightmares, for even though we do not want mortals to only have fear, they cannot grow complacent. Balance must be kept.” Aoi, now known as Murasaki, thanked the gods for their graciousness and returned to Earth to continue consuming the Yumebutsu, both good and bad.

Thus is the reason why the mortals of Japan and beyond have both good dreams and bad dreams, and the reason why we can only remember a fragment of them in the morning. Sometimes, Murasaki leaves us a bit of sweetness, and sometimes a bit of darkness, in order to keep mortal feelings balanced between good and bad. Other times, he consumes our entire dream and we remember nothing. But in all cases, we must learn from the tale of Aoi and Akai that balance is key, and we must keep our feelings of vanity and jealousy under control, for if left unchecked, the emotions of darkness lead to actions we will regret later.