Ushi no Koku Mairi: Dark Ritual for Vengeance

Today’s Halloween here in the States, so it is time to put out an article that goes with the occasion. There are rituals and processions that one would associate with occult practices, black magic, and spells. Some are so out there that they would fit perfectly as a thriller or horror film. In this article, we’ll cover one practice that is pretty out there, and could make for a cool costume!

Since Edo period, there was an unusual practice in Japan which may have roots to the divination system Onmyōdō (陰陽道) called “Ushi no Koku Mairi” (丑の刻参り)¹. This can mean “Late Night Ritual Procession at a Shrine²“. While the title sounds harmless, what takes place is not. Records on it state that this was a practice where when some women were slighted by a cheating man, whether be boyfriend or husband, they would embark on this personal journey of revenge at the back of a local shrine to place a curse on him. The origins of this is believed to have come from old texts dating back as far as Heian period (794 ~ 1192), such as the military text titled Heike Monogatari (平家物語) and a book of songs called Kokin Wakashū (古今和歌集). These have short inserts of a woman who becomes slighted by a lover who failed to keep his promise, and transforms into an oni (鬼, demon) through the will of an enshrined deity after praying to it at a shrine that houses it. With this new found strength, she swears vengeance and terrorizes the area. Fast forward to Edo period (1603~1868), cases of women going to shrines and performing a ritual in the dead of the night appear to have been a thing.

A ukiyoe depicting Ushi no Koku Mairi. The woman presented has a demonic look, as if transformed by the ritual herself. By Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

The purpose of Ushi no Koku Mairi was to put a curse on a cheating man that would bring him death. This was a means for a woman to successfully break any eternal ties with him, plus for him to face retribution. This process did take place behind a shrine, where there were plenty of trees. In advance, a tree would have to be chosen to where this ritual of vengeance would take place. The following steps would need to be prepared to make this all work:

  • white robe-like outfit with a white belt
  • metal band around or on top of the head
  • 3 candles fixed at 3 points on the metal band
  • small mirror hanging from the neck
  • a small kushi (櫛, a semi-round comb)
  • high wooden geta (下駄, clog-like footwear)
  • long white sash with one end fastened to the body or belt

Of course, the most important items that are very critical for this ritual are a small straw doll, decent sized nails, and a metal mallet.

Instruments necessary for acts of revenge.

When it’s pitch-dark outside and the designated time frame is near, the woman must change into her outfit and, with no one around to see her, must run through the wooded area behind the shrine all the way to her designated tree. From there, she will insert the nail through the straw doll, and hammer it to the tree with her mallet, screaming obscenities throughout the process. Once the woman is done, she takes all her items and returns home. This process must be done for 7 days straight in order for her desire for vengeance to come true. It is expected that the targeted man will die within those 7 days. If not, then the process was a failure.

When you really think about it, the outfit may sound and look bizarre. However, there is a purpose behind this, which is to give the woman a rather demonic look. She is to appear as if she too has turned into an ogre as she carries out her mission, much like how it’s depicted in ancient tales. Here’s some more detailed info regarding the preparations for Ushi no Koku Mairi:

  • There are no special words or chants. The individual can use any words, labels, and otherwise, curses that best describe her target.
  • The long white sash encourages the woman to run as fast as she can and keep it up in the air as she makes her way to the tree used for the process. The reasoning for this is that the white sash must not touch the ground and get soiled before she reaches the tree, or else the process will not be completed. Take note that this is a difficult feat to accomplish due to the next note….
  • The type of wooden geta the woman must wear is the one with long ha (歯), or pegs. How long should the pegs be it is not stated, but one thing to keep in mind is that high geta makes it very difficult to walk, let along run.
  • Feet have to be bare while wearing the geta.
  • The comb must be carried in the mouth while running.
  • The woman must have her hair down and not tied. She may wash it ahead of time.
  • It is recommended to have “keepsakes” of the target that the woman wants to curse inside the straw doll, such as his hair or fingernails.

As mentioned earlier, this ritual was documented. In fact, there was even theatrical performances in the form of Noh (能) plays about this in Japan during Edo period. Now, as for the particular shrines that may have been used in Japan, one that stands out is the Kifune Jinja (貴船神社, Kifune Shrine) in Kyōto, due to the fact that was used as a source of power for a vengeful woman in the Heike Monogatari. Take note that this shrine is not designated for that purpose, nor is the deity that is worshiped there.

A painting of a woman perfoming Ushi no Koku Mairi on a tree near a shrine. Part of the series called “Hyakunin Isshu Ubaga Etoki (百人一首姥がゑとき) by Hokusai Katsushika.

As with many things that are based on supernatural occurrences, there is no real evidence that Ushi no Koku Mairi actually works, nor are there cases that anyone has died due to its ritual. Another interesting point is that while wishing ill fortune is not illegal in Japan, the practice of Ushi no Koku Mairi is in fact a crime. This also includes entering the grounds that belong to a shrine, which is deemed as trespassing, while hammering a nail into a tree is called defacing of private property.

CONCLUSION

Being Halloween, dark tales such as Ushi no Koku Mairi can be interesting and add an element of fun for the occassion. It is certainly one that has inspired manga, anime, and other aspects of pop culture. It does have a dark history with a theme that can be considered black magic. This ends our look at the practice of Ushi no Koku Mairi. Please remember, while the attire described in this article could make for a nifty outfit, the actual ritualistic practice is not really something to try…especially running in high wooden geta late night.


1) Also can be called “Ushi no Toki Mairi” (丑の時参り).

2) The word “Ushi” is related to the Ox zodiac sign, which is the same as this zodiac year. Ushi no Koku is “Time of the Ox”, which is the time frame 1 am ~ 3 am.

The Patron & The Ox: Legends of Tenmangū ~ Part 2

We continue with the discussion on the legendary tales from Tenmangū. Since we were able to achieve an understanding behind these shrines through the history of Sugawara no Michizane in part 1, we will now proceed with those tales and get an idea how they have deep ties with the yearly ox Zodiac sign theme. Note that many of these stories were made long ago in Japan’s past, during a time where superstition was prevalent, and natural phenomenons were believed to have been caused by one of many gods. Whether they are believable or not, they do play a big role in the development of both culture and society.

BIRTH & DEATH

Sugawara no Michizane was elevated to the level of a divine being after his death due to his contributions while he was alive. This isn’t so unusual, as there are plenty of examples of this happening not only in Japan, but in other countries as well. Interestingly, one could say that this was already predetermined on the day of his birth. A tale that is told at the Tenmangū shrines is that his birth was an auspicious one, and truly denotes his connection with the ox Zodiac sign, which is considered beyond normal. In this particular tale, Michizane’s birth is recorded to not only been in the year of the ox, but was also on the day of the ox, and at the time of the ox¹. What does this mean?

The Zodiac signs have a multitude of purposes, some utilitarian, others mystical. In the past, they were used to denote years, days, and time, which was key for fortune telling. Depending on the period and the tasks that are at hand, a person may believe they will see benefits, or will heed caution and refrain from doing anything important. In Michizane’s case, this repeated occurrence with the ox sign in his birth is pretty auspicious, and viewed as beyond normal. On top of this, Michizane is said to have died on the day of the ox. Such a repetition of a Zodiac sign may point to him as being divine, like a deity who took the form of a human. As for the ox reference, one could interpret it that the ox brought him into the world, as well as returned him to his true realm, since the ox is naturally a vehicle of the gods. More on this point later.

VENGEFUL SPIRIT, WRATHFUL GOD

This tale can almost be seen as a continuation to part 1, based on how it’s told in the visual records of the Kitanō Tenmangū shrine called “Kitanō Tenjin Engi Emaki” (北野天神縁起絵巻). In 908, just 3 years after Michizane’s death, a member of the Fujiwara clan would die suddenly from disease. One year later, Fujiwara no Tokihira, the main antagonist in Michizane’s misfortune, also dies from disease. In 913, new Minister of the Right Minamoto no Hikaru would tragically die through drowning while out on a hunting expedition. As the Fujiwara clan gained a stronger hold of both the Imperial palace and Imperial family, more tragedy befell upon them. Such can be seen in the 930 incident where a lightning storm would strike down upon a building on the Imperial grounds where many members of the Fujiwara family were, resulting in a few of them dying on the spot, or later passing away due to suffering from lightning burns. The final tragedy befell on 60th Emperor Daigō, who is believed to have been the main target of the lightning storm. After the incident, Emperor Daigō’s health deteriorated, until finally dying 3 months later. The cause of this is viewed to be linked to his agreement with the validity of the accusations made by Tokihira and others, and Michizane being exiled from Heian Kyō.

This entire story is seen as an act of revenge by Michizane’s spirit that took its course over the course of almost 30 years. Initially, as these events were unfolding, the consensus within the Imperial palace was that Michizane’s vengeful spirit was cursing the Fujiwara clan. There were different attempts to try and “appease” him, such as bestowing upon him different titles including Minister of the Right, which was taken away from him through slander while he was still living. The lightning storm was the most severe, which happened later after the Fujiwara clan were able to become part of the Imperial family through one of the women conceiving a child for then Emperor Daigō, making him a prince. As a result, A Fujiwara member was sent to Anrakuji, where Michizane was buried at, to build an enshrinement. This enshrinement was then named Tenmangū. A few centuries later the Kitanō Tenjin Engi Emaki was created, which retells this story.

While there were those who described him as a vengeful spirit, Tenmangū instead envisions him as a wrathful god punishing wrongdoers in an act of justice. As a result, Michizane is called by several other names, including “Raijin” (雷神), which means “Thunder God”. According to old beliefs, a thunder god is generally depicted having the guise of an oni (鬼, demon) with horns². According to the Zodiac signs, the combination of the Ox and Tiger signs refer to demons, both metaphorically (i.e. they point towards the unlucky north-east direction on the typical Zodiac chart) and visually (demons are usually illustrated having ox-like horns and wearing tiger fur loincloth). This goes back to Michizane being born in the year of the ox, which contributes to this image.

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OXEN

There is a legend that Michizane had encounters with an ox, which may have been his guardian spirit in disguise. During his youth, Michizane found a baby ox wandering alone in a wooded area. Appearing to be lost or abandoned, he took it into his residence, where he nurtured it until it grew into an adult. At some point, just as it suddenly appeared in his life, this ox suddenly disappeared without a trace. While he wanted to set out to search for it, in the end he let the matter go. Fast forward to when he was exiled to live his life in Dazaifu in the south, Michizane would one day travel west to Dōmyōji (道明寺, Dōmyō Temple) in Osaka to visit a relative³. After parting ways, he set out to head back home when he was unexpectedly attacked by an assailant. Before harm could befall on him, a large ox suddenly appeared and drove the assailant away, saving Michizane’s life. Just as quickly as it appeared, this ox would disappear from sight in the same way.

One of the ways to interpret this story is that the baby ox was a spirit. Since Michizane showed kindness and helped raise it, this ox spirit in return acted as a guardian spirit. In a way, it is not so different from many other Japanese fabled tales of similar nature. Although it is just a legend, this contributes to Michizane’s ever-persistent connection with the ox Zodiac sign. On another note, while in this version of the story the color of the ox is not mentioned, I’ve heard another one, although very brief, where Michizane was rescued by a white ox. While I’m not sure if this is a variation of the story mentioned above, there is significance in the white ox to the Buddhist god Shiva, which the Tenjin of Tenmangū is loosely based off of.

AN OX’S STUBBORNNESS AS FATE

Another story is directly related what took place after Michizane’s death and the decision with what to do with his remains. In his final days, Michizane wrote a poem as part of his will that states “people should allow themselves to be pulled along in a wagon by an ox, letting it take us where ever it may desire, and to eventually be buried in the spot where it stops at”⁴. Following this as his last wish, those sent to bury his remains put it in an ox-drawn wagon, and had intended to carry it all the way to Heian Kyō (present-day Kyōto) in the west in a procession. During the journey, the ox suddenly stopped in the middle of the road, laid down, and wouldn’t move. They didn’t make it far, as they were still in the southern part of Japan. Despite efforts to get it to stand up and proceed again, the ox wouldn’t budge. With no other choice, They took Michizane’s remains to a near by temple called Anrakuji, and had it buried there.

At Tenmangū shrines, the underlining point of this story is that everything happened based on fate. Michizane was destined to be laid to rest in the south, and the ox was like a divine messenger to show where the burial spot should be. Interestingly, this is where Michizane was enshrined in the 1st Tenmangū shrine, thus being deified. Again we see the significance of the ox, whether we choose to view this as chance or by fate.

OX AS A SERVANT OF THE GODS

If we look at some of the stories mentioned above, we see the ox had a close role in the life of Sugawara no Michizane, as well as after his death. At the Tenmangū, the ox is often described as a “shinshi” (神使), which can stand for being a servant or messenger of the gods. According to Shinto beliefs, there are spiritual creatures who, acting on the will of the god(s) they serve, come down to earth to handle tasks they were assigned to. At times, humans may also view these spiritual creatures as gods themselves. They would take the guise of earthly creatures such as foxes, monkeys, birds, snakes, and centipedes. In the Tenjin faith of Tenmangū, the ox is the main servant.

From another perspective, the ox can also be viewed as a vehicle for the gods. In Eastern religions and beliefs, gods are depicted as coming down to Earth on the back of a divine creature. These creatures include boars, horses, and oxen. There are artwork that feature Michizane sitting on the back of an ox, although in these he is in his humanly form, as if to say he did this while he was alive. Since Michizane is deified and now recognized as the Tenjin, this is fitting.

ENDING

These are the majority of legendary tales from the Tenmangū. Bearing a lot of references to the ox, one can get an idea how important their underlining messages are especially when the ox Zodiac years come around. This here brings the 2-part series to a close. I hope readers enjoy this piece of history, and get an understanding about how intricately enwoven the Zodiac signs were with Japanese culture.


1) This is commonly written as “丑の年の丑の日の丑の刻”, which reads “ushi no toshi no ushi no hi no ushi no koku”

2) This is more in the vein of a divine demon, who is a guardian of Buddhism. Another way to describe this would be “onigami” (鬼神), or “demon god”.

3) This relative is stated to be an oba (叔母), which could mean aunt.

4) Although written in modernized Japanese, this is an interpretation of the poem:

「車を牛に引かせて、牛の行くままに任せ、牛の止まった所に葬ってくれ」

“Kuruma wo ushi ni hikasete, ushi no yuku mama ni makase, ushi no tomatta tokoro ni hōmuttekure”

Note that during the Heian period, ox-drawn wagons were popular among the populous, which may have had an influence on him writing this.

The Patron & the Ox: Legends of Tenmangū ~ Part 1

Continuing with the ox theme that coincides with this year’s Zodiac sign, I will introduce some interesting tales that relate to it through the famous Tenmangū (天満宮), which is the name of numerous Shinto shrines built around Japan. These shrines practice the Tenjin faith (天神信仰, Tenjin shinkō), a form of Shinto belief, which involves the worship of the Tenjin (天神). A significant point worth mentioning is that the Tenjin is Sugawara no Michizane, who was as an actual scholar and aristocratic that lived during the Heian period (794 ~ 1185). He was later viewed as a patron deified due to the many good things he did while he was alive, as well as the incidents that would later take place after his death that were then told as legends.

Today’s article will be the 1st of a 2-part series about Tenmangū’s fabled tales surrounding Sugawara no Michizane, and the persisting imagery of the ox. Before getting into those, part 1 will cover this individual’s actual history in order to better understand the roots of his legendary status.

LIFE STORY OF SUGAWARA NO MICHIZANE

Sugawara no Michizane was born in 845, which was the year of the Ox. The Sugawara was an elite family during the Heian period, at a time when noble families lived in or close to Heian Kyō, (present day Kyōto) the Capital where the Imperial Palace was built, and the golden age when foreign import contributed immensely to cultural development before Japan was turned into a military state by warring feudal lords. Michizane was privileged to receiving education in many topics, including Chinese classics, writing, archery, and poetry. It is said that he was very gifted in learning, as he demonstrated natural talent in both literature and military studies¹. As an example, Michizane would not only understand Chinese poetry thoroughly at the age of 11, but he also wrote his 1st poem at that age². Earning high honors, he would became a professor of literature at the age of 33.

A pic of Sugawara no Michizane.

Outside of education, Michizane was also talented in political matters, as well as a devotee of the Shinto belief. Eventually his career would involve working for the Imperial court. He not only proved to be a loyal subject of the court, he was also very close to 59th Emperor Uda, where he was heavily depended on as an advisor. He handled different tasks that helped Japanese society as a whole, including improving living conditions for the poor and maintaining Japan’s unique image while adapting foreign influences. Michizane also proposed many reasonable ways and solutions to handling foreign relations, which Emperor Uda truly valued. With his hard-working ethics and knowledgeable insight, he rose through the ranks, and inevitably achieved the title udaijin (右大臣), or Minister of the Right. This was one of the highest ranks achievable at the time, which was a great honor to him and his family. This title was matched equally by sadaijin (左大臣), or Minister of the Left, which was held by another aristocrat named Fujiwara Tokihira (藤原時平).

Speaking of which, at the time the Fujiwara were major players in the Imperial court, where they imposed their influence in many aspects politically. Although the Sugawara had a history of good relations with the Fujiwara, Michizane and Tokihira did not get along, where the latter would not treat the former well. In fact, there were other opposing noble families who were in favor of the Fujiwara, and were also jealous of Michizane’s seemingly unfaltering favor from Emperor Uda. Secretly, Tokihira and others conspired a plan that would expose him of abusing his power in an effort to rid his presence from the Imperial palace, and help elevate their family and peers.

When Emperor Uda retired and was succeeded by the 60th Emperor Daigo, Tokihira and others took a chance to put their scheme into action. They were successful in defaming Michizane, who would then be unfortunate of being stripped of his rank, and exiled from Heian Kyō by the new Emperor. Separated from his family, he was forced to reside in Dazaifu located in the south (present day Dazaifu City, Fukuoka).

Deprived of the wealth and loved ones, Michizane’s life in Dazaifu was hard, yet he maintained his dignity and continued to present himself as a good example by continuing with scholarly studies, and devoting his time in worship for the sake of the safety of the Imperial family and the nation of Japan. He spent the remainder of his years there, and would pass away in 903. Shortly after, his remains were buried at Ankakuji, not too far away from his residence. Years later, as Michizane’s former detractors started to die due to diseases and freakish accidents, the Imperial court would exonerate him from all crimes he was judged to have committed, bestowed upon him his former ranks, and ordered for Tenmangū to be built at Ankakuji to enshrine his remains, which would in turn make him a deity — all as a means to appease what was believed to be his vengeful soul.

Today, many go to the Tenmangū to pray for academic success, since Sugawara no Michizane is viewed as a god of learning. Despite facing slander and hardship towards the later part of his life, his life story, which includes his achievements, were recorded and preserved, which in turn makes him a revered individual, and one that inspires all that visit these Tenmangū shrines. Visitors can also see large bronze statues of an ox at some of these shrines, which is also plays a significant role in several tales related to Michizane’s story.

ENDING

This is how Sugawara no Michizane’s history closes, as well as concludes part 1. In the following article, we will review different tales and legends that paint vivid pictures of Sugawara no Michizane, as the Tenjin, being an auspicious, as well as the ox being like a divine creature.


1) Essentially the standard structure for learning during the Heian period, which is called bunbu ryōdō (文武両道).

2) Below is the poem he wrote:

「月夜見梅花 月輝如晴雪 梅花似照星 可憐金鏡転 庭上玉房馨」

In his poem, Michizane describes how the sweet-smelling flower garden made up of plum blossoms (ume [梅] in Japanese) looks radiant in the bright moonlight like stars, similar to how snow sparkles in the sun rays.

Setsubun 4 times a Year?!?

This year’s Setsubun no Hi (節分の日) fell on February 2nd, one day earlier than normal. Like many traditional celebrations in Japan, this is a day were people take part in activities to bring forth fortune by cleaning their homes, scattering mame (豆, roasted soy beans) within their homes to ward away bad luck, and consuming ehōmaki (恵方巻, long sushi rolls) while facing the designated lucky direction. But did you know that long ago the tradition of Setsubun actually took place 4 times a year?


The translation of Setsubun indicates this, for it means “the division of the seasons” (季節を分ける)¹. According to the old Lunar calendar, these 4 points were designated several days after the current season is waning, and one day before the official season change. The day right after Setsubun has a unique name that indicates the start of the next season. It is said that this practice originated from special rituals that took place in the Imperial buildings during the Heian period (794~1185) called “Tsuina” (追儺, Driving out Evil Spirits)². Onmyōji (陰陽師, diviners of Onmyōdō) performed these rituals as a means to prevent disease and calamity brought upon by evil spirits befalling on the Imperial palace during the transition from one season to another. Essentially, these Onmyoji had to do this ritual 4 times a year.

Below is 2021’s designated days for each season change according to the Lunar calendar. The day Setsubun would’ve been for the seasons of Spring, Fall, And Winter is also added.

Winter→Spring2/2 (節分, Setsubun) → 2/3 (立春, Risshun, 1st day of Spring)
Spring→Summer5/4 (節分, Setsubun) → 5/5 (立夏, Rikkan, 1st day of Summer)
Summer→Fall 8/6 (節分, Setsubun)→ 8/7 (立秋, Risshu, 1st day of Fall)
Fall→Winter11/6 (節分, Setsubun) →11/7 (立冬, Ritto, 1st day of Winter)


Note that while these dates are correct, the only one that’s officially observed is the change from Winter to Spring. Even though these other Setsubun periods are not in use, you can find the 1st day of Summer, Fall, and Winter listed on Japanese calendars. For those who have a liking of divination can find special calendars that list the seasonal changes, along with a lot of information that was once a norm in society when the Lunar calendar was still in use, such as uranai (占い, fortune telling), kyūsei (九星, 9 Star chart) rokuyō (六曜, 6 auspicious days), and so on.

An example of the modern calendar mixed with the old Lunar calendar, with information related to divination, moon phases, and so on. From AJNET.

While this can be interesting to review for personal studies, just remember that the tradition of Setsubun has a lot of differences with modern day calendars. For example, the official first day of Spring in America is March 20th. That’s quite a gap! When Japan adopted the modern calendar, older practices associated with the Lunar calendar didn’t quite follow along so smoothly. Some practices had to have changes and adjustments implemented. This is noticeable when comparing certain season-influenced days dependent on the structure of the Lunar calendar to the new format brought on by the modern calendar.

By the way, I recently did a project based on the yearly seasons and days in accordance to the Lunar calendar. You can learn more about the unique days mentioned above, along with others and how they related to the seasons in the Translations section here.


1) The meaning of this word has been altered over time based on the current social perception of this tradition. It is not unusual (even in Japanese) for people to say that Setsubun means “driving out demons by scattering soybeans”. Actually that meaning comes from the term mame maki (豆撒き), which is the action performed on the day of Setsubun. As a whole, Setsubun is just the indication of the change of the season to the next, while those traditional practices on that day have their own individual labels.

2) There are other names for this ritual, such as Oni Yarai (鬼遣).

Ushidoshi: Steady Pace is the Ox’s Way

Welcome, 2021! Kicking off the new year, our 1st post will cover the Lunar Zodiac sign for 2021. Which animal sign is the highlight for this year? What traits are represented by this animal sign? Are there any unique stories, traditions, or phrases related to it? As always, the info and viewpoint will be from how it is interpreted in Japan, unless there are any differences between other countries that is worth mentioning.

COME FORTH THE OX

The zodiac sign for 2021 is none other than the ox, which is called “ushi” in Japan. Pronounces as “ushitoshi” (丑年) in Japanese, this year is the 2nd in the current Lunar Zodiac cycle. According to old folktales, the ox is also the 2nd sign, for it came in 2nd place in a foot race, being outwitted from arriving 1st by the mouse¹. The character that represents the ox sign is “丑”, but just like the other animal signs, this sign originally had no association with the animal image.

If we take this character ushi (丑) and look at its root meaning, it signifies something that bends, wraps around, or clings onto an object. It’s normally seen within specific characters such as himo (紐), which means “rope”. In ancient Chinese text regarding the Lunar zodiac, the ushi character represents a bud that is being produced from a seed, but has not fully gotten through the hard exterior. In a sense, this expresses that hard work & effort is needed to produce the outcome one desires².

2021 IS ALSO THE YEAR OF THE METAL OX

In conjunction with the 12 Animal Zodiac signs are the 10 Heavenly Stem, which is written as “Jikkan” (十干) in Japanese. 2021 marks the 38th year where both work in unison, and we get a combination of ushi (丑) and kanoto (辛). Together, this year is also called “kanoto-ushi doshi”, or “Year of the Metal Ox”. What is so significant about this? Kanoto, which is the 8th sign from the 10 Heavenly Stem, further enhances the traits of the ox (more on this below). Here’s some things to consider:

  • As a standard, the 5 Elements and Ying Yang theory are incorporated into this unison
  • Kanato’s element is metal, while it is on the ying (dark) side
  • Ox’s element is earth, while it is on the ying (dark) side
  • Both share similar qualities

Originally, kanoto’s character “辛” stood for “to go against” or “to offend one’s superiors”. However, this meaning is no longer in use, as the purpose of the 10 Heavenly Stem has been revised³.

Most, if not all of this, doesn’t say much in a way that makes it easy to follow or understand for the average reader. Even for myself, I do not fully grasp all the components that consist in these different areas that work hand-in-hand to make the Lunar calendar what it is. As an ancient practice for predicting the outcome in a yearly basis within Asian culture, it is amazing that it is still observed in modern times, let alone make its way into Western societies.

TRAITS OF AN OX

Now that 2021 is here, predictions and forecasts regarding how the year will progress based on the ox sign is out. What are we to expect? What type of traits does the ox represent? Here’s the following:

  • The ox sign represents hard working, my-pace mentality, and intelligence
  • This depiction lines up well with the use of oxen for labor work throughout history, as they are patient & resilient animals that can accomplish long, strenuous tasks
  • People under this sign are said to bear these traits naturally

Those born under the ox sign are said to be hard workers who, once set on a task, are completely focused on it, and will see it through until the very end when it’s complete. While it is commendable, this could also be they become stubborn, and may not sway easily to others’ requests. Also, when needing to work with others, they do so at their own tempo. As a leader, they may make many requests to their employees, but on the other hand they tend not to be a tyrant of a boss. As a bonus, this year being the “Metal Ox” means that those under this sign will also get a boost in popularity, and establish good relations easily. As always, those of the ox sign need to be careful not to overdo it, lest their good qualities backfire and turn against them!

Artwork by Utagawa Toyokuni. Originally untitled, it’s been referenced as featuring a beautiful woman riding an ox alongside her young companion (牛乗り美人と若衆). From the Fujisawa Ukiyo-e Museum.

For this year, everyone is encouraged to learn from the ox traits and apply it, even if your sign is not the ox. While the prediction may still be too early to consider fact, the “Metal Ox” unity is said to be a lucky one. Through patience and hard work, individuals are predicted to be successful in 2021. It’s not something we can do on our own, so through good communication and establishing intimate relationships will prove beneficial. Attempting new endeavors during these troubling times can be worthwhile with abit of effort and patience.

MISCELLANEOUS & FUN FACTS

The following are ways in which the ox sign played a role as a cultural fuction throughout Japanese society over the years. First, let’s look at how it was used for conventional means.

  • Time = 1 pm – 2 pm
  • Direction = North-Northeast (around 30 degrees)
  • Month = 12th (according to the old calendar)
  • Energy = dark (ying)
  • 5 Elements = earth

Next, are some phrases and idioms that are related to, or even inspired by the image of the ox. Note that the majority of these are old, so you most likely won’t hear them used today.

  • Ushi no mimi ni kyōmon (牛の耳に経文)
    LITERAL: Reciting sutra to an ox
    MEANING: Your words have no effect on a person mo matter how many times you explain
  • Ushi no ayumi (牛の歩み)
    LITERAL: Walk like an ox
    MEANING: Someone who walks slow
  • Ushi no ayumi mo senri (牛の歩みも千里)
    LITERAL: Even the ox walks a very long distance. (senri = 4,000 km)
    MEANING: You have to put in your fullest effort in order to get the desired results
  • Ushi no kaku wo hachi ga sasu (牛の角を蜂が刺す)
    LITERAL: The bee stings the horn of the ox
    MEANING: You feel no pain no matter what may occur
  • Ushi wa ushi-zure uma wa uma-zure (牛は牛連れ馬は馬連れ)
    LITERAL: The ox leads the oxen along, while the horse leads the horses along
    MEANING: People of like qualities can easily gather and work together

ENDING

This about covers the ox sign of the Lunar Zodiac, and the predictions for 2021. Look out for more posts this year related to the ox sign, as I will continue to cover this theme. Let’s work to make this a great year in the long run!


1) This version of the story is featured in the Translations section of this site, which I translated into English. You can read it here.

2) In ancient times, each of the 12 Zodiac signs shared the same theme of a plant’s growth from a seed one way or another. Eventually, this theme was overshadowed by the more popular animal theme.

3) Outside of the Lunar calendar, this character acts as an adjective in the standard Japanese language. It can either be pronounced as “karai” and have such meanings like “spicy” and “salty”, or pronounced as “tsurai” and have several meanings such as “painful”, “difficult”, and “heart-breaking”.

Ōsōji: Starting the New Year Clean & Fresh

As the year comes to an end, households, business establishments, and religious grounds have a traditional practice performed called ōsōji (大掃除). This is a common word one will hear especially in December, as it refers to cleaning the entirety of one’s house or living space. While this practice is well throughout Japan, there is even an older one, which is considered a rarity, yet still practiced today. For today’s article, we’ll look into the origins of ōsōji, when the best time to start, and what entails in keeping your home clean.

ANCIENT PRACTICE OF CLEANING

The older form of ōsōji is believed to be the practice of susuharai (煤払い), which stands for cleaning the soot that would have accumulated in one’s living space within the span of a year. This soot is from the smoke created from the burning of candles, stove while cooking and the like. It was a form of ritual that went further than merely cleaning the house, but in ridding & preventing akki (悪鬼, bad spirits). Through this, kami (神, divine spirits or gods) could enter into each household in the new year, which ensured fortune to be bestowed there.

2 pages depicting a large cleaning within the home of a merchant, called “Shōka Susuharai” (商家煤払). From the 5th volume of “Tōto Saijiki” (東都歳事記)

The roots of susuharai is traced to the Heian period (794 – 1185) as an ancient ritual in the Imperial palace. This is during the time when the Imperial family and noble families alike were learning a great deal from religious teachings that stemmed from China. Within an old rulebook called “Engishiki” (延喜式), is explained about how this ritual was conducted. Later, as the Heian period transitioned to the Ashikaga-ruled Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), 6th Ashikaga shogun by the name of Munetoshi Shinō (宗尊親王) wrote about the practice of susuharai within the old text called “Azuma Kagami” (吾妻鏡). It seems that from these ancient texts the word itself stood for more than keeping the Imperial palace and its grounds completely clean, but to ensure great fortune from the Toshigami (年神, deity that visits during the early new year), as the act of cleaning also included warding away evil spirits.

From the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573), susuharai became a large task performed within the shrines and temples respectively. Monks and priests worked together to ensure their halls were clean in accordance to appeasing the deity they worshiped. This ranged from wiping clean the numerous butsuzō (仏像, statues and figures depicting Buddhist gods) placed in a temple, to using a takesao (竹竿, long bamboo pole) that has a branch full of leaves or straw at one end in the form of a broom to sweep the ceiling of the hondō (本堂, main chamber). Centuries later, the practice of susuharai was passed down to civilians throughout Japan during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) . To ensure everyone had ample time for this, the 13th day of the 12th month was designated as the time to accomplish this.

MODERN DAY APPROACH TO ŌSŌJI

Today, ōsōji is designated for December 31st according to the modern calendar. This day is called Ōmisoka (大晦日), which means “last day (nightfall) of the year”. Along with cleaning, other traditional activities take place, including the eating of toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦, buckwheat noodles served at midnight of ending of the year) and visiting temples for Joya no Kane (除夜の鐘, listening to the temple bell ring for the sake of good fortune).

Sample of simple cleaning tools for your ōsōji needs! From AC-Illust.

While the 31st is an important day, it is also a very busy day if one intends to prepare and participate in the numerous events that take place. In regards to ōsōji, depending on the house size, or even one’s schedule, families may start earlier. For example, my wife often told me that while growing up in Tokyo, her mother, who had a busy work schedule including running her own shop, would clean a single room or an area in the house one day at a time as the 31st approached. She would finally finish on the 31st, if needed, with one room remaining.

What is needed to perform ōsōji nowadays? Your everyday cleaning implements, and water! While considered a tradition, the rules are not as strict as one would think. Generally, family members dust and clean every possible inch of their household, includes on top of cabinets, in corners, around windows, inside the sink and toilet, and so on. Water is also fine for wiping surfaces clean to ensure dirt is removed, as water is symbolic for purification in Japanese culture.

Traditionally, when ōsōji is completed, kadomatsu (門松, paired decoration of pine and large bamboo shoots) and shimenawa (注連縄, purified rope made out of rice paper or hemp) are placed around the entrance of the home, business establishment, and shrine & temple grounds. These are the final touches believed to be excellent invitations for the Toshigami to visit and bring everlasting fortune. This is still in practice today as well.

CLOSING

This covers the history of ōsōji, and how it is observed even today. My family and I also carry this tradition forward in our household. Ōsōji is something everyone around the world can practice, as there are so many benefits gained from this outside of the ritual implications. If anything, going into the new year in a clean house is great hygienically.

Nedoshi: The Rat Comes in 1st Place in 2020

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Illustration by Vecteezy

With the arrival of the New year, there is also a new Lunar year, which plays a significant part on the prospects people can look forward to…at least for those who follow it. For the last several years I’ve covered each new year, from the representative animal sign, to any historical details that may be important. This year, I will try something new. Along with the cultural background, there will be a short story regarding the 1st zodiac animal sign for this year.

YEAR OF THE RAT

For 2020, the Lunar Zodiac cycle has restarted completely back to the beginning of the Chinese Calendar, making it the year of the rat. Pronunciation for rat is “nezumi” in Japanese, while the kanji used to represent the lunar year is “子年”, which is pronounced “nedoshi” or “nezumidoshi”. While many have started acknowledging the new lunar year, keep in mind that, in accordance to the Chinese Calendar, this doesn’t start until January 25th.

The lunar zodiac sign “子” is attached to the rat both image-wise and in pronunciation only for the Lunar year; as with the other zodiac signs, this sign did not originally mean rat, nor was it supposed to be represented by an animal. Interestingly, when the Lunar year falls on the rat, one of the symbolism used is growth or fertility. The character “子” has a meaning of small child, so prospects for the year range from increase child birth, seeds growing into plants, to having an abundance in harvest. A word related to this is “nezumizan” (ねずみ算), which means multiplying in numbers. This year being the start of the 12-year lunar cycle could play a role in this.

Along with the 12 Animal Zodiac signs, there is the incorporation of the 10 Heavenly Stem, which is written with the kanji “十干” and pronounced “Jikkan” in Japanese. Some things to note:

  • Jikkan has also gone full circle within its 60-year cycle, and starts off with “甲”
  • 甲 is pronounced “kinoe” in Japanese
  • In ancient times, 甲 meant 1st in the 10-year cycle, while other (more modern) meanings include “shell”, “armor”, and “insects”
  • Kinoe represents “light-metal”, being a combination of ying-yang theory and the 5 elements
  • Going hand-in-hand with the 12 animals, we get a pairing of “kinoe-ne” (甲子, metal-rat)
  • Accordingly, 2020 is marked as the 37th year of the Sexagenary (60) year cycle

2020 also receives the title “庚子”, which is pronounced “kanoe-ne” in Japanese. In English this stands for “Year of the White Metal Rat”.

TRAITS OF THE RAT

In terms of human qualities, the rat sign represents being shrewd with spending of money, which leads to good saving habits. For this year, it is advised to avoid being too stingy with money, and squandering it on useless things. On top of this, the rat attributes to being cunning & clever, have a good discerning eye for when situations are good or bad, and being able to live laid back and calm especially in solitude.

Outside of the Lunar calendar, here’s how the rat sign was used for conventional means:

  • Time = from 11 pm to 1 am (-1 hr due to daylight savings in the states)
  • Direction = north (360°)
  • Month = November (according to Japan’s old calendar)
  • Energy = light (yang)
  • Element = water

RAT TAKES THE LEAD ROLE

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Today’s story features the rat as the star, with the cat being the critical co-star! Illustration from frame-illust.com

In order for the Chinese Lunar Zodiac to be appealing to the common people, the tale about animals coming together to represent the 12 years was used. Over the ages, the tale had different settings, although the outcomes were always the same.

For this post, I added one version of this tale, which centers the attention on the rat. It is a short tale, one that I translated from Japanese to English. The original source is from “Eto Jōhō Site” (干支情報サイト), which can be accessed here.

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A long, long time ago at the dawn of time, the Heavenly God made an announcement to all the animals throughout the lands.

“As the world is greeted by the New Year, come all to my kingdom on the morning of New Year’s day. Whichever 12 of you who are the fastest here will be appointed as an animal commander, where each of you will represent one year according to the order of your arrival. “

Upon hearing the announcement, each animal was very serious about this, with thoughts about being number one. They waited for New Year’s Day to come. It just so happened that the cat forgot which day they were to go to the Heavenly God’s place. The rat intentionally told the cat one day later than the appointed date, which the cat took at face value for the time, and happily went home.

nezumi_hanashi02

When New Year’s day finally arrived, the ox thought to himself, “I should set out slightly early, since I do walk slow”. Making preparations while it was still late night, the ox headed out while it was still dark. The rat, who spotted the ox from the top of the ox’s shed, sprang up into the air and landed on the ox’s back.

With thoughts about wanting to be 1st as well, the rat pleasantly waited there, as the gates to the Heavenly Palace opened. Immediately it jumped down from the ox’s back, and scurried through the gates, making the rat the 1st to arrive. Following this, the order in which the animals arrived is the ox as 2nd, next the tiger, then the rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and boar (pig). As a side note, the cat arrived one day late to the Heavenly Palace, thus there are no good relations between the rat and the cat.

To this day, it’s believed that cats chase rats due to the grudge they bear from being deceived by that one rat.

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With the prospects of this year being a prosperous one in terms of growth, let’s all do our best and end the year as winner, just like the rat did!

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illustration by dak

2019: Year of the Pig (Boar)

chinese new year pig

Illustration by Vecteezy

As many have heard by now, 2019 is the year of the pig according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. A topic generally filled with auspicious predictions and deep meanings, I’ve follow the Chinese Zodiac for as long as a I can remember, for there is a lot to learn for anyone who’s interested in Asian culture and traditional/ancient practices. This time around, will pretty be much the same. For this post, I will cover the particulars regarding the pig sign, from its meaning, how it is used generally and systematically, as well as the standard prediction for this year. On top of this, I will also talk about how this year’s Zodiac sign and outlook is viewed in Japan, as there are some slight differences that should be pointed out.

IMAGE AND PREDICTIONS

Although it’s the new year, the Chinese calendar officially starts from Feb. 5th. From that date will communities that observe this change in the Zodiac year celebrate.

In Chinese culture, the pig represents wealth. In the past, where living conditions were very vast between commoners and nobility, those wealthy and living in healthy conditions were bigger in size. Thus, the chubby cheeks and big ears of the pig is symbolic of wealth.

According to the pig sign, great fortune is the outlook for 2019. While some sources say that it’ll be a lucky year for everyone, those born under the pig sign will have a rough year. To avoid downfalls, they will need to not overexert themselves; stress and troublesome matters are unavoidable, but the key point in handling these are to accept them but not get too caught up on them in order to move on. Taking part in others’ happy occasions in order to benefit from their luck is also advised.

Financially, predictions state it will be a prosperous year, both in earnings and savings. Along with this, much benefits can be obtained through establishing good relations with others. Overall, should be joyful year, and easy to attract successful relationships and friendships.

THE WORKINGS OF THE CHINESE CALENDAR

Now, for the technical aspect of this post. As mentioned before in previous posts on the same topic, such as “2017, Zodiac Calendars, and Roosters“, there are 2 components significant for the Chinese Calendar, which are the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Animal Zodiacs (also called the 12 Earthly Branches due to association). Here’s some important points to keep in mind:

  • This year marks the last stage of the 12-year zodiac cycle
  • Also the 60th year in 60-year cycle that incorporates the combination of both the 12 Animal Zodiac signs + 10 Heavenly Stems.
  • The important components for this Zodiac year are in the label “earth-pig”, which is written as 己亥 and pronounced as “Tsuchi no to-I²” in Japanese. Based on the number of days in a given year, as well as how the years total up, we get this combination of Tsuchi no to (from the 10 Heavenly Stems) and I (pig sign from the 12 Zodiac signs).

According to the 10 Heavenly Stems, Tsuchi no to is an earth element of the dark energy¹. The single syllable I (pronounced like the letter “e”) is another pronunciation for the Zodiac symbol for pig. In actuality, it did not mean pig in its original conception; from ancient times, this symbol was a hieroglyph for “creature”, and is used in the makeup of certain kanji with the nuance of skeletal structure or shell. Outside of that, this symbol is used with the rest of Zodiac sign in ancient measuring and dating systems. Here are a few examples of what the pig sign represents in these different systems below:

  • Time = from 9 to 11 pm
  • Direction = north-northwest (330°)
  • Month = October
  • Energy = dark (ying)
  • Element = water

Based on auspicious beliefs regarding the yearly element being earth and the pig sign being a natural water element, it is said that this year will be especially beneficial to plants and flowers. This is due to the symbolism of earth and water being essential for growth of plant life, thus why it is predicted they will easily grow plentiful. If this is the case, we can take advantage of this for the sake of our environment, as well as for our homes (for those with a green thumb), and for business.

DIFFERENCES IN JAPAN

While throughout Asian (as well as in the West due to China’s influences) this year’s animal sign is viewed as a pig, only in Japan is this particular sign labeled as a boar. The differences lies in lifestyle and cultural viewpoints during ancient times.

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Illustration from frame-illust.com

For example, the kanji used throughout Asia to state “year of the pig” is “猪年³”. Japan also uses the same kanji, but there it is read “year of the boar”. This difference in animal is found in the character “猪”. In Chinese, the character for pig is “猪”, but in Japan it is read as “boar”. Interesting, boar is written as “野猪” in China, which has a literal translation of “wild pig”. Whereas pig is written with the character “豚” in Japan. This could be a case of linguistic differences based on the development of the Japanese language and culture throughout the generations, for Japan steered away from following suit in using the characters for both boar and pig are distinguished set forth by China.

Another simple explanation could be the role boars played hundreds of years ago during the period when the hunting culture was at its peak in Japan. Boars roamed freely in the fields, and were seen as formidable animals as they were very alert and would attack anything (including people) when felt threatened. One could say that the strength of a boar’s head-on charge was respectable even by hunters, and this influenced the use of imagery to describe characteristics in humans liken to the boar, such as “chototsu mōshin⁴” (head straight towards one’s goal), “choyū⁵” (unwavering bravery), and “ikubi⁶” (a person with a short neck like a boar).

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Pic of “inochi mochi”, which is red bean filled mochi treats the shape of little boars.

This value of the boar goes even further through a few traditional practices and beliefs. For starters, there’s an ancient belief that the meat of a boar was medicinal and could help cure all types of illnesses. There is also a celebration in the western part of Japan called “Inochi no Hi⁷”. Taking place on October 1st (according an older calendar system once prevalent in Japan), townfolks would consume a mochi treat called “inochi mochi⁸”, which was shaped like a boar. This is usually eaten around 10 pm on the day, as a means to pray for such things like good health and prosperity for future descendants. Both practices are synonymous to the phrase “mubyōsokusai⁹”, which means to be free of illnesses and bad fortune.

BEGINNING OF THE END?!?

Here ends my little coverage on the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the sign of the pig for 2019. While trying to understand all the specifics, terminologies, and workings of this can seem daunting, in the long run it can be fun and informative. Let’s all look ahead and strive for a rich, healthy, and prosperous year!

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Free illustration by dak


1) The 10 Heavenly Stems, which is written as 十干 in Chinese characters (pronounced jikkan in Japanese), is made up of 10 hieroglyphs. Over the generations, they served various purposes, but in recent times are primarily used, in conjunction with the 12 Earthly Branches, as a system for keeping track of the 60-year cycle of the Zodiac calendar. These 10 hieroglyphs work with the 5 elements (earth, water, fire, wood, and earth) and ying-yang theory. This unique system categorizes 2 of the hieroglyphs sharing one of the 5 elements, with one being attached to light energy and the other dark energy.

2) Can also be pronounced as “ki-gai”.

3) Pronounced “inoshishi-doshi” in Japanese.

4) 猪突猛進

5) 猪勇

6) 猪首

7) 亥の子の日. Meaning “day of the boar”, it is also a play on words, for “inochi” sounds like another word that means “life”.

8) 亥の子餅. Means “day of the boar mochi”.

9) 無病息災

Kuki Archives: Hidari Mitsudomoe ~ Part 2

This is the continuation of the discussion on the Hidari Mitsudomoe, one of 2 family crests of the main Kuki line. In part 1 the historical, cultural, and spiritual symbolism in relations the tomoe emblem in Japan, and Asia as a whole, was introduced. For this post, we will focus solely on the Hidari Mitsudomoe’s connection to the Kuki clan, from how it was possibly acquired to how it played a role within their own personal history.

APPEARANCES OF THE TOMOE

The Kuki clan’s main line has, for as long as it is known, been associated with this family crest. It is visibly shown in some of their works and activities. It may even appear on banners in public activities they take part in as well. While this crest is generally called “Hidari Mitsudomoe”, take note that there are actually 2 variations: one is a regular version, and another is a slimmer version called “Hosoi Hidari Mitsudomoe”. For the slimmer one, the 3 commas are much thinner, but still round out to make a proper circle. Is there any significant differences between the two? Other than appearances, possibly not.

These photos show the book “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō”. 1st pic features the cover of both the book and its box dust cover. 2nd pic is of the back of both items. Note that on the back is the Hidari Mitsudomoe, which overlaps another emblem called “Jurokuyae Omotegiku”.

ACQUISITION OF THE TOMOE EMBLEM

While mentioned to be a family crest even within their own works, The Kuki clan have not put out much info regarding the source from where they acquired the Hidari Mitsudomoe. Actually they are not entitled to, especially since in today’s generation the use of family emblems do not possess the same weight as in the past. Piecing together possible sources of information on the topic takes a bit of work, primarily with historical documents that deal with cultural practices.

Fortunately, there are valuable sources that keep records on the numerous family crests used through Japan’s history, which explain detailed information from the meaning behind each one, to the families that are linked to them. Looking back at the roots of the Kuki family has given me an idea of the possible source of the family emblem in question.

The general consensus from sources regarding kamon history state that the Kuki clan are indeed hereditarily associated with the Hidari Mitsudomoe. One theory on this is based on the original roots of the Kuki clan. The founder of the Kuki clan, Kuki Ryūshin, originally bore the family name “Fujiwara”. The Fujiwara clan was a noble family of the imperial court. There are several Fujiwara lines to be exact, so to be more specific, it is said that he is a descendant of the Fujiwara no Takaie¹. Takaie was the 4th son of Fujiwara Kitaie², who belonged to one of the Fujiwara lines that used the Hidari Mitsudomoe as a family emblem. This is primarily because Kitaie’s family were worshipers of the deity Hachiman (god of war), and helped spread its influence throughout Japan with the construction of many small shrines. This theory tends to be the common and most feasible in Japanese sources.

Next, a point to consider is the connection between the Kuki family and their role within Shinto practices. For many generations they have served in Shinto shrines, from when their ancestors were still a part of the Fujiwara clan, to even after this when the Kuki clan established in Kuki Ura. If we look at when several members served as betto³ (chief administrative of a temple) for the Kumano Hongu Taisha, the perception of the tomoe with its spiritual connections and as a mark of protection was already in place at the time. Being the shinmon (deity emblem) of Kumano Hongu Taisha, the Hidari Mitsudomoe can be found all over this shrine. Another interesting point is that another emblem called “Jurokuyae Omotegiku⁴” (a type of Kikuka⁵ emblem) is also associated with this shrine. On top of this, the Kuki clan uses a combination of both emblems, with the Hidari Mitsudomoe overlapping the other. Apart from the association due to the connection with Kumano Hongu Taisha, I am not sure the reasoning behind using both emblem in such fashion.

HEREDITARY REPRESENTATION

Kuki Yoshitaka is generally mentioned in association with the Hidari Mitsudomoe. It’s stated that on such items like the back of his jinbaori⁶ (a special vest worn by a commander) and the flag of his large ships bore the Hidari Mitsudomoe mark. Other members of the Kuki clan also used this emblem openly. Of course, this was by those who inherited it or were granted permission to use it. Places where this can be seen at an abundance are where they had resided as land owners, such as Kuki Cho.

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A pic of a miniature-scaled large battle ship “Nihon Maru” (日本丸). From the book “Kukishinden Zensho”.

A town in Kuki Ura after Kuki Ryūshin moved his family to reside there, Kuki Cho is an area where the Hidari Mitsudomoe saw great use. Apart from being used as a family crest, many old buildings within Kuki Cho are said to bear this crest along the eaves of roofs and sides of the walls. It is also found on grave sites of certain Kuki members as well. Due to their control over this area, it would make sense that they would express their presence in such manner. The same can be said in other places such as where Toba castle once stood (Toba, Mie Prefecture).

WRITINGS FROM THE KUKI

In the book “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō⁷”, which is based heavily on the documentations kept in the care of the main line of the Kuki clan, features a page with a discussion on the Hidari Mitsudomoe. Other than stating much of the popular conceptions about this emblem explained in part one, this also contains views and insights about what it means to the Kuki clan itself. Below are a few excerpts from that page, with the actual Japanese text followed by my translations.

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The page from the book “Kukishinden Zensho”, where the original Japanese text about the Hidari Mitsudomoe is taken from.

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因みに九鬼家の家紋は、三個三ツ頭左巴…である。

Incidentally, the triple 3-head left sided comma…is the family crest of the Kuki clan.

漢字の「巴」(ハ)は、蛇などがトグロを巻いた姿を表わす象形文字と考えられ、転じて水の渦巻きを象微する文字ともいわれている。従って「水の渦巻き」から防火の呪符として社寺の鐙瓦(アブミガワラ)にも用いられるようになった。

This kanji “巴” (ha⁸) is thought to be a hieroglyphic character representing the appearance of a snake or of such nature coiling upon itself. It’s also said to to be a character that symbolizes a whirlpool’s turning waters. As such, from this idea of “whirlpool’s water”, it was then used as an abumigawara (a roof tile consisting of a semi-cylindrical tile and a decorative pendant) for shrines and temples as a charm to ward off fire.

この三つ巴は、天地人・智仁勇、あるいは宗教的に『神・現・幽』を表わすものと考えられている。けれども九鬼家の場合は、高御位神宮天祖太源神拝詞にもあるごとく…。

The 3 commas is thought to express (3-point) ideas such as heaven-earth-person (creation of all things), wisdom-virtue-valor (3 primary virtues), and the religious idea of “spirit–present-astral” (3 boundaries of the physical & spiritual realms). However, in the Kuki clan’s case, this is also found in the Shinto prayers to the grand kami of the Takamikura Jingu, a shrine that they also have a connection with….

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The last point is key to understanding the significance of the Hidari Mitsudomoe to the Kuki clan, for it is very unique to them; the 3 commas are symbolic of Mihashira no Ookami⁹, or 3 grand gods pinnacle to the creation of all things within their version of shinto. There’s also connections to the term “mitsu no tomoshibi¹⁰” (3 guiding lights), which involves the rescue of Southern Emperor Godaigo, along with the 3 sacred treasures that were retrieved by and protected by Kuki Ryushin in the 1300s. However, despite these details explained in the aforementioned book, trying to understand the full gist of all this is a difficult task to undertake for many reasons, which will steer far away from this post’s main focus, which is on the Hidari Mitsudomoe.

ENDING

We’ve reached the end of this topic regarding the Kuki clan’s use of the family emblem called Hidari Mitsudomoe. As mentioned from the 1st post, there is much history regarding the tomoe emblem, let alone the Hidari Mitsudomoe. The same can be said with the Kuki clan due to their religious background and beliefs. I hope that touching upon different aspects of this has helped to get an understanding its relationship with the Kuki clan, and why it would be used as their kamon. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more!


1) 藤原隆家. The “no” part is generally omitted in written form, but said verbally.

2) 藤原北家

3) 別当

4) 十六八重表菊. This is considered an imperial emblem.

5) 菊花

6) 陣羽織

7) 九鬼神伝全書中臣神道熊野修験道. Written by Agō Kiyohiko (吾郷清彦), an associate to the main line of the Kuki clan who was given the task of reviewing & archiving their many documents.

8) “Ha” is another pronunciation for tomoe. This is onyomi (non-native Japanese reading) for this kanji, and is shown that to be so as it is written in katakana, which is one of Japanese’s writing styles and can indicate words that are foreign.

9) 三柱大神

10) 三つの灯火

Kijin Jinja: Ridding Misfortune through Demons

There are some unique and unusual things in Japan that are not normally seen or talked about, especially those that are old & have a long history. For example, in a few posts in my blog I discussed about tales of certain oni¹ (or demons in English) viewed as beings to be revered. While oni are generally seen as being scary and bringers of misfortune in Japanese culture, there are groups that are opposite of this, and instead give praise to particular oni for the sake of luck and protection².

A snapshot of the entrance into Kijin Jinja. All credit and rights of picture goes to  Yoshi Oka.

One of the more unusual practices of giving praise to oni can be found in shrines. Take for example Kijin Jinja³, a shrine located in Saitama Prefecture. It is 1 of the 4 shrines found on Japan’s east side that are dedicated to worshiping oni⁴. At Kijin Jinja, the oni is viewed as a model of unwavering effort, resilience, and having the will to win. This shrine is well known for it’s small ornamental statues of demons on the roof tops, paired red and blue demons drawn on “ema⁵” (small wooden plaques) used for writing one’s prayers & wishes, and small omamori⁶ (charm for protection) in the form of a “oni no kanabo⁷” (demon’s metal club). Thus, visitors that frequent here come to get “powered up” in passing entrance exams into universities, making their homes safe, thriving business, and the like.

Records of Kijin Jinja state that it was established in 1182, nearing the end of the Heian period. Its history lies with a military commander by the name of Hatakeyama Shigetada⁸ (1164 – 1205) , who was owner of the castle called Sugaya Shiro⁹ in Musashi no Kuni (present day Saitama Prefecture). In order to protect his castle at its point of misfortune¹⁰, Shigetada built a shrine there. To make things even more interesting, the deity of worship in this shrine was devised to be that of a demon itself, to counteract bad luck that is usually associated with demons themselves. Thus is the beginning of Kijin Jinja.

One of the festivals that take place throughout Japan is called “Setsubun¹¹”.  It’s a celebration of the end of winter, and a period to rid one’s household of bad luck. Part of the celebration called “mame maki¹²” is where roasted soybeans are spread along the ground in one’s residence to drive away demons, then swept up as if “sweeping away misfortune”. A phrase that goes along with this is “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi¹³”, which means “demons (bad luck) go outside, good luck stays inside”. At Kijin Jinja, since (good) demons are respected, the celebration of Setsubun has some tweaks to it. Along with demons not associated with bad luck, the phrase used at the celebration there is “fuku wa uchi, oni wa uchi, akuma wa soto¹⁴”, which means “good luck stays inside, demons stay inside, evil demons stay out”.

Artwork called “Setsubun no Oni” (節分の鬼). A man is shown throwing roasted beans at a demon to drive it away. By Katsushika Hokusai, from his series “Hokusai Manga” (北斎漫画). From Wikipedia.

There is another tale that is attached to the Kijin Jinja, which is about “Kijin-sama¹⁵”, the actual demon deity that is worshiped here. Kijin-sama (with -sama being the honorific title) is said to be enshrined within Kijin Jinja upon its establishment. The version of the tale I am about to share is from the publication “Ranzamachi Shi” reproduced on the website called “Kijin Jinja“. Below is the Japanese version of this tale, followed by an English translation done by myself.

鬼鎮様

むかし、川島に刀をつくる鍛冶屋さんが住んでいた。朝から晩までトンテンカン、トンテンカンと、一心につくっていた。ある日、若い男が鍛冶屋を尋ねて来た。

「わし、刀が作りたい。教えてください。」と頼んだ。鍛冶屋も忙しかったので「よし、よし」と許した。若い男は、とても熱心で、休みの時間も、また夜もろくに寝ないで、刀造りに精を出すようになった。鍛冶屋の家には、美しい女の子がいた。若い男は、主人に娘を嫁にくださいと頼んだ。主人は、少し考えて「それでは、刀を一晩に100本作れたら、嫁にやろう。」と答えた。

若い男は、喜んで種々準備し、約束の夜を待った。夜になったので、若者は槌を振り上げ、トンテンカン、トンテンカンと刀をうちはじめた。みるみるうちに、三本五本と出来てくる。夜も遅くなった。主人は心配して、そっと刀を作るところを覗いた。出来た。出来た。今うったばかりの刀が山と積まれた。

しかし、その時、主人は刀をつくっている若い男をじっくり見た。何と、その男はいつもの男ではない。まるで鬼だ。トンテンカン、トンテンカンとうつ様も、火花を散らしてあたり一面が火の海だ。鋭い目、頭には角まで生えている。手は次々に出来た刀を積んでいく。

主人はアッと驚いて飛び出した。あの男に、可愛い娘をくれられるものか。それには鶏を鳴かせて、早く夜が明けなくては、と考え、大急ぎで鶏小屋へ走った。コケコッコー、コケコッコーと鶏が鳴いた。

主人は、また覗きに行った。鬼になった男は。まだまだ刀をうっている。けれども、そのうちに東の空が明るくなって夜が明けた。刀は99本出来ていた。鬼の男は槌を握ったまま倒れ、死んでしまった。主人は、なくなった男を哀れに思い抱き上げて外へ出た。男の亡き骸は神主を頼んで庭の隅へ埋め、そこに鬼鎮様というお宮をつくっておまつりした。

Tale of Kijin-Sama

A long time ago, there was a blacksmith that made swords who lived in Kawajima. From morning to night, he put his heart into making swords as the clanking sounds from his hammer could be heard from his shop. One day, a young man came to the blacksmith’s shop.

“I want to make swords, so please teach me.” The young man requested. Having a lot of work to be done at his shop, an extra pair of hands would help the blacksmith greatly.

“Okay, you’re in.” The blacksmith acknowledged his request.

The young man, full of enthusiasm, put his all into making swords, for he didn’t take breaks or sleep at night. In the home of the blacksmith, was a beautiful girl, who was his daughter. The young man requested to his new boss that he be allowed to make the daughter his wife. The blacksmith gave the request some thought, before giving his answer.

“If you can produce 100 swords in one night, then you may take my daughter as your wife.” the blacksmith replied.

Excitedly, the young man made all sorts of preparations at the shop for his task at hand, and waited for that designated nighttime. Once nightfall came, the young picked up his hammer, and swung it making lots of clanging sounds as he proceeded to making swords. In a blink of an eye, he had already produced 35 swords.

It became late at night. Worrying about the matter at hand, the blacksmith went to the shop to take a look at how the young man was doing. Secretly watching the young man at work, he eyed how quickly the swords were being made one after another. In such a short time the swords were piling up!

Just then the blacksmith stared at the young man as he was making swords. Suddenly, the man before him was no longer a man! Bearing eyes that pierced like daggers, and horns protruding from his head, the being before the blacksmith’s eyes was none other than a demon!! This demon stood before what seemed like a sea of fire, as sparks scattered around the demon like fireworks as he clanged away repeatedly with his hammer, producing with his hands one sword after another.

Shocked at what he was witnessing, the blacksmith rushed out of the shop. “There’s no way I can allow my beloved daughter be taken by the likes of such a person!” He thought. Frantically, the blacksmith ran to the chicken coop, thinking that if he could get the rooster to crow, this will signal that the night is over.

“Cock-doodle-doo!” The rooster crowed (through the blacksmith’s efforts).

Afterwards, the blacksmith snuck back into the shop. There stood the man-turned-demon, who was in the middle of striking a sword with his hammer. However, just then the sky to the East began to light up as the night truly came to a close. The demon-man then fell down dead to the ground, still clutching his hammer. He was not able to accomplish his goal, for he managed to produce only 99 swords.

Feeling pity for the man who’s life was lost in work he put his heart into, the blacksmith picked up his lifeless body and carried it outside. He left the body in the hands of  Shinto priest, who in turn buried it at the edge of a garden. Later, this same place was turned into the shrine for Kijin-sama, where the celebrations in honor of him take place.

By reading this, one can tell that Kijin-sama’s inspiring points are going beyond what may be seen as the impossible in order to accomplish one’s goals. That unyielding drive to produce nearly 100 swords in one night is definitely beyond human…which in turn is that same drive visitors wish to acquire to succeed in their tasks at hand.

That sums up this post about Kijin Jinja and its relationship with demons. There are plenty more unique and unsual things of old to be discovered that are a part of Japanese cultures, so please stay tuned for more posts regarding them.


1) 鬼. Along with the image of a large frightful creature with horns and dressed in tigerskin loincloth, oni (demons) are liken to bad luck and disasters according to certain superstitions and practices specializing in reading fortune.

2) Certain demons that do good for the sake of mankind are said to be similar to deities, thus can be revered as a god. Usually these demons are considered “dehorned”. See my posts here and here for more on this.

3) 鬼鎮神社. Kijin can be translated as “Demon Quelling” (or if referring to someone, “Demon Queller”), and Jinja as “shrine”

4) The other 3 shrines are located in Aomori Prefecture, Ōita Prefecture, and Fukuoka Prefecture.

5) 絵馬. Literally meaning “horse-drawing”, originally a picture of a horse was drawn on these wooden boards. Reason behind this is that there was an old belief that gods travel by horses. To offer one’s wishes and prayers to the gods, one method was to draw a picture of a horse on paper or a wooden board, for those who couldn’t do so in front of a shinme (神馬, a divine horse). Later, the drawn image varied depending on the god of worship.

6) お守り

7) 鬼の金棒

8) 畠山重忠

9) 菅谷城

10) According to Onmyōdō (Japanese divination system based off of Taoist beliefs and the 5 Elements), northeast is believed to be the direction where evil spirits come from. The name common for the northeast direction is kimon (鬼門, demon’s gate). In the past, one way to block these evil spirits away was to build a shrine in that direction, and have a particular deity enshrined inside for protection. Thus, many land owners had a shrine built to the northeast of their estate or castle. This practice is called “kimon yoke” (鬼門除け, repelling the demon’s gate).

11) 節分. This takes place usually the 1st week of February, either on the 3rd or 4th day. Originally, Setsubun symbolized the change in seasons, and was celebrated 4 times a year at the end of each season according to the Japanese calendar. Now, there is only one Setsubun celebration for the close of winter.

12) 豆撒き

13) 「鬼は外、福は内」

14) 「福は内、鬼は内、悪魔は外」

15) 鬼鎮様