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.


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.