BACKGROUND: The story below is related to shrine called Kijin Jinja, which is located in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. It is 1 of the 4 shrines found on Japan’s east side that have an old tradition of paying respect to oni that do good for the sake of human beings. At Kijin Jinja, the oni is viewed as a model of unwavering effort, resilience, and having the will to win.
This story gives an inspiring account to how an oni, disguised as a human, displayed an unwavering spirit and unyielding energy in his work for a blacksmith.
FROM: Arashiyamacho Publication’s “History of Arashiyamacho”
TALE OF KIJIN-SAMA / 鬼鎮様
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 break 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. One instant he had made 3 swords. In a blink of an eye, the count increased to 5 swords.
It became late at night. Worrying about the matter at hand, the blacksmith went to the shop to observe 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 collapsed 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 a 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.