The Demon of Oeyama

August 29, 2016

by Yu Sakamoto, Kazu Shibao, and Taishi Nishikawa

When people visit foreign countries, they can hear many different kinds of stories, legends, and myths. Japan also has its own myths, and one of those typical myths would be that of the yokai, which is similar to a demon in western countries. It is not sure whether yokai exist or not, but there are several theories on how yokai were created, and some of them are widely accepted to this day.

One theory is the leftover theory. According to this theory, yokai are ancient gods that never got incorporated into the Shindo (Shinto) pantheon. So now they wander the earth causing all kinds of unusual happenings.

Another theory is the theory of magical thinking. According to this theory, yokai are simply used to explain unusual phenomenon that cannot by explained by science. Yokai are seen as folk beliefs that are handed down in Japan from generation to generation to explain weird and unusual phenomenon beyond human understanding.

Yokai have different names. For example, some are called Ayakashi (something strange or suspicious), Mononoke (an evil spirit) and Mamono (a demon and a demon). Hyakki Yako (Night Parade of 100 Demons) is a well-known concept related to yakai. Hyakki Yako is like a parade of many kinds of yokai who wander in the middle of the night. There are several stories of Hyakki Yako in folk tales like the Uji Shui Monogatari and Konjaku Monogatari.

Kyoto has been called Kyoto Makai (Kyoto Hell) and has been connected with yokai and Chimimouryo (evil spirits of mountains and rivers) since ancient times. Ichijo street, which is the boundary line between the outside world and the north end of the Heian-kyo has been said to be the place where Chimimouryo (evil spirits of mountains and rivers) meet up with human beings, and it is the way of Hyakki Yako.

Shutendoji: The Oeyama Demon

ShutendojiThe Oeyama Devil is a legend of Kyoto. Oeyama is a mountain, located in Kyoto prefecture to the north of Kyoto city, and is said to be the home of one of the strongest demons in the history of Japan: Shutendoji.

Shutendoji, which means ‘sake drinking boy’, is about 6 meters tall and has five horns and fifteen eyes. The color of its head and torso is red, its left leg is black, its right hand is yellow, its right foot is white, and its left hand is blue. Shutendoji lived in Oeyama, and sometimes he appeared in Kyoto city to kidnap the noble princess, and sometimes he ate other people alive.

Shutendoji caused great suffering and fear amongst the people of Kyoto, so the king organized a demon-killing group led by Demon-killer Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings (Watanabe Tsuna, Sakatano Kintoki, Usai Sadamitsu, and Uedano Suetake). In 995, they went on a mission to kill Shutendoji. On the way, they met three old men. Minamotono Yorimitsu got a kabuto (helmet) and some jinbekidokushu (a poison liquid that only affects demons) from three old men. At that time one of the old men said, “When you cut off the neck of Shutendoji, do not forget to wear this helmet.”

Then the three old men disappeared. After that Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings were caught by demons and taken up to Shutendoji. However, Minamotono Yorimitsu was good at talking, so Shutendoji suggested to Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings to drink alcohol, but instead it was human blood. Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings drank it and were not fazed at all. Next, Shutendoji gave them human arms and legs. Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings ate all of these things. Shutendoji had to trust them, and Minamotono Yorimitsu gave him the jinbekidokushu. Shutendoji drank it and he became drunk, so he began to sleep in his room. Minamotono Yorimitsu put on the kabuto and cut off Shutendoji’s neck while he was sleeping. As soon as Shutendoji’s detached head looked at Minamotono Yorimitsu with an angry face, it tried to bite him in the head. However, since he was wearing the kabuto, his life was saved.

Minamotono Yorimitsu and the Four Heavenly Kings killing ShutendojiThis is the story of the famous journey of the demon-killing group to defeat Shutendoji at Mt. Oeyama. The old men who appeared in this story is actually the god of three shrines. He divided himself into three old men in order to meet the demon-killing group.

Shutendoji Culture and Tradition

These days, there are many cultural traditions associated with Shutendoji.

Shutendoji’s head and kabukiShutendoji Shrine

There is a shrine on Oeyama mountain called Onidake Inari, which means ‘demon mountain’ shrine. According to one legend, because Shutendoji’s head was buried in this mountain, people want to keep this evil spirit away. Also the people who live around this mountain have a festival for calming Shutendoji’s spirits down once a year even to this day. That festival is called the Shutendoji Festival. In this festival parade around the town with a huge Shutendoji float.

Kabuki

There is also a kabuki performance related to the demon of Oeyama. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese dance drama. The title of the kabuki about Shutendoji is Oeyama Shutendoji. It was the long epic song that written for the 17th Kanzaburo Nakamura in 1963. The 17th Kanzaburo Nakamura was one of the most famous kabuki actors at that time, who won a lot of awards.

Takarazuka

Takarazuka, which is Japanese newest traditional theatre, also has a drama about Shutendoji. The title is Ooeyamakaden. This drama was performed by Michi Taira who is famous takarazuka star in 1986, but in 2009 it was played by Yuhi Ozora who is another famous takarazuka star again.

Film

Also there are a few movies about Shutendoji. One of them is a famous movie that called Ooeyama Shutendoji. This movie was filmed by Tokuzou Tanaka who is famous movie director in 1960 and there are a lot of famous stars in this movie.

Manga

Manga is a kind of Japanese comic book. There are a few manga about Shutendoji as well. The title of one manga series is Shutendoji. It was written by a man named Gou Nagai from 1976 to 1978. Furthermore there is a quite famous manga called ShutenDouji. It was witten by Hayato Umezawa in 1990. This manga was published by Shonen JUMP, which is one of the most famous comic magazines in Japan.

Sake

Also, amongst the many types of sake in Japan, one of the most famous ones is called Onigoroshi, which means that ‘killing the demon’. This sake is so spicy as to kill a demon. Actually this sake is also related to Shutendoji, as its origin is from the legend of the Oeyama demon.

As you can see, the yokai Shutendoji is related with so many traditional Japanese things. This is also true of other yokai not mentioned in this article. Especially, Kyoto is one of the places in Japan from which yokai originate, so if you are lucky (or unlucky), maybe you will encounter a yokai during your stay in Kyoto.

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