Mystery Tour

April 16, 2010

by Yuka Segawa; Chiharu Suzuki

A Kyoto Mystery Tour
Kyoto and its Unhappy Spirits
There are many mystery spots in Kyoto.And some of these mysteries are hidden in place names.Kyoto has a long history, of around 1200 years, and so has accumulated the hatred and curses of people whose lives were full of suffering and darkness.During Heian times, parts of Kyoto were considered off-limits and inhabited by vengeful spirits and demons. The people of Heian-kyo sometimes saw things which should not be, things that we now refer to as “ghosts.” Because Kyoto people felt responsible to protect their city’s imperial identity, they prepared for the whereabouts of spirits, and named places that reflected their awareness of this netherworld, this world of evil.


(Sen — one thousand; bon — a counter indicating something that is long and narrow; dori— street)
In the past, the dead were collected and brought to one point in Kyoto, a burial ground located west of the foot of Mt. Funaoka in northern Kyoto. Senbon-dori was the road used for carrying corpses to the burial ground every night. So there were innumerable wooden stakes and stupas that served as charms and offerings on both sides of this street. The number of these objects numbered in the thousands. Therefore this street is called Senbon-dori.


(Murasaki→purple, no→fields)

There was a hamlet called Murasakino nearby Senbon-dori. Murasakino derives its name from the Chinese characters that mean “fields full of blood,” since burial grounds were nearby, and the blood of the dead was the color purple.


Sai no Kawara
(Sai→stones, no→of, Kawara→riverside)

In the Heian era, the area west of Sai-no-Kawara was considered to be a dangerous world. Sai are the stones which children stack in atonement for some impiety they have committed, and the stones must be stacked before their parents die. When a child stacks stones to a certain height, a demon will suddenly appear and then proceed to knock the stones down. So children must pay dues to their parents forever at this place. Sai-no-Kawara remains the name of a station on the Keifuku-Arashiyama line. Kousan temple, which is located between Saiin Station on the Hankyu line and Sai Station on the Keifuku-Arashiyama line, has a monument to Sai-no-Kawara.


“Rokudo” means “six worlds” and refers to the different levels in Buddhist transmigration.
“Tsuji” means a “crossing.” So Rokudo-no-Tsuji is the border between the other world and the entrance to hell, and which people fear greatly.

The Candy of the the Nurse Ghost

The candy of the the Nurse Ghost is sold at Rokudo-no-Tsuji.
There is an old ghost story told about this candy: a pregnant woman who was dying gave childbirth in a graveyard.Because she was dead, she could not give mother’s milk to her newborn, so instead came to buy candies to give to her child instead.


(Rokuro→lathe, chou→town)
At one time, Rokuro-cho was named Dokuro-cho (dokuro—skull; cho—district). This place also was a burial ground. So many bones lay buried or scattered around this place. However, in times past, an officer thought it so unlucky that he renamed it “Rokuro-chou.” Now, it has a monument called Rokudou-no-Tsuji. This monument means that this place is regarded as an entrance to the next world.

Hideyoshi Toyotomi

In 1536~1598, Hideyoshi Toyotomi was a general and he unified of the entire country of Japan.


(Tenshi→angel, tsukinuke→piercing)
In 1590, Hideyoshi Toyotomi noticed that bustling Ogawa street had many tea stores. Amidst them was Gojo-Shrine. This shrine was popular among people who believed in angels. Hideyoshi made a road when and where he wanted because he was very selfish. In this case, he built a road across the shrine at an angle. So,“Tenshi-tsukinuke”was named ironically to show Hideyoshi’s selfish nature.
Hideyoshi Toyotomi also made other roads.
For example:


(Tera→temple, machi→town, dori→street)
Teramachi-dori was originally made as an embankment.Temples were gathered in one area in order to lessen their political power, and this road also served as an embankment for the overflowing Kamo River.


Gokoumachi-dori was made for Hideyoshi to go to the Imperial Palace.

The Sanzu River

This big river is encountered when one dies, and it leads to another world. Dead persons who cross this river can get to the other world. Sanzu means three ways. There are three ways to cross this river. The Sanzu River is comparable to the Styx River of Western myth.


☆Shin→New ☆Kyogoku→the end of a city
Now, Teramachi Street runs parallel to Shin-Kyogoku Street. During the Heian era (794~1185), Teramachi Street was called East Kyogoku Street. So there were two Kyogoku Streets, one to the east and the other to the west. People believed that the areas beyond the Kyogoku Streets were terrible places, where monsters, ghosts, demons and devils existed. For example, the banks of the Kamo River, which were outside of Kyogoku Street then, are always bustling now, but long ago they were used for executions. From 1869 onward, when people made a new street that they once formerly believed bordered on a devil’s world, the new street was named Shin-Kyogoku Street (“shin” means “new”).

Leave A Comment...