Tennyo (天女)

For the 3rd post in the Women in the Wild series, we’ll look at the the Tennyo (天女 = heaven + women).

I recently watched the Irish/Canadian animated film”Song of the Sea” featuring selkies, and was reminded of the tennyo stories in Japan. I assume many other people have noted the similarities between selkies and tennyo. Actually, this is not the only highly similar story between Japanese and Celtic folklore. If you are familiar with “The Two Hunchbacks” story in Ireland, the Japanese have a similar story, except with Oni and dancing rather than faeries and singing.  The Japanese story is called “Kobu-tori Jii-san,” and I quite enjoyed this simple English retelling, but I will include the Japanese Wikipedia page in case there are any enthusiasts reading.

Of course it is very common to find similar themes in folklore around the world. I even heard an interpretation once that the Momotaro story may actually be the garbled remnants of Jason and the Argonauts passed in a game of telephone from Greece to Japan.

But anyways, coming back to tennyo, they are essentially women who come from the sky wrapped in hagoromo (feathered robes), or in some tellings, as birds. If a man steals her robe, she cannot return to the sky and usually becomes his wife.

The earliest written record of tennyo stories in Japan seems to have been put down a little later than the Kojiki. Only secondary sources remain though, so it’s a little foggy (probably around 700 AD). Suffice to say the stories themselves told orally are certainly well over 1200 years old. The earliest tennyo story recorded is generally agreed to be in Oumi no Kuni Fudoki (近江国風土記), unfortunately a lost text, but scholars have pieced together the content from later writings.

The story is written in classical Japanese, but I found some modern Japanese versions to supplement what I couldn’t piece together. Please enjoy the translation below^^

The Hagoromo Legend of Lake Yogo

According to the elders, there was a small bay to the south of the Oumi area called Ikago no Oe. Eight women from the sky changed into white birds and flew down to bathe in the bay.

A man named Ikatomi was in the west mountains and could see the birds fly down from far away. He thought it was a strange site and that they may be supernatural beings. He went to see them and they were supernatural beings.

Ikatomi fell in love at once and did not want them to leave. He secretly sent a white dog to steal the robe of one of the women and he hid it. Seven of the eight women flew back to the sky, but one woman remained. She could not fly back to the sky and so she joined the village people.

Ikatomi started a family with her and they lived together. They had two sons and two daughters. The older son was named Omishiru and the younger son was named Nashitomi. The older daughter was named Isesri-hime and the younger daughter was named Naseri-hime. These are the ancestors of the villagers of Ika.

Later, the woman found her hagoromo (robe of feathers) and returned to the sky. Ikatomi kept an empty bed and his grief never ceased.

A few themes of note is the use of white animals and the hidden skin that is later found. Like the selkie, the tennyo never stays with her human family when she finds her skin/robe. Modern readers tend to find child abandonment distasteful. But I have met many children, and it seems reasonable to me.

I have collected a representative sampling of tennyo stories below.

The Hagoromo Legend of Miho
A popular tale from Shizuoka. They have a festival every year in October to commemorate the story.

The Legend of the Birth of Michizane
A kind of bizarre tale that ends up linking to Buddhism and Tenjin-sama. But I like it because the child finds the skin, much like the selkie stories.

Hagoromo Legend from Jikkoku (Ibaraki)
This is probably the most recent of the 4 stories. It is representative of the childless elderly couple trope.

I also found some more modern-style tales. One of which seemed to be based loosely on Hamaguri-Nyoubou (the clam wife), which I will summarize briefly below.

  1. Fisherman nets a giant clam. Feels amazed that it has lived to be so big and lets it go.
  2. A beautiful woman appears at his door and becomes his wife.
  3. She makes really great soup. But she forbids him to watch her make it.
  4. He looks anyways and sees her peeing into the soup pot.
  5. Fisherman kicks woman out of his house. She cries and turns back into a clam.

In the tennyo retelling I read, a man lives alone with his elderly mother. He catches a clam, but it grows large and young girl jumps out. She makes him some cloth and he sells it in town for a lot of money. She says she is a tennyo sent by Kanon-sama (Guanyin) to reward the man for being such a good son and returns to the heavens. It’s a kind of fun remix of stories if you have free time, but I am relatively sure it is not very old at all, so I skipped it.

I also read one about a man who goes to heaven to get back his wife, but men going up to heaven is actually a more common theme. So I would like to look at it in more detail later.

In a lot of stories about animals/elements that change into women in Japan, there are two general story lines. One is that the woman marries a man and then must leave him someday (Crane Wife (Tsuru Nyoubou), Snow Wife, etc…). And the other is that a childless couple is blessed with a daughter (the Crane’s Gift (Tsuru no Ongaeshi), Snow Daughter).

The stories are almost exactly the same, but the supernatural wife tales seem to be older. I’m not exactly sure why the stories were revised later on. It may be that the animal marriage/child abandonment story line became unpalatable for later audiences. If you have any insights, please feel free to comment below^^

Hagoromo Legend from Jikkoku (Ibaraki)

One summer, on a very hot day, a child could be heard crying in the bamboo grove of a wealthy person’s house in Jikkoku.

The old man who lived in the house went toward the voice and found a little girl crying sadly. She was wearing a white robe and was a cute girl of maybe 7 or 8.

The old man thought the girl’s clothes seemed Korean and wondered if she had come from the Korean peninsula. But he was too surprised to think clearly and spoke to her in Japanese, “What happened? Where did you come from?”

The girl replied sadly, “I am a tennyo. I was playing happily in the rivers in the sky when the current suddenly swept me away. I was frightened and grabbed on to some bamboo. When I looked around, I had landed in this bamboo grove. But I am tired and cannot return to heaven.”

The old man felt sorry for the child and brought her to his house. He said kindly, “You must be tired. You can rest a while in my house.”

The girl was loved by the old man and his wife and she stayed for some time at their home.

As she got older, she grew fair and beautiful. She received many marriage proposals from the nearby villagers. But she refused them all.

One night, she said to the old man, “I am going to return to heaven to see my mother and father.” And she began to climb towards heaven in a dance. It was as beautiful as watching a white bird dance.

The old man and his wife said, “We do not believe you will come back to us.” and were very sad.
But, three nights later, the tennyo returned.

The old man and his wife were very happy and loved the tennyo even more than before.

One day the tennyo said, “I will go bathe in the water of Kasumigaura,” and left. The water of Kasumigaura was as beautiful as the rivers in heaven and the tennyo bathed happily.

But when she decided to go home, she noticed the hagoromo (feathered robe) she had left on a pine tree was missing. A nearby fisherman was planning to take it home.

The tennyo said, “That is my hagoromo. Please give it back.”

The fisherman gazed at the tennyo and said, “You are very beautiful. I would like to see you in this hagoromo.” And gave it back to her.

The tennyo bowed politely in thanks. She put on her hagoromo and waved at the fisherman as she flew away.

She told the old man about what had happened. The old man said, “From now on, you are not to go bathing alone.” And she was not able to leave the house as often.

At night she flew in the sky, but by day she lived in the house. One night, the tennyo said to the old man and his wife, “You have taken care of me a long time. I will never forget my debt to you. I have decided to return to the moon. I will leave you a painting as my thanks. Please accept it and think of me when you look at it. When the moon is full, I would like to watch you both from heaven.”

She gave them a painting of the moon and clouds and flew high up into the sky.

The old man and his wife held the painting tightly and waved goodbye to the tennyo. They stood gazing up at the sky long after she had disappeared.

After that, there were stories of a tennyo who came to Kasumigaura to bathe. The people of Shizuoka heard these stories, and learned that the tennyo likes to hang her hagoromo on pine trees. So they took many pine trees to Miho. It is said that the pines in the Miho pine grove were originally from Ami in Ibaraki.

The old man and his wife kept the painting of the clouds and the moon as a treasure and it remains as their family crest.


This story was translated from a website of folktales from Ami in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The Legend of the Birth of Michizane

Long ago, there was a fisherman named Tayuu Kiribatake living in the village near Lake Yogo.

One day, he followed a pleasant smell to a willow tree. Walking closer, he saw a light-weight, bright fabric hanging from one of its branches. He picked it up to take it, but when he turned around, a beautiful woman was standing behind him.

“I am from heaven. I am drawn by the beauty of Lake Yogo, and once a year I come to bathe here. Please return my hagoromo (feathered robe) to me.”

But Tayuu did not return her robe. He ran and hid it instead.

After what seemed like endless arguing, the beautiful woman gave up and became Tayuu’s wife.

But her thoughts were consumed with her desire to return to the sky, and she cried constantly. Eventually, she gave birth to a treasured boy. One day, he heard his nursemaid singing, “Your mother is a tennyo. She is a tennyo from the stars. Your mother’s hagoromo is under a thousand bunches of straw.”

The boy went looking under the straw in the back garden. And just as the song had said, he found the hagoromo.

The tennyo was wildly happy. She wrapped herself in her hagoromo and flew away back to the sky.

A monk of Kanzan-ji temple heard this story and took pity on the motherless boy. He adopted him and brought him back to his temple. The boy was the adopted child of Sugawara no Koreyoshi.

In other words, he grew up to become Sugawara no Michizane.


Taken from a website of Hagoromo Legends from Lake Yogo.

Sadly, the English Wikipedia page on Sugawara no Michizane does not include the rumors of his tennyo mother. But they are included on the Japanese Wikipedia page.

The Hagoromo Legend of Miho

There was once fisherman named Hakuryo (white dragon) who lived in Miho. Every morning he went fishing near the pine groves of Miho. He was used to seeing the coastal scenery, but one spring morning, he saw Mount Fuji looking particularly beautiful.

An indescribably good smell was hanging in the air. He followed the smell and found the most beautiful kimono he had ever seen hanging from the branch of a large pine tree. He thought it was too beautiful to leave behind and began to pick it up to take home.

At that moment, he heard a voice say, “That is my kimono. Please do not take it.” When he turned to look he saw a beautiful woman standing in the shadow of the pines.

“I am a tennyo. That kimono is called hagoromo and you have no need of it. Please return it to me.”

Hearing that it was a tennyo’s hagoromo, Hakuryo felt even less inclined to return it.

“If I do not have my hagoromo, I cannot return to the sky. Please give it back to me.”
She was sad and Hakuryo felt sorry for her. So he handed it back saying, “I will give it back to you. But in return, please show me the dance of the tennyo.”

The tennyo happily agreed and said, “I cannot dance without my hagoromo. First, please return my hagoromo.”

Hakuryo thought for a moment. “If I give it back to you, you may return to the sky without dancing.”

The tennyo answered sharply, “Doubts and deceptions belong to the human world. These do not exist in our world above the sky.”

Hearing these words, Hakuryo felt ashamed and returned the tennyo’s hagoromo.

The tennyo wrapped her hagoromo about herself and flipped the sleeves gracefully as she began to dance her dance.

Hakuryo could hear a flute and drums playing from out of nowhere, and a pleasant scent filled the air. He watched mesmerized as the tennyo danced higher and higher. She flew as high as Mt. Ashitaka, and then as high as Mt. Fuji, until she disappeared into the mist above the mountains.

To this day, the “Hagoromo Festival” is held every October in Shizuoka. (October 10 this year, if any readers are located nearby.)

The above story was translated from Shizuoka City’s promotion page.

Tama River Folktales

IMG_1138I took my cousin to the library the other day when she came to visit (because I know a good time) and stumbled on this book: Tama River Folktales by Sakuhira Ishii, Arimine Shoten Publishing, 1976.

I couldn’t find the copyright notice in the book, but to err on the side of caution, let us assume it is copyrighted. Ergo, I could only summarize the stories I couldn’t find other sources for. If you are an author etc… who would like to use the works, please contact Arimine Shoten Publishing (有峰書店新社) who incidentally, just published a book entirely composed of photos of hamster butts. So we know they’re serious about literature.

Anyways, back to the book, it’s about 200 pages of local tales from Meiji Era (maybe 1 or 2 are older).  For the most part I’ve summarized the stories in little blips below for future reference. But I also wrote some longer plot summaries in separate posts for a few of the stories.
I have also included Ishii’s map first below, but he reversed north-south (Tokyo bay is in the upper left).

Tama Kawa Ishii Map

(1) Kusuke the Kappa

(2) The Tale of the Tama River Owls

An elderly man was irritated by the hoots of the owls at night. So he caught them and put paper with bird lime (glue traps) on their mouths. Although this indeed silenced the birds, they also could not eat anything. Benten-sama (Benzaiten) took  pity on the owls and removed the bird lime. She caused the man to have a nightmare in which he has bird lime on his mouth which spread to cover his face and eventually his entire body. A monster with 30 eyes watched him and laughed when he begged for help. Suddenly, he could hear the flutes and drums of festival music. The man’s body began to dance involuntarily, but he kept falling down due to the bird lime. Benten-sama appeared and told the man that the music he could hear was the owls’ true beautiful voices that he could not understand before.  The old man awoke from the dream and was relieved that it was not true. However, the villagers say the old man continues to dance alone in the forest in the middle of the night.

(3) The Tale of the Tama River Pacific Redfin (マルタ)

A man named Marukin used to run an eatery but he liked to go fishing as a hobby. Every day he lowered a huge net suspended between two bamboo poles into the river and after a while, he pulled it up filled with fish. But one day Marukin could not get any fish in his net. A small carp swam up to his boat and asked him what he does with the fish he catches every day. He explained that he sells them for money. Just then, a monstrously large Pacific Redfin appeared and told Marukin that the fish of Tama River had decided not to be caught in his ridiculously large net anymore. Marukin became angry and tried to catch the Pacific Redfin. The fish taunted him and Marukin chased him further and further downstream. Before he knew it, Marukin was so far down river he was nearing Haneda. A storm rose up and Marukin’s net was destroyed. His boat began to fill with water. Marukin became exhausted trying to bail out the water and passed out. When he awoke, his boat had landed on the shore near Anamori Inari Shrine. Marukin vowed to never over fish the river again, and devoted himself to protecting the fish of Tama River.

(4) The Tale of the Tama River GiantsDaidarabocchi_1

This story is less a narrative, and more a story about the creation of the areas in the Kanto region of Japan (East Japan). Evidently, there are many local stories about a giant/race of giants named Dedarabo (でえだらぼう) or Daidarabocchi (だいだらぼっち).  At night, one of them used Mt. Fuji as a pillow, he rested his body on the forest of Mt. Tanizawa and his feet in the Kanto Plain (so this giant is roughly 200 km laying down). Due to the thrashing of his feet, Mt. Akagi and Mt. Tsukuba were knocked to opposite sides of the region.

In some stories there are many many such giants, but in others there are only 4 (one for each direction). They did sumo wrestling which created the Gobi Desert. It seems there are many such stories, and the name Daita Mura in Setagaya supposedly comes from Daidarabocchi. There’s a particularly long story in the book about a giant that dies and his corpse lands in two villages. They have a fight about who has to clean it up and it starts rotting. They eventually dismember it and send it down the Tama River to Tokyo Bay😀

(5) The Tama River Foxes

(6) The Tama River Eel

A young boy caught an eel to feed to his sick mother. The eel suddenly spoke and told him that his mother was sick because she had been overworked by a cruel man. The boy took the eel to the cruel man’s house. The man tried to kill the eel but it escaped. The man reflected on the eel’s words and decided it may be a messenger from the kami. So he told the boy his mother’s sickness may be his fault and that he would help take care of her until she got well again.

(7) The Tama River Dragon

Many fishermen used to live at the Tama River mouth where it flows into Tokyo Bay (Anamori Inari in Haneda). This was a peaceful village but one day a strange child was born into it. One winter’s day the child began crying and said all the fishermen leaving that day would never return. No one believed the child, but the fishermen’s boat capsized and they all drowned. The child made several such predictions, and eventually the fishermen came to view the child as a kind of seer. They checked the child’s mood each day to predict the weather on the following day. One day, the child became sick and the fishermen worried that something horrible would happen such as a tsunami or a tornado. As the child’s condition did not improve, they began to become violent with each other and the town became a nest of evil. A monk heard about the evil and came to the town to exorcise the child. On the dawn of the second day of the exorcism ceremony, the sky turned bright red and a fire-breathing dragon was seen flying up into the sky. The child recovered and the town was peaceful again.

(8) The Wit of Kichibe of Tama River

This is a silly story about a man named Kichibe who is witty and gets hired by the local lord as a kind of jester to tell funny stories. One day the local lord becomes ill. All the local people come to visit the lord and wish him health. But due to the constant visits he can’t sleep. So Kichibe suggests they change clothes and change places. They do so and it goes well, but eventually Kichibe gets bored. So he tricks everyone into bringing him his favorite bean cakes (manju). Word eventually gets to the local lord that “he” is demanding bean cakes from everyone. So he goes to his home to find Kichibe stuffing his face. When he asks what he thinks he is doing, Kichibe replies that he has found what causes his lord’s sickness. It is the demons in these evil bean cakes. And he is destroying each one. The lord laughs so loudly that his illness is cured. めだたしめだたし^^

(9) Sentimental Tales from Tama River

(10) Tales from an Elderly Woman from Ome

(11) The Three Tragedies of Tama River


The Three Tragedies of Tama River

These three stories are all from the Warring States Period in Japanese history, 1467 – 1573 CE. A name that pops up in all 3 of the stories is Hojo. The Hojo clan were the most powerful clan in the Kanto region until they were unseated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. And…I have totally been wondering about this forever, but I just discovered the family crest of the Hojo clan is….*opens treasure chest* ♫chalala chalala chalala laaaa♫ the triforce!!!  Now I finally know why it keeps showing up on shrines and old armor out and about the country.

These stories are relatively well-known and there are several versions floating around on the internet. The versions below are a kind of amalgamation.

Fringed Orchids

The version below draws mostly from Meguro City’s site. I like the version in Ishii’s book, but it removes some of the more unpalatable elements, such as concubines. The lord in the story, Yoriyasu Kira, was an actual lord who died in 1561. He’s in Japanese Wikipedia, but not English yet. This site also has a version, which depicts Yoriyasu as a horrible. He doesn’t seem particularly better or worse than other men of the time period though, so I went with Meguro City’s version.

Hojo-monFor some background on the story, as mentioned above, the Hojo clan was very powerful, and the Kira clan was a kind of vassal to Hojo. However, there is evidence that Yoriyasu Kira received special treatment from Hojo and Yoriyasu’s official wife was a member of the Hojo family.


The lord of Okuzawa village castle, named Dewanokami Oodaira had a daughter named Princess Tokiwa (Tokiwa Hime). Tokiwa was renowned for her beauty and was given as a concubine to the nobleman Yoriyasu Kira. Yoriyasu loved Princess Tokiwa very much and soon his other concubines became jealous of her.When Tokiwa became pregnant they spread rumors that the child was not Yoriyasu’s. Although Yoriyasu denied the rumors at first, eventually he believed them and began to treat Tokiwa coldly.

Eventually, Tokiwa could no longer bear the cruel treatment around her and decided to show her innocence through suicide. But before she killed herself, she tied a note to the leg of a white heron that she had kept since childhood. She released the heron so it would return to her father and tell him of her death.

At the same time, Yoriyasu was hunting with falcons near the Tama River. He saw the heron and killed it. It fell dying to the river bank. Yoriyasu found the note and was horrified. He hurried back to his castle, but it was too late, Tokiwa had killed herself and beside her lay her stillborn son.Sagisou

To this day, the white flowers called fringed orchids grow where the heron fell on the banks of the Tama River. The flowers are white with delicate petals that look like the wings of a heron as a symbol of Princess Tokiwa’s innocence.

*Ishii’s version is quite different. There is no heron and Princess Tokiwa is Yoriyasu’s wife. Yoriyasu loves her deeply, but he leaves her alone for a long time and cheats on her with other women. Fearing other armies in his absence, she flees to Shoin Shrine where she kills herself. Yoriyasu dies in battle and the flowers grow as her spirit trying to reach out to him. I think the heron story is more common, so I used that one above, but I’m not actually sure which is older.

**In some versions, the other concubines spread rumors that Tokiwa Hime is planning a rebellion with her father and Yoriyasu throws her out of the castle.

The Flute Princess

This one is also available in several versions online.

At this time, three families were fighting, the Hojo clan, the Takeda clan, and the Uesugi clan.

mita-monA man named Ujideru Hojo was the lord of Takiyama Castle north of Hachioji.
There was a warlord upstream the Tama River in Ome named (Danjo) Tsunahide Mita (you’ve probably also seen their family crest. It’s the triskelion — left image). The Mita clan was fighting for the Uesugi clan, so they were at war with the Hojo clan.

Tsunahide knew that the Hojo clan was stronger, and he predicted the downfall of his castle to Ujideru Hojo. So he sent his children and grandchildren far away to live deep in the mountains, at Fuefuki River. Tsunahide was an excellent flute player, and among his grandchildren, he had a granddaughter whose skill rivaled his own. She was nicknamed “Fue-hime” (flute princess). To her he gave his most prized flute. And told her to play it when she missed him or her father. As Tsunahide had predicted, soon thereafter Ujideru Hojo overran the Mita clan’s castle and Tsunahide killed himself. Tsunahide’s family line was nearly wiped out by Ujideru.

One day, Ujideru went hunting with his hawks up in the mountains near Fuefuki River. He heard the most wonderful flute playing and went to see who it was. Seeing a young woman, he was confused and asked her who she was and why she was living in the mountains. When she told him she was the granddaughter of Tsunahide Mita for whose death Ujideru was responsible, he took pity on her and had her brought back to his castle.

However, Fue-hime was consumed with thoughts of revenge for the deaths of her father, grandfather and countless other relatives. Fue-hime waited for a chance for revenge by playing her flute by the Tama River at Ujideru’s castle. Ujideru enjoyed listening to her flute playing and one day after he had drunk quite a lot of sake while listening to her flute playing, Fue-hime decided it was her chance to kill him. She pulled out a dagger that she had been saving for this moment, and moved to stab him. However, being a seasoned soldier, he dodged her easily and took the weapon. Rather than being angry, he had sympathy for her and told her he understood her feelings. But that killing him would not bring back her family and that she should consider hating the war-torn situation she was born into rather than himself. Fue-hime felt utter despair and began to cry. When she returned to her room, she decided to kill herself by cutting off her tongue. However, an elderly woman stopped her and reminded her that she was the last of the Mita family, so killing herself would not be a great tragedy.

Fue-hime was unhappy, but eventually Ujideru’s consistent kindness won her over. Ujideru also played the flute and he began to invite Fue-hime to play with him in the evenings by the river. However, as the two grew closer, Ujideru’s wife Hisa became jealous. She could not understand why the granddaughter of her husband’s enemy enjoyed such a position in their home and plotted to end Fue-hime’s life.

One day, while Fue-hime played her flute waiting for Ujideru to return, Hisa approached her and stabbed her in the chest with a dagger. She had the servants discard Fue-hime’s body off the castle grounds.

When Ujideru learned of Fue-hime’s death, he was overcome with grief. He lamented the emptiness of war that had led the talented young woman to live such a short and tragic life. He soon followed after her in one of the many battles of the Warring States period.

The Tragedy of Hyogo Island

Nitta_Yoshioki_at_the_Yaguchi_ferryLate in the Warring States period there were two brothers of the Nitta clan (enemies of the Hojo and Ashikaga clans). The older one’s name was Yoshisada and the younger one’s name was Yoshioki. Their clan’s army had been defeated by the Ashikaga and they were forced to retreat to Echigo. However, Yoshioki raised an army and fought his way back to the Tama River. He asked two members of allied clans to help him cross the river, Totonokami Edo and Ukyonosuke Takezawa.

However, unbeknownst to Yoshioki, the two men had changed sides from the Nitta clan to the Ashikaga clan. They pretended to help him and gave him a boat. They boarded one of their members on the boat and had him open a hole in it in the middle of the river.

As the boat sank, the Edo and Takezawa warriors on the river banks fired arrows at Yoshioki and his men. Yoshioki killed himself and his men swam to the shore where they fought the enemy, some of them also killed themselves. Two of his men, Hyogonosuke Yura and Emon Shinza stood on the side of the boat and cut off each others’ heads to kill themselves. It is from Hyogonosuke’s name that Hyogo Island in the Tama River gets its name.

After betraying Yoshioki, it is believed that his vengeful spirit came after Totonokami.

Both Totonokami and Ukyonosuke received an award of lands and titles from the Ashikaga clan. But while Totonokami was crossing the land he had received, a terrible storm blew up. The boat coming to pick him up sank and so he rode on a horse towards Kawasaki. However, he fell off his horse, vomited blood and lost consciousness. His servants took him to a house nearby, but on the 7th day he died. They said he thrashed his arms and legs about as though he was drowning before he died.

The above story is certainly exciting, but according to Setagaya City’s website, the name of the island is Hyogo, because Ukyonosuke Takezawa went into the river to find Yoshioki’s corpse to show to the Ashikaga as evidence of the defeat, but the only body he could find was Hyogonosuke’s. Later, Hyogonosuke’s body appeared again to the local fishermen, and they felt sorry for the warrior and enshrined him on the island. Ergo: Hyogo Island.

Also, in some versions it seems Totonokami died 7 days after being struck by lightening.

*Wikipedia’s English page says Yoshioki Nitta was sentenced to death and executed by drowning. That doesn’t really make sense or match with the story above, and I could not verify this in Japanese. The Japanese Wikipedia story roughly matches that above, as does Setagaya City’s website (he was betrayed by the two men, his boat was sabotaged, and they shot arrows at him). And there is a famous painting of him being struck by arrows in a sinking boat with his men around him. So I think the English page is a mistranslation. However, the source for the English page is a log-in site that requires payment, so I can’t easily check why the author wrote that. You will have to live in suspense.

Main Reference: Tama River Folktales by Sakuhira Ishii, Arimine Shoten Publishing, 1976

Tales from an Elderly Woman from Ome

Main Reference: Tama River Folktales by Sakuhira Ishii, Arimine Shoten Publishing, 1976

Evidently, the author of the book above found a very old woman in a tea shop in the 1970s and got the following tales from her. I am particularly fond of the second story. I think it could have universal appeal?

The Laughing Tengu天狗_国際日本文化研究センター

A young wood cutter went into the woods around Mt. Mitake to get wood. After eating lunch, he lied down for a nap. As he was about to drift off a tengu appeared in geta shoes using a giant leaf for a fan. The tengu laughed at the man and then faded away. This happened 3 times. The young man went to Mitake Shrine to be purified (exorcised). The priest performed the ceremony and the man never saw the tengu again.

This story appears on website of Ome folktales. In that version, the Tengu is appearing because it doesn’t want the wood cutter to cut down a specific large cedar tree. The Shinto priest explains this to the wood cutter and ties a Shimenawa (sacred rope) around the tree and the Tengu stops appearing.

The Tale of the Tama River Raccoon Dog

A kind old man lived in a village near Mt. Ome. He went into the woods near the mountain to collect firewood. After loading the wood into a makeshift sled, a raccoon dog (tanuki) appeared and helped push the load down the mountain. The old man told his neighbor this story. His neighbor was unkind and selfish. He also went to the woods and filled a large cart as full as he could. He called for the tanuki to come help him.

The tanuki appeared and pretended to be pushing the cart, but actually he set it on fire. The old man caught on fire and his testicles were burned so badly, they swelled to the same size as 8 tatami mats (*a tanuki’s testicles are said to be the same size as 8 tatami mats). The good neighbor took pity on the burned old man and came to apply medicine to his testicles.

But after the medicine was applied, the tanuki caused the medicine to become hot red pepper paste. The mean old man cried out in pain.

The End.

This is probably a variation on Kachi Kachi Yama, in some versions of which, the white rabbit rubs “medicine” on the Tanuki’s burned back that is actually hot red pepper paste.

The Tale of Boar-Hunter (Inoshishi-tora-san)

There once lived a great hunter, around the year 1800, named Inoshishi-tora-san. One winter day he was hunting on snow-covered Mt. Miyake. But he couldn’t find anything to catch. He was getting frustrated when he saw a lone wolf standing in a cemetery. Inoshishi-tora-san knew that killing anything in the cemetery was forbidden, but he desperately wanted to catch something. So he aimed his gun at the wolf and fired. He thought the bullet made a clean kill, but suddenly all the stones in the cemetery turned into wolves and began to chase him.

The wolves caused such a commotion that the priests at Miyake Shrine heard it. They prayed to the kami that the wolves’ anger could be appeased. The wolves disappeared, but Inoshihi-tora-san was never seen again.

This story also appears on the Ome folktale website, but with a slightly different ending. Inoshishitora-san lives and buries the wolf. The priests tell him that the wolf is a guardian kami of the mountain and should never be harmed.

The Tale of the Gonza Pool Kappa

There is a deep pool in Ome called Gonza Pool. It is called this because a person named Gonza once drowned himself in this pool. It’s as big as a sports field and the water is always dark and swirling. Long ago, the fishermen in this area suddenly stopped being able to catch any fish. At that time, it was also used as a place where stable hands washed horses. One night after washing the horses at Gonza Pool and bringing them back to the stable, the stable hands noticed that the horses were making no noise, unlike their usual ruckus. So they went into the stable and found a kappa in an overturned bucket. Evidently, the kappa had been caught up in one of the horse’s manes as it had been washed.

They called for the sword master who asked the kappa why it was in the Gonza Pool. The kappa explained it was from Haijima no Ryu and had come to Gonza Pool to eat the delicious fish there. The stable hands realized that was the reason why the fishermen were no longer able to catch fish there. The sword master made the kappa promise to return to Haijima. The kappa agreed and wrote his promise with the sword master’s brush. Oddly, the educated sword master could not read the kappa’s writing, but the illiterate stable hands could. After the kappa left, the fish returned to Gonza Pool and everyone was happy again.

This story is the same on the Ome folktale website.