Friday, January 12, 2018

Hashihime and the Japanese Night Curse

“Ushi no toki Mairi” / “ushi no Koto Mairi”
is a ritual where one visits a shrine in the middle of the night with a doll, representing a specific person, and nails the doll to a tree praying for that person’s death. This is interesting, as Shinto rituals usually deal with purification, good luck and the warding off of evils, but this unusual ritual is an offensive measure rather than a defensive one.

The ritual is associated with Kifune Shrine in Kyoto. The association is due to a famous Noh play, Kanawa (“The Iron Crown”). In Kanawa, the princess of Uji Bridge (a famous landmark south of Kyoto) learns by that wearing a titular “iron crown” topped with candles, red clothes, red makeup, and visiting the shrine at 2AM (the hour of the ox/cow by the old zodiac clock) as instructed by an oracle of the deity of Kifune shrine, in order to turn herself into an oni (ogre/devil) so that she can exact her revenge on her unfaithful lover.
The Kifune shrine still has trees that bear the marks of nails that would have been used for these curses. The person who castes such as curse was known as the ikiryo.

Photo from the Wikipedia commons 

In the story, the hate-filled demoness has a fury that summons storm clouds and she takes her new powers to find her lover for revenge. Her husband is warned beforehand, however, by Abeno Seimei (920-1005) , a famous onmyoji (magician/spiritualist/diviner) who makes protective paper dolls for the jilted lover to exhaust her rage upon. Spent of rage (and in some versions rebuked by benevolent deities or exorcised by Abeno Seimei ) Hashihime disappears.
As a Noh play, the Kanawa story is interesting as it is one of the plays in which the interesting Hannya (female demon) mask is used by the shite (main character of a Noh play).

Photo from the Wikipedia commons 

Hashihime is mentioned in the Tale of Heike and the Tale of Genji, both of which are filled with stories of revenge and wrathful spirits. The Tale of Genji (源氏物語) was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部) who, famously lived in Uji and included scenes of the sleepy town in her famous novel (from about the year 1000). A scene in The Tale of Genji is called Hashihime, because it features a curse that Lady Rokujo places upon her rival, the lover of Prince Genji.

Statue of Murasaki Shikibu next to the Uji Bridge. 

In some versions of the story the spirit of Hashihime is purified by Abeno Seimei but the popular interpretation is that the vengeful spirit was only driven away to cause trouble later on.

Now the Uji bridge is a major transit point for visitors in the area around Byodoin Temple (which is very popular with tourists and featured on the 10¥ coin and the 10,000¥ bill). The Uji River has now been dammed, just a short hike upstream from Uji bridge. When the flood waters are released from the dam and the waters rage one really gets a sense awe and power from the menacing waters that rush beneath Uji Bridge.

Uji Bridge