folkelore

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Spooky Folklore from Medieval Japan — The Legend of the Ubume,

In Medieval Japanese folklore, the Ubume is the ghost of a woman who died in childbirth.  Often the ghost of the woman will appear soaked in blood and wander about crying obareu! obareu! (be born! be born!).  Typically Ubume are found along travel routes, such as roads or rivers.  There the Ubume will ask travelers to hold her baby, just for a moment.  When the traveler takes up the swaddled infant, the Ubume will disappear and the infant will become heavier and heavier.  When the infant becomes to heavy to hold and is dropped, it is revealed to be a large stone.

One infamous Ubume was said to take up residence at a river crossing in the Mino Province (now modern day Gifu Prefecture).  When passerby’s crossed the river, the Ubume would appear among the raging waters begging them to take her baby and save its life.  Those who took the infant found that it became heavier and heavier until they were drug under the water and drowned.

In the early 11th century AD the samurai Urabe Suetake was traveling with a groups of soliders.  One night in camp the soldiers talked of tails about the Ubume at the river crossing.  So frightened were they that they refused to cross the river, a crossing which was to be made the next morning.  The brave samurai Suetake announced “I shall cross the river myself.  Right now!”.  

To prove to his men that there was nothing to fear, he crossed the river, all the while his men stayed in camp out of cowardice.  He made it across the river, and was halfway across his return trip when the Ubume appeared to him, begging him to take her baby.  Depsite the danger, Suetake took the crying infant, which grew heavier and heavier in his arms with each yard he stepped.  By the time he reached the shore the bundle would have been too heavy to carry for most, but due to Suetake’s superior strength and stamina he continued onward to the camp.  By the time he reached the camp the swaddled infant was almost too heavy for even Suetake to handle.  When he reached camp he dropped the bundle before his men to show them his great deed.  When the swaddling clothes were opened, it was found to be nothing more than a bundle of dead leaves.

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My Tattoo of Rashomon-no-oni      The Demon of Rashomon

According to legend in the late 10th century of Heian Period Japan, Ibaraki, a notorious Oni, resided at Rashomon Gate in Kyoto. Ibaraki harassed people who tried to pass through to Rashomon Gate until a heroic samurai named Watanabe no Tsuna, a loyal retainer of Minamoto no Raiko, went to subdue the cruel Ibaraki. When Tsuna arrived in Rashomon Gate he was attacked by Ibaraki. However, Tsuna was a strong and valiant swordsman who was able to defend himself against the ferocious attack by the oni Ibaraki. The battle raged on until Tsuna drew his katana and severed the arm of the demon. Screaming in pain Ibaraki ran away from Tsuna, leaving his severed arm at the Rashomon Gate. Tsuna swept up Ibaraki’s arm as a trophy. When he arrived home at his mansion he wrapped up the severed arm and locked it away in a chest.

A few days later, an elderly woman appearing to be Tsuna’s Aunt Mashiba, came to visit Tsuna. During the conversation, Tsuna’s aunt asked her nephew to tell how he fought with the demon, and when Tsuna mentioned that he had the severed arm in his possession his aunt was curious and asked to see it. The unsuspecting Tsuna, brought out the chest with Ibaraki’s arm inside and when he removed the arm from the chest, his aunt revealed herself as being Ibaraki in disguise, grabbed the arm and escaped from Tsuna’s mansion. Tsuna was astonished that Ibaraki had posed as his elderly aunt Mashiba and did not give chase. However, even after retrieving his arm, Ibaraki never returned to dwell at Rashomon Gate again.