Japanese tale #55 – Seeing red

seeing red.jpg

Once upon a time, a traveling samurai got caught in the rain by an old castle.

The fortress had stood forgotten for years and was now no more than a steep hill still spiked here and there by gloomy wooden ruins.

Under thundering clouds, the dark remains of the castle, thought sinisters and grim, lured the man closer.

– I’ll sure find some shelter there…

The man picked up his pace and climbed the hill. From up close, the ruins felt even more eerily desolated.

Between walls of rain, the old fence appeared. Not far away from the ancient road, stood six abandoned Jizo statues, all covered in thick moss, their red bibs long tattered or gone.

Tucking his jacket and kimono close to his frozen body, the samurai nestled under the remnants of the roofed-gate. And hoped the rain would finally came to stop.

Lulled by the song of pouring waters, the man probably dozed off. Until a piercing shriek shook him off his slumber.

– Help, oh please someone help!

Drenched to the bones, a woman was running. As she paddled anxiously in the mud, her long heavy locks draped her in a black silk mantle.

Her precious kimono, silver threads glittering like dew drops, clung to her frame, leaving nothing to imagination: she was by far the most beautiful woman the samurai had ever seen.

As soon as she saw him, her pale face shone with obvious relief. She rushed toward him:

– Thanks the gods!

As she drew closer, the man tensed, his hand coming to rest on his sword hilt. The nearest village was miles away. Meeting such a woman alone is this this bleak place was highly suspicious.

Despite the curtains of rain, the apparition caught his defensive move. She slowed and asked in singsong voice:

– Please Mr Samurai, I request your protection.

She took steps after, steps, eyeing him as if he was a curious animal. The man grunted a curt warning:

– /What/ are you?

For a brief instant, the woman seemed genuinely shocked. Then, her deep red lips stretched, her smile wider and wider over shiny black teeth. She laughed:

– Why don’t you feel and see by yourself?

She lunged at him.

The samurai drew his sword, blade slicing fast as a silver lightning. Neatly cut in two from the shoulder, the woman fell to the ground.

But, despite the blood, she kept smiling. She barked a gritty laugh and rose as her two separated parts became spitting images. The now two women attacked.

Whirling madly, the samurai lunged and sliced, at two, then three, then five identical women. The more he cut, the more appeared, all covered in blood, their red lips smiling wide against skins pale as death.

Countering their assaults, the samurai attacked once again, thinking:

– It’s no use. I must find this monster’s weak point or I’m dead!

Suddenly, as the sliced part birthed a sixth woman, the man caught a flicker in the distance.

Nestled against a Jizo’s chest, a small wisp twinkled dimly in the rain.

Sliding in the mud as he blocked and retaliated vicious onslaughts, the samurai dashed toward the Jizo. As he drew near, he swung his sword as forcefully as he could.

The blade shattered in pieces, the blow reverberating in his wrists and shoulders. And the wisp sizzled before faded like a blown out candle.

Behind the panting man, the women let out a distressed keen. Then, they were gone, as if nothing had ever happened.

The man scurried away without looking back.

Later the following day, the samurai returned with farmers from the nearest village.

The clouds had lifted and under a timid sun, the six old jizo still stood serene in their mossy coats. Yet, all now bore heavy cracks, the stone deeply opened like ghastly wounds.

With superstitious reverence, villagers cleaned the venerable statues, fixing the broken stones with mortar. They then built an humble shrine over their heads, to shelter the poor Jizo from the elements.

And they say the strange women were never seen again near the old castle.


As covered in this other (brighter) tale, Jizo is a Bodhisattva guiding lost souls. He is especially associated with travelers and children he protect in the afterlife. Jizo statues are everywhere in Japan, from road sides to cemeteries entrances. Mothers who have lost a child tend to them, often gifting red bibs or toys.

I have found several version of today’s story, the most common one is said the have happened in Shizuoka Prefecture where a samurai encountered Jizo laughing madly while sticking out long, red tongues. Yet, this version with the keening women emphasized the link between the grieving souls of mothers who looked after the statues and prayed there for years and the Jizo themselves.

In Japan, spirits and ghosts are seen everywhere. And many horror stories plays with the notion of forgotten objects imbued with a soul (tsukimono or « possessed things ») which only wish for one thing: to be recollected again!

[pictures sources: 1 / 2 / 3 ]


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