This morning I had been hunting around for information about the Azuma-ryu (東流) school of hojojutsu, for extra information on my translation of Zukai Hojojutsu, and really there’s next to nothing available online about this tradition.
According to David Hall, the author of the Encyclopedia of Japanese Martial arts (Nihon Budo Jiten 日本武道事典), this may refer to three different ryuha:
- A school of espionage (ninjutsu) that was apparently still preserved during the Taisho era (1912-1925). The only practitioner from that time known today is Azuma Taro Uemon.
- A school specializing in swordsmanship (kenjutsu) with the standard sword (katana) and dagger (tanto) in the area of Fukuoka domain in Kyushu. The only known practitioner is Suyama Ichiemon.
- A school specializing in arresting-cord arts (torinawa) that was a splinter tradition of the Nanba Ippo-ryu 難波一甫流.
An that’s about all I’ve managed to acquire on this particular ryuha. However, when drudging through the Wasada University archives, I found numerous books on folk stories, plays, and other miscellany (including a modern school of two string guitar under the same spelling as this tradition).
One of the picture books I found had many illustrations with interesting points to ponder called Azuma Sodachi Satsuki no Ochigiwa (東発名皐月落際). This appears to be a story novel following a warrior of which I haven’t deduced the name of, written by Bakin Kyokutei and Toyokuni Utagawa in 1799.
Shukke and the Yurei 出家と幽霊
It appears that this first part of the story centers around a traveling exorcist meeting various ghosts and demons, whole later on it focuses on a warrior and his interactions (violently) with various demons. Whether this is one and the same person, I’ really not sure as I find it very difficult to read this type of literature.
In the above illustrations, the ghost (Yurei; 幽霊) is depicted as an old woman, which narrows down what type of ghost she is, though I have also not been able to deduce his particular type. Though this category of ghost is commonly depicted with a sort of willow-wisp ghost orb nearby (Davisson, p. 215), it is omitted here, but plays a notable part later in the story.
Because my own background tends to be in the interest of ninjutsu, any time I see a monk depicted in such situations, I think of one of the main disguises of the ninja, though I know this particular story to not be the case here.
The next interesting illustration shows an oni (demon; 鬼) with the head of a goat, something that isn’t too commonly seen in Japanese folklore, to the extant that I couldn’t find much of anything about it.
Having it look straight on in the manner depicted gives it some alarmingly similar features and presentation as the often referenced pagan goat god, Baphomet, feared in Christian sources for it’s comparisons to the modern conception of Satan (some consider them one and the same). I’ve personally never seen another depiction of a goat demon in any sort of Japanese sources, but this is really not my field. A brief search through various sources that I have on hand and available on Amazons Kindle libraries for terms like Yokai (妖怪) and Yurei (幽霊) and buying three different encyclopedias on the subjects revealed nothing including the terms “goat” or ‘sheep”, so this continues to be an elusive subject.
I’ve always had a personal curiosity about will-o-whisps, and their various cultural iterations. So when I come across illustrations of Japanese warriors being surrounded by ghostly orbs like this, it catches my attention, and I have to say I didn’t exist this kin og Yokai to have it’s own category; it turns out that depending on where they come from, they have different meanings, demeanor, behaviors, and so on, but they all fall under the category of Hi no Tama (orbs of fire; 火の玉).
I can only speculate what these particular ones with the kanji for heart or mind (心) written on them. So I’ll briefly describe a few different ones here:
This seems to be one of the more common of the various spirit orbs, characterized by a floating orb, sometimes with a feint flame around it, ad with a tail trailing behind.
They seem to levitate fairly close to the ground, and unlike other orb-like spirits that are created by other supernatural beings (such as foxes and demons), hitodama are said to leave the body of a dead human two or three days after death.
The kanji used in the name 魂 implies yang energy, somewhat like the yang energy leaving the body upon death and only yin being left behind.
It’s also interesting to note that this spirit is mentioned in the Man’yoshu:
“When you are alone and meet the complete blueness of a hitodama, you would naturally think of it as the sorrow on a rainy night” – Man’yōshū (Amasaki book) Chapter 16
These are orbs that appear along side various oni and are said to come from the souls of the dead who are violent or maleficent.
According to the work of Matthew Meyer, “Onibi does not create much heat, but the orbs possess a different danger. Living creatures that draw too close are sometimes swarmed by dozens of orbs, which quickly drain away the life force from their victims. Soon nothing is left of the victim but a dead husk on the ground.”
As such it appears that this is one of the more dangerous iteration of the hi no tama class of spirits and ghosts.
Most depictions of Kitsunebi (fox fire; 狐火) show them as thin wisps of flame, though some show as orbs like the others. The kitsunebi themselves are not dangerous, the fox spirit it came from can be really quite malicious, and in some myths, exceptionally dangerous.
Kitsune have been an ongoing fascination of mine, particularly the nine-tailed versions. Kitsunebi orbs are formed by foxes, which breath the ball of fire out from their mouths and use it to light their way at night. It is most often a sign that a large number of kitsune are nearby – often during yokai events such as the night parade of one hundred demons, yokai wedding ceremonies, and other processions or meetings. (Meyer, “Kitsunebi“)
Killing the Oni
So a switch back to the original review here, now were looking at an action shot with the protagonist killing a demon with a rather large trunk of bamboo. I have noticed a tendency that when theses warriors are depicted in killing of fighting demons, it is usually with an exceptionally large weapon. I imagine this would be because of the expectation that demons tend to be much stronger than humans, so something a little bit more impact-full would have to do the trick.
It’s also interesting to see the hitodama in the picture seemingly tethered or leashed by its tail, almost in a comical way.
The Wisdom Kings
Now we see not just the illustrious Fudomyo, a rather “notable” figure in most esoteric systems of Buddhism. Her, he is also depicted with two boy servants who is usually depicted in attendance to Fudomyo: Kongara dōji (矜羯羅童子) and Seitaka dōji (吒迦童子). I’ve included this page simply because it is a rather clear and decent depiction of Fudomyo, there not much more to say about him that hasn’t been stated in great length elsewhere.
Well, this has been an interesting way to spend the day, exploring Japanese ghost stories, and looking at some pretty interesting illustrations from several different sources. I hope it was an interesting read to go through such randomness. It’s kind of a strange tangent from looking up a hojojutsu tradition, to reading about ghosts all day, with any luck something will pop soon!
- Davisson, Zack (2014). Yūrei The Japanese Ghost. Chin Music Press. ISBN 978-09887693-4-2.
- Meyer, Matthew. the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. (2015), 2nd edition.
- Kyokutei, Bakin; Utagawa, Toyokuni. Azuma Sodachi Satsuki no Ochigiwa 東発名皐月落際. (1799). Wasada University.