A content warning before this week's episode. This week's episode focuses on the folktale of the jorogumo of Kashikobuchi. This being was a benevolent, supernatural spider being who lived on the banks of the Hirose River. I won't be including images of spiders, nor will I be namedropping the word spider itself beyond a brief, cursory mention. This is because jorogumo are jorogumo, not real-world arachnids. Still, if you need to stop listening, please feel free, and I will see you next week. Please, friend, now more than ever, be good to yourself.
The Hirose River is beloved as one of the symbols of Sendai, and is one of the city's major landmarks. Mind you, Sendai has no shortage of rivers, even comparatively big ones, but this is the one that's at the heart of it all, the one that runs by the foot of Mount Aoba and the city's heart. It meanders-- it meanders a lot-- across its course.
The Hirose's headwaters are up on the Oshu Mountains, on the western edge of the Sendai city limits and the border with Yamagata Prefecture. From there, it twists and turns and curls and meanders, as its waters descend toward downtown. It has a wide loop called Kawauchi, wherein sits Mount Aoba, Kameoka Hachiman Shrine, and many other campuses, all things we've discussed in several prior episodes of the podcast. Kawauchi is also where the estates of the senior Date retainers were located, as well as being the location of the neighborhoods which housed some of the companies of foot soldiers under the Date daimyo's direct command. From Mount Aoba's feet, past the shadow of Otamayashita where Date Masamune's mausoleum Zuihoden stands, the river goes down past Atago Bridge, joining the mighty Natori at the confluence around Maekawara, which carries its waters the last little distance to the shore at Yuriage, and the waiting, shimmering embrace of the mighty Pacific.
Can you tell I'm waxing poetic, here?
So you get the idea: this is a river that gets around quite a bit, and there's a lot that immediately borders it.
Sendai Hyojogawara, by Kawase Hasui. Hyojogawara is a different point along the Hirose riverbank. (source)
Now, back in the Edo period, inside the Kawauchi riverbend was the territory of the Date daimyo and his senior retainers. But out around Kashikobuchi, there were more commoners and low-ranking samurai. Check out the map in the blogpost version of the podcast to see what I mean, there. So there was, the story goes, a commoner who went to that particular riverbend, in order to fish. He noticed a jorogumo tying his legs together. A jorogumo is a kind of yokai, a spirit creature or being that often takes the form of a beautiful woman but can turn into a spider and lure unsuspecting people to their doom, including by dragging them into water. It isn't the only spider-like yokai in Japanese folklore, but it's one of the better known ones. And as we'll see here, it isn't necessarily a force for ill.
So the fisherman watched his legs start to get tied, when, in a flash of inspiration, the fisherman substituted his legs for a willow branch that was close at hand. Moments later, he saw the jorogumo yank the bound log into the depths of the river.
And while he looked on in shock, a voice issued forth from the depths of the river saying kashikoi, kashikoi!-- in other words, Clever, clever!.
Now, bearing in mind that modern standard Japanese is an invention of the Meiji era, and this story predates the Meiji era, I would be remiss if I didn't point out here that "kashikoi" is standard Japanese-- in Sendai dialect, this would've sounded like "chakkoi, chakkoi," and the locale would've been called "Chakkoibuji."
Anyway, anyway, clearly, there was a being of some power here, and clearly, this being deserved a measure of caution and respect. So, what to do?
Enshrinement, of course.
As we saw last week with the case of Seinyo and the cat mound at Saisho-in Temple, enshrinement is a way of satisfying a restless and potentially angry spirit, giving that spirit recognition and helping it find peace. A particularly A-list, famous case of this is the enshrinement of the court noble Sugawara no Michizane, who died in exile in Kyushu and whose angry spirit was believed to be causing natural disasters and the illness of high government officials in Kyoto. His spirit was pacified by enshrining him as a kami, and thus, he became the kami of literature, worshipped to the present as the deity Tenjin-sama.
The jorogumo of Kashikobuchi had shown some praise-- or perhaps amusement, or both-- to the clever fisherman on the riverbank. So the locals erected monuments venerating this jorogumo of Kashikobuchi as a guardian, invoking her power as a benevolent force to protect people who worked on or around the river.
And from what I can tell, nobody else ran afoul of the jorogumo since.
She appears to have had a sense of honor about these things.
To this day, the most famous monument praying to the jorogumo of Kashikobuchi for safety on the water stands just above the Hirose riverbank, astride the south side of Miyagi Prefectural Route 31. This is only a few minutes' walk up the street from the national treasure Osaki Hachiman Shrine. But when I think about that part of town, and what's in the area, I can't help but smile knowingly at how time has proven the jorogumo right.
There are a lot of colleges in the area.
Tohoku Fukushi University is just north a short distance; immediately south across the river is Sendai Akamon College. To the east, on the other side of Kawauchi, in the footprint of the former Second Infantry Division headquarters-- which became the US Army's Camp Sendai for a time-- and today is Tohoku University's Kawauchi Campus. These are just a few of the locations that feature lots and lots of humans learning and teaching others, a short distance from where the jorogumo praised the hapless fisherman for his cleverness.
I dunno about you, but I'd say that that's pretty clever indeed.
- "Hirosegawa Profile." On Hirosegawa Homepage, Archived at https://www.hirosegawa-net.com/?page_id=2604 Accessed 16 September 2021.
- "Kashikobuchi." JR Higashi-nihon Ekinetto. “賢淵”. JR東日本 えきねっと Archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20081007091224/http://tabidoki.jrnets.co.jp/e07/spot/17326.html Accessed 16 September 2021.
- "Onryō." Yokai.com https://yokai.com/onryou/ Accessed 9 Sept. 2021
- "US Army in Japan, 1945-" https://www.usarj.army.mil/Portals/33/about/history/major_units_and_installations_201806.pdf Accessed 20 March 2021.