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The Dark Side of Japan: Ancient Black Magic, Folklore, Ritual

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The Dark Side of Japan is a collection of folk tales, black magic, protection spells, monsters and other dark interpretations of life and death from Japanese folklore. Much of the information comes from ancient documents, translated into English here for the first time. Antony Cummins has also searched the now forgotten Victorian volumes on Japanese mythology and explains recent academic research on Japan for the non-expert. Antony has transformed the complex information into a modern rendering, with stories and details that let a modern reader enter into the world of the forgotten legends of old Japan and the superstitions that colour them, some of which still exist today. The Dark Side of Japan is profusely illustrated, with drawings showcasing the ‘hellish’ concepts within. And remarkably hellish they are, too. Consider the kappa: ‘goblin-like creatures that have the body of a child, the face of a tiger adorned with a beak and the shell of a turtle. They drag people into rivers and ponds and drown them. If a woman gives birth to a kappa baby after being raped, the baby is hacked to death.’
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Samurai and Ninja

Book of Samurai

Book of Ninja

Iga and Koka Ninja Skills

Secret Traditions of the Shinobi

True Path of the Ninja

Samurai War Stories

In Search of the Ninja

The Lost Samurai School

First published 2017

Amberley Publishing

The Hill, Stroud

Gloucestershire, GL5 4EP

Copyright © Antony Cummins, 2017

The right of Antony Cummins to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

ISBN 9781445663029 (PAPERBACK)

ISBN 9781445663036 (eBOOK)

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the Publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Typesetting and Origination by Amberley Publishing

Printed in the UK.

Western civilisation has invaded all this primitive peace with its webs of steel, with its ways of iron – the old gods are dying!

Lafcadio Hearn



Introduction: Welcome to Hell

1 - Beasts, Animals and Creatures

2 - The Dead and Human Sacrifice

3 - Hags, Vampires, Ghouls and Ghosts

4 - Spiritual Days in the Japanese Calendar

5 - Basic Japanese Magic

6 - Castles, Fortifications and Architecture

7 - Self-Protection in Japanese Magic

8 - Ancient Japanese Charms and Talismans

9 - Samurai and their Weapons of Death

10 - Dealing with the Dead

11 - Ill Omens and the Chi of Death

12 - Dark Curiosities and Superstitions of Ancient Japan

13 - Legends from Tono

14 - Games and Ghost Stories

15 - Superstitions in Modern Japan

Conclusion: Putting the Magic Back in Japan

Select Bibliography

About the Author & Illustrator


Most translations are by Yo; shie Minami and she must be thanked for her continued support and guidance; also Mieko Koizumi, who worked on translating the spells from the Zoho Majinai Chohoki Daizen document. I am grateful to Gabriel Rossa for his help with the esoteric and to Jackie Sheffield for her help with the first run-through of the text. Finally, a big thank you to David Osborne for his superb illustrations.



The Japanese – who are they? Or rather, who are they to those in the West? The masters of paper folding and car production, faceless salarymen, computer nerds and tourists machine-gunning the world with their cameras? For the generations before the war and Japan’s subsequent climb to economic success, the Japanese were a mysterious people; they inhabited mountains hidden by deep mists. They were a people of esoteric teachings, some aficionados of ancient ceremonies, others masters of warfare, clad in their strange armour and steeped in bloodthirsty ways. Their image was rooted firmly in the medieval and was more or less created by the Victorians. This culture, isolated from the Industrial Revolution, represented a richness that we had lost through the progress of technology. Indeed, Japan is surely unique in having once rejected a key instrument of modern technology, having given up the gun and reverted to the sword in the seventeenth century. Bearing in mind that Japan probably had more guns than any other country in the world at this time, to eliminate them almost entirely was an extraordinary achievement by the nation’s samurai class. But we intruded on Japan as a hidden enemy, threatening to destroy its culture. While Japan is still a cultural goldmine, it has been stripped by tourism and trade with the West and is starting to look played out.

At first Japan seems to be alive with tradition, but after years of living among the Japanese I can see the cracks beginning to show. Japan sells out its own past, and the corporate types will flog anything ‘Japanese’ while we Westerners lap up the deception. In truth, when you work your way into Japanese society, it becomes clear that most Japanese have almost no idea what Japan was before the arrival of the West, in the same way as we only have a vague and media-defined understanding of our own medieval traditions. To find true beauty and culture in Japan you have to seek out real masters and faithful artisans who have a firm grasp on their particular tradition and art. It is these people who hold the threads of the old ways in their hands, but generation by generation these threads are being let loose. My aim here, if possible, is to refresh the mystery. I am searching for new avenues to rediscover the phenomenal attraction the world felt for Japan. In this volume I want to take you along the river of Hell, through cities of the damned and into the heart of all that is dark in Japanese folklore. Here I hope you will find a reminder of that distant, terrifying and beautiful land.

Pulling out the Pages

Imagine me deep in a vast castle archive or in a Japanese monastery, tearing the pages from ancient manuscripts, whispering dark spells and bringing forth images of Hell, making deals with demons and pacts with the Devil during my research. Well, no, that’s not actually what happened; it was something less dramatic. Normally, I am a part of a small team that searches out and discovers ancient ninja and samurai manuals and we bring these to an English-speaking audience. At times I find myself waiting on my two trusted translators, as their part in our work takes considerably longer than mine. Thus, with time and energy to spare I began to probe for an independent project I could work on that would not create too much work for my translators. It was at this point I began to re-read some of Lafcadio Hearn’s work on the supernatural. Hearn (1850–1904), who is known in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo, was of Irish-Greek descent and spent much time in Japan. He became famous for collecting Japanese folklore and ghost stories. Reading through his work I was impressed again by the immense amount of information he had collected, but at the same time I found myself trying to bypass his Victorian travel writing. His descriptive approach is totally understandable for his day, but now there is no need for page upon page of description or commentary about the Japanese people; we can get it all on Google.

So the idea came to me. I could rediscover all those who in the Victorian era and slightly beyond recorded Japanese folklore and myths, and then preserve the ‘essence’ while peeling off the Victorian redundancies. This led me on a library hunt to discover writers who from the end of the nineteenth century up until the 1950s had spent their time recording the legends of the East. A record of Japanese beliefs began to emerge, which I began to arrange for a modern audience. This has led to many parts being stripped down and overly complex cultural undercurrents being removed. During this marshalling of the material came the natural development of three categories: the hellish, the heavenly and the downright curious. This volume will concentrate on all the maleficent elements of Japanese folklore.

The old John Rylands Library on Deansgate in Manchester, the special collections branch of the University of Manchester, where I collected much of the information for this book. (Courtesy of Michael D. Beckwith under Creative Commons)

I have kept the spelling, names and place names the same as in the original works. However, I have removed all diacritical marks.

Finally, it must be remembered that these stories and legends come from all over Japan and across centuries, and therefore what was known in one area may have been unknown in another, or what was thought at one time was rejected or forgotten later. So when venturing into the dark mists of Japanese folklore, you will not always have a firm grasp of time and location.

Mixing and Matching

One aspect of Japanese culture that is difficult for the Western mind to grasp is the ability to integrate. With no doctrine of monotheism and no banishment of other religions, Japan has been a relatively open place for religion and custom. Of course Japan had its times of religious persecution and conflict, but no single religion ever won out for long. This has resulted in Shinto ceremonies, Buddhist funerals, Christian weddings and shamanic rituals existing happily side by side. This eclectic mix does not faze the Japanese, and nor should it faze you. From an academic standpoint you could dissect the entire contents of this book and attribute sections to Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, Taoism, the magic of Onmyodo, and more. Why bother? This was not an issue for the people of historical Japan, nor is it an issue in Japan today. Two further points distinguish East from West. First, as Professor John Gray writes in his extraordinary and controversial book Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, ‘A feature of the idea of modernity is that the future of mankind is always taken to be secular … In China and Japan, where the Judeo-Christian and Islamic idea of religion has never been accepted, secularism is practically meaningless.’ Second, as author Roland Kelts points out concerning Japanese culture both today and in history:

You only have to look to the Japanese language for insight. Common words such as ganbaru (to slog on tenaciously through tough times), gaman (enduring with patience, dignity and respect) and jishuku (restraining yourself according to other’s needs) convey a culture rooted in pragmatism and perseverance. (New Statesman, March 2015)

Chinese Connections

A question that is almost impossible to answer is, ‘Just what is Japanese?’ Japan and things Japanese are familiar to us all, but in truth those Japanese elements are in many cases imported. India, China and Korea have all had some influence on Japan in the past, and much of Japanese culture found its way to the islands through Chinese connections. This means that when studying Japanese systems and ways you can almost always see some hint of China in the shadow, some echo of the Asian mainland. With this in mind, do not become confused when China keeps popping up like a dragon from the ocean, and understand that many of the elements in this book can also be found in Chinese folklore.



The line between that which is supernatural and that which is imbued with supernatural powers is thin in Japan, but it can still be drawn. This first chapter will take you into the wilderness and investigate the native creatures of Japan and the hellish reputation they have for supernatural powers and acts of mischief.

Foxes, Raccoons, Badgers and Dogs

Racoons and foxes are considered to have magical powers in Japan. It is considered in ancient folklore that these creatures can morph into human shape or hide as objects, goblins or other animals and that when they reach 1,000 years old they turn gold or white and sport nine tails. An ancient Japanese saying tells us of the powers of transmutation that these creatures had:


(Foxes can mutate in seven ways, while raccoons can mutate in eight)

Foxes were so powerful in the Japanese imagination that it is believed one ruler of Japan, Lord Hideyoshi, wrote a letter to the god of foxes asking the fox-king to stop one of his servants from possessing one of Hideoyshi’s servants and respectfully warning that if the god of foxes did not cooperate then Hideyoshi would kill every fox in the land.

These creatures are also seen as tricky spirits who can possess you. Some Japanese witches (for want of a better term) would try to gain control over a fox to attach themselves to it, using it as a familiar. To gain a firm hold over a fox-spirit you should do the following:

1. Find a pregnant vixen.

2. Tame the vixen.

3. Once tame, help her as she gives birth to the fox cubs.

4. The vixen will then ask you to name one of her cubs.

5. Once named, the cub is bound to you and will carry out your demands as a familiar.

Possession by fox is called kitsune-tsuki, while possession by dog is called inu-tsuki or inu-gami-mouchi. In the Oki Islands, dog possession was more common than fox possession. This was once a very real issue to the Japanese, and those accused of possession by a dog or fox in Japan could be exiled from their villages and their families could be ruined. Foxes that possess a woman curse the family, for once a family had a fox reputation then its members were not allowed to marry into other families that did not have the same affliction. There appears to have been genuine persecution of those thought to be the victim of fox possession. It was also known as ‘fox-ownership’, and there was a set of regulations controlling the interaction of families who had such fox-ownership.

A trick for avoiding demon foxes: if you are walking down a road at night and there is a ‘man’ sitting on the corner with a long snout, with a scarf over his head who may be dressed as a priest and is beating out a rhythm on his belly or scrotum – but yet appears to not be in pain – do not approach him because he is a fox or racoon spirit. There is even a ‘dance of the fox’, called kistune odori.

It is said that the spirit of a fox could pass on from female to female in each human generation, and these females came to be known as witches and their families were harassed. As late as 1922 there were reports of Japanese witches (including males) using the spirits of foxes to possess people to do them harm or even to kill.

One story of a badger: a badger of ill intent stole the food of a man who, upon seeing that it had been stolen by the creature, captured the badger and tied it up to his roof beams. While the wife was preparing food and the man was out in the woods, the badger took the voice of a human and spoke to the woman, saying that he would make amends by helping her to prepare the food. Untying the creature was her last mistake; it killed her and took over the food preparation, chopping her into the meal. The badger now transformed itself into the image of the wife, and when the man returned home the ‘wife’ fed him this grisly meal.

One tale talks of flying dogs: a pupil named Shujushi saw two dogs magically leap over a great ravine and so went to find his master, Genshin. They both crossed to the other side and found a plant there, which they dug up. It had roots shaped like dogs, so the two boiled the roots and made a magic powder out of them that gave them both the power to fly.


The Tenshin Katori Shinto Ryu sword school of Japan has bushcraft from the fifteenth century that involves wolves: when in the woods and confronted by wolves you should hold a stick above your head, vertical and high. A wolf will not attack anything that it cannot jump over, thus hold the stick high and the wolf will not attack.

A story that has been passed down describes wolves who once put out a fire that woodsmen left alight within the forest. The wolf pack ran down to the river, submerged themselves and then went back to the fire and dowsed the flames.


The hare (remember it is not a rabbit) is associated with the moon in Japan, and it is said that they can live for an extremely long time. Between the ages of 500 and 1,000, a hare will turn pure white. Hares are generally good creatures, and one even helped to kill the evil badger in the story above; he did this by disguising himself and tricking the creature who had just fed the man his own wife. The hare is known to live on the moon, pounding away on a pestle and mortar, making the elixir of life. The hare is also a main character in the stories of the White Hare of Inaba and Kadzutoyo and the Badger.


It is said that when Buddha died only the venomous serpent and the cat did not weep, and therefore the cat was once seen as malignant. A cat is said to be full of witchcraft and capable of changing into a woman, be it an old crone or a seductive singing girl who will put you under a spell. On the other hand, Japanese sailors prize cats for their ability to keep the spirits of the deep at bay; a cat of three colours is deemed best. A sailor feels that anyone who has drowned at sea is restless, and the white crests of waves on the shore are the hands of the dead, clawing up the beach; the cat is thought to control them.

The ‘vampire cat’ is one such story about the evil will of the feline. Once there was a prince of Hizen who had a lover called O-toyo, whom he adored. One night O-toyo awoke to a giant cat in her room, which seized her and strangled her. It then hid the body and transformed into the guise of O-toyo herself. The prince, not seeing through the disguise, loved her as much as ever. However, little by little his health began to fail and eventually his officers saw the need for vigilance.

Some 100 faithful samurai were stationed in his room to guard over him at night, but each night they all fell asleep and his state worsened. Night after night they could not remain awake, and no one knew the reason why. Ruiten, a priest, was called but again to no avail. One night, while the priest was getting ready for the night vigil, he saw a samurai washing himself and praying to Buddha. This samurai was Ito Soda, and he was too low in rank to talk directly to the lord but wished to serve as best he could. The next day it was decided that the young Ito Soda could remain with the lord and his 100 samurai at arms. Sleep came over the company, but Ito Soda had placed oiled paper down on the floor and stabbed himself in the leg whenever he felt sleep coming, twisting the knife to keep him awake. After a while the door opened, and in came the cat disguised as O-toyo. She smiled to see everyone asleep, but spotted the conscious Ito Soda and faked concern for the prince. The next morning the lord felt revived, and the next night the same happened again. Ito Soda could fight the magic of the cat. He told people of his experience, and they believed him as the prince was acquiring power and health again. So, under the pretext of being a messenger, he knocked on the fake O-toyo’s door and she answered. The samurai said to her, ‘Read the message.’ As she did so he lunged with his dagger, but she fended him off and reached for a halberd and met him in combat. The woman-cat, being outmatched by the samurai and the eight knights waiting for her outside, turned back into a cat and escaped. She ran into the mountains, where the prince led a hunting party and killed her.

The following is another tale, this one of a mountain cat spirit. One day a young samurai knight took shelter in a temple, where he intended to spend the night. Just before midnight there came to him the illusion of a dancing and shrieking troop of cats, who cried out, ‘Tell it not to Shippeitara’, at which point the cats faded away. The next day the samurai enquired in the village and found out that Shippeitara was a great dog belonging to a vassal of the prince. He also discovered that one of the young maidens of the village was to be sent in a cage to a mountain spirit to be used as a human sacrifice. The samurai took it upon himself to free the maiden – in classic chivalric form – and secured the use of the great dog Shippeitara. The samurai placed the dog in the cage instead of the maiden and travelled to the mountains. The men who had helped get the cage with the dog to the appointed place ran away, and only the bold samurai remained. At the appointed time came the troop of cats as expected, but this time they were accompanied by a giant tomcat who was the incarnation of the evil mountain spirit. The knight waited for his moment, and as the great cat was laughing in anticipation of devouring another maiden the samurai opened the cage and the powerful dog attacked the feline leader, taking it in his jaws and giving the samurai time to kill the evil creature. The dog then made short work of the other cats, and the village was jubilant at the success of the adventure.

It was considered by some extremely terrible to kill a cat, as they were magical creatures; to kill one would bring bad luck for seven generations. To prevent this seven-generation curse, certain measures could be taken.

In Okinawa they would hang the dead body of the cat from a tree or bury the cat at a crossroads where three or four roads intersect. On the Ryukyu island chain (an arc from Kyushu to Taiwan including Okinawa), if you kill a cat with a car, the car will be haunted by the cat’s dead spirit. To counter this, bury the cat at the edge of the town with cooked rice, bean paste and salt. On the same islands, cats are sometimes eaten for medicinal purposes.

In Akita, if a cat or dog dies you should spit on it three times and walk around the corpse three times to dispel the bad luck; if you do not do this, the spirit of the animal will haunt you. Alternatively, you can leave the corpse in a bamboo forest.

If someone is born in a year of the Snake, a cat will not stay with them.

If a black cat crosses your path, move backwards sixteen steps, or you will be cursed.

If you leave a cat with a dead body, the body will dance.


An old shamanic tradition states that if a pigeon enters your house and flies to the east on leaving, all is well – it may even mean you are about to go on a journey overseas. If it flies to the west and then lands in a graveyard, someone will die.


An ancient shinobi poem tells us of crows (all 100 poems can be found in Secret Traditions of the Shinobi):

かど出にからすの声のきこゆるは はんなるぞよきちやうはつつしめ

(When you leave home, if you hear a crow call an odd number of calls, it is lucky [for your mission]. Thus, an even number suggests that you should be careful)

Additionally, unmarried girls should avoid eye contact with crows.


A fluttering butterfly, meandering its way into a room between the paper-lined sliding doors could, according to tradition and to Hearn, be inhabited by a soul from the realm of the dead. These beauties could be harbingers of death; it is said that when the rebel samurai Taira no Masakado was about to revolt a host of butterflies flew into the streets of Kyoto, where it was taken as an indication of the numbers who were about to die. Tradition holds that the soul of a person can become, or enter, the butterfly before death. The soul of a dying person may occupy or form the shape of a butterfly to declare its intention to leave the land of the living. More positively, if a butterfly lands within the guest room of the house, the person that you most love will be arriving shortly. The butterfly can also identify the position of an enemy so that vengeance may be achieved.


Like the butterfly above, the mosquito has connections with those who have passed to the other side. These tiny creatures can be the reincarnation of a human, brought back to the world as a tiny pest, sentenced to drink blood due to transgressions in a previous life; people so afflicted are known as jiki ketsu gaki, which is a form of blood-drinking creature.


In Taisu in old China there was a man who worshipped a goddess, day in and day out. One day while at worship a woman in a yellow robe came to him and said she was the goddess he was so devoted to. She rewarded him for his service by letting him understand the language of ants. From her golden robe she pulled out a box which contained an ointment. The goddess dabbed this ointment on his ears and told him to find some ants and stoop down to them and listen. He began to venture off but came across some ants before he had even left the threshold of his house. Bending down, he listened to them. At once he heard them talking and their conversation was of treasure. One ant said to another, ‘Let us move on from this cold and damp place as the buried treasure here will not let the sun heat the soil.’ Hearing this, the man got a spade and found jars of treasure, making him rich – but never again did he hear the language of ants.

Even up until relatively modern times, hotels would put up signs which demanded that ants should pay a fee for using a room. Because ants do not like to open their wallets, they see the sign and do not enter the hotel.


At Todaiji temple, it is said that wasps are meant to issue forth from the mouth of a statue at times of war.


Japanese dragons are essentially from China, but one difference is that a Japanese dragon normally has three claws while the Chinese counterpart has five. Dragons are associated with water, seas, lakes and rivers, being more connected with water than with fire. However, the dragon can sometimes breathe fire or even rain, and has the ability to ascend into heaven or turn invisible. There is a legend that tells of a dragon from Yamashiro that would transform into a howling white bird called O-goncho every fifty years. When the bird came, so did great famine.


In Japan the dove can be seen as a messenger of war, having saved the life of the shogun Yorimoto. Also, a bird called Hototogisu is said to be able to travel in the land of the dead.



The afterlife in Japan is based on a mixture of religions including native Shinto and Buddhism. The Japanese see the dead as not moving away but instead taking up the role of kami – minor deities who stay within the area and even become involved in the lives of humans.

The very ancient Japanese, upon finding a dead relative in the house, would abandon the house and live elsewhere. They would leave the body of the relative where it lay and offer up food and drink, light a fire outside the house and perform music and dance and hold rituals for a period of eight to fourteen days. After this they would bury the body and allow the house to become a shrine. Alternatively, a small mock house was built for the recently deceased to live in.

There is also a very old and horrific custom for the dead; this is the hitogaki, or ‘human hedge’, and involves human sacrifice. They would bury alive a number of humans in a circle around the burial place of one who has died (who was of course higher-ranking). These sacrifices were buried upright with only their heads left exposed, where they would cry and lament for the recently dead, and after a time they would die as animals would eat at their faces and heads. Allegedly, this practice was stopped around 2,000 years ago by the Emperor Suinin. However, it appears to have continued until the sixth century, when the Emperor Kotoku again forbids self-strangulation, the strangulation of others, the stabbing of thighs and voluntary suicide at the graves of the recently dead. It has been postulated that this rite never died out and that it simply changed to the act of seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment by sword, known in the west as hari-kari (spelt correctly hari-kiri). This version of seppuku was known as junshi, which is to follow the lord to the afterlife in service and was not a punishment but an honour.

An older form of human sacrifice is talked about by Hadland-Davies. If the image of a bow appeared above a house, it meant that the eldest daughter was to be sacrificed by being buried alive so that the wild beasts had something to devour; this would promote good hunting.

Another tale of human sacrifice comes from a castle in Matsue, where it is said a nameless girl who loved dancing was killed and put beneath the walls to placate the old gods. If any woman or child dances in the street then the castle shakes with her rage.

One custom for burying the dead was to hang a sanyabukkero purse around the neck of the dead with three copper coins in it (three rin) so that they could pay to cross the River of Three Roads, which is known as Sanzu no Kawa. In Izumo, the price was six rin and the river was called Rokudokawa – the River of Six Roads. The parallels with the River Styx are unmistakable (and it should be remembered that ‘Styx’ translates as hate or detestation – no Christian paradise here).

The Death Tablet

This is a lacquered death tablet, a small wooden slat that has a base and stands vertically. It has the posthumous death name of the dead upon it so that the family can remember their departed, sometimes as a minor god. It has to be remembered that to the Japanese a dead relative becomes an ancestor ghost/god who needs to be nourished with food. The dead take the invisible essence of the food and become involved with family dealings, haunting the death tablets and generally staying around the family to protect and disturb the realm of the living. In short, the dead do not fade away as in Western tradition; they become powerful, controlling human affairs and nature, and therefore need to be placated.

Various Japanese death tablets.

Hair for the Dead

The hairstyle for a woman who has died and is being prepared for her funeral is called tabanegami, which must also be worn by women who are in a period of mourning. However, ghosts are mainly shown with their hair loose and flowing. Hearn states that in Japanese culture a woman’s hair is her most prized asset and to give it up is extremely difficult. A samurai who did not wish to kill his wife after she had transgressed in some way could cut off her hair and throw her out; equally, if a samurai died and his widow pledged to never see another man she would cut off all of her hair and place it in the coffin on his knees, never to let it grow again. However, most would take just one lock of hair, placing it with the dead as a token of respect.



Japan has more than its fair share of weird and malignant creatures. This section will give a short introduction to some of the basic kinds, plus their powers and skills and the evils they commit. The subject is so vast that this introduction must not be seen as comprehensive. One word that will always crop up when looking at these creatures is yokai, a generic term to mean ‘monsters’. However, while yokai is becoming more and more familiar as a term, it has not always been a catch-all description. In medieval Japan, the term bakemono referred to numerous creatures although it specifically means ‘changeling’, something which transforms its shape (and is solid). The more childish or adolescent version of this is obake, used in children’s conversation, but if you really wish to impress you can use the more academic term kaii gensho. Whichever terms you use, you should remember that Japan was once a collection of disparate areas, sometimes lacking fixed boundaries and a unified vocabulary. Ideas and stories were not consistent, changing from place to place and from time to time.


In short, there are two types of ghosts. The first is shi-ryo, which is the spirit of someone who is dead. These only haunt at night. The second is iki-ryo, which is the spirit of a living person. The Japanese believed that if someone was angry enough their spirit, without them knowing it, could leave the body and attack their enemy in broad daylight. This second version is more fearful than the first as it wishes to kill. The most famous version of this is Lady Rokujo in the epic tale Genji Monogatari.

A rule of thumb for Japanese ghosts: bakemono implies a solid creature, while yurei implies an ethereal creature.

Tama or Tamashi are said to be ghosts in the form of pearl-like orbs, which could be considered as souls. They leave the body upon death and move to the next stage of existence.

‘Yoshitsune attacked by Taira spirits’ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853. The general defeated the Taira clan in the late 12th century. (Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)


Kappa are small, goblin-like creatures that have the body of a child, the face of a tiger (adorned with a beak) and the shell of a turtle and/or the scales of a fish. They dwell in rivers and ponds and wait for people to pass by so that they can drag them in and drown them. Interestingly, the kappa also kills humans by removing a fictional organ from the body via the anus. On the top of a kappa’s head you will find an indent which is filled with water. It is said that if this dries up or empties then the kappa will become powerless.

In the legends of Tono (discussed later), if a woman gives birth to a kappa baby after being raped, or if a kappa baby is born generations after the original copulation, then the baby is to be taken outside and hacked to death.


The tengu, ‘heavenly-dogs’, are considered to be long-nosed goblins or demi-demons; they can also come in a form known as karasu-tengu that is half man and half crow. They are said to dwell in the mountains and are mischievous and sometimes evil. It is claimed that they teach martial arts and endow warriors with mystical powers. At times, tengu will even kidnap children. Their leader is Dai-tengu, the Great Goblin, who rules above them holding a seven-feathered fan. It is thought that tengu broke the laws of the Buddha and therefore belong neither to heaven nor to hell. Lane, in his early twentieth-century book on legends, tells us that the famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi killed a tengu, which is no mean feat as tengu are considered expert swordsmen.

One story of a tengu is as follows. Some boys were tormenting a bird and an old man passed by and saved the bird from dying. As he went on his way a mountain hermit came to him and thanked him, declaring that he was the bird he had saved. The traveller knew that instant that he was talking to a tengu. The tengu offered him supernatural powers in reward but the man said he had no need of them and his only wish was to see the original Buddha giving a sermon. The tengu said he could transport him through time and space and show him such a thing, but that the man must say nothing and remain silent at all times. The man agreed, and the tengu took him to Vulture Mountain back in the time of the Buddha. There he saw hosts of spirits and demons and holy men listing to the Buddha. Unable to control himself, he cried out in reverence and that instant was transported back to his original position and to face a very angry tengu, who had his wings broken as punishment. The tengu scolded the man and was never seen again.

Sometimes tengu steal people and return them in a demented state; this is referred to as tengu-kakushi, or being ‘hidden by a Tengu’. One example of this is Kiuchi, a samurai who went missing; his fellows came upon his equipment strewn around and in the end found him on a temple roof, at which point he told his story. He said that he had met with a black-robed monk and a larger man with a red face. They had told him that he must climb onto the temple roof, and when he refused they broke his sword and scabbard and carried him to the roof. There they made him sit on a tray, and through magic they made the tray float; it took him through the skies to many regions across the land. After ten days of this, Kiuchi prayed to Buddha. The tray then landed on a mountain, but the mountain turned into the roof of the temple where he had begun.

Demons and Devils

Demons are known as oni in Japanese and devils are akuma. However the translation of these terms is not always straightforward. The horned oni is more of an ogre for a Western mind: large, lumbering at times, normally of a strange skin colour and armed with a massive club. Normally oni patrol hell and do evil – as you would expect of a demon – but some oni are known to cut off their horns and try to become monks, as the horn of an oni is its weakness and power. These good demons study under a human master to find enlightenment. In the main, though, oni are evil and work in hell. Some small oni may be found tickling a monk’s head, trying to disturb him from his meditation. There is even an island of oni called Onigashima.


These creatures live near the coast and are monkey-like in appearance. They have red hair which can grow long on their heads and they are said to party hard on the seashore and get very drunk. (Surely one of the earliest examples of discrimination against redheads.) If you capture one you can make a great dye from its hair, so fishermen try to capture them to make a profit.


Goryo, sometimes goryi-shin, are the malevolent spirits of once noble humans who died in political intrigue. They create epidemics, disasters and even wars. Their infamy and the fear they produced was so vast that even the emperor of Japan used to lead ceremonies to appease them, the first such ceremony taking place in Kyoto in 863. Later on in Japanese history, a goryo could be made from the soul of a lower-class person; they simply had to ardently will themselves to become this destructive god on their deathbed. In fact, it is thought in Japanese culture that even a lifetime of positivity can be washed away by a negative mindset in a person when they are about to die. Nembutsu, which is the recitation of the name of Buddha, is said to drive them away or to quell their power.

A point of interest is that nembutsu ascetics would go to extreme levels to prove their willpower and devotion. It is said that they would flay the skin from their palms and the sides of their feet or hold their hands in fire, even amputating their own fingers and toes to test their willpower. However, most extreme of all was their practice of public suicide. They would announce their intention to either hang, drown or burn themselves. Crowds would then gather to watch, and reports even came of beautiful music or coloured clouds appearing as enlightened ones came to take the now dead devotee to paradise. While this may not be the best afternoon pastime, if you had a goryo devil after you then these nembutsu practitioners were the guys you needed to help you out.

Another element of nembutsu was the nembutsu odori – the nembutsu dance. Practitioners would dance in a large circle around an altar, banging on drums and playing musical instruments, all to rid the area of goryo spirits. Interestingly, it has been theorised that the modern bon-odori dance for the dead – the now famous festival in which people dance around a village platform – is based on this ancient magical practice.


Yuki-onna, or ‘the lady of the snow’, is a beautiful ‘vampiric’ female who has pure white skin, raven-black hair and blood-red lips. She is thought of as a snowstorm incarnate and is noted for her evil doings, trapping travellers in the snow, blowing down doors, tricking parents to their deaths as they search for lost children and killing with her icy breath. In one tale she falls in love and marries, although with sad consequences.

The area of Tono also has a ‘snow woman’; however, the translator, Morse, did not include the original Japanese ideograms in his work and so it is unknown if this is the same figure. Perhaps one of the saddest, if not the most fearful of the many stories of the Yuki-onna describes her holding a child in a blizzard. She asks passers-by to hug the child. If one does, the child becomes heavier and heavier and the Good Samaritan, covered by the snow, freezes to death. (See Ubume, page 39.)


In Japanese folklore, it is thought that a woman’s hair can quite literally turn into snakes. There are men who see a woman’s reflection in a mirror and observe that the hair in the reflection is full of snakes. Moreover, there are tales of men who see the hair of their otherwise friendly wives and concubines turn into snakes that try to bite the lady opposite, their reflections showing their true feelings towards one another.


It is believed that when an object reaches 100 years old it has the ability to become animated. These animated objects are iconic in Japanese culture: kettle stands with arms and legs, teapots running around the house, and so on. The name is believed to be a play on words, as it implies and sounds like the number ninety-nine (that is, next year it will animate itself). The last word is gami, or hair, in this case grey and old. Keep an eye on those antique books on your shelves!


This is a being that has the power to call forth the storms and the wind and rain to petrify crops and grasses and to build castles from dust.

Kazane no Enkon

This unfortunate woman was killed by her husband with a farming sickle and turned into a vengeful spirit. She is often portrayed with a round face and one eye closed while the other is open. The closed eye has come to represent the moon, the open eye the sun.


This mysterious hag waits on the side of the road with a baby in her arms. She asks passers-by to take the baby for a moment while she attends to some need or other. The kind-hearted soul who helps her is left with the baby in arms. Little by little the baby gets heavier and heavier until the person is pulled to the floor, the duress too much; when they look to see that the infant is alright they discover it has turned into a boulder.


This is said to be a small creature that falls from the sky when there is a lightning storm. It is like a cat or a monkey, and if you take the bark of a tree which it has scratched, then the bark can ease toothache.


The mother of demons is a hag who in life continually involved herself in cannibalism, eating many children. In some versions of the story, the original Buddha gave her a pomegranate to eat as it was close to the texture of human flesh. The end of her tale differs depending on which version you read. In one form she is sent to hell to give birth to many children to replace the ones she devoured – apparently 500 children in total. The other version states that she is sent to hell to become the mother of demons, giving birth to demon after demon to repay her debt. In most stories, however, she become enlightened and joins Buddha.


This ‘beautiful’ hag is extra-special in her grotesque appearance. Seated on a chestnut horse, she has three eyes and elongated teeth that are 4 inches long. Blue in colour, she wears the flayed skin of dead men and her horse’s girdle is made of snakes. She trots along on human bones, drinking human blood from a skull.

Mikoshi Nyudo

If you are getting changed behind a screen, then be careful when you look upwards! The mikoshi nyudo is a creature that has a bald head and a lolling tongue. It looks over Japanese screens at people getting changed, scaring them.


This is a creature that has the power to take off its head and have the head move around on its own, normally for evil intent.


Similar to the above is the rokurokubi, a creature of the same ilk that, instead of detaching its head, extends its neck great lengths.

Ashinaga and Tenaga

Ashinaga have long legs while tenaga have long arms. They share a connection to fishing.

Human Heads on Mythical Creatures

The following examples are strange incarnations of human faces and heads on mythical creatures.

Shokuin A red dragon said to be 100 ri (almost 250 miles) long with a horned human face; its breath produces storms.

Shinriku A tiger that has a human head. However, this human head has eight smaller human heads on its crown.

Soriushi A snake with nine human heads.

Sahoku no Shinjin A large dog with a human head.

Hotai A monkey with a human head.

Teishin A fish with a human head.

Takujiu A creature with six horns, two on its human head and four on its back. It has a bearded face, hairy legs, an ox tail and three eyes on each flank.

Umi bozu This is a tortoise with a human head.



A major part of medieval Japanese life was the yearly calendar, comprised as it was of festivals, rituals and special days. Included in these are some of the darker aspects of magical times, such as days which are connected with the afterlife or have ominous meanings. It is beneficial to understand that Japan based its calendar on a Chinese system that drew from both the solar cycle and the lunar month. For ease, all dates or days are shown in lunar months as this is the best English translation; however, that being said, there was a complex system to line up both the solar and lunar calendars. Remember the first month is not January. To understand when the first month is, simply look up the date of the Chinese New Year for the year in which you read this.

Obon: The Festival of the Dead

This traditionally occurs on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is full, which means that the date changes each year in modern terms. (More recently, however, since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the date has moved to the fifteenth of either July or August depending on the region of Japan.) It is believed that the dead walk among the living during this short period of time, and Japanese people celebrate with a traditional dance called bon-odori. They light the outsides of their homes and float small lanterns on rivers to help guide the dead back to the spirit realm. The term hotoke-umi is used in connection with this and means ‘tide of the returning ghosts’. If a real ship is caught in the middle of the river lanterns, then the ghosts call out for buckets from the sailors, but the sailors only give them bottomless buckets so that they cannot use them to sink the ship.

Hearn states that one possible origin story for this dance of the dead was that when a man gained the Six Supernatural Powers of Buddhism, one of them gave him the ability to see his mother in the afterlife; seeing her hungry, he left food for her dead spirit. However, when she picked up the food it turned to hot coals and burnt her mouth and fingers. He sought advice and was told that on a specific day he should leave food for all the dead priests of all the world and not just his mother. Following the instructions, he gave food for all the dead and they ate it with glee. His mother, being so happy, ‘danced for joy’.

The dead are sometimes said to inhabit mountain areas, and in some parts of Japan it was the custom during this festival to hike to a mountaintop and use fires to attract their attention. Once you had the attention of the dead, you would lead them down the mountainside and into your house. It has been recorded in Japanese tales that a wife may prostrate herself at the doorway to welcome the dead and ask forgiveness for the lack of bounty or the poor quality of the home, regardless of how much there actually was to eat and drink.

When the festival is over, small lanterns bearing the family name are paraded to a nearby river and set afloat, allowing the dead to follow their family names to the afterlife with ease.

To make a floating lamp, choose wood that floats and cut a square 10 inches by 10 inches and at the corners put four 10-inch-long stanchion-posts which are connected at the top by slats of wood. Next, drive a nail upwards from underneath so that a candle can be attached. The sides should be filled in with coloured paper, these colours representing the five elements: side 1, red; side 2, blue; side 3, yellow; side 4, the right side of the paper, black; side 4, the left side of the paper, white.

Alternatively there are shoryobune, which are straw Chinese boats in the style of junks. These are up to 4 feet long and have the names of the dead written on white cloth sails. On the mini deck is a cup of water and incense for the dead. Banners painted with a swastika are tied to the rigging.

Boichi is the market of the dead; this was a market set up just before obon to sell things concerning the dead and things that would be needed for the festival. This market would continue up to the dance of the dead itself.

At obon people are not allowed to eat fish for the period of the festival. Additionally, if both of your parents are alive then the first time you can eat fish again is on the sixteenth day of the seventh lunar month; if you have lost one parent then you have to wait until the seventeenth to start eating it again.

Hearn says that when geisha lose a ‘sister’ they set up mats and a table in a temple. With the death tablet of the girl before them, they play their instruments and perform for free.

Setsubun: The Bean-throwing Festival

Setsubun literally means ‘division of the seasons’, and the festival would traditionally happen as each season changed into the next. However, this festival has come to be practised once a year on the third of February. The aim is to dispel evil from your home and to invite luck into the household. It is common for a family member to dress as a demon by wearing a mask and for the rest of the family to throw roasted soya beans from inside the house to the ‘demon’ outside while chanting, ‘Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!’ (‘Demons leave – luck please enter.’)

Tangono Seku: The Feast of the Iris

On 5 May you should spread scented iris petals around your garden. This is done to scare away any demons or evil spirits.

Chishigo: The Tides and Times of Death

In ancient Japan there was a belief that you could predict when people were going to die, or at least understand the times at which people were more likely to move on to the next life. This method was constructed around the tides and the hours of the day. The Days of Death are as follows:

On days of the lunar months which end in 1st, 2nd, 9th, 10th, 20th or 30th, people will die in the hours of the Ox, the Dragon, the Ram and the Dog.

On days of the lunar month which end in 6th, 7th or 8th, people will die in the hours of the Tiger, the Snake, the Monkey and the Boar.

Surprisingly, this system appears to not cover the days where the number of the day ends in 3rd, 4th or 5th, this could either mean that it was believed that no one died in this period of time or that part of this system is lost to us. If the latter is the case it would mean that people would die on days ending in 3rd, 4th or 5th in the hours of the Horse, the Hare, the Cock and the Rat.

Unlucky Days

In ancient times in Japan there was the concept of fujōnichi, or unlucky days; it is on these days that you should not ask others anything as it is a negative time. The days and times are as follows and are based on the lunar calendar:

Date of the Month Duration

1st All day

4th At night

8th Daytime

18th At night

25th Daytime

29th At night

The Coming-of-Age Ritual

Coming of age, that is surviving puberty and moving to adulthood, is a ritual found in all cultures throughout history. In Japan this can be divided into two basic forms: the upper-class ritual of ui koboshi or kakan, which involves a special form of headdress; and the lower-class ritual of gen buki or eboshi iwai, which is a copied form of the former, again utilising a headdress. The subject’s name will often be changed at this point, and women may dye their teeth and have facial tattoos or tattoos on the backs of their hands (this only occurs in some places and is rare). However, what we are interested in here is the darker side, and some of these rituals included a journey to a misty mountain where the youth was led through the mists by one of the infamous Yamabushi priests to return as a part of the adult community.

Ill-fated Years

Some years in Japan are considered positive while some are considered negative; in fact, according to Japanese tradition your age itself can have a positive or negative connotation. One old superstition is that a woman born in the combination year of hinoe and horse – which comes around every sixty years – will have a husband that will die young. Not an attractive pointer for any would-be suitors!



Japanese ‘magic’ is not really a single coherent art, and nor does it have identifiable boundaries. Varying across the land, it encompasses divination, exorcism, ritual magic, animal and human sacrifice, spirit worship and more.

In Japanese magic, there are eight elements that give power to the curses and spells that are cast:

1. Nailing or stabbing a spell into an object.

2. Imitating the action of shooting or cutting.

3. Burning.

4. Binding or wrapping.

5. Stepping on an object.

6. Tying.

7. Ceremoniously opening objects.

8. Using containers with no bottom, which represent the womb.

Words of Power

In Eastern and Japanese magic there are words of power, and each falls into one of three categories. They are used variously to provoke suffering, to provide protection and to help in difficult circumstances.

1 Words of Power with Meaning

The first category for words of power are those words with a meaning; that is, they are understood by the speaker. You are to use these words when you are in dire peril, for instance if you are lost at sea, in a fire or surrounded by bandits. Example words are:

Kanzeon A deity of mercy

Bosatsu An enlightened one

Fumombon A scripture to the deity Kanzeon Bosatsu

2 Words of Power without Meaning

The second category are words of power that were once Sanskrit but that have been changed over the years and have lost their original meaning. That is, they are no longer sound like their Sanskrit ancestor. These are said to have the power to relieve suffering when spoken out loud. Some words are:

Abira Uken Bazara dato ban

On amiritateizei karaun

Nama samman da basaranan

After saying these above three lines the caster should repeat the heart sutra below:

Gate gate paragate parasagate bodhi svaha (Sanskrit)

Gyate gyate haragyate haragyate bochi sowaka (Japanese)

3 The Names of Gods

The third and final category for words of power concerns the names of gods; these are used to give the speaker power or aid them in their quest. The names of the gods are spoken out loud and with force (to be repeated three times). The mantra is as follows:

Hagorosan Daigonden, Hagorosan Daigonden, Hagorosan Daigonden.

Gassan Daigonden, Gassan Daigonden, Gassan Daigonden.

Yudonosan Daigonden, Yudonosan Daigonden, Yudonosan Daigonden.

Arasawa emmei jizo daibutsu, Arasawa emmei jizo daibutsu, Arasawa emmei jizo daibutsu.

In this vein, there are four main gods of war: Hatchiman (patron of warriors); Marishiten (a goddess of light); Daikokuten (one of the seven gods of fortune); Bishamonten (one of the Four Heavenly Kings).

The Pentacle and the Grid

The se-man is the classic pentacle, a disc inscribed with a pentagram, a form of protection from evil or misfortune. The grid, do-man, is also used for protection and associated with the subject of kuji (see below). Both can be found embedded in magical literature in Japan and on objects such as armour and scrolls. Interestingly, the famous female free divers called shima who dive for shellfish and pearls in Mie prefecture wear headgear with one of these symbols on them to protect them on their long dives. The grid has a long history in Japan and is combined with the now very famous ritual called kuji – the art of the nine slashes.

The Art of Kuji


No word resonates in the world of Japanese history and magic as strongly as the word kuji. The first thing anyone should understand about the series of mantras known as kuji is that it is has no clear definable boundaries and no clear origin, though it is most definitely not from Japan. It has multiple variations and distinct schools. The word kuji is a base word and concept that various methods of magic are founded upon. Furthermore, it should be known that some sources of kuji contradict each other and at points do not show symmetry. Some of the skills relevant to kuji were passed down in secret among specific groups, with their variations growing outwards as time progressed. It is only now, in this modern era, that we are bringing them back together as one – a realignment which has highlighted their differences.

The kuji used here are in the main (but not exclusively) taken from the following: Otake Ritsuke, the head teaching master of the Tenshin Katori Shinto Ryu, a fifteenth-century sword school; the academic work of the late Dr Carmen Blacker OBE of Cambridge University; an article by Dr Waterhouse; the samurai school Mubyoshi Ryu; and the collective work of the Japanese author Mr Y. Toyoshima.

The Four Main Areas of Kuji

Kuji, on a very basic and rudimentary level, can be broken into four parts, which may or may not have been known in full to the practitioners of old Japan.

Part 1: Kuji

The first area is the concept of kuji itself, which involves nine basic words of power:

Number Japanese Pronunciation

1 臨 Rin

2 兵 Pyo

3 闘 Toh

4 者 Sha

5 皆 Kai

6 陣 Jin

7 列 Retsu

8 在 Zai

9 前 Zen

These nine elements are accompanied by hand postures known as mudra and corresponding lines found on the kuji protection grid. They also are the platform for numerous kuji spells and should be considered the backbone of the practice and the basis of all its power.

Part 2: Kuji In

Perhaps the most famous element of the kuji magic system is the kuji in, or nine hand postures. A series of nine mudra hand postures that correspond to the nine power words given above are to be considered a set. Alongside the hand positions, a mantra is chanted for each kuji. According to Otake Ritsuke, the head teaching master of the Tenshin Katori Shinto Ryu sword school, the purpose of kuji in is to achieve a state of muga (‘no-mind’), a state of extinguishment. By practising these hand postures and by chanting rhythmically, a person can train their mind to understand the essence of muga and thus call upon that state whenever they need to, perhaps in a time of difficulty or even in battle. Research suggests that kuji was originally a Taoist spell of protection, but, as will become clear, kuji is so varied that its meaning has changed over time.

Part 3: Kuji Kiri

Kuji kiri is a form of protection grid cut into the air, written on the palm of the hand, written on paper or placed upon objects as a protection spell. It consists of nine lines which correspond to the above kuji word list and is the basic matrix upon which the art of juji (‘tenth symbol’) is based. A person will make the first line or cut from left to right horizontally at the top of the grid, and then the second cut is from top to bottom on the left. The grid maker then continues alternating between horizontal and vertical until all nine words of power have been used. The order can be followed in the image on page 62.

Part 4: Juji – ‘The Tenth Symbol’

Juji is a form of protective magic where you form the grid of kuji kiri as shown above and then place a tenth symbol upon it. This tenth symbol is a Japanese ideogram which always has a meaning and thus fits in with the caster’s intention. For example, the dragon is associated with water in Japanese culture; therefore, when crossing water a Japanese traveller would write the nine lines of power and draw the ideogram for ‘dragon’ on top of the grid, giving them the protection of the dragon and safety when crossing water. Other ideograms give other forms of protection.

Grandmaster Uematsu of Mubyoshi Ryu performing the nine lines of power. For the full teachings, see the book The Lost Samurai School.

The following list of juji is from the samurai school of Mubyoshi Ryu, a 400-year-old school which is now led by grandmaster Uematsu. The list shows which ideograms to use on top of the grid of power for different situations.

天 Use Ten (Heaven) before you meet high-ranking people

龍 Use Ryū (Dragon) when you across a sea, river or bridge

虎 Use Ko (Tiger) when you go through large field or deep mountain

王 Use O (King) when you go to battle or meet a thief

命 Use Mei (Life) when you eat without protection

勝 Use Shō (victory) when you quarrel or have a confrontation

鬼 Use Ki (demon) when you fight illness or go to an evil place

水 Use Sui (Water) when many people gather

大 Use Dai (large) when you are happy or something positive has happened

行 Use Gyō (to go) when you move to war or depart a place

Alternative Juji Spells

One variation of juji is taken from the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and is structured in a different way to the above. You must still use the above steps, but instead of drawing the kuji grid and placing the desired ideogram over it, this form of juji requires you to draw ten lines as shown in the image below. Start by drawing the line at the top left and move to the top right, then move back to the left and then right again until all ten are finished. This can be done in either the air or on paper. On each stroke call out the name of the ideogram as listed below. Notice how they differ from the standard kuji power words, and also remember that the tenth symbol is the last ideogram in the list. That means that the first nine are the words of power and the tenth word gives the spell direction.

To counter a curse and invoke disaster

1. Nen念

2. Pi波

3. Myo妙

4. Ho法

5. Riki力

6. To刀

7. Jin尋

8. Dan段

9. Dan段

10. E壊

To weaken the enemy and invoke disaster

1. Nen念

2. Pi波

3. Myo妙

4. Ho法

5. Riki力

6. Kan環

7. Jaku著

8. O於

9. Hon本

10. Nin人

To disperse the spirit of the dead or the living

1. Fu怖

2. I畏

3. Gun軍

4. Jin陣

5. Chu中

6. Shu衆

7. On怨

8. Shitsu悉

9. Tai退

10. San散

The Origins of Kuji

Kuji is said to have originated somewhere in the East, but in truth it is hard to know as it seems all researchers find themselves lost in the shadows of unknown history. One idea is that that it is a Taoist system, and it first appears in the Taoist neipian (inner chapters) of the Baopuzi by Ge Hong (283–343), which states that kuji is ‘a prayer to avert evil influences and to ensure that things will proceed without difficulty’. The meaning behind the ideograms is also unknown, but according to David Waterhouse of Toronto University the ideograms form a grammatically perfect Chinese sentence:


(lin bing dou zhe jie chen lie zai qian)

This he translates as, ‘May those who preside over warriors be my vanguard.’

It is uncertain what the exact origins of this system are, but it is without doubt one of the oldest magic traditions recorded, already popular enough to be written about in the third century. All that can be said is that it came to Japan from mainland Asia and has been a widely practised form of magic in many traditions, spawning a myriad of variations.

The Basic Sword Mudra

Before you learn to draw the nine lines you have to understand what you will draw the lines with. To cut the lines in the air you will need to use the sword mudra. This is a symbolic sword represented by your middle and index fingers, with the ring and little fingers joined with the thumb.

In some traditions the ‘sword’ is housed in a ‘scabbard’, made by your opposite hand and placed at your hip before use, as though it were a real sword.

Grandmaster Uematsu of Mubyoshi Ryu practicing kuji with a sword.

When cutting the nine magical lines you will need to use the sword mudra above; however, as stated previously, kuji is an expansive and varied tradition and may be subject to variations.

Draw your sword or sword mudra from its sheath. Cut through the air, making the grid in the correct sequence, and call out each word of power as you cut the lines. This will form a protective spell around you. To move this on to juji – the tenth symbol, at the end write the corresponding ideogram in the centre of the grid. The spell can be finished by calling out, ‘A-un!’

Alternative Forms of Kuji Kiri

The following kuji kiri spells are taken from Nichiren sect of Buddhism and should be considered as alternatives to the standard kuji described above. Simply exchange the power words above for the alternative versions below while performing the nine-line grid.

A kuji to attack the spirit of a dead person with a sword and to make it depart in peace

1. A阿

2. Noku耨

3. Ta多

4. Ra羅

5. San三

6. Myaku藐

7. San三

8. Bo菩

9. Dai提

A kuji to invoke disaster upon the spirit of someone who is still alive or to fight off an epidemic

1. Ryou 令

2. Hyaku 百

3. Yu 由

4. Jun 旬

5. Nai 内

6. Mu 無

7. Sho 諸

8. Sui 衰

9. Gen患

A kuji spell for all kinds of exorcisms

1. Ryou令

2. Hyaku百

3. Yu由

4. Jun旬

5. Nai内

6. Mu無

7. Sho諸

8. Sui衰

9. Gen患

A kuji spell to disperse or invoke disaster

1. Myo妙

2. Ho法

3. Ren蓮

4. Ge華

5. Kyo経

6. Ju呪

7. So咀

8. Doku毒

9. Yaku薬

A kuji spell for recovery from disease or to make an evil spirit depart in peace

1. Myo妙

2. Ho法

3. Ren蓮

4. Ge華

5. Kyo経

6. Doku毒

7. Byo病

8. Kai皆

9. Yu癒

To Expel Evil

In Indian mythology, the Navagraha are heavenly bodies which can bring about negativity but who are also worshipped, each with their own area of protection. To change this negativity or to rid yourself of evil influences, perform the following kuji ritual. This ritual is based on your age, chanting the kuji power words that are matched with your years.

1. Face south.

2. Chant the corresponding single kuji power word nine times (see below).

3. Clench the teeth nine times.

To understand which heavenly bodies are causing a negative effect and to discover which kuji to use for your age, utilise the following list. If you need to use an age higher than those within the lists, simply add nine to the last age provided for each kuji. Remember the Japanese traditionally start age from one, not zero, so you may need to subtract one from the ages in the list.

Kuji intoned Heavenly body Ages

Rin Descending or South Node 7, 16, 25, 34, 43, 52, 61, 70

Pyo The Sun 5, 14, 23, 32, 41, 50, 59, 68

To Jupiter 9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72

Sha Mars 6, 15, 24, 33, 42, 51, 60, 69

Kai Ascending or North Node 1, 10, 19, 28, 37, 46, 55, 64

Jin Saturn 2, 11, 20, 29, 38, 47, 56, 65

Retsu The Moon 8, 17, 26, 35, 44, 53 62, 71

Zai Venus 4, 13, 22, 31, 40, 49, 58, 67

Zen Mercury 3, 12, 21, 30, 39, 48, 57, 66

The following kuji spell was recorded by Carmen Blacker during her research into Japanese shamanism, but the use and context is not clear. Nonetheless, it serves as a great illustration of the diversity and intricacies of kuji magic and exemplifies how widespread and varied the art is.

1. Make all nine kuji hand symbols. As you make each one, call out its name: Rin, Pyo, To, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai and Zen. Make sure to call them out strongly and raise the voice to a sharp yell on the last kuji.

2. Make the sword mudra and cut the kuji kiri magic grid in the air.

3. Call out in Sanskrit, A-UN-A-UN (‘the beginning and the end’).

4. Call out the lesser spell of Fudo: ‘No maku samanda basarada.’

5. Repeat the heart sutra: ‘Gyate gyate haragyate haragyate bochi sowaka.’

6. Roar loudly and cry out, ‘Shin!’

Finally, it is also acceptable to chant the names of the kuji words of power while using a wooden sword and a rosary.

The above outline of kuji should give you a basic foundation in the use of the ritual spell, but keep in mind that there are a myriad of forms and traditions, that the hand mudras most likely have their origin in India, that the spell itself is probably Taoist and that in Japan it was used in many different situations. There are further examples of kuji in the remainder of this volume.

Wara Ningyo – Straw Curse Dolls

As far back as the sixth century the Japanese have had a form of doll used to curse their opponents; this was also recorded in the twelfth-century document Heike Monogatari, and by Hearn and others. The aim is to inflict misfortune and suffering – if not death – on the intended victim.


1. Construct a doll made of straw.

2. Write the name and age of the victim on paper and insert it into the straw doll.

3. Draw the face of the enemy upon the doll.

4. At night, visit a shrine, temple or sacred space and find an old tree.

5. Place a kanawa or iron circlet upon your head which has three vertical spikes attached; these are used to secure three lit candles. (Hokusai, the Edo period artist, captured this circlet in his picture ‘The hour of the Ox’, shown left. The hour of the Ox is a reference to the early hours between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., and as you can see in the image, the woman is practising magic under the watchful gaze of the mythical tengu goblins.)

6. At the hour of the Ox, nail the straw doll to the ancient tree and your curse will chase your enemy.

Blowing Away ‘Sin’

A doll which represents the human figure can also be used in rites of purification where the subject rubs the doll on their body or blows their breath upon it, thus transferring transgressions and pollutions they have to the doll, which is later cast into a river or another body of water. The doll can be made of material such as straw, wood iron or paper; the latter is the most common in modern Japan. The following extract was written in the mid-eighteenth century and instructs you on how to make a paper version of this doll:

How to make a magical paper doll


Ise Sadatake


A Nademono (lit. thing to stroke) is a paper doll used when you ask an Onmyo magician to pray for you. The performer makes a paper doll and hands it to you, you then pass your hand over it and give it back to the performer. He prays over this doll. After praying he sometimes floats it down a river.

It is also called Hinagata or miniature figure. To make one, fold a piece of paper in two the with the fold at the top and cut out the shape as it is in the drawing. It can be of any size.

To make the head cut a diamond shape in one side and fold it up.

Make the cuts at the bottom as in the picture.

Divination by Turtle Shell or by the Shoulder Blade of a Deer

Ancient chronicles like the Nihon Shoki tell of divination through cracks in turtle shells or the shoulder blades of deer. To do this, take the shell or an animal shoulder bone and incise upon it the symbol Machi, as shown in the diagram below.

Take care here – notice that south is at the top of the diagram, which changes all of the directions – traditionally the Chinese used south for the top of their maps while Europeans used north. As you can see, south corresponds to the tail of the turtle shell, which is upright.

To acquire knowledge about the future, you have to ask a question that can be answered in a yes-or-no fashion. Then take the turtle shell or animal bone and cast it into a fire. When the first crack appears, you remove the shell and check the direction of the crack against the following list.

Positive Cracks

1. A crack in the north half and to the right

2. A straight crack in the north half

3. A crack in the south half and to the right

4. A straight crack in the south half

5. Cracks that go horizontal east or west

6. Cracks that go horizontal east or west and then point south

Negative Cracks

1. A crack in the north area and to the left

2. A crack in the south area and to the left

3. Cracks that go horizontal east or west and then point north

If you need to understand a dilemma and discover the ideal solution, you must prepare a certain amount of these shells or bones. In ancient times, for example, shells were burnt in this manner to select future virgin shrine maidens, one for each baby put forward; when a shell came up with a positive crack, that baby was then prepared for life to fulfil the role divination had set for her.

A Stick in the Road

To have a question answered, go to a road at dusk with a question in mind and plant a stick in the road. This is a representation the phallic god Kunado. Then listen to the talk of passers-by, and this will give you the answer to your question.

Stroking the Comb

As above, this magic spell is used to gain answers. Go to a crossroads with a comb of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and stroke it (most likely the teeth) across the sleeve of your kimono and speak or repeat the word ‘tsuge’. This means both ‘box-wood’ and ‘inform me’. Then say the following three times: ‘Oh god of cross-road divination, grant me a true response.’ The answer will come by the chatter of the next person to come past you, or even the third person. Sometimes an area around the practitioner would be cordoned off with rice to dispel evil. A similar version is given by Hadland-Davies, who calls it tsuji-ura. In this practice women listen to the conversations of passers-by and string together the prediction.

Ku Magic

Ku magic is very evil and of Chinese decent. To practise this you are to collect as many venomous creatures as possible and place them all in a pot together. After a while of fighting and feasting only one creature will be left alive; this is now the Ku animal. This creature can bring you riches but it can also kill your enemy with ease. You can kill your enemy directly with it or you can let it run around their food, poisoning the meal, bringing death and disease.

This Ku creature is a powerful entity and is difficult to destroy. It is said that through it a magician will gain wealth and power and that any souls that the creature kills will serve the magician and not go on to the afterlife. Once it has been exposed to a feast it will contaminate the food with its evil, and when the guests eat they will die in fits of coughing blood, or the animals that the guests have eaten will be resurrected in their stomachs and kill them from the inside.

Some Ku creatures, like the golden caterpillar or the Ch’in tsan, are put in loaves of bread, wrapped up and left on the roadside; if a traveller picks it up and eats it, they will die and their soul will serve the magician.

Creating a Powerful Dog Talisman

The magic of Inu Gami: Tie up a hungry dog on a lead and place some food just out of reach. When the dog is at its hungriest and straining forward, cut off its head and place it in a vessel. This will make a powerful dog-deity to worship and use as the magician can command it to do their bidding.

The Vengeance of the Dog

Bury a dog in the ground up to its neck and cut off its head with a bamboo saw (a common execution technique in Japan). As it dies, say, ‘If you have a soul, kill [insert name] and I will make you a god.’ Then keep the dog’s head and the dog will effect curses for you.

To Expel Crop Pests

Create a soldier made from straw and parade him around a field that is plagued by pests, then throw him into a river. This will expel the pests.

Calling up the Dead

Calling up the dead in Japan is sometimes as simple as reciting a poem or a passage addressed to the dead. This passage will call them to you and you may ask them to answer any questions that you have.

Hear me, hear me,

I call for today’s water

What water may I call for?

I call for the water, the young spray

Spirit, come with your sleeves bathed in tears

Spirit, come with your skirts full of dewdrops

We can only hear its voice and not see its form

We can hear the sound but not see the figure

It comes on seven or eight rapid currents

Come down to dance

It comes to give us an account

The spirit will come and you may ask questions of it.

A Spell to Deprive Someone of Their Senses

Below is a Shinto spell to deprive someone of their senses. It is said that Miyaji Suii learned this spell from a high-ranking eighteenth-century monk called Sugiyama Sosho. Simply chant this spell and clap your hands once at the end.


(Antariwon, Sokumetsusoku Birariyabirari Sokumetsusoku Zanzankimei Zankisei Zandarihiwon Shikanshikijin Ataraun Wonzeso Zanzanbirari Aun Zetsumei Sokuzetsu Un Zanzandari Zandarihan)

The Art of Toritsu Banashi – Summoning the Dead

First you need a Shinto and Buddhist priest (not easy to find) to perform purification rituals of the area and put out incense and then make offerings of flowers and uncooked rice at the altar. The priest then takes a bow or bow-like tool and twangs it with his right hand, calling the name of the dead, then shouts ‘kitazo yo!’ over and over again. Kitazo means ‘I have come’, and the priest shouts this time and time again until his voice changes and is replaced with the voice of the dead person being summoned. The dead person may then be asked questions, but it will answer briefly and will interrupt with calls of ‘Hasten, hasten for my coming back is painful and I have little time to stay’. After the ghost has gone the priest will be unconscious. This ritual is said to have been performed in the strange story of Bikuni-san. This woman had lost her son and called him back from the dead, but when the son returned he told her not to mourn for it ailed him, instructing her instead to give offerings to the dead. She became a nun, childlike in nature, and loved all things that were miniature.


Shamanism has one foot in the prehistoric and one foot in the modern era. Almost dead in Japan, it can be classed as one of the oldest forms of magic in the world. However, it has no central or unified philosophy and varied according to time, location and lineage; it is therefore multifaceted and colourful but also hard to define. On the whole, shamans (for want of a better word) are predominantly female (shamanesses) but males are not unknown and therefore I will use the masculine term to mean both male and female. Of course a shaman in Japan would not call themselves a shaman, and they would not even understand the word, but the rites and rituals they perform fall under this broad term. The task of the shaman was to cure the sick, perform divination, mediumship and even telepathy, and also to go into trances.

You may be able to recognise a Japanese shaman walking along; they have a black bag on their back and a ‘rosary’ called an Irataka no Juzu consisting of 180 beads and badger fangs. They may have polished badger, fox or bear skulls, old coins, or all of the above and more. A shaman may make money on feast days or when travelling by communicating with the dead for relatives of those who have passed on. Also, when a local person dies, the village will put money together to call a shaman and have them perform the ritual of ‘opening the mouth of the dead’ to help the soul on its way.

Protecting Your Home from Evil

Remembering that the dead, demons, fox spirits and all kinds of strange creatures prowl the night in old Japan, it was essential to protect your home from invading monsters. The following are a few things that can be done to keep evil at bay and beyond the threshold.

The Family Shrine

From ancient times in Japan, Shinto, the way of the gods, has been a folk religion, and ancestor worship is a massive part of this. A Japanese family may maintain an uji-gami shrine where the dead members of the family collectively become ‘the ancestors’. When someone passes over into the spirit world they can join the gods or collective souls who look after the family. Once dead, a person becomes a hotoke-sama in the Buddhist tradition and a reijin or mikoto in the Shinto tradition. Alternatively, there is the hito-kami (possibly gami), which is a holy place dedicated to a single personified spirit-god (kami). Both versions will protect and nurture the whole family and are a form of protection from evil or malice for the family – a fun way to understand this can be found in the Disney film Mulan, in which the titular character talks with her ancestors.

Keeping the Dead out of a House

To keep the dead out of a house in shamanistic traditions the following spell is used. This is also a spell to counter destructive spinning elements in nature such as tornados, and the twisted forces of the dead. There may be variations to this, depending on tradition; however, the basic elements are as follows:

1. Take female underwear and tear off a ‘rag’ section of it.

2. Twist it in a left direction (possibly tied in a knot or tied with string).

3. The twisted rag is rubbed between female legs to infuse it with female energy.

4. Scorch the charm at one end.

5. Stand with your back to a crossroads or facing the entrance to a house.

Then finish by saying the following spell:

Ghosts of the dead

Ghosts of animals

Make no entry into this house

But help yourself to these rags

Finally, place the rag near the doorway, the dead will then be barred entrance to the home.

In Japan you cannot walk into a house with shoes on; part of this tradition is down to the fact that it is bad to walk out of a house with shoes on. It is not certain why this is so but one theory is that samurai would prepare for war and armour themselves inside a house; they would walk out with their shoes on and go to battle – and perhaps death.



Even the castle or house of a samurai was constructed in accordance with tradition and magic. While this involved a complex system, there are some rules that do govern the fundamentals and which are based on the Chinese system of Feng Shui. The ideal is as follows:

1. To the north there must be mountains

2. To the east there must be water

3. To the south it must be open land

4. To the west there must be a great road

As each of the directions is associated with a colour, the Japanese had a poem to help them remember this system:

A black tortoise to the north

A blue dragon to the east

A red sparrow to the south

A white tiger to the west

Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, is based on this principle, being situated according to the rules above.

The Demon’s Gate

Sometimes the north-east is known as Kimon and is considered to be the realm of demons. In Tokyo today, the Kanda Myojin shrine in Ochanomizu and the Kaneiji temple in Ueno are both north-east of the imperial palace, which was once Edo Castle, the home of the ruling Tokugawa family. This was deliberately arranged so that the two holy places would protect the castle from the demonic influences of that direction – a double north-east barrier, if you like.

It is not uncommon for the north-eastern corner of a building to have a cut-out like the image below to stop demons or to confuse them. Also, you can place a statue or image of a monkey on this corner to ward off evil.

The Rear Demon’s Gate

The opposite direction, south-west, is called Urakimon, which translates to ‘Rear Demons’ Gate’. To add to the protection of Edo Castle outlined above, the Sanno Jinja shrine was built to the south-west; this was then backed up by Hikawa Jinja shrine and Zojoji temple, which both lie south-west of the castle.

Holly and Sardines

To keep demons out of your house you should take a sprig of holly and a roasted sardine head. Place the roasted sardine head on the end of one of the sprigs and tie it to the outside of your house. It is said that the holly stabs the eye of the demon and the smell of the roasted sardine keeps them at bay.

Spell of Protection

To guard your house at night use the following spell for protection:

寝るぞ根太 頼むぞ垂木 梁柱 何事あらば起こせ屋根棟

(Listen to me floor joists, I’m going to bed, rafters, beams and pillars, you have control, roofs and ridges wake me up if needs arise!)

Bridges, Pillars and Platforms

Alongside houses and castles, bridges, pillars and platforms were also in need of protection. The following stories show how normally human sacrifice was needed to placat any angered spirits, deities and dragons.

The Legend of Matsuo Kotei and the Dragon Platform

Legend has it that when attempts were made to build a fake island platform near Kobe, the stone foundations kept washing away with the tide. A necromancer named Abe na Yasuuji said that they were trying to build on the site of a dragon’s lair and that thirty people would need to be sacrificed and buried beneath the pillars of the platform. He proposed to use local travellers for this sacrifice, but there was an uproar at the very idea, so a young man named Matsuo Kotei gave himself up in sacrifice so that the dragon could be placated.

The Dragon of Enoshima

In the year 151 the island of Enoshima was plagued by a dragon, so a lady called Benten sent it to sleep with soothing music from her koto (a Japanese stringed instrument). The people then killed it while it slept, and a temple was erected on the site. One Hojo Tokimasa (1138–1215), from a famous samurai family, prayed here, and while he did so a goddess appeared to him with a dragon’s tail coming from the rear of her kimono. She warned him that if he was unjust then the family would fall within seven generations – the family fell in 1333.

The Bridge at Nikko

Shodo Shonin was the founder of the first Buddhist temple in Nikko (now a national park). One day he saw clouds of four different colours in the distance. Trying to reach them, he came to a river which was raging before him; unable to cross, he prayed for help. On the opposite bank of the river a gigantic apparition appeared, robed in blue and black and wearing a huge necklace of human skulls. The figure threw a green snake and a blue snake over the river so that they stretched from one bank to the other and a bridge was formed. After Shonin crossed the bridge of snakes, the figure disappeared.

The Pillar of Gensuke

Gensuke Bashira’s story, like those above, involves sacrifice and architecture. It is thought to date from 1596–1614. The bridge over the Matsu River was being improved, but the masonry always collapsed. Therefore, the builders decided that the next person to cross the older bridge would be sacrificed to appease whatever was doing the mischief. That sacrifice was called Gensuke. He was killed and put beneath the pillar.

The Pillar of Ears (or Noses)

Mimidzuka is a monument at a temple in Kyoto which is said to have buried below it the severed ears of over 30,000 Koreans taken during the invasion of Korea in the sixteenth century. Other research shows that it was not ears but noses that were taken, which is probably correct. Noses used to be taken if heads were too numerous, and the norm in Japan was to take the top lip and the nose at the same time to show the stubble or moustache to prove that the nose was from a man. However, Hideyoshi, the lord in charge of Japan during the invasion of Korea, is said to have given this order (translated by Hawley):

Mow down everyone universally, without discriminating between young and old, men and women, clergy and the laity—high-ranking soldiers on the battlefield, that goes without saying, but also the hill folk, down to the poorest and meanest—and send the heads to Japan.

So, back came the noses and into the pile they went, a tribute to the slaughter of tens of thousands of Koreans – this is not a monument the Japanese promote, yet it still stands and remains a sensitive issue.



We often forget that the world of Japan was a dangerous place; even in the centuries of peace you still had to be careful of both humans and spirits. Therefore, one core element of the esoteric side of Japanese life was the idea of self-protection. This section does not really deal with human aggressors but more with the demonic.

The Gunpo Jiyoshu military manual (c. 1619) gives the following selection of spells to help protect a samurai in war or at home. For more sections of this manual see the book Secret Traditions of the Shinobi.

To Avoid a Fatality

To dispel fatality, you should chant ‘On Ashirikakei Houkai’ seven times. Do this while facing the image of the god Nitten, and with your hands make the mudra Naibaku In:

After that, make the mudra Gejishi In and chant the following three times:

Tensho Zeshin Koumyaku Shukunin Bosatsu Kekairai Ejo

Then make the mudra Tensho In and chant the above mantra three times again. Blow into your hands, put your palms together, and put them on your breast to keep the idea in your heart.

The Great Secret of Marishiten, the Goddess of War

Before you go to battle, chant the following three times:

Me-i-go-san-kai-jo-u, Go-go-jippo-ku-u, Hon-rai-mu-to-za-I, Ka-sho-u-nan-boku

Then chant this poem three times:

In a storm, the wind from the mountain shall blow away and clear all the enemies I am defying.

Lastly, chant three times:

On Marishiei-sowaka.

The above is a prayer for success in war; it is used from the general down to the lower-ranking samurai (hamusha).

The Gunpo Jiyoshu continues again with a spell for waking you up in an emergency; similar spells appear in other schools and are normally used to wake you if there is an intruder in your home or fortification.

The Secrets of Pillows

Version One


When you go to sleep, trace the ideogram 大 (large) three times on your left palm and then lick it. Details to be orally transmitted.

Version Two

Trace the Sanskrit letters above on to your pillow with the letter toward you and sleep on it. Then chant the following poem three times:

うちとけて もしもまどろむ ことあらば 引きおどろかせ 我がまくら神

(If I am unguarded and fall into a doze, may my Pillow Gods startle me so that I awaken)

A Secret Method to Bind Somebody to Secrecy

To bind somebody to secrecy, make the mudra of Gejishi (shown below) and with it on your lips chant the following poem three times:

秋津嶋 みもすそ 川のながれにて わがためあしき 人は口なし

(Akitsushima in the flow of the River Mimosuso, may people hostile to me have no mouth)

The above is to win when you argue in court; a lord should chant this without fail after he has had a secret conference.

The Zoho Majinai Chohoki Daisen manual has a method to keep a person silent:

Protection from Injury

This is a secret method to pray so that a samurai can obtain victory without being injured on a battlefield. First make a mudra of Gejishi (see image left) and chant the following:

Shi-shi Fu-shu-se-tsu Ga Ho-u-myo-u Nanshi Shozo-cho-man-sha-mon-hitu fu-kyoshin

If you do this you will not be injured or hit by an arrow. Whether it is the lord himself or a soldier of low rank, if you think you are going to fight the enemy, chant this spell. This is a deep secret. This secret method was given to Zhang Liang by Huang Shigong.

The Secret Method of Yoshitsune

When you pass a very dangerous place, write these five characters on paper and put it into your topknot.

Then chant the following seven times:

On Kiru-kiru Mata-uji-yakuyasei-sowaka

Next, perform kuji seven times (Rin, Pyo To, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, Zen). By doing this, you can protect yourself against arrows and swords even if passing before the enemy. Even at normal times, do this when you need to travel through a mountain pass at night or travel a long distance. It is said that this is the way Yoshitsune and was taught by Taro-bo, who was a Tengu goblin of the mountain Atago.

A Secret Method to Stop a Ninja or Thief

To stop an assailant, make a brush of Muku wood (Aphananthe aspera) on the day of Kanoe when it also corresponds with the Day of the Monkey, and write the following spell on all four sides inside the gate (lintel, two sides and threshold):

Also when you search for shinobi (ninja) or a suspicious person, first write the spell as above and put it on each exit, so that the person will not be able to exit. It is said this talisman was passed down by Nichiren Shonin to the Hakone Gongen shrine.

The Art of Preventing Robbers or Scoundrels

On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month in the hours of Snake (9–11 a.m.) or Horse (11 a.m.–1 p.m.), pick up a leaf of the Nurude tree (Rhas javanica var. Roxburghii) and write the kuji (grid) upon it. On the thirteenth day of the lunar month, grind it into powder and mix glue with it and make pills. Scatter them in the direction from which you think the enemy will approach; this will prevent robbers from coming and will protect you from an epidemic too. The number of leaves with kuji grids written on them (to be ground into powder) should be 360 while you chant the kuji power words a myriad of times.

Becoming Invisible to the Enemy

Take the placenta of a woman’s first baby without letting her know and then dry it in the shade for 100 days while you chant the nine kuji over it 1,000 times every day.

Also, take the fangs from a live mamushi pit viper, and put them into your topknot in case of an emergency. If a scout or captain of a shinobi night attack carries this, the squad will not be seen by the eyes of the enemy. However, if they have doubts or use this skill for their own evil desires, they will meet their nemesis and will be discovered by the enemy.

Bringing a Robber Back to Justice

A person who has woken to find their house robbed could do the following to bring the thief back:

1. Find the footprints of the burglar

2. Burn a good quantity of Moxa in each print within the garden

As the Moxa burns, the robber will feel as if their feet are on fire and will gain no rest until they return with the goods or for justice.

The Zoho Majinai Chohoki Daisen manual also has spells that help catch thieves; this manuscript is kept in the John Rylands Library, Special Collections Section, a division of Manchester University Library.

Zoho Majinai Chohoki Daisen Spell 1

Write the spell below and stand in the footprints of a thief to discover who the thief is or where your stolen property is.

Zoho Majinai Chohoki Daisen Spell 2

An alternative to the previous spell.

Zoho Majinai Chohoki Daisen Spell 3

After writing this in the air and toward the front and back of the house, you may go to sleep. This way the thief will leave without stealing anything – or if he comes into the house during your absence, he will be unable to move from there.



This chapter will describe various kinds of magic charms and talismans from a variety of periods and geographical locations across Japan. Here you will encounter spells and rituals that concentrate on the darker side of magic – lighter ones do exist in the lore, but we are concerned with the more hellish among them.

Protecting a Child Who Has Passed Away

Jizo is the saint of children, and in Japan a woman can buy a stamp of the saint and stamp the image of the saint 100 times on small sections of white paper. On the fortieth day after the burial of the child, the woman kneels down by a running stream or river and drops each paper individually in to the water and chants the prayer, ‘Namu JizoDai Bosatsu.’

Getting Rid of an Angry Ghost

One shamanic case in Japan tells of how a woman is haunted by her dead husband’s spirit and how he is angry at her and wishes her to honour him after death by not marrying again. To counter the angry ghost, the shaman follows this magic ritual:

1. Repeat the heart sutra 100 times: Gyate gyate haragyate haragyate bochi sowaka.

2. Promise the dead spirit his wishes will be fulfilled.

3. Shout out the nine kuji words of power.

With this the angry ghost disappeared, and the illness the woman had been suffering vanished with it.

All of the following talismans should be kept in a small cloth bag unless the instructions say otherwise.

To Dispel Nightmares

When you have had a nightmare, trace this charm on your palm.

To Travel Safely at Night

If you carry this charm in your kimono, you will not come in harm’s way.

A Talisman for Travelling in the Dark of Night

Carry this with you when travelling on a dark night and it will bring you luck.

To Destroy a Hated Enemy

Write down your enemy’s name on some deutzia wood (Deutzia crenata) and bury this talisman with their name on it. In this way you can take vengeance upon them.

To Expel Evil or the Spirits of the Dead

If someone who is plagued by the spirits of the dead uses this, it will expel the spirits.

Protection from Curses

If you carry this talisman, you will not be cursed.

To Take Revenge on Those Who Have Cursed You

Use this talisman to reverse the effects of a curse put upon you.

To Protect Against Robbery

Use this talisman in your home to protect your property from thieves.

To Make a Man Impotent

Version 1

Wipe the sperm of the man in question on a piece of paper and hide it under a Tatami mat where people will often cross over and step on it.

Version 2

Carve a wooden model of a penis and dry roast it in a pot over a flame while moving the model around. This method was used by prostitutes up until the early 1900s.

A Spoken Charm to Deter the Attention of an Unwanted Man


(Your affection for me will move away so that I will not love you and you will not love me either)

The Power of Demon Charms

There is a form of talisman that relies on the power of the Japanese oni or demon. Each of the following talismans has a standard ideogram at the top which represents the word for demon as seen above. It is then given direction by adding a specific command.


The above is the ideogram for ‘demon’ and is used in all the following charms (the charm is at the top and its use is at the bottom of each image).

To Attract a Woman

To Fulfil a Wish

To Return a Curse

To Recover from Disease

For a Long Life

For a Woman’s Love

For Safe Travel upon Water

A Talisman for Luck



The samurai had a certain amount of superstition and religion surrounding their weaponry, and they also called on the divine to aid them in their battles. This section will allow you a brief glimpse into the world of the warrior and how there is a darker tradition behind their weapons and armour.

Arrows and Quivers

The samurai quiver was modelled in abstract on the head of an unknown demon called Isoso. Legend says that the god Taishakuten killed this demon with twenty-five arrows, which led to the tradition of the samurai carrying twenty-five arrows at a time. Further to this, they would single out one arrow which would be used to fire in an unlucky direction to ‘kill’ negativity. Also, some traditions say that the samurai must keep at least one arrow on him for when he is dead.

If you want to kill a snake or demon, drip human saliva on the arrowhead as this is deadly to demons, snakes, dragons and giant centipedes. (Keep in mind that in some places in Japan it is bad to kill a snake; if you do, its severed head will appear by magic in your rice box.)

The Bow

Archery was used during official inspections of decapitated heads. A lord would have archers standing by him, ready to aim and shoot at the ghost that belonged to the decapitated head, defending the lord against the vengeance of the dead samurai.

When making a bowstring for a samurai bow, it is said women were not allowed near the string or to touch it, as they were formed from yin energy and would have negative effects on the weapon. In addition to this, it was a definite taboo for a woman who was menstruating to touch anything that was involved in the making of a bow.

The Gunpo Jiyoshu manual instructs the following for when a samurai lord rides to war:

Hold the bow with left hand and twang the string with the right hand, concentrating your mind on the gods and driving away evil spirits or ghosts. This is called meigen or ‘sounding the string’. After doing this, pray for the children, the domain and then the clan, then unstring the bow while uttering the name of the god ‘Hachiman Daibosatsu’ – but say this only once.

Raiko is a legendary figure in Japanese folklore, and a mean archer. It is said that he went on a quest to kill all the demons and goblins in Japan. One night, a woman came to him in his dreams and gave him a magnificent bow and taught him the deepest secrets of archery to help him on his quest. He came to a place littered with human remains where devils drank human blood – their ‘merriment’ was cut short as the famed archer killed them all.

Also, one archer is said to have twanged his bow three times to expel a demon that was causing his father to be ill.

The Sword

Katana-kagi is a form of prayer with a sword, used to cut down evil demons and expel them from a person who is ill. You should take up a sword and beckon and cut the demon with the blade, doing so above the head of the ill patient. This cutting action was believed to destroy the demon’s hold on the ill person, and they were said to recover after this.

Bloodthirsty Swords

Legend tells that the swords made by the swordsmith Muramasa Sengo or his school were demonic blades that possessed the madness of their creator and thirsted for human blood. However, interestingly, it is possible that this tale was initiated by the famous shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. It is said his father and grandfather were killed by swords from Sengo’s foundry, and others from the same workshop were also used by samurai who rebelled against both of the above deceased men. Therefore, Tokugawa Ieyasu forbade his retainers from wearing swords of that line and it is possible that the legend of their demonic power was established to make good the name of his ancestors and to show that they were not incompetent rulers.

Three Heads in a Cauldron

Once there was a warlord who had two ingots of iron. He sent them to a smith to have a sword forged from them. However, the smith made two swords at the same time, a bonded pair. One was female and one was male. One he gave to the king as requested, and the other he gave it to his wife to bury; he instructed her that if anything should happen to him, when their son came of age she should give him the sword. Time passed, and the king noticed that his sword was constantly wet, covered by dew. His ministers said that this was because the sword had a matching partner – because they were separated, the sword was crying in lamentation. The king immediately knew what had happened and sent for the smith. The smith was then tortured and killed, but he did not give away the position of the other sword. The wife and son fled, taking the sword with them. Later, one of the king’s ministers, Haku