We all know Kyoto as the most popular tourist destination for Western visitors to Japan, filled with some of the most spectacular temples, shrines, rock gardens, etc. But did you know that this city, once the country’s capital for 1,000 years, has over its long history spawned a plethora of dark myths, legends and curses? You can still find traces of them if you know where to look.
Jisshu Shrine: Betrayal and Revenge
One place is right under the noses of the multitudes gawking at the magnificent construction of Kiyomizu Temple. Situated adjacent to the temple is Jisshu Shrine, a popular place for women who come to pray for good fortune in love. However, there is a darker side to this bustling sightseeing spot. Standing at the shrine is the Prayer Cedar, where as you probably already guessed, visitors come to pray. But bored into this seemingly innocuous tree are nail holes made by women who have been betrayed by their lovers. "Ushi no Kokumairi," meaning “the 2 a.m. visit,” is an old Japanese means of cursing someone you despise and praying for their death by nailing a "wara ningyo" (straw doll) into an ancient tree at a shrine at the “hour of the Ox.”
Judging from the freshness of the holes in the Prayer Cedar, it seems this ancient practice is still alive and well, though according to someone who went and asked about it, the head priest is reluctant to discuss the matter for fear of encouraging more such unsavory behavior. Another place in Kyoto where the "Ushi no Kokumairi" has been performed is Kifune Shrine in Sakyo Ward, which enshrines not only a god of marriage, but also gods of divorce and curses.
Rokudo Chinno Temple: Passage to the Underworld
At Rokudo Chinno Temple, there is a well that supposedly acts as a passageway to the underworld. The Heian period scholar Ono no Takamura, also known as Sangi no Takamura, served the Imperial Court by day, then would allegedly climb down this well at night to aid in the work of judging those souls who have died and entered the afterlife. His grave is said to be in Kita Ward, Kyoto, next to the grave of Murasaki Shikibu, the woman who penned the epic "Tale of Genji" and, as legend has it, descended into hell as a punishment for her lustful behavior.
Ghost who hails cabs
A well-known story among Kyoto taxi drivers is the one about the ghost who appears as a young lady and hails a taxi for a ride. According to one sightseer’s experience in the ancient capital, “I took a trip to Kyoto looking for ghosts. A taxi driver said he picked up a young woman along the banks of the Kamo River and started taking her to a place called Midoro Pond. When they entered the dark Tadasu Forest, the driver looked back at the woman, but he saw nothing there except for a damp spot on the seat where she had been sitting.” If the Kyoto cabbies are to believed, this perpetually on-the-go phantom still haunts them to this day.
These three examples just scratch the surface of the dark underside beneath the tourist-friendly veneer that greets visitors in Kyoto. Why not make your trip to the ancient capital even more special by checking out some of these sites? See the directions at the end of this article for help finding your way. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Japanese perspectives on the supernatural, one work I can recommend is the anime series "Hell Girl," or "Jigoku Shojo," as it’s known in Japanese, in which "wara ningyo" play a prominent role in the plot. There’s also a scene in the intro sequence depicting the trails of torii, or Shinto gates, that weave through the mountain slopes behind Fushimi Inari Shrine, another Kyoto location with an eerie ambience that envelopes walkers when the tourist herds aren’t around to spoil it.
Next to Kiyomizu Temple, 25 min. from Keihan Gojo Station, and 15 minutes from both Kiyomizu-dori Bus Stop (Kyoto City buses #100 & #206) and Gojo-zaka Bus Stop (Keihan buses).
30 minutes on foot from Eizan Kurama Line Kifuneguchi Station. Keihan buses run from the station to the shrine’s vicinity starting on the vernal equinox until the end of November, taking 4 minutes on the bus followed by 5 minutes on foot from the drop-off point.
Rokudo Chinno Temple
West of Kiyomizu-dori bus stop (Kyoto City buses #100 & #206).
Grave of Murasaki Shikibu
Murasaki no Nishigojo Dencho, west from the intersection of Horikawa and Kitaoji.
The taxi-riding ghost is said to hail her rides between Gojo and Sanjo on Kawabata-dori, which runs along the river, though this depends on who you ask.
Within walking distance of Kyoto Municipal Subway Kitayama Station, or Midoro-ga-ike bus stop (Kyoto City & Keihan buses).
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Near JR Nara Line Inari Station, Keihan Fushimi-Inari Station, and Inari Taisha-mae bus stop (Kyoto City bus #5).
By the way…
Hell Girl Official Site (FUNimation):
http://www.proz.com/translator/786770© Japan Today