An Introduction To Japanese Yōkai: Hashihime

Amongst the numerous hobbies that I enjoy, is the study of Japanese history and culture. Nestled deep in Japan’s long history are countless tales and records involving the supernatural and extraordinary. The most striking are those that surround the Yōkai. Yōkai are spirits, demons, or otherwise supernatural entities. And they are numerous, popping up all over Japanese recorded history. Even powerful leaders like Toyotomi Hideyoshi have pondered their existence and meaning. Many Yōkai are perceived to be friendly or benign. Many are seen to be a bane to the people they come in contact with, often causing mischief and problems wherever they appear. Some are even seen as holy, and tied directly to the various gods in the Shinto religion. This series is an introduction into the very deep world of the Japanese supernatural.



Vengeful Guardians

Hashihime [pronounced: Hah She He Meh] literally translates as Bridge Princess or Bridge Maiden. As the name may suggest Hashihime are the spirits that guard bridges. Particularly long older bridges. These spirits, or demons(depending on what you are reading), are often seen wearing white robes(or nude), with red skin, and holding candles. The candles are often depicted with three on her head, and two in her mouth. They are territorial and protective of the bridges that they guard. Hashihime are also vengeful. It was said that if someone was to speak ill of the bridge as they traversed it, that some kind of bad thing would happen to them. Perhaps a curse would befall them. 

Image source A Hashihime emerging from the waters.

Hashihime were paid respects to at shrines placed near the bridges. Offering prayers to Hashihime was said to keep the villages that were served by the bridge in the good favor of the princess. This would also lead the Hashihime to be more likely to help them in the event invaders came and tried to traverse the bridge.

Like the two landmasses that a river separates. Hashihime were also seen as goddesses of separation, owing to the legends surrounding how they became demons in the first place[see the next section]. Their assistance was often called for in cases of break-ups(as in wanting to break up with someone), or even the removing of bad luck. I have seen her referred to as ’The Anti-Cupid’ once or twice. So strong was her power in such cases that if a couple were to cross the bridge together, their relationship would be doomed to fail. To avoid this, couples would walk separately until they were away from the area. Some even avoided crossing the bridge altogether. Opting to traverse the river in a boat.

The Hashihime of Uji

Image source The Hashihime of Uji seemingly causing a wrathful storm. Or perhaps this was the night of her transformation

The tale of the Hashihime of Uji is one of the most widely known. Often depicted in a Noh play. The tale centers around a young woman that was filled with vengeance towards her ex-husband, who had cast her aside for another woman. The hate-filled woman regularly went to the local shrine and prayed for the power to get back at him. One night, after many midnight trips to the shrine, her prayers were answered. She was instructed by the god to enter the Uji river for a period of three weeks. If she heeded these instructions she would become a demon with the power she needed. Given the prospects of having her wish granted, she happily did as she was instructed.

The woman, wearing a white robe and red face/body paint, entered the river. She had 3 small candles (or torches, in some versions) attached to her head via a metal crown, and held 2 in her mouth. There in the waters, over the course of 21 days, her hatred manifested further, and she transformed into a demon. Thus leaving the mortal-plane. On that twenty-first night her ex-husband awoke in a panic, having seen a terrible vision of his own misfortune. He quickly rushed to seek the aid of a powerful area priest, who agreed to help. As this demon threat was very serious. The priest set up magical decoys of the man and his new wife, that were sure to draw the demon. When the demon arrived, finally looking for her vengeance. She was drawn to the decoys and attacked them, instead of the man and his wife. Furious that she was unable to achieve the goal she had bargained her life on, she ran, presumably back to the Uji river, where she would be known as the Hashihime of Uji.

Note: Like folklore in many cultures, Japanese folklore has discrepancies. I read a few versions of this story. Some state she actually did succeed in getting her revenge on her former husband and his lover. Others state she did not. But all agree that she became feared by many locals and had many victims. Also, missing from this tale is any mention of a bridge.

For further information about Yōkai, I highly suggest A website run by Matthew Meyer. He has studied Yōkai and Japanese folklore intensively, and has also released a series of books that he wrote, designed, and illustrated. All devoted to the subject. His books and website were a major source of information for this series, and I regularly reference them. They are:

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]

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Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

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