two statues of blue-green ao oni

Photo:Photo by Chris Gladis on Flickr

Monsters of Kyoto and Where to Find Them

For anyone visiting Kyoto, here are some locations to excite your inner demons. Japan is recognized for its unique and refined brand of horror and suspense. So, it is no surprise to learn about the strong folktale tradition that helped form today’s spooky pop-culture. Many films (like The Ring 2002) and anime (like Spirited Away 2001) introduce these supernatural occurrences to international audiences.

The most recognized place to start your hunt is Yokai Street. This location will familiarize you with a great selection of Japanese monsters. Lining the streets with home-made renditions of Yokai, this thoroughfare is not to be missed. Each shop and some home-owners have papier-mâchéd creatures or dressed mannequins as characters from infamous strange stories. 

Yokai Street, June 24th 2010, October 26th, 2019. Photo by sprklg on Flickr.

Yokai Street: 〒602-8374 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Kamigyō-ku, Nishimachi (Tenjindōri)

ACCESS: From Kyoto Station, catch the San-In JR line to Emmachi Station and then walk 18 minutes north.

The next best sight close to the city centre, is Seimei-jinja, the Abeno
Seimei Shrine. Abe no Seimei is one from the history books, whose life has
been transformed into the stuff of legends. Alive between the years of 921 and 1005, Seimei worked for the Bureau of Divination. This bureau oversaw the purifying of auspicious events, astrology, scheduling, and exorcisms. Over the millennia since his life, tales have evolved detailing extraordinary events, that have given Seimei the title of sorcerer.

Figure 2: Seimei-Jinja from the street, taken by Amanda Metcalf, October 20th 2019

His shrine is in the north-west quarter of Kyoto. The shrine was erected on the site of Seimei’s house after he died, once a large estate, has now been reduced to the size it is today. Easily recognizable for the five pointed starred lanterns out in front. The shrine features a lucky well that is said to flow water in the direction favored by the year. Rubbing the lucky bronze peach is said to dispel impurities. And there are pictures along the walls of Seimei’s interesting life. Take advantage of the two stores on the site, selling magical charms.

Seimei-Jinja: 〒602-8222 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Seimeicho, 806

ACCESS: From Kyoto Station catch the Karasuma Line train line to Imadegawa station and then walk 15 minutes east. 

Heading a little further into the wilderness, take a trip to Mount Kurama. This incredible mountain is rich with stories of strange apparitions by the tengu. With the body of a man, a red face and a large elongated nose, these creatures are common place in folktales. Once monks, tengu became proud of their superior knowledge, and were then blocked from being able to reach enlightenment. 

Mount Kurama Station, Kyoto, Photo by Maarten Heerlien on Flickr.

The most famous tale of the tengu from Mount Kurama, was the training of Minamoto no Yoshitsune. A boy who was placed in the temple after his parents were murdered. Instead of following religion, the boy trained for combat. The tengu took pity, and trained him. Eventually he got revenge over his parents murders and became revered in history for his unmatched combat skills. 

Mount Kurama: Kurama Station

ACCESS: Catch the Eizan Main Line train to Kurama Station.

The Oni Exchange Museum. Photo by 汲平 on Wikimedia Commons.

The Oni Exchange Museum, is a little more remote to get to, though still within the Kyoto prefecture. And for the love of all things oni – still worth it. Boasting a small collection of artifacts, and a huge oni roof tile out the front, this museum is very educational. Providing information on both Japanese ogres and regional countries’ demons, visitors can get an idea on the origins of the oni. 

The location for the museum comes from an old story. Many people were going missing in Kyoto, and a sorcerer revealed the monsters causing the trouble lived on Mount Ooe. A military general took a team of fighters to drink with the oni, and once they were drunk, the military slaughtered them all.

Nihonnoonikoryu Museum: 〒620-0321, Kyoto, Fukuchiyama, 909

Admission: 320 yen for adults and 210 yen for students

ACCESS: Catch a train to Oe Station on the Kyoto Tango Railway, then take a City Bus to "Oeyama no Ie" to the final stop. Please note the museum is closed on Mondays and public holidays.

Figure 3 Kitsune shrine fountain, Fushimi Inari, taken by Amanda Metcalf, October 22nd 2019.

Fushimi Inari, a world-renowned shrine prominently features Kitsune. Kitsune is the Japanese word for fox, but tales for hundreds of years have reported the foxes’ abilities to shape shift into sexy and cunning characters. Honouring the god Inari, the fox statues that line the shrine’s paths, are considered the agents that carry out the god Inari’s will. 

This huge shrine is regarded as the head shrine for Inari, though walking back streets in any city in Japan, you will probably pass a handful of Inari shrines. As the god mostly deals with prosperity, both personal and in business, these foxes are associated with great fortune. Which is another reason why Kitsune are most often shape shifting into cunning business people.

Fushimi Inari Shrine: 〒612-0882 Kyoto, Fushimi Ward, 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchino

ACCESS: Catch the train on the JR Nara line to Inari station, or the Keihan Main Line to Fushimi Inari station.

Figure 3: Lanterns outside Kodaiji Temple, taken by Amanda Metcalf, August 3rd 2019

Kodai-ji Temple during summer, opens at night and usually display various illustrated scrolls. The scrolls feature the 100 demons parade and depictions of Buddhist tales. For a couple of weeks, the temple also lights-up their rock garden with a light projection, which changes yearly. 

Kodaiji Temple: 526 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 〒605-0825

Yoshida Shrine. Photo by HikaruKinkakuji on Wikimedia Commons.

The Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto celebrates the new year with Setsubun ceremonies. The festival is usually held for a few days in the first week of February. Oni attend this festival along with the people of Kyoto. The shrine uses monsters both good and bad to illustrate the need for spiritual cleansing. As the process takes place, the audience is later encouraged to throw roasted soybeans at the bad demons, to weaken them. Despite the huge crowds, this is a great way to see a yokai in the flesh.

Yoshida Shrine: 30 Yoshidakaguraokacho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 〒606-8311

Rozan Temple. Photo by mariemon on Wikimedia Commons.

Across town, the Rozan Temple hosts another Setsubun Festival that uses oni. Three demons enter the stage, representing the three poisons to Buddhism. As the demons eventually dance themselves into oblivion, the bean throwing begins. Similarly, to Yoshida, the festival is usually on February 3rd, and focuses on cleansing for the new year. 

Rozan-ji: 397 Kitanobecho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 〒602-0852

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