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Tales of Tono and Oshira-sama

We are currently at Tono, a small town which is the subject of a series of literary fables, the Tono Monogatari working our way back towards the west via Samurai houses and more forests and temples.

Three nights ago we arrived in Tono, a small inland town the subject of the exotic animist "Legends of Tono" by the early 20th century writer Kunio Yanagita, including shape shifting foxes, dumb impish water spirits who like to Sumo wrestle passers by and pull their intestines out their anus, and a famous story of a farm girl who married her horse and when her father hung it in a tree and decapitated it, it flew with it into heaven to become Oshira-sama the goddess of fertility, still used in the form of dolls by blind crones to contact the dead during Northern Osore-zan Taisai festivals.

After driving through town fruitlessly trying to find the library where there is supposed to be free internet, we ended up at a bizarre supermarket built like an opera house with a huge fountain-like structure crowning its roof. In the process I found there was a free wireless internet service in the car park. I've heard these stories of people who trawl round neighbourhoods and parasitize unwary people using wireless modems but its impossible to tell what the real source of these 'free' services is.

Afterwards Christine noticed that there was a shrine on a hill on the south west edge of town and we drove up to find a place to secrete ourselves and found the whole forested hillside running with small isolated roadways, and parked the night in the forest beside the shrine's graveyard, just up the hill from a delightful public toilet, in a scintillating and fragrant condition of perfection, so clean that I found myself backing out wiping the floor with spare toilet paper as I left!

Unedori-sama Shrine

Unedorisama, God of marriage. According to legend, there there was once a pool located here. It is said that if a person made a wish to the god of this pool, amazingly he or she would be married. If you use your left hand to tie a red cloth on the tree at the shrine for Unedorisama, then your wish will be granted


In the morning we found the site of the 500 17th century buddhas carved on rocks at Gohyaku-rakan above the town in a mossy valley with a stream running through. They were almost unrecognizable when you arrive, but as you look further they are all around you.

The Legends of Tono, or Tono Monogatari form a famous part of the folklore history of Japan. They were compiled and popularized by Kunio Yanagita who wrote the Tōno Monogatari and Kizen Sasaki and consist of a tangled web of fairy tales about creatures from Kappa-buchi sprites scary water monsters to Zashikiwarashi the spirit of money and tabloid scandals, with historical roots reaching back to mythical woodmen, aboriginal tribespeople living in the mountains.

One of the concepts Yanagita presents in Tōno Monogatari is that of, literally, being spirited away, or kamikakushi, as made famous in the anime movie "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki.

As author Sadler relates:

A young girl is at play under the pear tree in her yard one evening toward dusk, and in the next instant she is gone, vanished. Thirty years later the occupants of her old family home are surprised by a visitor whom they recognize at once as this child, now grown to womanhood. She looks haggard and old. She is silent, except for the half-apologetic remark that she 'just wanted to see everyone once more,' and then she departs as silently and mysteriously as she came. Evidently no one attempts to follow her, and no one asks her to stay. Her story remains untold. No one wants to hear it. They know what it is. She is kamikakushi ... literally, she has been hidden by the kami, by the spirits. She has been enslaved by some supernatural being.

Farming complex on the outskirts of Tono

We then went out to a 'model village' Denshoen, where they have some traditional thatched farm houses set up as a folk museum. All over Japan farm houses have adobe or brick grain storage houses, and this one had been set up as a shrine to Oshira-sama for women who wanted to get pregnant to write messages on doll's shawls and post them on little totems with the heads of all kinds of animals and people, so that there were literally thousands of these Oshira-sama dolls.

Pictorial depiction of the story of a farm girl who married her horse and when her father hung it in a tree and decapitated it, it flew with it into heaven to become Oshira-sama the goddess of fertility.

Oshira-sama dolls

Silk moths and silk spinning

Nearby is the Joken-ji temple where the Kappa-buchi sprites were said to have put out a temple fire so that a lion statue was erected in their honour. Behind it was the Kappa-buchi pool where women who offer breast like offerings are reassured of a plentiful milk supply. When we were there a man was persuading people to fish in the poll with cucumbers which made the Japanese laugh with hilarious laughter.

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