Waterfall Demon Princess: Raising the Bones of the Dead

Imagine this: your father was a powerful Samurai, who led an unsuccessful revolt against the Emperor. And so, in the (Western) year 939 C.E., the Emperor had him beheaded (this part of our tale is historically accounted for by contemporary Japanese sources).

Now, your father’s manor is in ruins, haunted by the ghosts of his loyal followers, most of who were hunted down by the Emperor’s men.

Your father’s name was Taira no Masakdo, and you, as one of his only two surviving children, have also been targeted for assassination.

There’s only one slight problem with this plan – and that is while you were in exile, you trained with an old, cave dwelling hermit named Nikushisen. At this point in time, you are a full fledged sorceress, versed in ‘frog magic’.

Your name is Takiyasha-hime (translation: Waterfall Demon Princess, a self given title), and you are very much your father’s daughter…

Chikanobu (1838–1912) wood block
Takiyasha-hime, the sorceress, is shown carrying a sword in one hand, a bell in the other, and a torch in her mouth; the frog, source of her magic, is shown in the inset (top) with her father, Taira no Masakado

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As the story goes, the Emperor sent a warrior named Mitsukuni to dispose of Takiyasha. As he entered Taira no Masakado’s dilapidated manor, he probably expected to find a frightened girl.

Instead, he found a Gashadokuro.

What, pray Shinto, is that?

Well…

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Gashadokuro are angry spirits that appear as giant skeletons, several times larger than your typical human. These monsters are assembled out of the bones of those who have died unnatural deaths – battle, plague, starvation, so on. The point is that Gashaddokuro are vengeful, and therefore can’t be reasoned with.

Takiyasha had plenty of her father’s dead friends’ bones to pick from…

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Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre a.k.a.
Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre Invoked by Princess Takiyasha
Utagawa Kuniyoshi c. 1844, Honolulu Museum of Art.
Note that Takiyasha is reading from a scroll, presumably invoking the monster with frog magic, as Mitsukuni and his companion try to defend themselves.

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So, how does it end?

Well, not well for anyone, at least as the story is told.

While Takiyasha’s magic was strong, so was Mitsukuni’s blade; neither would survive the battle.

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So what’s the take away? Things really can get lost in translation.

Looking at this image from a contemporary, Western viewpoint, I’m tempted to be sympathetic to Takiyasha and her frog magic.

I’m rooting for her, which is probably not the intended reading. Mitsukuni is supposed to be the good guy, and I’m sure for many people seeing it in its cultural and historical context, he is the good guy.

After all, she did change her name to Waterfall Demon Princess, which kind of colors her a tad shade of not-so-nice,

And yes, she did summon a massive, flesh eating spirit made of angry human bones.

Oh well, I’m going to double down; call it the sunken bone fallacy…

In other words,

Go Team Gashadokuro!

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Additional Reading:

I’ve lavished praise on this site before, and I’ll do it again: http://yokai.com is amazing, and here’s the link to Takiyasha:

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