The Mahou Blog

March 15, 2011

Do Demons Lurk in the Halls of Japan’s Buddhist Temples?

Filed under: Uncategorized — mahou @ 5:35 pm

…monster mummies whose preserved remains defy
explanation as they stand brazenly on display for all who dare to look.
These mummified demons include incredible monsters, mermaids and even human

In the Japanese city of Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture, the Zengy temple is
home to the mummified head of a three-faced demon. As the legend goes, a
resident priest discovered the mummy in a temple storage chamber in the early
18th century.

Nobody knows where the demon head came from or how or why it ended up there. The
mummified head has two overlapping faces in front, with another one (resembling
that of a kappa, which is a water spirit found in Japanese folklore) situated in
back. The temple displays the head each year around the spring equinox.
In the town of Usa (Oita prefecture) another demon mummy is on display at the
local temple. Once the treasured heirloom of a noble family, this mummy changed
owners several times before ending up in the hands of a parishioner in 1925.

When he fell ill (the owner, not the mummy), a legend was born that the mummy
was cursed, a belief that was reinforced by the fact that he quickly recovered
from his illness after donating the mummy to the temple where it remains to this
day on display as a sacred object.
During the 18th and 19th centuries known as the Edo period in Japan, mermaid
mummies often appeared at misemono (side show carnivals). A bizarre art form,
these mummies were created by fishermen who perfected techniques for stitching
the heads and upper bodies of monkeys and other animals onto the bodies of fish.

The very disturbing mummy depicted below was found in a wooden box that
contained passages from a Buddhist sutra written in Sanskrit.

Kappa mummies were also constructed by using odd animal parts ranging from
monkeys and owls to stingrays. One notable kappa is located in the town of Imari
(Saga prefecture) at the Matsuura sake brewery of all places.
As the story goes, the mummy depicted below was discovered hidden in a box by
carpenters replacing the roof more than 50 years ago. The owners of the brewery
built a small altar and enshrined it as a river god.

A supernatural sky creature known as a tengu is often depicted as part human and
part bird. Japan’s ruling samurai families of the Shogunate period maintained
collections of these weird mummies, and one is on display at the Hachinohe
Museum (Aomori prefecture) in northern Japan.
Topping the list of mummies are the self-mummified monks of northern Japan who
willingly tortured themselves in a three-step process to achieve heavenly
nirvana. The Japanese government outlawed this practice in the late 19th


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