We're on Day Two of our week-long tour of Elemental Yōkai. If you missed yesterday's entry, the Jubokko, please check it out.
second element of traditional Chinese philosophy is fire, 火. Today's
yōkai, while not so much a yōkai as an unusual phenomenon, comes from my
I remember when I was
very small, and would take day trips by car, we would drive through
very sharp mountain roads, which winded and twisted and were perilously
steep. Many were cut from a sheer cliff-side, and would have netting
spread over it to prevent bits of falling rock from plummeting onto your
car and crushing you to death.
Four-year-old-me would stare warily up at the high ledge, wrought with peril and fear that death was certain at any moment.
"Don't be afraid." My mother told me.
course. Falling rocks are the least of your problems. You need to
watch out for the Akurojin no Hi. That type of death is much worse."
say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and if the "Traditional Japan
Club" I and 40 other Japanese people now living in NC take part in, it's
very true. Almost all of us assert that we grew up with no real
interest, and even a slight annoyance with, the Japanese history and
culture we were forced to memorise by our parents and at school, until
we moved to America. After a while, being in a country with no
festivals every weekend, Sengoku battlefields to visit, and yōkai
lurking around every corner made me miss Japan very much. So now I make
it a point of hobby (and eventually occupation) to study, write, and
spread information about Japanese culture to everyone who doesn't have
the access to it, either by language, location, or whatever the
circumstance may be.
So please let me tell you about this somewhat obscure supernatural phenomenon from Mie Prefecture.
Akurojin no Hi (悪路神の火) literally means "the Bad Road God's fire."
you saw in the photo above, the mountain roads of Mie are quite
dangerous. But imagine what they were like several hundred years ago,
when it was known as Ise Province, and there was no modern roads
suitable for driving, or really, even walking.
ever-so-gingerly trudging along this steep mountain path. At night.
And it's raining. There is no chain railing to grip. All you have is a
tiny lantern to light your way, and it's starting to flicker out.
a little ways ahead of you, a flame bursts into light, warm and strong
and low to the ground, as if someone is crouching to re-light their
lantern. You head towards it, the flames bobbing steadily a foot or two
from the ground. When you reach it, you're disturbed to see that there
is no one there, no lantern, just this wobbling flame. Is it fox-fire?
Carefully, you walk past it and make your way home. Relieved that you
managed to make it past that strange apparition, not to mention
surviving that absurdly dangerous journey.
Then you get sick. Very, very sick. And then you die.
Congratulation, you were cursed by Akurojin, the spirit of that terrible road.
You shouldn't have been on that road. And then, when he sent fire after you, you disrespected him.
for some reason, your grave illness doesn't actually kill you, I'll
give you some advice for next time. Most people recommend that, when
you see the Bad Road God's fire, you should run away immediately. This
will show the proper amount of terror (ie, respect) to the Akurojin, and
you won't get sick. Or at least, not sick enough to die.
here's a little-known tip, directly from me to you. You don't want to
just run away from the fires. It's dark, and raining, and that road is
treacherous! You'll definitely slip and plummet to your death. But
there is a way to avoid falling to death or getting cursed to death.
When you see the Akurojin no Hi, throw yourself to the ground. Just
prostrate yourself with all your heart, pressing yourself to the path,
preferably away from the edge of the cliff. And just stay there. Keep
laying on the ground until the fires pass. After that, you may then get
up and continue your journey, though a bit muddy, at least alive and
free to focus on careful footing instead of deathly illness and curses.