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KIWI YAMABUSHI

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The Creepy Legend of the Yokai of Chokai-san (Mt. Chokai)

The shape of Chokai-san, the tallest peak in the Tohoku region in north Japan, is often compared to Fuji-san. Yet anyone comparing them is probably only thinking about the summit, and only from certain angles. Rather than the well-known conical nature of Fuji-san, Chokai-san looks like the kami had a field day and took a giant chunk out of it.

And if local legend is anything to go by, that’s not far from what happened. The story for Chokai-san’s unique shape is nothing short of comical, and it’s undoubtedly the weirdest thing you’ll hear today.

Tenaga Ashinaga: Chokai-san’s very own Yokai

Tenaga-Ashinaga the Yokai that terrorised people living around Chokai-san. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

You see, Chokai-san is supposedly home to its own Yokai, supernatural beings in Japanese folklore.

Or at least, it was.

Tenaga-Ashinaga (or Ashinaga-Tenaga), is a Yokai that lived at the summit of Chokai-san. Well, the Yokai is actually two yokai, one with unbelievably long arms, Tenaga (lit. ‘long arms’), and one with unbelievably long legs, Ashinaga (lit. ‘long legs’). When these two combine, they form one of the most formidable forces this side of the Mogami River.

What does Tenaga-Ashinaga do?

Another depiction of Tenaga-Ashinaga. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Traditionally, Tenaga-Ashinaga use their incredibly long arms and legs for fishing. In a remarkable feat of teamwork, Tenaga would sit on the shoulders of Ashinaga as they waded in the ocean searching for their next meal.

Yet, around Chokai-san it wasn’t fish they were fishing for.

It was ships and people.

You see, Tenaga-Ashinaga had an insatiable appetite for humans. Or, more specifically, humans that found themselves near Chokai-san.

Naturally, locals were horrified at the very mention of Tenaga-Ashinaga. Who knew who their next victim would be?

Now the obvious thing to do would be to move away from the mountain, but thankfully it didn’t get that drastic.

Locals prayed to the kami of Chokai-san, Omonoimi-no-Kami, for help. Omonoimi-no-kami responded in kind by sending a three-legged crow.

Whenever the three-legged crow spotted Tenaga Ashinaga coming to the villages it would caw:

‘Uya!’

But if there was no sighting, the crow cawed:

‘Muya!’

This way locals knew when it was safe to go out. But this couldn’t last forever, right? We can’t always live in fear. Someone has to put a stop to this.

So the locals thought.

A Hero to the Rescue

Chokai-san with Misaki Park in the foreground. Photo by Kiwi Yamabushi.

That was when the monk Jikaku Daishi came in. (Coincidentally, Jikaku Daishi was the founder of Risshakuji Temple, AKA Yamadera, arguably Yamagata Prefecture’s most famous mountain temple.)

Jikaku Daishi had heard of the struggles of the locals. So, he established a statue of Buddha on the coast in Misaki Park, and prayed to this statue for 100 days.

Suddenly, a red beam of light sprung out of the statue’s eyes and blasted the top of Chokai-san.

The blast obliterated Tenaga-Ashinaga in the process, and was so ferocious it took out a whole chunk of the mountain. This is why Chokai-san has gaping hole right where Shoga-dake and the crater lake is.

But that’s not all! The huge chunk of land flew way way up into the sky and landed nearby, forming the only inhabited island in Yamagata Prefecture in the process: Tobishima Island.

In memory of this, a checkpoint (sekisho, see this article on Japan’s forgotten highways for more) was established near Misaki Park with quite possibly the best name: Uyamuya-no-seki.

The moral of the story? Don’t expect a Kami to do all of the work for you.

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Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

Tim Bunting Kiwi Yamabushi

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

tim@timbunting.com

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