The Legend of Kiyohime The Japanese Ghost

Japan is renowned as a country steeped in mythology and folklore. It has been passed down throughout the generations and has given us some truly amazing, and creepy stories. However, many of these stories are unknown to westerners. One of the most famous Japanese stories, is of Kiyohime, the Japanese ghost.

Japanese mythology embraces Buddhist and Shinto traditions, not forgetting the agriculture-based folk religion.

Ghosts (yurei) and demons (oni) have played a significant role in the culture of Japan for thousands of years, with stories of new spirits continuing to be told today. Most of these tales are about women whose jealousy and fury turned them into ghosts or demons while still alive. Among these is Kiyohime, one of the most famous hauntings in the country.

The Story of Kiyohime The Japanese Ghost

Kiyohime destroyed the monk Anchin after he refused her sexual advances. According to Japanese literature, Kiyohime was the beautiful young daughter of the manor lord, during the reign of Emperor Daigo.

The family was well-off, and would entertain and provide a place to sleep for traveling priests. Anchin was a young and handsome priest who was traveling on pilgrimage from Mutsu to Kumano.

He would make the journey every year in which he would spend the night at the manor of the Masago no Shoji family. The fact that he was good looking caught the eye of the troublesome Kiyohime. Anchin joked that if she behaved well, he would marry her and go to Mutsu with her.

When she became of age, Kiyohime reminded Anchin of his promise. Seeing that his feelings were being reciprocated, Anchin made up a believable excuse to extend his stay for a few days to be with Kiyohime.

A Monk’s Vocation

At that time of the year, the climate was fantastic with insects and frolicking birds filling the air with beautiful melodies. A few avid, furtive meetings resulted in intimacy with Anchin, and he ultimately fell for Kiyohime.

Unfortunately, Anchin being a total devotee to his vocations, regained his conscience and started being cold towards her while avoiding any other secret meetings. The poor girl asked Anchin for explanations, but failing to give her any, she fell into deep dismay.

She felt cruelly victimized and taken advantage of by Anchin. When Kiyohime was away visiting a neighbor, Anchin took the opportunity to escape.

The Escape of Anchin

Kiyohime The Japanese Ghost

Kiyohime caught up with the priest on the Hidaka river banks. Anchin paid a boatman to assist him in crossing the river and gave extra coins to the other boatman to make sure Kiyohime would not use his boat to cross the river.

Seeing that the priest would escape her, Kiyohime started to swim after him, and her fiery rage overcame her. It transformed her into a large dragon-like serpent with horns and coated with green metallic scales. She was a spiritual creature and no longer the beautiful human maiden.

Scared, Anchin ran for his safety in the nearby Dōjōji temple where he pleaded with the priest to help him. He was hid in the giant bronze bell of the temple. However, this was not enough, as Kiyohime had been given a wicked keen scent which smelled him hiding under the bronze bell.

The Dragon of Kiyohime

Kiyohime The Japanese Ghost

This monster started to coil her muscular tail around the bell, banging it loudly a few times before it gave a huge fire infernal belch that melted the bell completely. The fire was so fierce that it engulfed the priest.

Her fury subsided, anger relieved, and Kiyohime realized she had killed her true love. Seeing no reason to live with her monstrous body, she drowned herself in the Hidaka River.

The ghost of Kiyohime is said to still haunt the banks of the river to this day.