Do Demons Lurk in the Halls of Japan’s Buddhist Temples?
Posted on September 16, 2009
Some say the halls of Buddhist temples and museums across Japan are home to many unwanted guests; namely, 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 monks. Some are definitely bogus, but others may well keep you up at night. Take a look but…. don’t forget to check that moving dark spot over your shoulder.
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 century, but the image below tells its own horrible tale.
A view of these creatures raises more questions than answers, which always creates a tinge of discomfort.
Who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t?
Are such things truly in the eye of the beholder?