Tsuchigumo (土蜘蛛?) were originally local clans that did not pledge allegiance to the emperor in ancient times. They were recorded in various areas around Japan, and was not the name of a single influential power. They are not related to spiders (kumo).
Furthermore, there is no extant spider called by this name. Furthermore, the large tarantulas called ōtsuchigumo that wander around the surface of the ground that inhabit tropical zones were given those Japanese names in connection with tsuchigumo, but they were only designated as such much further in the future, in modern times, and therefore have no direct relation to tsuchigumo.
Tsuchigumo in history
Motoori Norinaga claimed that in ancient Japan, it was used as a derogatory term against the heroes of aborigines who did not show allegiance to the emperor of Japan. In the Kojiki and in Nihon Shoki, they were referred to by the homophonic synonyms 土蜘蛛 and as 都知久母, and these words were frequently used in the fudoki of Mutsu, Echigo, Hitachi, Settsu, Bungo, Hizen, etc.
Another theory is that since the era of legends, those who waged war against the imperial court were called oni or tsuchigumo by the imperial court, and in addition to being scorned by the imperial court, they were also feared by the imperial court. The word tsuchigumo has been identified to be from tsuchigomori (土隠), namely, they were given that name because they secluded themselves in holes, and they were clearly not spiders (in the point of view of Japanese philology, they were unrelated forms).
Tsuchigumo of the Katsuragi
Among the tsuchigumo, those of the Yamato Katsuragi Mountain are particularly well known. The Katsuragi-hitokotonushi-jinja was a small mound for a tsuchigumo mound, but it has been said to be the remains where Emperor Jimmu captured tsuchigumo and buried their head, body, and feet separately so that their grudge will not revive.
In Yamato (now Nara prefecture), the unique physical characteristics of the tsuchigumo were, different from what had been written about them in other countries, that they were tailed people. In the Nihon Shoki, the founder of the Yoshino no Futo (吉野首) were written to be "with a glowing tail," the founder of Yoshino no Kuzu (国樔) were stated to "have tails and come along pushing rocks (磐石, iwa)," presenting the indigenous people of Yamato as non-humans. Even in the Kojiki, they shared a common trait with the people of Osaka (忍坂) (now Sakurai city) in that they were "tsuchigumo (土雲) who have grown tails."
Records from the Keiko generation and others
In the Hizen no Kuni Fudoki, there is an article writing that when Emperor Keiko made an imperial visit to Shiki island (志式島, Hirado island) (year 72 in the legends), there was an island in the middle of sea, and since there was smoke rising from there, he tried investigating it, and discovered that the tsuchigumo Oomimi (大耳) lived on the smaller island, and Taremimi (垂耳) lived on the larger island. When both were captured and about to be killed, Oomimi and Taremimi's lowered their foreheads to the ground and fell prostrate, and pleaded, "we will from now on make offerings to the emperor" and presented fish products and begged for pardon.
Also, in the Bungo no Kuni Fudoki, there appeared many tsuchigumo, such as the Itsuma-hime (五馬姫) of Itsuma mountain (五馬山), the Uchisaru (打猴), Unasaru (頸猴), Yata (八田), Kunimaro (國摩侶), and Amashino (網磯野), of Negi field (禰宜野), the Shinokaomi (小竹鹿臣) of Shinokaosa (小竹鹿奥), the Ao (青) and Shiro (白) of Nezumi cavern (鼠の磐窟), etc. Other than these, there was also the story of Tsuchigumo Yasome (土蜘蛛八十女), who made preparations in the mountains to resist against the imperial court, but was utterly defeated. Yaso (八十) was greatly popular among the people, and many of the female chief class opposed the Yamato imperial court, and it was interpreted that they met a heroic end. This tsuchigumo Yasome's whereabouts was reported to the emperor, and was a local female chief, and for her achievements was able to survive (it was told that she separated her allies from the resisting people).
According to writings in the Nihon Shoki, in the 12th year of emperor Keiko (year 82 in the legends), in winter, October, emperor Keiko arrived in Hayami town, Ookita (now Ooita), and heard from the queen of the land, Hayatsuhime (速津媛) that there was a big cave in the mountain, called the Nezumi cave, where two tsuchigumo lived. Their names were Shiro and Ao. Also, in Negino (禰疑野), Naoiri, there were three tsuchigumo, and their names were Uchizaru (打猿), Yata (八田), and Kunimaro (国摩侶, 国麻呂), and these five had great amount of allies, and would not follow the emperor's commands.
With the passage of time, Tsuchigumo have also been established as yōkai.
They appeared to people as having faces of an oni, a body of a tiger, arms and legs of a spider, and wore giant outfits. They all lived in mountains, firmly captured travelers with strings, and ate them.
In the Tsuchigumo Soushi (土蜘蛛草紙) written in the 14th century, tsuchigumo appeared in the capital as monsters. The commander Minamoto no Yorimitsu of the mid Heian era, known for the slaying of Shuten-doji, was brought by his servant Watanabe no Tsuna to go in the direction of Rendai field (蓮台野), a mountain north of Kyoto, where they encountered a flying skull. Yorimitsu and the others, who thought it was dubious, started to follow it, and arrived at an old estate, where there appeared various atypical yokai that agonized Yorimitsu and the others, and when dawn arrived, there appeared a beautiful woman who was about to trick them, but Yorimitsu, not giving it, cut it with his katana, and the woman disappeared, leaving white blood. Pursuing that trail, they arrived at a cave in mountain recesses, where there was a huge spider, who was the true identity of all the monsters that appeared. At the end of a long battle, Yorimitsu cut off the spider's head, and the heads of 1990 dead people came out from its stomach. Furthermore, from its flanks, countless small spiders flew about, and investigating them further, they found about 20 more skulls.
There are various theories to the story of the tsuchigumo, and in the Heike Monogatari, there is as following (they were written as 山蜘蛛). When Yorimitsu suffered from malaria, and lay on a bed, a strange monk who was 7 shaku (about 2.1 meters) tall appeared, released some rope, and tried to capture him. Yorimitsu, despite his sickness, cut him with his famous sword, the Hizamaru (膝丸), causing the monk to flee. The next day, Yorimitsu led his four guardian kings to chase after the blood trail of the monk, and arrived at a mound behind Kitano jinja where there was a large spider that was 4 shaku wide (about 1.2 meters). Yorimitsu and the others caught it, pierced it with an iron skewer, and exposed it to a riverbed. Yorimitsu's illness left him immediately, and the sword that cut the spider was from then on called the Kumo-kiri (蜘蛛切り). The true identity of this tsuchigumo was said to be an onryō of the aforementioned local clan defeated by Emperor Jimmu. This tale is also known from the very fifth noh, "Tsuchigumo."
In one story, Yorimitsu's father, Minamoto no Mitsunaka, conspired with the aforementioned oni and tsuchigumo local clan and planned a revolt against the Fujiwara clan, but during the Heian no Hen when he betrayed the local clan to protect himself, it has been said that his son, Yorimitsu, and his guardian kings will be cursed by oni and tsuchigumo yokai.
In Kita-ku, Kyoto, Jōbonrendai-ji, there is the Minamoto Yorimitsu Ason-no-tsuka (源頼光朝臣塚) deifying Yorimitsu, but this mound has been said to be a nest built by tsuchigumo, and there is a story that when the tree that was previously beside it fell to lumbering, the logger fell into a mysterious illness and died. Also, in Ichijō-dōri in Kamigyō-ku, there is also a mound said to be built from tsuchigumo, where lanterns were discovered in an excavation and said to be spider lanterns, but those who received this immediately started to trend to receive great fortune, and became afraid of being cursed by tsuchigumo, so these spider lanterns are now dedicated to the temple Tōkō-Kannon-ji in Kannonji-monzen-chō, Kamigyō-ku.
Media related to Tsuchigumo at Wikimedia Commons
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