Jorōgumo (Japanese Kanji: 絡新婦, Hiragana: じょろうぐも) is a type of Yōkai, a creature, ghost or goblin of Japanese folklore. It can shapeshift into a beautiful woman, so the kanji for its actual meaning is 女郎蜘蛛 or "woman-spider", and to write it instead as 絡新婦 ("entangling newlywed woman") is a jukujikun pronunciation of the kanji. In Toriyama Sekien's Gazu Hyakki Yagyō, it is depicted as a spider woman manipulating small fire-breathing spiders.
Jorōgumo can also refer to some species of spiders, such as the Nephila and Argiope spiders. Japanese-speaking entomologists use the katakana form of Jorōgumo (ジョロウグモ) to refer, exclusively, to the spider species Nephila clavata.
In Edo period writings such as the Taihei-Hyakumonogatari (太平百物語) and the Tonoigusa (宿直草), there are "jorogumo" that shapeshift into women.
"Things That Ought to be Pondered, Even in Urgent Times" ("Kifunaru Toki mo, Shian Aru Beki Koto", 急なるときも、思案あるべき事) relates the story of a young woman appearing to be about 19-20 years old who appears to a youthful warrior (bushi). She tells the child she carries "Him there surely is your father. Go forth, and be embraced" ("arenaru ha tete ni temashimasu zo. Yukite idakare yo", あれなるは父にてましますぞ。行きて抱かれよ). The warrior sees through her ploy and, realizing she is a yōkai, he strikes her with his sword, making her flee to the attic. The next day, they find a dead jorōgumo 1-2 shaku long in the attic, along with numerous bodies of people that the jorōgumo had devoured.
"How Magoroku Was Deceived by a Jorogumō" ("Magoroku Jorōgumo ni Taburakasareshi Koto",孫六女郎蜘にたぶらかされし事) relates the story of Magoroku dozing in his veranda in Takada, Sakushu (now Okayama Prefecture). As he was about to doze off, a women in her 50s appeared. She said that her daughter had taken a fancy to Sugoroku and invited him to her estate. There a 16-17 year old girl asked him to marry her. Already married, he declined, but the girl persisted. She claimed that he had almost killed her mother two days before, and yet she still visited him, and surely he could not let her feelings come to nothing. Bewildered, Magoroku fled. The house disappeared as he ran and he found himself back on his own porch. Magoroku's wife then assured him that he had been sleeping on the veranda the whole time. Concluding it was only a dream, Magoroku looked around and noticed a small jorō spider that had made a tight web around the eaves. Relieved, he recalled how he drove away a spider two days before.
Legends by area
The Jōren Falls of Izu
At the Jōren Falls of Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, allegedly lives the jorōgumo mistress of the waterfall. The local legend tells of a man who rested beside the waterfall basin when the jorōgumo tried to drag him into the waterfall by throwing webs around his leg. The man transferred the webbing around a tree stump, which was dragged into the falls instead of him.
After that, people of the village dared not venture close to the falls anymore. Then one day, a visiting woodcutter who was a stranger to this all, tried to cut a tree and mistakenly dropped his favorite axe into the basin. As he tried to go down to fetch his axe back, a beautiful woman appeared and returned it to him. "You must never tell anyone what you saw here", she said. Initially he kept the secret, but as days went by, the need to spill the story burdened him. And finally at a banquet, while drunk, he told the whole story. Feeling unburdened and at peace, he went to sleep, but he never woke again. In another version, the woodcutter was pulled outside by an invisible string and his corpse was found floating the next day at the Jōren Falls.
In yet another version, the woodcutter fell in love with a woman he met at the waterfall. He visited her every day, but grew physically weaker each time. The oshō of a nearby temple suspected that the woodcutter was "taken in by the jorōgumo mistress of the waterfall", and accompanied him to chant a sutra. When a spider thread reached out to the woodcutter, the oshō let out a thunderous yell, and the thread disappeared. Now knowing that the woman was actually a jorōgumo, the woodcutter still persisted and tried to gain permission for marriage from the mountain's tengu. When the tengu denied, him, the woodcutter ran towards the waterfall, where he was entangled by spider threads and disappeared into the water.う
Varioius areas have a legend about people being dragged into a waterfall by a jorōgumo as well as the use of a tree stump as decoy. In the legend of Kashikobuchi, Sendai, a voice was heard saying, "clever, clever", ("kashikoi, kashikoi"), after the tree stump was pulled into the water. The legend is thought to be the origin of the name Kashikobuchi or "clever abyss". The jorōgumo of Kashikbuchi was worshipped for warding off water disasters, and even now there are momuments and torii that are engraved with "Myōhō Kumo no Rei" (妙法蜘蛛之霊).
Once, an eel that lived in the abyss visited the man Genbe and shapeshifted into a beautiful woman. She warned him that the jorōgumo of the abyss was going to attack her the next day. The woman claimed she could never match the jorōgumo in power and she desired help from Genbe. Genbe promised to help her, but the next day he got scared and shut himself in his house. The eel lost her fight with the jorōgumo, and Genbe died insane.
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