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Kiyohime Changes from a Serpent by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

Kiyohime (清姫) (or just Kiyo) in Japanese folklore is a character in the story of Anchin and Kiyohime. In this story, she fell in love with a Buddhist monk named Anchin, but after her interest in the monk was rejected, she chased after him and transformed into a serpent in a rage, before killing him in a bell where he had hidden in the Dōjō-ji temple.[1]

Early sources[edit]

The story first appeared in two collections of setsuwa or tales, Dainihonkoku hokekyō kenki (c. 1040) and Konjaku Monogatarishū (c. 1120).[2] These two versions tell the story of a young widow or an unmarried, young house mistress[3] who desired the attention of a handsome monk travelling on a pilgrimage route to a Shugendō shrine in Kumano on the Kii Peninsula. The monk, in a attempt to avoid meeting her, chose a different route on the return journey, and the women died in grief when she found out that he was deliberately avoiding her. After her death, a great serpent emerged from her bedchamber and it pursued the monk before killing him in a bell in the Dōjō-ji temple where he had hidden. Years later the monk appeared in a dream of a senior priest begging him to copy a chapter of the Lotus Sutra to release him and the serpent from their suffering in their rebirths, which was duly done and they were both reborn in separate heavens.[4] Another version is found in Genkō Shakusho c. 1332. The name Kiyohime did not appear in these early versions, Anchin (安珍) however was named as the monk in Genkō Shakusho.[5]

A version of the story is told in an emaki scroll from the Muromachi period titled Dōjōji engi emaki ("Illustrated legend of Dōjōji", c. 15th century).[5] In this version, the woman in the tale was the daughter-in-law of the owner of a home in Manago in the Muro district named Steward of Seiji. The name Seiji (清次) can also be read as Kiyotsugu, which is the origin of the name Kiyohime found in later versions of the tale.[6] The name Kiyohime did not appeared until the 18th century, in the narrative of a joruri (ballad drama) titled Dojo-ji genzai uroko (道成寺現在蛇鱗, The Scales of Dojoji, A Modern Version) that was first performed in 1742.[7] Some later versions also used different names for Anchin and Kiyohime, or that she was the daughter of an innkeeper Shōji Kiyotsugu and other variations.[8][9]

Popular versions[edit]

There are some variations in different versions of the story. In the popular versions, the family of Kiyohime provided lodging for traveling priests, who passed by on their way to a shrine famous for ascetic practices. One day, a handsome visiting priest named Anchin lodged at the house while on a pilgrimage. In some versions, he fell in love with the beautiful Kiyohime, but after a time he overcame his passions and refrained from further meetings. In other versions Anchin resisted her attention from the start, and avoided her house on his return journey.

Kiyohime became furious by his rejection and pursued him in rage. At the edge of the Hidaka river, Anchin asked a boatman to help him to cross the river, but told him not to let her cross with his boat. When Kiyohime saw that Anchin was escaping her, she jumped into the river and started to swim after him. While swimming in the torrent of the Hidaka river, she transformed into a large serpent or dragon because of her rage. When Anchin saw her coming after him in her monstrous new form, he ran into the temple called Dōjō-ji. He asked the priests of Dōjōji for help and they hid him under the bonshō bell of the temple. However, the serpent smelled him hiding inside the bell and started to coil around it. She banged the bell loudly several times with her tail, then gave a great belch of fire so powerful that it melted the bell and killed Anchin.[10]

Section of the scroll Dōjōji Engi Emaki illustrating the part where the woman transforms into a serpent chasing after the monk
Section of the scroll Dōjōji Engi Emaki illustrating the story where the serpent burns the bell killing the monk

Cultural references[edit]

The tale of Anchin and Kiyohime forms the basis of a collection of plays termed Dōjōji mono (Dōjō-ji Temple plays), depicting an event some years after the temple bell was destroyed. These plays include the Noh play Dōjōji and the Kabuki dance drama Musume Dōjōji.[8]

Kiyohime appears in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order as both a Berserker, and Lancer class servant, both incarnations with a madness/insanity related skill.

She also appears in the Megami Tensei video game series as a demon.

In the video game For Honor, the Aramusha character has a customizable sword gear set named "Kiyohime's Embrace" complete with serpent scales on the blade hilts, and marks running down the blades as if they were partly melted.

In the mobile game onmyoji, Kiyohime is represented as a fire-spitting snake-like shikigami, one of the collectable spirits, and an occasional villain in the game's storyline.

In the anime series My-HiME, Kiyohime is the Child (a part-spiritual, part-mechanical creature) of Shizuru Fujino, one of the 12 HiMEs. In her final confrontation with fellow HiME Natsuki Kuga, with whom she is romantically obsessed, Shizuru drops a bell on her.


  1. ^ Ikumi Kaminishi (2005). Explaining Pictures: Buddhist Propaganda And Etoki Storytelling in Japan. University of Hawai'i Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0824826970.
  2. ^ The original title of this folktale in Konjaku Monogatarishū is "How a Monk of the Dōjōji in the Province of Kii copied the Lotus Sutra and Brought Salvation to Serpents"
  3. ^ "紀伊國牟婁郡の惡しき女(「大日本國法華經驗記」より)".
  4. ^ Susan Blakeley Klein (1991). "When the Moon Strikes the Bell: Desire and Enlightenment in the Noh Play Dojoji". The Journal of Japanese Studies. 17 (2): 291–322. doi:10.2307/132744. JSTOR 132744.
  5. ^ a b Skord Waters, Virginia (1997). "Sex, Lies, and the Illustrated Scroll: The Dōjōji Engi Emaki". Monumenta Nipponica. 52 (1): 59–84. doi:10.2307/2385487. JSTOR 2385487.
  6. ^ Skord Waters, Virginia (1997). "Sex, Lies, and the Illustrated Scroll: The Dōjōji Engi Emaki". Monumenta Nipponica. 52 (1): 75. doi:10.2307/2385487. JSTOR 2385487.
  7. ^ "The Legend of Anchin and Kiyohime (安珍・清姫伝説) - Japanese Wiki Corpus".
  8. ^ a b Leiter, Samuel L. (2014). Historical Dictionary of Japanese Traditional Theatre (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1442239111.
  9. ^ Betty True Jones (1983). "Dance as Cultural Heritage: Selected papers from the ADG-CORD Conference 1978". Congress on Research in Dance: 33.
  10. ^ Ueda Akinari (6 August 2012). Ugetsu Monogatari or Tales of Moonlight and Rain (Routledge Revivals): A Complete English Version of the Eighteenth-Century Japanese collection of Tales of the Supernatural. Routledge. pp. 252–. ISBN 978-1-136-81032-9.

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