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Shuten-dōji (酒呑童子, also sometimes called 酒顛童子, 酒天童子, or 朱点童子) is a mythical oni leader who lived in Mt. Ooe (大江山) of Tamba Province or Mt. Ooe (大枝) on the boundary between Kyoto and Tamba in Japan. He was based in a palace somewhat like a Ryūgū-jō on Mt. Ooe, and he had many oni subordinates.
Various birth legends
Shuten-doji, according to one legend, was born at Ganbara, Echigo. However, there is also the idea that from the base of Mt. Ibuki, where in literature like the Nihon Shoki, in the legend of the defeat of the giant snake Yamata no Orochi to Susanoo in a battle, it fled from Izumo to Ōmi, had a child with a wealthy person’s daughter, with that child was Shuten-doji. Both father and son had a matchless thirst for sake, which is often cited as support.
Echigo birth legend
He, who was born in Echigo in the Heian era (8th century) when Dengyō Daishi and Kōbō-Daishi were active, became a page of the Kokojou-ji (国上寺) (in Tsubame, Niigata) (at the base of Mt. Kugami, there is a Chigo-dou where he is said to have passed through).
While he was 12 years of age, he was a “pretty boy,” and refused all of the females who loved him, and all of the females who approached him died from being so love-stricken. When he burned the love letters he received from all the females, due to one of the females who was not able to acquire her love, when the love letters burned, the smoke that came out enveloped him, turning him into an oni. Because of this, it was said that he, who became an oni, after moving from mountain to mountain centered on Honshu, eventually settled on Mt. Ooe.
One story is that he was the son of a blacksmith in Echigo, that he was in his mother’s womb for 16 months, and that he had teeth and hair when he was born, was immediately able to walk, was able to talk on the level of a 5-6 year old, had the wisdom and physical strength of a 16-year-old, and had a rough temperament, and due to this unusually ready wit, was shunned as an “oni child.” According to Zentaiheiki, afterwards, when he was 6 years of age, he was abandoned by his mother, wandered from place to place, and then walked the path towards being an oni. There is also a legend that since he was scorned as an oni child, he was put into custody of a temple, but the chief priest of that temple was a user of unorthodox practices, and the child became an oni through learning those unorthodox practices, that he exhausted the limits of evil.
In the town of Wanou (presently, Niigata, Niigata), it is said that when a pregnant woman eats a fish called “tochi,” that child will become a robber if it is a boy, and a prostitute if it is a girl. It is also said that a woman who ate the fish, gave birth to a child after it stayed 16 months in her womb, and that child was Shuten-doji. In Wanou, there are place names like the Doji estate and the Doji field.
Mt. Ibuki birth legend
He, who was born from the large snake Yamata no Orochi and a human girl, was a page at Mount Hiei from an early age, and underwent training, but he drank sake which was forbidden by Buddhism, and in fact was a big drinker, and was therefore hated by everyone. One day, after a religious festival where he dressed in an oni costume, he was about to take off the costume, but he wasn’t able to since it was stuck to his face, and reluctantly went into some mountain recesses where he started his life as an oni. He then met Ibaraki-dōji, and together aimed for Kyoto.
Mt. Ooe legend
From the Kamakura era to the Heian era, he was an “oni” who lawlessly ran amok in the capital, and he was based in Mt. Ooe in the Tamba Province, or the Ooe in Nishikyō-ku, Kyoto, also known as Oi no Saka (老ノ坂) (within the Rakusai district of Kyoto) as well as the neighboring Shinochououji, Kameoka. For the legend of the Mt. Ooe in Tamba province, there is a theory that it was a misrepresentation of the bandits within Ooe who harassed passing travelers.
Yamato province birth legend
He was a page for the Byakugō-ji in the Yamato province (presently, Nara Province), but found a corpse at a nearby mountain, and due to curiosity, brought that meat back to the temple, and made his priest teacher eat it without telling him that it was human meat. Afterwards, the page frequently brought back meat, not only from the flesh of corpses, but also by murdering live humans and returning with their flesh. The priest, who thought that it was suspicious, followed after the page, discovered the truth, harshly criticized the page, and abandoned him in a mountain. The page later became Shuten-doji, and it has been said that the place where he was abandoned was thus called “chigo-saka” (page-hill).
According to another theory, he was a child of the chief priest of Byakugō-ji, but as he matured, he grew fangs and a horn, and later became a child as rough as a beast. The priest was embarrassed by this child, so the child was abandoned, but the child later came to Mt. Ooe, and became Shuten-doji.
With Ibaraki-doji as his deputy, there are the great four, Kuma-doji, Torakuma-doji, Hoshikuma-doji, and Kanaguma-doji, who were four oni, and there is also one by the name of Doji in the legends.
Relation to Ibaraki-doji
Shuten-doji rampaged together in Kyoto along with Ibaraki-doji, but there are actually several theories about their relation. One of those theories is that Ibaraki-doji was not a male oni, but a female oni, and that Ibaraki-doji was a lover of his son, or Shuten-doji himself. Therefore, it has been said that Shuten-doji and Ibaraki-doji knew of each other’s existence, and aimed for the capital together.
As one of the three great evil yokai
It has been often said that Shuten-doji was the strongest oni of Japan, who, along with the white-faced golden-furred nine-tailed fox Tamamo-no-mae, and Emperor Sutoku who became a Daitengu as a result of resentment, are called one of the “three great evil yokai.”
Shuten-doji, who came to Kyoto, had many subordinates with Ibaraki-doji as his first, and based on Mt. Ooe, appeared in Kyoto from time to time, kidnapped the daughters of noble families, cut them with swords, and ate them raw. As it was quite wicked, as a result of a command from the Mikado, Minamoto no Yorimitsu from Settsugenji and Watanabe no Tsuna from Sagagenji, who were the leaders of the Four Guardian Kings, formed a punitive squad, so that when Shuten-doji was satisfied with the blood of the daughters of noble families and human meat, while at the height of a drinking bout, Yorimitsu made Shuten-doji drink the “divine oni-poison sake (神便鬼毒酒) he received along with a helmet from a god, that Shuten-doji was unable to move his body, and his head was cut off while asleep. However, after the head was cut off, it has been said that it still tried to bite at Yorimitsu’s helmet.
Yorimitsu and the others returned with the head back to the capital, but at Oi no Saka (老ノ坂), they were warned by a roadsize image of Jizo, “don’t bring something unclean into the capital,” and as the head was not able to move anymore, they all buried the head right there. Another theory is that when Doji was dying, regretting his crimes until then, desired to help various people who had illnesses in their head, that he was deified as a great wisdom god (daimyoujin). As this is the Kubitsuka Daimyoujin of the Oi no Saka ridge, according to legends, it would perform miracles for illnesses in the head. It has also been said that he was buried in Mt. Ooe (in the town of Ooe, Kasa, Kyoto), which is the origin of the Onidake-inari-san jinja (鬼岳稲荷山神社).
The name Shuten-doji first appears in the important cultural property, the “Ooe-yama Shuten-doji Emaki” (大江山酒天童子絵巻) (within Itsuo Art Museum), but its contents are quite different from the aforementioned image of Shuten-doji. First, it was written as 酒天童子, and was depicted as a native influential person or an oni god. Additionally, it was stated that for Doji, “Mt. Hiei was their territory of successive generations, but they were chased away by Dengyō Daishi, and came to Mt. Ooe.” When his movement was sealed by sake, he vehemently spoke ill towards Yorimitsu who came for a sneak attack, saying, “there is no wrongdoing for oni.”
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