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Tesso and his rats as seen in Gazu Hyakki Yagyō.

Tesso is a Yōkai in Japanese mythology, a kind of wererat.


Legend has it that a monk named Raigō lived in the monastery of Mii-dera in the Shiga prefecture during the reign of Emperor Shirakawa. Raigō was asked by the Emperor to pray to the Japanese gods and Buddha to help him obtain an heir. After Raigō prayed hard, a son was born to the Emperor, who was named Prince Taruhito. When Raigō wanted Emperor Shirakawa to repay him, he was unable to due to the pressure of a rival monastery, Enryaku-ji, where some warrior-monks lived.

When Raigō died of a hunger strike trying to get the Emperor to fulfill his promise, his ghostly spirit was first seen near the bed of Prince Taruhito, cursing him with an illness that soon killed him. Still driven by rage, Raigō transformed into a twisted humanoid rat with stone-hard skin and iron-like teeth and claws named Tesso, and he summoned an army of rats which swarmed down on Enryaku-ji and ate everything the monastery owned.

Nothing could stop Tesso's wrath until a shrine to his human form, Raigō, was built at Mii-dera by the Buddhists which was placed in the north facing in the direction of the Enryaku-ji.

Historical basis[edit]

The story, while fictional, has loose historical facts associated with it: for instance, the longed-for heir of Emperor Shirakawa, Taruhito, certainly existed, going on to reign as Emperor Horikawa, despite the story's insistence that a vision of the ghostly abbot sickened and killed the boy. In addition, the curse that Raigō, now Tesso, lays on Enryaku-ji may refer to real historical conflicts that took place in the second year of the Kahō era, representing a kind of folk memory.

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