Ushi no toki mairi

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Ushi no toki mairi from the Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki (1779) by Sekien Toriyama[1]

Ushi no toki mairi (Japanese: 丑の時参り, lit. "ox-hour shrine-visit") or ushi no koku mairi (丑の刻参り)[2] refers to a prescribed method of laying a curse upon a target that is traditional to Japan, so-called because it is conducted during the hours of the Ox (between 1 and 3 AM). The practitioner—typically a scorned woman[3][4]—while dressed in white and crowning herself with an iron ring set with three lit candles upright, hammers nails into a sacred tree (神木, shinboku) of the Shinto shrine. In the modern-day common conception, the nails are driven through a straw effigy[a] of the victim, impaled upon the tree behind it.[4][5] The ritual must be repeated seven days running, after which the curse is believed to succeed, causing death to the target,[6] but being witnessed in the act is thought to nullify the spell.[7] The Kifune Shrine in Kyoto is famously associated with the ritual.[8]

Also variously called ushi no toki mōde (丑の時詣で), ushi mairi (丑参り), ushimitsu mairi (丑三参り).[9][10]


A woman summoning a yōkai through ushi no toki mairi, by Katsushika Hokusai

Sources say that common method of the ritual developed during the Edo period (1603–1868).[6]

The woman performing the curse is generally portrayed as dressed in white, with disheveled hair,[4] wearing an iron "crown" that holds three burning candles,[3][6] suspending (from her neck) a mirror upon her chest[1][3][9][11] (which lies hidden[1]) and wearing a pair of tall clogs (geta).[5][b] She would then nail a straw doll representing her target to a sacred tree (神木, shimboku) at the Shinto shrine.[4]

The iron "crown" that she wears is actually a tripod (五徳, gotoku) (or trivet,[12] a stand for setting cooking pots, etc., above a heat source) which she wears inverted,[5] slipping the iron ring over her head and sticking candles on its three legs.[4]

It was believed that the spot struck on the straw doll corresponded to the area of the body where the target would begin to experience illness or injury.[4][10] However, this straw doll or other form of effigy was not a definitive requisite in the ritual even relatively late in the Edo Period. For instance, in Toriyama Sekien's Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki (1779, pictured top right) depicts the woman holding a hammer but no doll, nor is the doll mentioned in the caption.[1] In this case, the nails are driven directly into the branches of the sacred tree.

The props used are described somewhat differently, depending on the source. Nails of a particular size called gosun kugi (五寸釘, "five inch nails") are prescribed according to some authorities.[9][13] She may hold in her mouth a comb,[13] or a "torch of bamboo and pine roots lighted at both ends".[4] The "proper witching hour" is, strictly speaking, the ushi no mitsu doki (2:00–2:30 am).[1]

In Sekien's or Hokusai's print (above), the woman performing the curse ritual is depicted with a black ox by her side. Such a black ox, lying recumbent, is expected to appear on the seventh night of the ritual, and one must stride or straddle over the animal to complete the task to success,[14] but if one betrays fear at the ox's apparition the "potency of the charm is lost".[4]


In earlier times, the term simply referred to worshiping at the shrine during the hours of the ox, and the curse connotation developed later. At the Kifune Shrine in Kyoto, there was a tradition that if one prayed here on the "ox hour of the ox day of the ox month of the ox year" the wish was likely to be granted, because it was during this alignment of the hour, day, month, and year that the Kibune deity was believed to have made descent upon the shrine. However, the shrine became known a cursing spot in later development.[15]

The Kibune Shrine became strongly associated with the ox hour curse following the fame of the medieval legend of the Hashihime of Uji ("The Princess of the Bridge of Uji [ja]"). The legend is considered the prime source of the later conception Ushi no toki mairi curse ritual.[15][16] According to legend, Hashihime in mortal life was the daughter of a certain nobleman, but consumed by jealousy, made a wish to become a kijin (an oni demon) capable of destroying her love rival. After 7 days at Kifune Shrine, she was finally given revelation by the resident deity "to bathe for thirty seven days in the rapids of the Uji River."[17] Note that even though Kibune has later been seen as a mecca for the ritual, Hashihime only learned the recipe here, and enacted it miles away (Kifune is in the north of Kyoto, the Uji River is to the south).

The earliest written text of the legend occurs in a late Kamakura-period variant text (Yashirobon codex[18]) of The Tale of Heike, under the Tsurugi no maki ("Book of the Sword") chapter.[19] According to it, Hashihime was originally a mortal during the reign of Emperor Saga (809 to 823),[17] but after turning demon and killing her rival, her man's kinsmen, then indiscriminately other innocent parties, she lived on beyond the normal human life span, to prey on the samurai Watanabe no Tsuna at the Ichijo Modoribashi (一条戻橋) "Turning Back bridge at the street crossing of Ichijō and Horikawa" bridge, only to have her arm severed by the sword Higekiri (髭切).[19] Tsuna kept the demon's arm, whose power was contained by the Yinyang master (陰陽師, onmyōji) Abe no Seimei, via chanting the Ninnō-kyō sutra.[18] In this variant of the "chapter of the sword", the ceremony that the woman undergoes at the Uji River to transmogrify into the demon is described as follows:

Secluding herself in a deserted spot, she divided her long hair into five bunches and fashioned these bunches into horns. She daubed her face with vermilion and her body with cinnabar, set on her head an iron tripod with burning brands [* [c]] attached to its legs and held in her mouth another brand, burning at both ends.

—From Tsurugi no Maki[12][17][20]

Thus in the Tsurugi no maki can be seen such elements as the wearing of the tripod (here called kanawa (鉄輪)) and propping lit torches (similar to candles in later tradition), but the woman painted her entire face and body red, rather than remain in pure white garb.

Later during the Muromachi period, this legend was adapted by Zeami[12] into the Noh play Kanawa or "The Iron Crown".[17] The Noh play inherits essentially the same outfit for the principal woman, who is commanded by the oracle to "daub your face with red and wear scarlet clothing,"[15][17] and uses neither a straw doll or hammer,[15] but has the yingyang master Seimei creates "two life-size straw effigies of the man and his new wife [with] their names [placed] inside" in order to perform the rites to exorcize Hashihime's demon.[17] Therefore, the later form of the ushi no mairi developed afterwards, through the marriage of the use of dolls in the Japanese esoteric art of onmyōdō with the shrine visiting of the ox hour[citation needed].

Curse using dolls in antiquity[edit]

The use of dolls in the cursing ritual has been practiced since antiquity, with a reference in the Nihon Shoki chronicle under the reign of Emperor Yōmei, which relates that in the year 587, Nakatomi no Katsumi no Muraji "preparede figures of the Imperial Prince Oshisaka no Hikohito no Ōe (押坂彦人大兄皇子) ... and [spellcast] them", but it did not work.[21] However, this record does not clarify if the dolls were poked by sharp implements.

There are unearthed archeological relics shaped like human dolls suspected of being used in curses. Called wooden purificatory figurines (木製人形代, Mokusei hitogatashiro), some have faces realistically drawn and ink, and others with iron nails driven into the breast. One such from the 8th century is held by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.[22][23] Another from the Tatechō site in Matsue, Shimane, a wooden tag depicts a female figure, apparently a noblewoman deducing from attire, and this doll had three wooden pegs or nails driven into it, aiming at her breasts and her heart.[24]


  • In Japanese law studies, attempts to commit murder through the ushi no mairi is often cited as the "textbook example of impossibility defense case crime".[25][26]

Popular art[edit]

  • A once common design archetype to those interested in ghosts and the occult in anime and manga involves such characters wearing lit candles held upright aside their front crown of their head rather with a makeshift headband made of rope or another sturdy material.
  • The film Kanawa (1969) is based on the Noh play.[27]
  • In the video Game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, one variety of Tonberry uses a hammer and nail to control a much larger nail that will chase after and attack the player character Layle.
  • In the video Game series Pokémon, there is a ghost-type attack used by Pokémon called Curse. The attack animation involves hammering a nail onto themselves and losing 50% their health. The opposing Pokémon is then "cursed" and loses 25% of their health every turn regardless if the Pokémon that afflicted the Curse faints.
  • The character, Nobara Kugisaki from the manga, Jujutsu Kaisen is skilled in combat using a straw doll, a hammer and nails which she learned from her grandmother.
  • The character Soichi Tsujii from the manga Junji Ito Collection used this way to curse people.
  • The Curse Devil from the manga Chainsaw Man can be summoned through the use of nails or something that resembles them (i.e. a spike-like sword), after its victim is "nailed" three times, the devil will appear and finish them off.[28][29]

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ straw doll (藁人形, wara ningyō)
  2. ^ 三橋 2011, pp. 264–265 states that she wears tall clogs with only one support board (「一本歯の高下駄」), even though the accompanying illustration from a Utagawa Toyohiro print clearly shows two supports.
  3. ^ or "to each of its leg, a torch made with pine wood is tied and afired" in Kusano 1962, p. 30


  1. ^ a b c d e Sekien (1779), quote: 「丑時まいりハ、胸に一ツの鏡をかくし、頭に三つの燭〔ともしび〕を點じ、 丑みつの比神社にまうでゝ杉の梢に釘うつとかや。 はかなき女の嫉妬より起りて、人を失ひ身をうしなふ。 人を呪咀〔のろわ〕ば穴二つほれとは、よき近き譬ならん」 Translation: In the ushi doki mairi, [a woman] conceals a mirror in the bosom, lights three candles around her head, visits the shrine in the ushi mitsu hour (third quarter of the hour of the ox, 2:00~2:30 AM), and drives nails into a sugi tree. The fleeting jealousies of a woman, brings ruin to the person and body. It is well said the proverb "curse someone, dig a second grave [for yourself]".
  2. ^ Nelson 1996, p. 143 gives "shrine visitation at the hour of the cow"
  3. ^ a b c Joly 1912, pp. 41-.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Pfoundes 1875, pp. 19–20, quoted in Hildburgh 1915, 65. Notes.. Magical Methods for Injuring Persons, p.118
  5. ^ a b c Griffis 1876, p. 474.
  6. ^ a b c Nelson 1996, pp. 143–144, citing Ono, Susumu (小野進) (1974). 古語辞典.
  7. ^ Elisonas 1997, p. 290 and footnote 72.
  8. ^ Reader, Ian; Tanabe, George Joji (1998). Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0824820909.
  9. ^ a b c 新村, 出, ed. (1991), "うしのときまいり", 広辞苑 (第4版 ed.), 岩波書店, ISBN 978-4-00-080101-0
  10. ^ a b 日本国語大辞典, vol. 2, 小学館, 1972, p. 567, ISBN 9784095220017
  11. ^ Mitford 1870, pp. 139–140.
  12. ^ a b c Kusano, Eisaburō (1962), Stories behind noh and kabuki plays, Tokyo News Service, p. 30
  13. ^ a b 小松和彦(Komatsu, Kazuhiko)「いでたちは白い着物を着て、髮を乱し、顔に白粉、歯には鉄漿、口紅を濃くつくる、頭には鉄輪をかぶり、その三つの足にろうそくを立ててともす。胸に鏡を掛け、口に櫛をくわえる。履き物は歯の高い足駄である」 quoted in:松井, 吉昭 (2000), "多賀社参詣曼陀羅を読む", 時と文化: 日本史攷究の視座 : 岡田芳朗先生古稀記念論集 (snippet), 歴研], p. 173, ISBN 978-4947769022
  14. ^ 関, 一敏; 大塚, 和夫, eds. (2004), 宗教人類学入門, 弘文堂, p. 149
  15. ^ a b c d 三橋 2011, pp. 264–265.
  16. ^ Marvin, Stephen E. (2007). Heaven has a face, so does hell: the art of the Noh mask. Vol. 1. Floating World Editions. p. 278. ISBN 978-1891640322.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Kato 1970, p. needed.
  18. ^ a b Selinger, Vyjayanthi R. (2013), Writing Margins: The Textual Construction of Gender in Heian and Kamakura Japan, BRILL, p. 130, ISBN 978-9004255333
  19. ^ a b Kawashima, Terry (2001), Writing Margins: The Textual Construction of Gender in Heian and Kamakura Japan, Harvard Univ Asia Center, pp. 272–, ISBN 978-0674005167
  20. ^ Kato, quoted in Murguia 2013
  21. ^ Aston, William George (1896). Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. Vol. 1. London: Japan Society of London. p. 109–. ISBN 9780524053478.
  22. ^ 永藤, 靖 (2003), 古代仏教説話の方法: 霊異記から験記へ, 三弥井書店, p. 22, ISBN 9784838231201
  23. ^ 梅屋, 潔. "のろい" (PDF). 日本民俗学会編『民俗学事典』丸善、近刊予定. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  24. ^ 勝部, 昭 (1990), タテチョウ遺跡発掘調査報告書III, 川原和人, 宮澤明久, 柳浦俊一, 大谷祐司, 長峰康典, 島根県教育委員会, pp. 375, 377註2, archived from the original on 2014-04-29 本編(2).pdf
  25. ^ 飯塚, 敏夫 (1934). "第六 丑の刻詣りと不能犯學說". 刑法論攷. Vol. 第1巻. 松華堂書店. pp. 133–142.
  26. ^ 沢登, 佳人 (1998). "許された危険の法理に基づく因果関係論の克服 (Überwindung der Kausalitätslehre durch die Lehre vom erlaubten Risiko)". 法政理論. 30 (4): 101–127 (107–111). ISSN 0286-1577. Archived from the original on 2014-04-27. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  27. ^ McDonald, Keiko I. (1994). Japanese Classical Theater in Films. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 272–. ISBN 978-0838635025.
  28. ^ Fujimoto, Tatsuki (2019). Chainsaw Man, Vol. 3. VIZ Media LLC. pp. 147–157.
  29. ^ Fujimoto, Tatsuki (2020). Chainsaw Man, Vol. 8. VIZ Media LLC. pp. 22–25.