Wakayama: Supernatural Tragedy Reenacted

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Local people carry a giant serpent during a ritual in Hidakagawa, Wakayama Prefecture, on April 27.

HIDAKAGAWA, Wakayama — A memorial ritual was held recently at Dojoji temple in Hidakagawa, Wakayama Prefecture, where a legend centering on a tragedy caused by a woman’s grudge has been passed down.

According to folklore, more than 1,000 years ago, Kiyohime fell in love at first sight with Anchin, a pilgrim monk. When he broke his promise to meet her again, she was furious. Her anger turned her into a giant serpent that chased Anchin to the temple’s bell, into which he fled. She blew fire on the bell, burning Anchin to death inside. Kiyohime then committed suicide by throwing herself into a river.

On April 27, during the ritual, about 60 local residents, including junior high and high school students, paraded through the town carrying a 21-meter-long serpent made of papier-mache to pray for the tragic couple. The parade started at the Hidaka River. Once they reached the temple, about 1.5 kilometers away, the participants ran up 62 stone steps with the serpent exhaling red smoke, resembling flames.

After that, a performance was held depicting the serpent coiling herself around the hanging bell, in which Anchin hid, and burning the bell. There were about 3,000 spectators who were enthralled by the powerful performance.