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Noriko T. Reider
Miami University
Oxford, Ohio
Shuten Dōji
“Drunken Demon”
he story of Shuten Dōji is one of Japan’s most famous oni (demon/ogre) legends. By
imperial command, the warrior-hero Minamoto no Raikō (948–1021) and his men
conquer the cannibalistic demons, Shuten Dōji and his diabolical cohorts, who have
abducted and eaten young maidens from in and around the capital. “Shuten dōji”
belongs to a literary genre called otogi zōshi or “companion tales,” short stories writ-
ten from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries for the purpose of entertainment
and moral/religious ediication. Despite the legend’s longevity, popularity, and liter-
ary signiicance, to date, there has only been one English translation of the otogi zōshi
“Shuten dōji.” Rendered more than one century ago, that translation was intended for
young readers and is much abbreviated. he present translation is the irst full-length
annotated translation of the otogi zōshi “Shuten dōji.”
Keywords : oni – Japanese ogre – demon – warrior-hero – legend – otogi zōshi
Asian Folklore Studies , Volume 64, 2005: 207–231
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Shuten Dōji 酒顚童子 , a demon, kidnaps, enslaves, and cannibalizes young
Kyoto maidens. Transcending time and place, the story has enjoyed great
popularity in Japan over the ages, in part because of the conniving heroics of
Minamoto no Raikō (or Yorimitsu) 源頼光 (948–1021). Minamoto no Raikō was
a general of the mid-Heian period known for his valor. He served ive emper-
ors and became the governor of several important provinces. During the Edo
period (1603–1867), the creation of Kan’ei shoke kakeizu den 寛永諸家系図伝
(Genealogy of the Feudal Lords of the Kan’ei Period, 1643), which linked the
Tokugawa genealogy to that of the Minamoto clan, greatly helped to height-
en interest in the ancestors of that clan (Itagaki 1988, 439). 1 Raikō’s bravery
spawned not only the legend of his conquering oni but also the story of killing
such supernatural creatures as the earth spider ( tsuchigumo 土蜘蛛 ). In the story
of “Shuten Dōji,” Raikō and his lieutenants are charged by imperial command
to rescue the captives and to engage and eliminate the evil oni , a mission they
ultimately fulill through cunning and with the help of several obliging deities.
“Shuten Dōji” belongs to a literary genre called otogi zōshi 御伽草子 or
“companion tales,” which are short stories written from the fourteenth to the
seventeenth century for the purpose of entertainment and moral/religious edi-
ication. 2 Beitting the otogi zōshi genre, the “Shuten Dōji” story reveals how
warriors faithful to Buddhas and Shinto deities can defeat even the most mon-
strous of villains. By combining one of the most famous heroic legends in Japan
with uncanny grotesqueness, Nomura Hachiryō asserts “Shuten Dōji” is a most
interesting representative of otogi zōshi stories (Nomura 2003, 72).
Ostensibly, the “Shuten Dōji” story has a relatively simple plot, pinning
the forces of good, represented by Raikō, his men and the Emperor, against
the forces of evil, Shuten Dōji and his demonic minions. Despite this appar-
ent thematic simplicity however, closer investigation reveals that the Shuten
Dōji legend may contain a signiicantly complex socio-historical dichotomy.
Baba Akiko asserts that oni were oten used as a literary device to represent
suppressed people and/or those who were not a part of the Fujiwara Regency
[ 208 ]
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I n one of Japan’s most renown and gruesome oni (demon/ogre) legends,
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shuten dōji : “drunken demon”
(from the tenth through eleventh centuries). he Fujiwara Regency reached its
peak with Fujiwara Michinaga 藤原道長 (966–1027), and Baba observed that oni
reached their zenith during Emperor Ichijō’s 一条 reign (980–1011). She consid-
ers the legend “Shuten Dōji,” set during the reign of Emperor Ichijō, as one of
the best examples of a story representing those who were pushed to the edges
of society (Baba 1988, 140–50). hus, no full appreciation of the Shuten Dōji
legend is complete without the consideration of oni as societal outcasts, the dis-
enfranchised, the indigent, and the uninitiated.
In the Edo period, “Shuten Dōji” was popularly employed in jōruri 浄瑠璃
and Kabuki. Torii Fumiko writes that “Shuten Dōji” was recited as jōruri from
the beginning of the Edo period when the jōruri repertoire was still in its infan-
cy. he entry of 1638 of the Kabuki nenpyō 歌舞伎年表 [Kabuki annals] notes that
“Shuten Dōji” is popular among Edo people as an auspicious piece (Torii 1993,
49–52). Although “Shuten Dōji” stories of the medieval period describe Raikō
as the chief of warriors, in the jōruri piece of the Edo period, Raikō is credited
as the “protector of the land” and “chief of police and justice” (Muroki 1966,
429). his change in Raikō’s title to a more enhanced one most likely relects
the authors’ desire to please, or at least acquiesce with, the newly established
Tokugawa shogunate. It would have been politically desirable for the authors
and publishers to superimpose the Tokugawa shogunate onto the Raikō legend
so that admiration for Raikō implied admiration for the Tokugawa shogunate
(Muroki 1970, 442–43). he primary theme of “Shuten Dōji,” that is, of coura-
geous good conquering evil, played into the shogunate agenda quite fortuitous-
ly: Like Raikō, the shogunate would auspiciously and by divine mandate protect
the land and slay all enemies of the government.
Yet, despite the legend’s longevity, popularity, and literary signiicance, to
date there remains but one published English translation of “Shuten Dōji” (T. H.
James 1889). Unfortunately, James’s translation is not annotated and, as Fanny
Hagin Mayer later noted, it “was intended for juvenile readers” (Mayer 1984, x)
and thus, much abbreviated. More importantly, the book is out of print and is
very diicult to access. 3 he “Shuten Dōji” legend deserves a reintroduction to
an English speaking audience.
he story of Shuten Dōji exists in a variety of textual versions, each inter-
preted and presented diferently. Essentially, however, there are two versions:
the Ōeyama 大江山 (Mt. Ōe) version and that of Ibukiyama 伊吹山 (Mt. Ibuki).
It is now generally accepted that the Ōeyama version came irst. Satake Akihiro
notes that the Ibukiyama version was wrought out of an historical incident—the
bloody murder of a now famous bandit, Kashiwabara Yasaburō of Mt. Ibuki in
1201. he Ibukiyama version of the story is thus a variant of the earlier Ōeyama
version (Satake 1977, 119). he major diferences between the two versions are
twofold. he irst is the location of the oni ’s fortress. In the Ōeyama version, it is
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210 noriko t. reider
located on Mt. Ōe, whereas the Ibukiyama version situates it on Mt. Ibuki. he
second major diference is that the Ibukiyama version includes a section of the
explanation of Shuten Dōji’s honji 本地 (true nature or original form) as the arch
enemy of Buddha, the Evil King of the Sixth Heaven (or Celestial Realm) 第六
天の魔王 ; 4 Raikō’s honji as Bishamon-ten 毘沙門天 (Vaiśrava a), and Emperor
Ichijō as Miroku 弥勒 (Maitreya). he Ōeyama version does not contain this
section, with an exception for the oldest text of this type entitled Ōeyama eko-
toba 大江山絵詞 [Picture scroll of Mt. Ōe]. 5 he earliest extant text of the leg-
end is the abovementioned picture scroll Ōeyama ekotoba , made during the
fourteenth century, which is kept in the Itsuō Museum of Art in Osaka. 6 As
the name implies, this belongs to the Ōeyama version. Another picture scroll,
Shuten Dōji emaki 酒伝童子絵巻 [Picture scroll of Shuten Dōji] is owned by
the Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo. his picture scroll is representative of the
Ibukiyama version and dates back to the early sixteenth century. 7
Among the numerous copies and versions of the legend, it was the eigh-
teenth-century printed version of the “Shuten Dōji” story that reached a mark-
edly broad audience, thanks largely to a bookseller by the name of Shibukawa
Seiemon 渋川清右衛門 . 8 he Shibukawa edition also put an end to the lood of
various otogi zōshi texts (Amano 1979, 16). he location of the oni fortress in
the Shibukawa edition is Mt. Ōe. Shibukawa published the “Shuten Dōji” story
in an anthology of twenty-three short stories under the title of Goshūgen otogi
bunko 御祝言御伽文庫 [Auspicious companion library] or Otogi zōshi 御伽草子
[Companion tales] depending upon the edition. he following translation is of
the Shibukawa text (Ichiko 1958, 361–84). 9
1. Minamoto Mitsunaka (912–997), Raikō’s father, who had built the base for Minamoto
power, was so idealized that it is said Tokugawa Yorinobu (1602–1671), the founder of the
Kii branch of the Tokugawa, ordered in his will that his tombstone be placed beside that of
Mitsunaka in the inner sanctuary of Mt. Koya (Itagaki 1988, 422).
2. he deinition of otogi zōshi as a genre is still controversial among literary scholars.
For studies of otogi zōshi in English, see Mulhern 1974; Steven 1977; Araki 1981.
3. There is “The Goblin Mountain,” translated in 1914 by Hannah Riddell as part
of Iwaya’s Fairy Tales of Old Japan . But as the title reveals, this is a translation of Iwaya
Sazanami’s 巌谷小波 (1870–1933) Nippon mukashi banashi 日本昔噺 . It is not a translation
of the otogi zōshi “Shuten Dōji.” James’s work is short (leaving out all mention of blood
wine and human legs), and the intended audience is children. See Iwaya 1914.
4. He resides in the sixth heaven (or celestial realm?) dairokuten 第六天 , also known as
takejizaiten 他化自在天 , and rules yokkai 欲界 (the world of desire) where human beings
belong (Mochizuki, Tsukamoto 1973, 3467).
5. A portion of this version, which is presumed to have been written in the middle of
the Muromachi period, is believed to be the copy of the Ōeyama ekotoba with the honji sec-
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shuten dōji : “drunken demon”
tion. In this version, Raikō is a reincarnation of Daitokui 大徳威 (Yamantaka, Great Awe-
Inspiring Power). Satake Akihiko assumes that the honji section of the Ōeyama version(s)
may have been eliminated, as exposure to the audience was more frequent (Satake 1977,
6. he scroll is also referred to as Katori-bon 香取本 because the work was formerly in
the possession of the high Shinto priest of the Katori Shrine in Shimofusa province. It is
reprinted in Yokoyama, Matsumoto (1975, 122–40) and Komatsu (1984, 75–103, 144–60,
7. For various Ibuki versions of texts, see Yokoyama, Matsumoto (1974, 357–426, and
Matsumoto (1987).
8. he Shibukawa edition is almost identical to a tanroku-bon 丹緑本 (a picture booklet
illustrated in green and orange) published during the Kan’ei era 寛永 (1624–1643). Hence, it
is considered to be a reprint of a tanroku-bon (Matsumoto 1963, 172).
9. I have also cross-referenced the Shōgakukan edition (Ōshima 1974, 444–74).
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