The Yokai Files – Hashi Hime
This week I made a trip to Uji to try and find the shrine dedicated to this lovely lady – Hashi Hime (illustrated here by Demonicangel-Bayou from Deviant Art).
Hashi Hime, literally ”The Bridge Princess’, is somewhat a rarity in yokai circle as she started life as human who transformed herself into a vengeful yokai by sheer willpower. The name appears in many tales and she herself in many incarnations. Perhaps the most famous variation is that of the jealous wife who is driven to distraction by her husband’s infidelity and swears revenge.
After several days of constant prayer for divine help, she is approached by a priest who tells her he had a dream in which he learned exactly how she can take her revenge. The method? Well it wasn’t easy. She had to spend 21 by the river Uji, dressed in red and face also painted red with cinnabar. Her hair was looped into seven coils and crowned with a burning brazier while in her hand she had to hold a solid iron rod. Yet so deep was her jealousy that she endured this trial and her prayers were answered and she became the spirit of vengeance that is Hashi Hime.
Although she started her yokai career in Uji (near Kyoto) Hashi Hime can appear anywhere in Japan where there is water and bridges. Other people’s romantic happiness is her misery and she is renowned for appearing to loving couples on bridges and threatening them with bloody murder unless they break off their relationship then and there.
In short Hashi Hime is the fury of a woman scorned that hell hath no other like – which would technically class her as an Oni (a demon). Still, whatever she is, she has held a long-standing place in Japanese culture.
She lent her name to the first chapter of ‘The tale of Genji’ (a book written around 1000 AD and widely considered to be the first novel ever written).
She also features as a character in traditional Noh theatre. This mask and costume represent a character type called Hannya – a jealous, female demon. Note the red clothes and face, not to mention the burning brazier on her head – look familiar??
I now realise that these are also the exact type of mask hanging on the walls of the last haikyo I wrote up (the salary man’s house). I commented at the time that the house seemed to lack a female touch, and now I’m wondering if those masks hint at a reason why – infidelity, a break up with an angry partner and then attempts to appease the Hannya unleashed. Of course, he may have just liked them for decoration, but I like this more poetic version much more.
As for my recent search for Hashi Hime’s shrine in modern-day Uji, after some wandering around and asking for directions I found a small, unassuming, place tucked away on a side street. Hashi Hime’s name was on the pendants and there was a photocopied picture of her (on a cute badge) pinned to the door of the closed shop. In her hand she was holding a pair of shears. The same shears were on sale for ¥3’000 according to another photocopy pinned up on the door, and that’s what people come here for – to buy psychic shears. If you have a connection to someone that’s turned sour and you want to sever it for good then this is what you need, pray to Hashi Hime and make an offering of symbolic severing shears and you say goodbye to any undesirable relationship.
So that is Hashi Hime’s role in the modern world – the break up fairy, the saint of split ups, the deity of divorces.
That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a short piece of courtly poetry featuring Hashi Hime in name if not intent.
- Samushiro ya
- matsu yo no aki no
- kaze fukete
- tsuki wo katashiku
- uji no hashihime
- How cold!
- waiting out the autumn’s weary night
- deepening as the wind blows
- she spreads out the moon’s light
- the Princess of Uji Bridge.