Gagoze (specter) (元興寺 (妖怪))

Gagoze (also called "Gagoji" or "Guwagoze"), or an ogre at Gango-ji Temple, is a specter which is said to have appeared at Gango-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture during the Asuka period. It is mentioned in literature such as "Nihon Genho Zenaku Ryoiki" (set of three books of Buddhist stories, written in the late eighth and early ninth century, usually referred to as the "Nihon Ryoiki") and "Honcho Monzui" (an anthology of waka poems and prose written in classical Chinese); in classic paintings of specters such as "Gazu Hyakki Yako" (the illustrated night parade of one hundred demons) by Sekien TORIYAMA, it is drawn as an ogre having the appearance of a monk.


During the reign by Emperor Bidatsu, Raijin (God of Lightning) having the appearance of a child fell down with lightning on a certain farmhouse in Ayuchi no kori, Ayuchi no kori, Owari Province (near present-day Furuwatari-cho, Naka Ward, Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture). When the farmer tried to kill it with his cane, Raijin begged for its life and said that if the farmer saved it, it would return a favor by ensuring that the farmer begets a child as strong as Raijin. The farmer made a ship at the request of Raijin, and Raijin, along with the lightning, returned to the sky on the ship.

In time, the farmer's wife gave birth to a child who could be called a baby of Raijin. The child had a bizarre appearance of a snake coiled around the head with a snake's head and tail hanging behind his head. True to what Raijin had said, the child was born with marvelous physical strength; around the age of ten he won over one of okimi (great kings) who boasted their great strength, in a fight for measuring strength.

Later the child became doji (child acolyte of Buddhism). Just then, acolytes at shoro (bell tower) of Gango-ji Temple were dying of unnatural deaths almost every night, and there was a rumor that an ogre was killing the acolytes. Saying that he would catch the ogre, the doji waited at shoro one night, and as soon as it appeared in the predawn hours, he caught the ogre by the hair and dragged it about. By morning, the ogre had been completely skinned and had run off. When bloodstains were followed, they led to a grave of a rascal manservant who once worked at Gango-ji Temple. The manservant's shiryo (the spirit of a dead person) had become reiki (devil of the dead) and appeared. The head hair of the reiki became treasure of Gango-ji Temple. The doji made other accomplishments using his marvelous strength and entered the Buddhist priesthood, and was called Buddhist monk Dojo.

According to an old book written during the Edo period, Gagoze/Gagoji, which is a children's term for ghosts, originated in this Gango-ji Temple; in fact, children's terms for specters, such as Gagoze/Gagoji/Gangoji can be found in various places in Japan. However, this theory is denied by a folklorist named Kunio YANAGIDA, who stated the theory in which the terms originated from the monster appearing as it said "I'm going to bite you" ("kamo-zo" in Japanese, which developed into the above-mentioned terms under the influence of dialect, etc.).

[Original Japanese]