Tsuchigumo (土蜘蛛)

Tsuchigumo is not a name of an actual living spider.
It has the following meaning:

The collective name for ancient local clans who did not swear allegiance to the emperor

A folkloric spider monster in Japan (also called 'Yatsukahagi' or 'Ogumo')

A program of Noh that is one of "Gobanme-mono" (the fifth-category plays), also called "Onitaiji-mono" (the wiping-out-ogres category plays) (cf. the article of "Tsuchigumo (Noh)".)

A family of tarantula, which falls under the category of the big ground spider living in the tropical region abroad, was given the Japanese name "Tsuchigumo" after the above-mentioned meanings, but this name was given later in the modern age, so the family of tarantula has nothing to do with "Tsuchigumo" mentioned here.

Tsuchigumo (the local clans)
Tsuchigumo was the derogatory name of indigenous hero in ancient Japan who did not swear allegiance to the emperor. In "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters) and "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), the name 'tsuchigumo' appears. The name frequently appears in "fudoki" (description of regionalclimate, culture, etc.) of various provinces, such as that of Mutsu Province, Echigo Province, Hitachi Province, Settsu Province, Bungo Province and Hizen Province.

For example, 'Hizen no kuni fudoki' (the topography of Hizen Province) contains an article as follows :
When Emperor Keiko visited Shiki-shima Island (the present Hirado-shima Island) in AD 72, he saw smoke rising from another island, so he had his retainers examine who lived there, and he found that tsuchigumo called "Omimi" lived in Kojika-jima Island and that another tsuchigumo called "Tarimimi" lived in Ojika-jima Island;
Then, the emperor captured them, and when the emperor was about to execute them, they prostrated themselves on the ground, offered marine products, pledged to dedicate products to the emperor thereafter, and asked for forgiveness. And 'Bungo no kuni fudoki' (the topography of Bungo Province) describes many tsuchigumo, such as "Itsumahime" on Mt. Itsuma; "Uchisaru," "Unasaru," "Yata" and "Kunimaro," all of which were in Negino; "Shinokaosa" and "Shinokaomi," both of which were in Amishino; and "Ao" and "Shiro," both of which were in "Nezumi no Iwaya."

And a theory says that the Imperial Court called those who forced war against the Imperial Court "oni" (a demon) or "tsuchigumo" from ancient times, and that the court despised - and feared - them.

Among others, tsuchigumo on Mt. Yamato-Katsuragi is well-known. Within the precincts of Katsuragi Hitokotonushi-jinja Shrine on Mt. Yamato-Katsuragi, there exists a burial mound called "Tsuchigumo-zuka," and it is said that Emperor Jinmu captured tsuchigumo and buried separately the parts of their dead bodies (the head, the trunk and the limbs) for removing their curses (cf. the section of "Surging waves of the march" in the article of "Emperor Jinmu").

In general, tsuchigumo is said to have been short in stature and had long limbs, and to have lived in caves. It seems that the name tsuchigumo was associated with their physiques and the cave-dwelling life--mainly based on hunting and gathering instead of farming--of the Jomon people (in the Neolithic Age), and this association is supposed to be the cause of people's disdain for tsuchigumo.

Tsuchigumo (monster)

As times changed, "Tsuchigumo" took root as a word to mean a monster.

It is said that Tsuchigumo had a demon's head, a tiger's trunk and spider's limbs. It is said that every Tsuchigumo lives in a mountain, ties up a hiker firmly with its thread and preys on them.

Tsuchigumo zoshi (a storybook of Tsuchigumo) written in the fourteenth century, portrayed Tsuchigumo as a monster spider in Kyoto as follows:
MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu, known as a warlord in the middle of the Heian period who subdued "Shuten Doji" (the leader of a group of bandits that roamed the region around Kyoto), went with his retainer WATANABE no Tsuna to Rendaino in Kitayama of Rakugai (outside area of the capital Kyoto), where they met with a skull flying in the sky;
being suspicious of the skull, they went after it and reached an old house, where various goblins and bugbears hideous in appearance emerged and frightened them;
at dawn, a beautiful woman appeared and tried to razzle dazzle them, but Yorimitsu counterattacked her with his sword; when the woman disappeared some bloodstains were left on the ground;
tracing the bloodstains, they reached a cave far up on a mountain, where they found a monster spider, the original form of all evil phenomena;
after fighting a fierce battle, Yorimitsu cut off the monster's head, and he found as many as 1990 heads of the dead in the monster's stomach;
seeing millions of offsprings of spiders rushing out from the monster's flank, Yorimitsu examined there and found about twenty more small skulls.

Various stories about Tsuchigumo exist, and "Heike Monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike) describes a story about it by the name of 'Yamagumo' as follows:
When Yorimitsu was bed-ridden with "okori" (an intermittent [malarial] fever), an evil monk of about 2.1 meters tall emerged and tried to catch and bind Yorimitsu with ropes;
although Yorimitsu suffered from the illness, he slashed at the monk with his noted "Hizamaru" sword, and the monk ran away;
on the next day, leading "Shitenno" (four guardians), Yorimitsu traced the bloodstains left on the ground and arrived at the mound at the back of Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine, where they found a monster spider of about 1.2 meter in full length;
so they captured it, pierced it with an iron bar, and gibbeted it on the shore of a river;
then, Yorimitsu soon recovered from his illness, and thereafter the sword "Hizamaru," with which Yorimitsu slashed Tsuchigumo, began to be called 'Kumogiri' (Tsuchigumo cutter);
the original form of this Tsuchigumo is said to have been vengeful spirits of the above-mentioned local clans put down by Emperor Jinmu;
this story is also known by the Noh program "Tsuchigumo" in "Gobanme-mono" (the fifth-category plays).

A theory has it that Yorimitsu's father MINAMOTO no Mitsunaka conspired with "oni" and "tsuchigumo," the above-mentioned local clans, to revolt against the Fujiwara clan, but on the occasion of Anna Incident, Mitsunaka betrayed the local clans to defend his own interests, so his son Yorimitsu and Shitenno began to be cursed by the ghosts of "oni" and "tsuchigumo."

Within the precincts of Jobonrendai-ji Temple in Kita Ward, Kyoto City, there exists the burial mound where MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu is enshrined, where the ghosts of tsuchigumo are said to have haunted; it is said that someone who intended to cut down a tree by the mound died from an unknown disease. In Ichijo-dori, Kamigyo Ward, there exists another mound that is said to have been haunted by the ghosts of tsuchigumo, and a stone lantern was excavated from here and began to be called "Kumo Doro" (the stone lantern of tsuchigumo). The people who were handed over the lantern had their family fortunes declined immediately after receiving the lantern, so people feared it must be the curse of tsuchigumo. At present, "Kumo Doro" is kept in Higashimukai Kannon-ji Temple in Bakuro-cho, Kamigyo Ward.

There is another story of ghost "Umigumo" similar to "Tsuchigumo." Umigumo is said to attack humans by spitting out to them. It is said to haunt the Kyushu coastal region.

[Original Japanese]