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Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Ritual of Kamiyori

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Happy Halloween~ Enjoy your day and be safe!

This happened to my grandfather when he was still a little boy.

When he was little he used to live in a village, hidden deep in the mountain in T__ prefecture.
Most villagers were engaged in forestry and the mountain was cherished by them as if it were their parent.
The village, small as it was, even had a lord*1, who lived in a large mansion on the outskirts of the settlement.
This lord never got involved in forestry and led an easy, carefree life.

The village was the epitome of idyllic pastral life, but it had its own peculiar rules.
The rules were that "On the 3rd day of every month, no one is allowed to go near the lord's mansion except the Kamitori-shi (hair-cutter)*2," and "You are not to speak to the guests who visit the lord's house."
Every month a few people from outside the village would pay a visit to the lord and they would all leave the village before the nighfall.
These rules had been inculcated into Grandfather from the very early age, so he had no problems keeping them.

One day,  a stranger strayed into the community from outside the village.
Let's say this man's name was A.
Without permission, the man built a cabin not far from the lord's mansion and started living there.
The villagers soon called for a meeting to decide who was going to explain the village rules to this strange man A, and Grandfather's father (B) was appointed to do the job.
B went to A's cabin and explained to him the village rules.
He told A that if he broke the rules dire consequences would follow so he must obey them to the letter.

The thing that struck me as odd was that why they didn't immediately shoo him away from the village; to this question, Grandfather answered, "the half of the villagers had originaly moved in from outside and they didn't have a mind to throw him out."

Anyway, back to the story.
A listened to B's explanation and agreed to keep the rules.
And then the first "3rd day" came since A's arrival.
This day too, a couple in their twenties, and one man in his forties, came to the village.
Everyone who came on the 3rd day looked well-dressed and refined as if they were from a rich family.

Why did those from outside the village come to the village?
The secret lies in the "Ritual of Kamiyori." *3
The Ritual of Kamiyori was an art to remove curse and possession from a person, and the village's lord had kept this art alive for generations.
The art, true to its name, used a bunch of hair to attract evil energy and remove it from the receiver of the ritual.
But the place where the hair got retrieved was from the abdomen of the receiver.
The person who went to the mountain to seal off the hair was the Kamitori-shi, who was baptized by the lord.

That day things went on as usual, and the Kamitori-shi picked up a paper packet that had been left at the back of the lord's mansion, and went into the mountain to seal it off.
But A, who had not lived in the village for long, decided to ignore the rules although he already knew about them. That day he was observing the Kamitori-shi's every action, keeping himself hidden behind trees.
A assumed that there must be something valueable inside  the packet, so he followed the Kamitorhi-shi.

The place where they sealed off the hair was a small shrine*4 built in the middle of the mountain. It was also the Kamitori-shi's job to take care of the shrine.
A waited until the Kamitori-shi put the paper packet inside the shine and walk away; and then he went to the shrine and took the packet out.
But inside it he saw only a bunch of blood-soaked hair. Astonished, A threw away the hair and ran away.

Next day, A's cabin went up in flames.

A managed to escape the fire but the lord became suspicious and called A over to the mansion.
A obstinately refused to tell him what had happened on the previous day, but the lord could see the thing that was haunting A.
The lord told him that if he valued his life, he must take over the job as kamitori-shi; if he refused, there was no guarantee for his life.
But A ignored the threat and refused. On the same day, A was banished from the village.

A few days later, the lord's mansion burnt down to the ground and the whole family died in the fire.
Among the remains of the fire, they also found a body which looked like belonged to A.
The villagers concluded that it was A who set the mansion on fire and he must have failed to escape himself.
A few more days had passed, and the Kamitori-shi went to the little shrine; but the shrine was completely destroyed and all the hair that was inside had been taken away by someone.
The truth is still in the dark, but the villagers conjectured that A first destroyed the shrine and, after getting the hair, went over to the mansion.
The curse that was sealed in the hair and other such evil energy became amplified at that moment and it caused the fire that ultimately burnt down the mansion.

After the lord died, earnings from outside the village dropped and the village gradually became desolate; it was not long before the village was completely deserted.

"Now you know why I have a strong fear of hair,"
Grandfather said to me, while stroking his bald head. 


*1 Lord - used in the sense of "someone who owns a lot of land and is treated like a prince by the local people."
*2 Kamitori-shi (髪取り師) - 取り(tori) comes from the verb 取る(toru) meaning "take away." 師(shi) means "a master."  I translated it as "hair-cutter" in the text, just so that you readers don't have to look up in the footnote everytime you come across a foreign word. But it's an uncommon word even in Japanese and naturally has no equivalent word in English.
*3"Ritual of Kamiyori" (髪寄りの法 kamiyori-no-hou)  - kami (髪) means hair, and yori (寄り) comes from the verb 寄る (yoru) meaning "to gather." But 寄る(yoru) in its old usage also has the meaning of "possession by a god or a mononoke (物の怪, ghost/monster)."
*4 Small Shrine (祠 hokora) - very small shinto shrines you find by the roadside, in mountains, in forests etc. See the second picture from the top.

The picture at the top: an abandoned village of Haccho (八丁), in Kyoto - source


  1. Saya-sama~

    First?? :)
    Anyway, this was kinda creepy. I find it very intriguing but creeeepyyy at the same time.. Thanks for the post!! And Happy Halloween! :)

  2. If this is a true story, what a shame that an outsider not only put others in danger but also destroyed the culture and economics of the village! This story is a reminder to anyone who visits a place to keep in mind the social rules or norms of the area.

    As a horror story, I find this related to the 'Sick God' since both involve hair. Saya-san, what is the symbol of hair in the Japanese culture if it pertains to the supernatural?

    Thanks and again happy Halloween!

  3. It feels so good to finally leave comment again haha
    the story is creepy!! I think I've read plenty of stories relating curse, hereditary ritual and hair, it seems that hair is more than just to frame your face :s by the way, Happy Halloween, miss Saya! What's your plan for halloween? :D

  4. Pity the villagers and the lord's family. All because of disrespectful A.
    A should've remember the phrase "When in Rome.."

    Thank you and Happy Halloween, Saya-san :)

  5. That was a very neat story Saya chan! Very interesting and mysterious to say the least! All the hair thing makes me feel cringy though, i've seen lots of The Ring, Ju-on and also played a lot of Fatal Frame to know that hair and spirits dont mix up all too well :P Thanks for the update and happy Halloween to you as well! ;)

  6. A should have listened! His recklessness destroyed an entire sad. You know, Saya-san, this story reminded me of "witch bottles" made in Elizabethan England (still used by modern witches), where hair, rusty nails, broken glass, and pins are introduced into a glass bottle to attract evil spirits and curses to the hair. That way, the curses are diverted to the bottle, intead of attacking the person, and the evil spirit gets "hurt" by the nails, pins and glass. Or so they say.

  7. A very interesting story. Is the Ritual of Kamiyori still performed nowadays? And the hair that is removed... is it from inside the abdomen? O.O
    And A is such a stupid man! If you're going somewhere, you should follow the customs- especially if they are meant for your safety! He brought his fate on himself, but the poor lord and his family...

  8. Just a note: "bold" means brave. The word you're looking for is "bald", meaning devoid of hair.

    Thank you for the stories.

  9. @Anon (15 March 2014): Yeah I know the difference in meaning. It's a typo. Thank you for pointing it out to me!


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