The term "Katawa-guruma" refers to a Japanese ghost seen in old books of ghost stories and others written during the Edo period. It is an oxcart on just one wheel engulfed in flames, running with a beautiful woman (or a horrible man) on itself, and the people who see it will be cursed, they say.
"Katawa-guruma" in Shiga Prefecture
"Shokoku Satobitodan" (Talks of People in Local Provinces), a book on miscellaneous subjects written in the Kanpo era, carries a folklore of Katawa-guruma in the Kanbun era in Omi Province (the present Shiga Prefecture). In a certain village of Koga-gun (Koga County), Omi Province, an oxcart on one wheel engulfed in flames, with a woman on itself, was on the prowl almost every night, and those who saw it, or even those who just rumored about it, were said to be cursed, so people refrained from going out at night and tightly shut the doors of their houses. However, a woman out of curiosity peeked out through the slit of her house's door, and when the above-mentioned Katawa-guruma appeared it said that she should rather watch her own child than peek at Katawa-guruma. Then, the woman's child, who was supposed to be in the house, disappeared. Grieving her child's disappearance, the woman composed a Japanese poem that said, 'I myself am willing to take the punishment for peeking, but the small oxcart concealed my child. I do not know how to heal this grief,' and she posted the slip, on which the poem was written, on the door of her house. Then, the next night, Katawa-guruma appeared, read the poem resonantly and said, 'How affectionate a woman she is! Then I will give back the child to her. But I cannot stay here, because I was seen by a villager,' and Katawa-guruma returned the child. Katawa-guruma immediately went away, and never came back to the village since it was seen by the villager, they say.
"Hitotsu-guruma" (an oxcart on one wheel) in Nagano Prefecture
In the area formerly called Shinano Province (the present Nagano Prefecture), there exists a folk tale similar to that in the above-mentioned "Shokoku Satobitodan," and it is introduced in the essay "Tankai." In a shrine of a certain village, a god having the name of 'Hitotsu-guruma' was enshrined, and it was said that people should never watch Hitotsu-guruma when it went through the village. But a woman out of curiosity peeked out from her house on the date that the god was said to go through the village, and she saw the oxcart on one wheel, with a beautiful woman on it, go by. Then, before she knew it, her child, who was supposed to be in the house, disappeared. The child's disappearance was rumored by neighbors to be the reward for her disobeying the God's order, and her grief was so deep that she visited the shrine for an apology and expressed her sense of guilt and sorrow in a Japanese poem. Then, they say, she found her child standing in tears at the gate of the shrine. Some say the folklore in Shinshu borrowed the idea from 'Katawa-guruma' in "Shokoku Satobitodan," while others say "Shokoku Satobitodan" borrowed the idea from this Shinshu folklore and used it as 'Katawa-guruma' in Omi Province.
"Katawa-guruma" in Kyoto
"Shokoku Hyaku Monogatari" (A Hundred Stories of Local Provinces), which is a collection of ghost stories compiled in the Enpo era, has a folk tale similar to the above in its first volume under the title, 'The Story of Katawa-guruma on Higashinotoin-dori Street, Kyoto.'
On Higashinotoin-dori Street, Kyoto, Katawa-guruma appeared almost every night, so people around there refrained from going out. When a woman out of curiosity peeked out through the slit in the door of her house, a wheel of an oxcart came rolling.
At the center of the wheel, there was a furious-looking man's face with a small human leg in its mouth, and the man shouted, 'Look at your own child rather than me !'
In surprise, the woman rushed for her child and found him bloodied in the leg from a laceration. It was her child's leg that Katawa-guruma held in its mouth.
Based on "Shokoku Hyaku Monogatari," 'Katawa-guruma emerging on the streets of Kyoto' --which is a picture card of ghost-illustrated "Karuta" (Japanese playing cards) made in the Edo period--was portrayed as a man's figure. Contrastingly, Sekien TORIYAMA portrayed Katawa-guruma as a woman's figure in his collection of paintings called "Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki" (Continued Illustrations of Variety of Demons, Past and Present)' based on the description in "Shokoku Satobitodan," and he also referred to "Shokoku Satobitodan" in his explanation of ghosts.
In "Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki," there also exists an illustration of 'Wanyudo' (a ghost of an oxcart wheel with a man's close-cropped head at its center), which is similar to Katawa-guruma, and Sekien is said to have used Katawa-guruma in "Shokoku Hyaku Monogatari" as a model for 'Wanyudo.'
Therefore, Katawa-guruma and Wanyudo--despite being regarded as different ghosts in many cases today--were originally the same thing, a theory says.
In documents and works about ghosts in recent years, Katawa-guruma has sometimes been renamed as 'Kata-sharin.'
Natsuhiko KYOGOKU and Katsumi TADA, both of whom are ghost researchers, say this is because Katawa-guruma can be regarded as a discriminatory word.