Nue (a fabulous creature) (鵺)

Nue is a legendary creature that is called a specter and has been talked about in Japan from ancient times.

Summary

For example, it appears in "Heike Monogatari". It is said that the creature had the face of a Japanese monkey, the trunk of a raccoon dog, the limbs of a tiger, and the tail of a snake (some documents do not mention the trunk, and other documents describe that the creature had the trunk of tiger), and generated quite eerie 'hyo, hyo' sounds similar to the voice of golden mountain thrushes. It is also said that the creature is a specter that appears together with lightning. It is generally believed that the creature appeared in the latter half of the Heian period. However, concerning more specific timing, there are many theories depending on the documents, as in the following: in the reign of Emperor Nijo, that of Emperor Konoe, that of Emperor Goshirakawa and that of Emperor Toba.

Originally, Nue indicates birds that sing in the night, and the term appears in "Kojiki" and "Manyoshu" as well. Nowadays, it is accepted that this bird is actually the golden mountain thrush. The dreary song of this bird sounded ominous to people around the Heian period, so that the bird was labeled as an ominous bird. Therefore, it is said that, as soon as an emperor or nobles heard the song, they prayed so that no grave matter would occur.

The specter appearing in "Heike Monogatari" is always described as 'a mysterious creature singing like Nue' and is given no specific name. However, nowadays, it is considered that the name of the bird which had been taken for the specter is Nue, and it is more widely accepted. The night when the song of Nue is heard is dreadful,' the famous catchphrase for a movie (whose original story was written by Seishi YOKOMIZO) "Akuryoto " results from this misinterpretation. According to another theory, the depicted shape of the creature is a composite of the twelve zodiac animals which represent compass directions: the tiger representing the northeast, the snake representing the southeast, the monkey representing the southwest and the dog and wild boar representing the northwest.

"Heike Monogatari" and a geographical document about Settsu Province "Settsu-meisho-zue" (a book introducing noted places in Settsu) describe that Nue was killed in the following way:
Towards the end of the Heian period, the dreadful song of a bird resounded together with black smoke almost every night in the residence of Emperor Konoe in the Imperial Palace, frightening Emperor Nijo. At last, the emperor became ill, and neither medicine nor prayer could not restore his health.

Following the precedent that MINAMOTO no Yoshiie stopped the occurrence of a mysterious affair by generating sounds by beating the string of a bow, close aides to the emperor instructed MINAMOTO no Yorimasa, who was an expert with a bow and arrow, to kill the mysterious creature. One night, Yorimasa, together with his retainer I no Hayata (written as 猪早太 or 井早太), ventured out to kill the mysterious creature with the bow that was inherited from his ancestor MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu. Then eerie black smoke began to cover Seiryoden. Then, Yorimasa shot a sharp-edged arrow made of the tail of a copper pheasant. The Nue fell down screaming in an area approximately north of Nijo-jo Castle, and I no Hayata subdued and killed it immediately. It is said that, at that time, a cuckoo sang its song twice or thrice over the Imperial Palace and then silence was restored. Then the health of the Emperor was restored quickly, and Yorimasa was given a sword called Shishio (literally, a lion king) by the Emperor as a reward.

There are many theories concerning the treatment of the killed Nue. According to "Heike Monogatari", for example, people in Kyoto feared the vengeance of the Nue, and therefore, put the dead Nue on a boat and floated it down the Kamo-gawa River (in Shiga Prefecture). The boat, which floated down the Yodo-gawa River, once drifted ashore in Higashinari-gun County, Osaka, then floated on to the sea and was washed up on the shore between the Ashiya-gawa River and the Sumiyoshi-gawa River (in Hyogo Prefecture). It is said that people in Ashiya buried the Nue with the due ceremony and mourned over the death of the Nue by building a Nue-zuka mound.
Concerning the Nue-zuka mound, under which the Nue was believed to be buried, "Settsu-meisho-zue" describes that 'The Nue-zuka mound is located between the Ashiya-gawa River and the Sumiyoshi-gawa River.'

According to a geographical document in the early Edo period "Ashiwakebune," the Nue drifted down to the Yodo-gawa River. Villagers around the area feared the vengeance of the Nue, notified the head priest of Boon-ji Temple of it, buried the corpse, mourning over the death of the Nue by building a Nue-zuka mound. However, it is said that the mound was threatened with destruction during the Meiji period, which tormented the people living around it; therefore, the Nue-zuka was restored in haste. On the other hand, according to "Genpei Seisuiki" (Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and Taira clans) and "Kandenjihitsu" (a book of essays in the latter half of the Edo period), the Nue was buried in Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto Prefecture, and during the Edo period, people were cursed because the corpse was dug out.

According to another theory, the spirit of the dead Nue turned into a horse, which was named Kinoshita and kept by Yorimasa. As it was a good horse, it was taken away by TAIRA no Munemori. For this reason, Yorimasa took up arms against the Taira clan, ruining himself. It is said that, in this way, the Nue revenged itself on Yorimasa.

It is also said that the dead body of a Nue fell down in an area west of Lake Hamana, Shizuoka Prefecture. The toponyms of Nueshiro, Dozaki, Hanehira and Ona in Mikkabi-cho, Kita ward, Hamamatsu Prefecture originate in the legend that the head, trunk, feathers, and tail of a Nue fell down these places respectively.

In Kumakogen-cho Town, Kamiukeana-gun County, Ehime Prefecture, there is also a legend that the original form of the Nue was Yorimasa's mother. In the era when Ise-Heishi (Taira clan) was at the peak of its prosperity, Yorimasa's mother lived secretly here, her birthplace. Beside the pond named Azoga-ike in mountain areas, she prayed to the guardian dragon of the pond for her son's good fortune in battle and the revival of Genji (Minamoto clan). Then her body turned into a Nue because of the prayer and hate for the Taira family, and the Nue flew to Kyoto. The Nue, the reincarnation of his mother, made the Emperor ill, and furthermore, had her son kill herself to make him perform a feat. It is said that the Nue shot by the Yorimasa's arrow flew back to Azoga-ike Pond and became the guardian of the pond, but died from the arrow wound.

Historical Sites

Nue-zuka Mound (located near to Ashiya Station on the Hanshin Electric Express Railway line: in Matsuhama-koen park)

The mound where, according to "Heike Monogatari," the Nue that floated down and washed ashore the Yodo-gawa River was buried. The name of the Nue-zuka-bashi Bridge located nearby originated in this Nue-zuka mound.

Nue-zuka Mound (located in Miyakojima-ku Ward, Osaka City)

The mound where, according to "Ashiwakebune," the Nue that washed ashore in the downstream part of the Yodo-gawa River was buried. As described above, the present mound was repaired in 1870 by Osaka Prefecture, and the small shrine was also repaired in 1957 by local people in that area.

Nue-zuka Mound (located in Kyoto Prefecture)

Located at the athletic field in Okazaki-koen park. The relationship between this mound and the legend, in which the dead body of the Nue was buried in Kiyomizu-dera Temple, is unknown. An excavation revealed that it was a grave in the Kofun period (tumulus period).

Nue-ike Pond

The pond in the children's park in the north of Nijo-jo Castle. It is said that Yorimasa washed the blood-smeared arrow used for shooting the Nue in the pond. Now, the former pond site has been changed to a water garden.

Shinmei-jinja Shrine

Located in Shimogyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City
It is said that Yorimasa prayed here before killing the Nue, and devoted the arrowhead there as token of his thanks for his successful killing of it. This arrowhead was kept as a treasure of the shrine, and its photograph is always exhibited, with the real one exhibited to the public at the annual feast of the shrine in September.

Yanone-jizo

Located in Kameoka City, Kyoto Prefecture
When going to kill the Nue, Yorimasa offered a prayer to his protective god Jizo Bodhisattva. Then Jizo appeared in his dream and instructed him to make an arrow with the feathers of swans which were at Mt. Tori in Yada. Related to this legend, this Jizo statue has an arrowhead, but is usually not exhibited to the public.

Chomyo-ji Temple

Located in Nishiwaki City, Hyogo Prefecture
This area was originally owned by Yorimasa. Therefore, in the precincts of the temple, there is a statue of Yorimasa that depicts his killing of the Nue, and near to the temple, there is a bamboo thicket called Yatakeyabu (arrow bamboo grove) where it is said he obtained the bamboo used for the arrows used to kill the Nue.

In addition to those described above, it is said that the mummy of the Nue was exhibited at the 'Specter house,' a theme park in Hachiman Jigoku on the course of the Beppu Jigoku-meguri (a tour visiting various hot springs in Beppu) in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. The mummy was said to be unparalleled and invaluable, but the theme park is now closed and it is also unknown where the mummy exists now.