The Legend of Anchin and Kiyohime (安珍・清姫伝説)

The legend of Anchin and Kiyohime has been handed down in Kii Province. The contents is that Kiyohime, a girl who loved Anchin, a priest, was betrayed, and she got so angry that she changed into a snake, burning Anchin to death together with a bell at Dojo-ji Temple.

As an oral literature it has a long history, and it appeared in "Dainihonkoku hokekyo genki" ("Hokekyo genki") (an account of the wonders worked by the Lotus Sutra in Japan) and "Konjaku monogatarishu" (Tales of Times Now Past) in the Heian period. Moreover, the tale of Prince Homuchi wake no miko that was collected in "Kojiki" includes a story of marriage with a snake woman at Hikawa, Izumo.

The contents are different between traditions, but the following is will-known.

The beginning of love between Anchin and Kiyohime

It was around the summer of 928, when the Emperor Daigo ruled the country. There was a priest who made a pilgrimage to Kumano from Shirakawa City, Oshu. The priest (Anchin) was extremely handsome. The daughter of Kumanokuni no miyatsuko in Muro-gun, Kii Province, (Kiyohime) fell in love with Anchin, who received lodging, at first sight, and she sneaked into his bedroom under cover of darkness, though she was a woman. Anchin told her that he was on his way to a temple and he did not know what to do, then he deceived her, saying that he would stop by at her residence on his way back, though he hurried home without dropping in on her after his visit to the temple.

Anger of Kiyohime

Kiyohime, who found that she was deceived, got angry and chased him in bare feet, then she caught up with him on his way to the Dojo-ji Temple (Ueno village). Far from being delighted, Anchin kept lying, and moreover he asked for help of Kumano Gongen Deity, and tried to run away when he held her immobile. Now Kiyohime's anger burst out, and she turned into a snake and chased Anchin.

The death of Anchin

It was a snake which chased Anchin, who went across the Hidaka River and took refugee in the Dojo-ji Temple, and the snake got across the river by itself, breathing fire. Even though he asked the ferryman 'not to have the chaser get across the river,' it did not help. Unavoidably, Anchin had a man get down the bonsho (temple bell), and disappeared into it. However, Kiyohime did not forgive him, and wound itself around the bell. He got his just deserts, and burnt to death in the bell. After killing Anchin, Kiyohime committed suicide by drowning in the figure of snake.

Attaining Buddhahood

Both of them, who reincarnated as snake, later came to a chief priest of Dojo-ji Temple and asked to hold a religious service for their repose. They attained Buddhahood due to the virtuous Lotus Sutra chanted by the priest, and they appeared in the priest's dream in the shape of heavenly beings. The tale ends with praising how important the Lotus Sutra is stating that these two people were in fact incarnations of Kumano Gongen Deity and Kanzeon Bosatsu (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy).

Examples of the differences

A young widow appears instead of a girl in 'The Bad Woman in Muro-gun County, Kii Province,' the 129th section of the second volume of "Dainihonkoku Hokke Genki" and 'A Tale of Saving a Snake by the Lotus Sutra Chanted by the Priest in Dojo-ji Temple in Kii Province,' the third section of the 14th volume of "Konjaku Monogatari shu." The people who stayed were an old priest and a young priest (the one who was loved was the younger priest). The widow, who was deserted by the young priest, got angry and died at the bed, then a poisonous snake whose length was five fathoms appeared, and went along the Kumano pilgrimage road chasing the priest. It is the same in that the priest was burnt to death at Dojo-ji Temple, but the both priests who lodged were burnt.

According to "Dojo-ji engi emaki" (a scroll picture of the foundation of Dojo-ji Temple), the main female character was not a daughter of Masago no Seiji, but his wife.

In either way, the names of Anchin and Kiyohime did not appear yet, and Anchin first appeared in "Genko shakusho" (History of Buddhism of the Genko era), and Kiyohime first appeared in Joruri (ballad drama), 'Dojo-ji genzai uroko' (the scales of Dojo-ji Temple, a modern version) (first staged in 1742).

There is also a different version of legend in the rural area of Masago. The big difference is that Kiyohime's mother was, in fact, a spirit of a white snake, which her father, who was the widower, saved.

At first, Anchin told young Kiyohime that 'I would marry you,' but after he had a look at Kiyohime in the shape of snake, he became afraid of her.

Kiyohime, who was deserted by Anchin, lost heart and entered Tonda-gawa River, then her deep-seated hatred took a shape of snake.

There is also a tale in which she did not turn into a snake, therefore Anchin was not killed, and story ends with Kiyohime's throwing herself into the water.

A sequel

Dojo-ji Temple's bell was burnt with Anchin, but 400 years later, in the spring of 1359, the bell was revived. After the second bell was completed, a memorial ceremony of temple bell which women were not admitted to join was held, but a shirabyoshi (a courtesan) (in fact, a vengeful ghost of Kiyohime) appeared and interrupted the service. Shirabyoshi turned into a snake instantly, got the bell down, and disappeared into it. The priests who were afraid of Kiyohime's vengeful spirit prayed absorbedly, and at last the bell was put up on the belfry. However, due to the deep-seated grudge of Kiyohime, the new bell did not sound well, besides disasters and epidemics occurred in the neighborhood one after another, so it was thrown away in the mountain.

200 years later, the Tensho era. When Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI sieged Negoro-ji Temple, Hideyoshi's retainer, Hidehisa SENGOKU found this bell in the mountain. He used the bell as a signal in the battle, then he brought it back to Kyoto and dedicated it to Myoman-ji Temple, the grand head temple of Kenpon Hokke sect, in order to remove the deep-seated grudge of Kiyohime. "Konjaku Hyakki Shui" (Ancient and Modern Gleanings of the Hundred Demons), a collection of specter illustrations by Sekien TORIYAMA, also has an illustration entitled 'Dojo-ji Bell,' which tells that the bell in question which was once owned by Dojo-ji Temple was kept in Myoman-ji Temple during the period of Sekien.

Historic sites

There is a burial mound of Anchin at Dojo-ji Temple, where the legend was set.

Masago, which is considered the birthplace of Kiyohime, is located near the present Nakahechi in Kumanokodo Road. As well as a stone pagoda which has been considered as a grave of Kiyohime, there are many historic sites related to the legend such as Kiyohime buchi pool, Kinukake no matsu (pine tree), Kiyohime nozokibashi (bridge), kagami iwa (mirror rock), and so on.

Nejiki no sugi (twisted cedar tree), which was designated as a natural monument by Tanabe City, is located beyond the Shiomi Pass in Kumanokodo Road, and it is said that the tree was twisted with Kiyohime, who contorted her body vexatiously to see Anchin running away, then it grew up to be a big tree in the twisted condition.

The Dojo-ji bell dedicated to the Myoman-ji Temple is still enshrined in the same temple even today. It is said that the deep-seated grudge of Kiyohime was removed by the religious service held by the temple's daisojo (high priest) and the bell came to give off the beautiful sound, and it has been passed down as a sacred treasure in the temple. Every spring, memorial ceremony of temple bell is held in order to appease the spirit of Kiyohime. There was a time when those who were in show business and performed the play concerning Dojo-ji Temple visited the temple to pray for safety of the stage. Many people who are involved in show business visit the temple in order to pray for devoting themselves to artistic expression.

Influence on posterity

It was widely adapted for various works as a subject matter, especially for public entertainment. A part of the 'sequel' mentioned above is often used, which made the play possible to develop the world as a story of woman's deep-seated grudge without putting Anchin on the stage directly.

Kanemaki' (Coiling around a bell), and its adaptation, 'Dojo-ji Temple (Noh)' as Noh plays
Kishu Dojo-ji Temple,' 'Meoto Dojo-ji Temple,' 'Yakko Dojo-ji Temple,' and 'Ninin Dojo-ji Temple' as nagauta (ballads sung to shamisen accompaniment)
Kane no misaki' (a cape of bell) as Ogie-bushi (a style of singing that split off from Nagauta in the late 18th century)
Hidaka River' as Gidayu-bushi (musical narrative of the puppet theatre)
(Reference) The picture on the top of this page is a scene from this play.

Kyo Kanokomusume Dojoji' (The maiden at Dojo-ji Temple) as Kabuki (traditional performing art)
Shusin Kaneire' as kumiodori (combination dance)
"Dojo-ji Temple" as a children's song ("Dojo-ji Ball-bouncing Song," Wakayama Prefecture, the author unknown.)

Tap tap, Dojo-ji Temple
Put down the hanging bell and hide in it
Anchin Kiyohime, turning into a snake
Seven-fold winding, go around, go around

Kokei KOBAYASHI, a Japanese-style painter, also painted a picture on the theme of this legend. It is owned by Yamatane Museum of Art.

In around every July at Nakahechi, 'Kiyohime Festival' based on the legend of Anchin and Kiyohime is held at a riverside area of Tonda River, where Kiyohime is said to have thrown herself away, and the scenes in which Kiyohime, who changed into a snake, breathed fire and others are reproduced.