Monster Centipede on Mt. Mikami

Fujiwara Hidesato and the giant centipede on Mt. Mikami. Illustration by art students at Seian University of Art and Design in Otsu. (Signboard near Seta Karahashi Bridge, donated by Otsu Higashi Rotary Club in 2005.)

Tawara-no-Tota Hidesato Slaying the Giant Centipede
俵藤太秀郷ムカデ退治(俵藤太物語)

Adapted in English by Philbert Ono based on an old folktale.

Once upon a time during Japan’s Heian Period in the 10th century, there was a young warrior prince named Fujiwara Hidesato (藤原 秀郷), also known as Tawara-no-Toda (俵藤太). One day, when he was going to cross the Seta Karahashi Bridge in Otsu (Shiga Prefecture), he saw a big commotion at the end of the bridge.

“How awful!! What should we do??” “Look at how big it is!!” “I’m too frightened to cross the bridge!” People were fraught with fear and anxiety.

When Hidesato looked at the bridge, he saw a giant dragon-serpent (orochi) sleeping on the middle of the bridge.

Orochi dragon-serpents.

“Oh, so that’s it. Well, it doesn’t scare me at all,” thought Hidesato. He started walking across the bridge. Everyone gasped as they watched him. “Who is that?? He is either very brave or absolutely CRAZY!!” said one man.

Hidesato was fearless as he approached the giant orochi. He then shocked everyone by climbing and stomping over the giant serpent and walking to the other end of the bridge. The giant serpent did nothing and everyone was amazed. “He’s the bravest man in Omi!!” shouted one man. The dragon-serpent slithered back into the lake.

That evening, Hidesato stayed at a lakeside inn. When he was about to sleep, a beautiful, radiant maiden appeared before him.

In a heavenly voice, she spoke, “I am the daughter of the Dragon King, the god of water and all creatures in Lake Biwa. I have come to request a favor. A monster centipede (omukade) on Mt. Mikami has been killing and eating our native lake fish like nigorobuna and gengorobuna carp that are the Dragon King’s sons and daughters. We were looking for a strong and brave warrior who can get rid of the monster centipede. So I disguised myself as a giant serpent on Seta Karahashi Bridge and waited for someone as brave as you. Without fear, you walked over me and crossed the bridge. I was very impressed by your bravery. Can you please help us get rid of the monster centipede? It can wrap itself around Mt. Mikami seven and a half times. It’s huge.”

Hidesato was very taken by the angelic princess. “Yes, I would be happy to do it. I love great challenges. Life would be boring without any challenges.”

He then headed toward Mt. Mikami while carrying a bow and large arrows. He could hardly wait for the monster centipede to show itself.

Illustration by art students at Seian University of Art and Design in Otsu, donated by the Otsu Higashi Rotary Club.

As he waited, the late-night dark sky was soon filled with a terrible thunderstorm. The lake swelled with rough waves, and the earth started to shake and rumble. On Mt. Mikami, a thousand little fires danced in the darkness led by two big fireballs. Hidesato didn’t have a good feeling about this. Very soon, a huge, black body with many thick legs on both sides appeared and coiled around the mountain. It was the monster centipede! Along with the thunder, it made a dreadful sound as it moved along slowly.

Hidesato got his thick arrow and shot it right between the two fireballs which were the centipede’s eyes, but it only bounced off the centipede. He shot another arrow, and again, nothing happened. “Whoops!! That didn’t work at all!”

For the first time in his life, he started to feel a little panicky. He had only one arrow left. He prayed to Hachiman, the guardian deity of the samurai and the god of archery. He then recalled that human saliva can penetrate and poison a centipede. He spit on his fingers and rubbed the saliva on the arrowhead.

Hidesato loads an arrow for the giant mukade.

He held the third arrow firmly and pulled the bow string as much as he could behind his ear. “OK you giant mukade, take that!!” He let out a yell, “YAHH!!” as he let go of the string and shot the arrow at the centipede’s forehead.

The arrow whizzed through the dark rain and perfectly pierced the giant mukade. Hidesato pumped his fist into the air and exclaimed, “Alright I got him!!” His prayers were answered.

Then suddenly, the thunderstorm cleared, the little fires stopped, the lake calmed, and the rumbling earth quieted. The monster mukade was killed. Hidesato gave a short prayer for the soul of the omukade so that it could rest in peace.

A few days later, the Dragon King’s daughter visited Hidesato. “Thank you very much for getting rid of the giant centipede! We are all so happy and relieved in Lake Biwa! Our unique, native fish found nowhere else in the world can now swim without fear. My father, the Dragon King, wants to invite you to our palace in Lake Biwa and thank you personally.” Hidesato could not refuse.

They rode on the backs of giant Lake Biwa catfish and traveled deep down into the lake below Seta Karahashi Bridge where even sunlight could not penetrate. The water was cold and dark. Then suddenly colorful lights emerged from the lake bottom. It was the palace of the Dragon King who has been living here for over 2,000 years protecting Lake Biwa and all its creatures. All local fishermen worshipped him along with Benzaiten, the goddess of everything that flows.

The Dragon King was overjoyed that Hidesato was able to put down the monster mukade. In appreciation, the Dragon King held a grand banquet for Hidesato with delicious delicacies from Lake Biwa such as funazushi (fermented nigorobuna carp), Biwa salmon (Biwa masu), and Seta shijimi clam soup. He also showered Hidesato with many special gifts including a straw barrel of rice that never ran out of Omi rice, a roll of silk fabric that never ran out of silk, a hot pot that always cooked food perfectly, a sword, and a temple bell that was made while the Buddha was alive.

The Dragon King’s servants carried all these gifts to Hidesato’s home. Since he had no use for the bell, Hidesato donated the bell to Miidera Temple in Otsu which became the temple’s first bell. With the other gifts, Hidesato led a happy and prosperous life. THE END

  • Although there is no monster centipede eating Lake Biwa’s fish, there are other little monsters (invasive species) eating or killing the fish and pollution making the lake dirty.
  • The bronze bell given to Miidera Temple was later famously stolen about 200 years later by the warrior monk Benkei (12th c.) who dragged it up to rival temple Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei. The bell was returned and is now quietly retired and publicly displayed at Miidera Temple in Otsu (photo below).
  • The sword the Dragon King gave Hidesato is kept at Ise Jingu Grand Shrines in Mie Prefecture and nicknamed “Mukade-cutting sword” (蜈蚣切).
  • The whereabouts of Hidesato’s other gifts are unknown, but whoever possesses them is enjoying great riches.
  • As with most Japanese legends/folktales, there are different versions of this story, but the above covers the basic gist.
  • Perhaps the most well-known, but archaic, English translation of this folktale is My Lord Bag of Rice by Yei Theodora Ozaki in 1908.
Seta Karahashi Bridge with Mt. Mikami in the distance. Woodblock print by Hiroshige in 19th c.
Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge (瀬田の唐橋) today over Seta River in southern Otsu.
Mt. Mikami (三上山) in Yasu is nicknamed “Omi-Fuji” (Mt. Fuji of Shiga) since it has a conical shape like Mt. Fuji. Climb it in 80 min.
Miidera Temple bell donated by Hidesato. The bell has scratch marks made when Benkei stole the bell.
Near the east end of Seta Karahashi Bridge is Ryuo-gu Hidesato-sha Shrine (龍王宮秀郷社) dedicated to Hidesato and the Dragon King princess.
Benkei stealing Miidera’s temple bell donated by Hidesato.

More photos of Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge

More photos of Mt. Mikami

Also read “The Birth of Chikubushima”

Like or share this:

YUtour, tour guide extraordinaire in Shiga Prefecture

Tour guide Seita Mori (right) amid terraced rice paddies in Hata, Takashima.

by Philbert Ono, photos courtesy of Seita Mori and selected by Philbert Ono

It’s about time I introduce YUtour (悠ツアー), a licensed tour guide service for foreign tourists in Shiga Prefecture run by my friend MORI Seita (森 聖太) in Otsu. YUtour is a one-man operation with Seita-san as YUtour’s one and only English-speaking guide. All indicators (such as TripAdvisor comments) show that he is doing an outstanding job. And after having a long lunch with him the other day in Otsu, I believe it.

YUtour’s guided tours in English focus on the rural areas, ecotourism and nature, and traditional crafts of Shiga. He takes guests mainly to Otsu (Mt. Hiei, Sakamoto, Ogi, and Katata), Takashima (Harie and Hata), Shigaraki (pottery and Miho Museum), and Omi-Hachiman (Okishima island and traditional boat rides). If you look at the YUtour website, you can see “Ready-made tours” with a set itinerary and pricing, and “Tailor-made tours” to other areas in Shiga upon request. Most of the tours are day trips from Kyoto, and Seita usually meets his guests at Kyoto Station at the tour’s start. He takes mostly individuals, couples, or small groups, but can also handle larger groups.

Seita (in front) in Nakajima, Harie.

Why take a guided tour instead of touring by yourself?
When touring rural areas where public transportation is limited, English information is scarce, and where people don’t speak English, a guided tour in English makes it much easier.

The guide can introduce you to local people (farmers, potters, craftsmen, etc.) so you can talk to them and ask questions. It makes your visit more enjoyable and educational. When it comes to outside visitors, rural folks always appreciate some kind of introduction. Just a simple introduction by someone they know is all it takes for them to open up their world, culture, and lifestyle to you. With the right connections, people in Shiga can be very friendly to foreigners. And Seita is that connection.

Pottery lesson in Shigaraki.

Calligraphy brush makers in Takashima.

Kabata water basin is used to wash or chill fruits and vegetables. Carp also eat food scraps from washed dishes.

YUtour’s most popular destinations are Harie (homes with “kabata” kitchen basins spewing natural spring water), Hata (farming community with terraced rice paddies), Shigaraki pottery centers, and Miho Museum. YUtour uses public transportation as much as possible so visitors can also experience what locals do. But if necessary, they will use a taxi or mini bus (for large groups). About 40 percent of YUtour customers are from the U.S., followed by Australians and Europeans. English-speaking tourists from Asia also take his tours.

Since YUtour is a small operation, Seita makes the tours a lot more personal, personable, and flexible than with large tour operators. He tells me that he never gets tired of taking people to the same places and explaining the same things over and over. It’s because his guests are all different and they all have different interests, questions, and opinions and he enjoys talking to them. Seita learns a lot from them as well. So it’s a very interactive tour and not just a one-way lecture about this and that. I asked him what was the most common comment he gets from his visitors to Shiga: “So peaceful here!” Yep, laid-back Shiga is definitely a refreshing and relaxing break from the craziness and crowds of Kyoto.

Cycling through rice paddies in Adogawa, Takashima.

Hand paddling a boat through reeds in Lake Nishinoko, Omi-Hachiman.

Old reeds around the lake are burned in early March to make way for new buds.

Seita started YUtour in 2012 as part of his noble mission to help revitalize rural communities. Bringing foreign tourists was one way to do it. The “YU” (悠) in YUtour means “leisurely” in Japanese. I believe YUtour was the first professional tour guide service to start up in Shiga exclusively for foreigners. When I first heard about it, I didn’t think it would be so viable since Shiga is so little known overseas.

Indeed, Seita did struggle to get customers during his first year in business. But he stuck with it and over the years, YUtour gradually became a very active and in-demand service. It has gained more customers as word spread, and it’s now on track for further growth. The increasing number of inbound tourists to Japan has also helped, and Seita is also seeing repeat customers. He is most busy in spring and fall when he can be booked for at least half the month. Least busy are the winter months.

He has also been spotlighted in local Japanese newspapers and NHK Otsu TV news in 2017. I’m so glad to see him come this far to establish a niche for himself in Shiga. It takes a lot of dedication and determination and he loves what he’s doing. Seita also works part-time as a research assistant at Kobe University, so he does have a side job to fall back on when YUtour is not so busy.

Seita (left) helps to clean waterways in Harie.

I met Seita-san for the first time about a year ago when I invited him to one of my events. We didn’t have time to talk then, so we finally met up again over lunch in Otsu earlier this month.

I could quickly tell that he was a dedicated, upright professional and very community-oriented and knowledgeable about Shiga. He is a licensed tour guide for foreigners (通訳案内士) which means he passed a difficult national exam for testing one’s English ability and knowledge of Japan. It’s surprising to hear that he has never studied or worked abroad, so his English was mostly self-taught. To get up to that level without living abroad (or being married to a native English speaker) is pretty amazing for a Japanese person. (Japan’s English education program in public schools has largely been a failure for decades, with the vast majority of students still unable to converse in English even at college age. Japan’s low-quality English found everywhere in tourism brochures, official websites, signs, etc., also does not help.)

He also has a Ph.D degree, so we had very intelligent conversations (in Japanese). Besides me interviewing him, we also discussed tourism issues in Shiga and Otsu.

On NHK TV in July 2017, Enryakuji spokesman commented on their English weakness.

One thing we talked about was Enryakuji Temple. Enryakuji recently admitted on NHK TV that they were not good at English PR. I told Seita that Enryakuji should just ask its overseas Tendai Buddhist temples to help produce English materials. I’m sure they would gladly help their headquarters temple produce the English for PR brochures, official website, and directional signs. They are native English speakers who know the religion and terminology, so they are very qualified to do it. When it comes to English PR, Enryakuji is way behind Koya-san in Wakayama Prefecture. Seita showed me the excellent English website for Kumano Kodo. Something that Enryakuji, Otsu, and Shiga could learn from.

Seita and I also agreed that Otsu’s push to develop Chuo-Odori road between Otsu Station and Lake Biwa for tourists is not so promising since there’s nothing at the end of the road (except for a hotel). Yes, there’s Lake Biwa, but there are other more convenient roads leading to the lake.

Otsu recently made a snazzy, eye-catching video just to promote that it’s only “9 minutes by train from Kyoto.” This should’ve been “Only 9 minutes TO Kyoto” instead. Have tourists stay in Otsu to visit Kyoto, rather than tourists staying in Kyoto to visit Otsu. People who lodge in Otsu drop more money than people who just visit Otsu, right? Otsu often serves as backup accommodations for people who can’t find hotel rooms in Kyoto anyway. So a “9 minutes TO Kyoto” campaign would have been more practical. Vice versa is a lot harder—getting tourists staying in Kyoto to visit central Otsu.

Theoretically, being so close to Kyoto might sound good, but it can also be disadvantageous. Tourists who want to get away from Kyoto may think Otsu is too close and prefer to venture further away. This may explain why Harie and Shigaraki (both taking at least an hour from Kyoto) are more popular to visit from Kyoto.

Well, I still give credit to Otsu for at least trying and coming up with ideas. But as I told Seita, I think Otsu is stuck in a hard place. It doesn’t have a trademark attraction like Hikone Castle in Hikone. Yes, there’s Enryakuji (World Heritage Site), but it’s almost part of Kyoto and most people go there from Kyoto. Otsu has other important Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, but people who want to see temples/shrines might as well stay in Kyoto. There’s Lake Biwa and lake cruises, but the lake is not unique to Otsu. Otsu has a lot of things, but nothing stands out. So it lacks a strong and unique identity attractive to tourists.

Pottery kiln in Shigaraki.

And Shigaraki (in Koka), despite its fame and popularity with foreigners, still has no official tourism website in English. (Google Translate doesn’t count.) Selling their wares to foreigners should really help (especially with the Tokyo Olympics coming up). The Shigaraki pottery association should create an English website. Shigaraki hardly has info in English except for Miho Museum and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.

Too many people working in Shiga tourism still don’t understand the power and worldwide reach of the Internet and how a little language can go a long way. It’s hard to believe that there are still volunteer tour guides (mostly retirees) in Shiga who do not even use the Internet. (No emailing, no messaging, and no Web browsing.)

Anyway, I had a good discussion with Seita-san and we’ll be keeping in touch. YUtour provides a very valuable and rare service in Shiga. I think Seita represents Shiga very well as a grassroots cultural ambassador spreading the word about Shiga. I find him to be very friendly and affable. He is another example of how even one person can make a big difference in Shiga. It’s not snazzy videos nor slick brochures. It’s the word of mouth that counts the most and Seita Mori is on the front line for that.

To book a tour, go directly to the YUtour website. As of this writing, YUtour is not available for booking at travel sites like Expedia.

Website: http://www.yutour.net/
For more photos of his tours, see the Facebook page: https://ja-jp.facebook.com/yutour.net/

Seita also appeared in this PR video of Kyoto and Shiga produced by KLM:

Like or share this:
1 2 3 41