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”

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Videos of Golden Week festivals in Shiga

Golden Week is Japan’s spring vacation from late April to early May with a string of national holidays. April 29 is Showa Day, May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day.

It is prime time for matsuri festivals in Japan and Shiga has a load of them. There are so many matsuri in Shiga during this time that it took me at least 4 or 5 years to see most of them because many are held at the same time. You really have to decide which one to see.

Here is a collection of my video clips (in varying quality) of Golden Week festivals I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure.


Video link: https://youtu.be/xYQujzeDO8o

April 29: Sakata Shinmeigu Yakko-buri Procession (坂田神明宮の蹴り奴振り) in Maibara reenacts the procession of Lord Ii Naonobu from Hikone when he came to worship at Sakata Shinmeigu Shrine (坂田神明宮) in 1733 in Maibara. The men walk with a stylized, kicking action. It starts with a Shinto ceremony which includes dancing by shrine maidens. Starts at 2 pm at Sakata Shinmeigu Shrine near JR Sakata Station (Hokuriku Line). Photos | Website | Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/CzLvxfAJkQc

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri (草津宿場まつり) celebrates Kusatsu’s history as a stage town on the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads. Numerous events and activities are held such as flea markets, street & stage performances, and Japanese dances. The main highlight is the Kusatsu Jidai Gyoretsu procession of people dressed in historical costumes from 11:45 am (from city hall) to 3:40 pm (Kusatsu Station East Exit). Near JR Kusatsu Station. Photos | Official site | Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/86wY3dOgLEw

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri (海津力士まつり) features men dressed as sumo wrestlers (rikishi) carrying two mikoshi portable shrines around their respective lakeside neighborhoods near JR Makino Station in northern Takashima. They wear kesho mawashi ceremonial aprons. They jostle the mikoshi during the day from 1 pm to 3 pm, and then from 5 pm. At around 8 pm, they proceed to Kaizuten Jinja Shrine for the festival climax with lit torches. Be aware that the festival goes on until after 10 pm which may be past your last train home. Also, if you’re walking back to Makino Station from the shrine, be careful as part of the highway has no sidewalk. Bring a flashlight (or lit-up smartphone) so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/S5CG04vUdMA

May 3: Hino Matsuri (日野祭) in Hino is the largest festival in eastern Shiga Prefecture and one of Shiga’s grandest float festivals. Sixteen ornate floats and three portable shrines are paraded through the streets and gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine amid festival music of flutes and taiko drums. It’s all day long from morning till late afternoon when the floats leave the shrine. The three portable shrines are taken across town to the Otabisho and back. They also hold a festival eve on the evening of May 2. Buses run from Hino Station to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. If you have time, I also highly recommend taking the bus from Hino Station to Shakunage Gorge (しゃくなげ渓) for a relaxing nature stroll in a gorge adorned with shakunage (rhododendron), Hino’s official flower. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/59UfQMWjkZY

May 3: Kenketo Odori (ケンケト踊り) at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社) in Tsuchiyama, Koka is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. Starting in the early afternoon at the shrine, the delightful dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. From Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways), catch the Aikuru Bus and get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/isdfpgLUa54

May 3: The Kenketo Festival (ケンケト祭り) is held at few Shinto shrines in Ryuo and neighboring Higashi-Omi. It is mainly a naginata (pole sword) dance and procession by boys dressed in costume. They travel to these different shrines and perform, but the main venue is Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Photos | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/JW0sE2IXIQM

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri (七川祭) at Oarahiko Shrine in Takashima features a procession of yakko-furi laborers carrying archery targets (photo), yabusame horse runs, and a portable shrine procession. This is the largest festival in the Kosei area (western Shiga) and the only one featuring horses in Kosei. Attracts a good crowd. The shrine is near Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line), but renting a bicycle at the station is recommended. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/110DRdk9c5s

May 4: Omizo Matsuri (大溝祭) has five ornate floats pulled around the neighborhood of JR Omi-Takashima Station (JR Kosei Line). The festival eve on May 3 has the floats festooned with paper lanterns as they are pulled around in the evening. On May 4, they pull the floats around during the day and gather at Hiyoshi Jinja Shrine. When entering the shrine, they dramatically run while pulling the float. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/r_FYQwW_l-4

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri (伊庭の坂下し祭) held by Sanposan Shrine in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture is an unusual festival with three portable shrines hauled down a steep mountain (Kinugasa-yama) for about 500 meters. It doesn’t sound that far, but it’s all steep, rocky terrain. The mikoshi bearers can easily get injured. This is also one of the hardest festivals to view. You have to climb up this steep, rocky mountain and perch on a ledge. One earthquake and you can fall. The locals have an easy time climbing up the mountain though, even with kids. Photos | Website | Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi in Omi-Hachiman. Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi (篠田の花火) is a super spectacular and artistic fireworks display at Shinoda Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Torch fireworks, Niagara Falls, and panel-type fireworks provide an explosive, close-up experience. For people who cannot wait till summer to see fireworks. Beware of a forest of camera tripods and photographers in front. Get there early if you want to take good shots. Not recommended if you don’t like sudden and loud explosions. Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Walk from Omi-Hachiman Station. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/lSjPZkbGhS4

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival (御崎神社 火まつり) in Aisho climaxes with a towering clump of bamboo set afire to create a fire column well over 10 meters high. It starts at 7:30 pm when people carry 2-meter long torches from their homes to the shrine. A taiko drum is also carried and beaten. Very dramatic (no marshmallows). The shrine is a 20-min. walk from JR Inae Station. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/XqVS_P7Nccg


Video link: https://youtu.be/OtzUyyFVTdc

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri (兵主祭) is Shiga’s preeminent mikoshi (portable shrine) festival with 35 mikoshi paraded around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu. Two of them are carried only by spunky young women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. Very colorful and lively festival as they frequently stop, yell, and hold up the mikoshi high in the air. Beware that it can be dusty on the gravel paths. Other mikoshi are carried by children and men. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/0_4CjYXHCls

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri (すし切りまつり) sushi-cutting festival at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama has two young lads very stylistically and meticulously cutting funa-zushi fermented fish (crucian carp native to Lake Biwa) as an offering. All throughout, they are verbally heckled by some men. Not visually spectacular, but unusual and intriguing. The best part is at the end when they give free morsels of funa-zushi to spectators. Shiga’s best-known delicacy from Lake Biwa. From Moriyama Station, take the bus and get off at  Shimoniikawa Jinja. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/1-Ti5JQTt_o

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri (長刀踊り まつり) at Ozu Jinja Shrine (小津神社) in Moriyama consists of colorful dances and music by children, taiko drumming, a naginata dance and acrobatics by boys using a pole sword. They conduct a roundtrip procession from Ozu Shrine to Ozu Wakamiya Shrine. A great variety of eye candy for Children’s Day. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/PU7an9F3GdQ

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival (苗村神社 節句祭) at Namura Shrine in Ryuo is for horse lovers. After children carry around a portable shrine, yabusame horseback archery is held in front of the shrine gate. Several horses make their runs, but only one of them shoots arrows at the targets. A good excuse to visit this shrine noted for its elegant-looking, thatched-roof main gate and Nishi Honden hall which is a National Treasure. The shrine’s architecture is from the Kamakura Period. Photos | Website | Google Map

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