Shippeitaro

In the Japanese fokltale Shippeitaro, a warrior is travelling through a magical forest one day when he comes across a shrine and decides to sleep there for the night. At around midnight he is woken by the yowling of cats who he saw were dancing around and saying 'be careful not to tell Shippeitaro.' Unsure what to make of this, he continued on through the forest the next day until he reached a small village. Somewhere he could hear a female crying. He was told that the village was under the powerful curse of a bakeneko (yokai cat) who demanded that a young girl be sacrificed to her each year, and this year it was the turn of the poor wailing girl. She had been put in a box sometimes a cage and left at the shrine for the bakeneko.

Suzuki Munesaburo, 1888.

At this point the warrior asks about Shippeitaro and discovers that it is a dog living nearby. He goes to find the owner and asks if he can borrow the dog for the night. He then replaces the girl in the box with Shippeitaro and retreats. That night, the cats came to the shrine and a large black cat opened up the box. Shippeitaro leapt out and promptly tore the cat to pieces. With the help of the brave warrior they killed several of the cats before the rest fled into the woods, never to be seen again. The next morning Shippeitaro was returned to his owner and a celebration was held to honor the warrior and dog. Each year the village held a feast to remember how their bravery liberated the village.

'Okabe in Suruga Province: The Monster of the Cat Temple' - Utagawa Yoshitora, 1872.

In some versions of the tale, it is a mountain spirit who makes the demand to have a maiden sacrificed each year. It seems that originally the tale involved a monkey spirit but as it was retold the nature of the spirit varied. In different versions the evils spirits are also wolves, foxes, kappa or tanuki instead of cats. Sometimes the maiden is placed in a cage rather than the box.

Shippeitaro breaks out of his box and destroys the wolves - Toyokuni, 1796.



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