Ushi no Toki Mairi

In Japanese folklore there is a bizarre curse ritual known as ushi no toki mairi. Ushi refers to an ox because the ritual is performed during the hours of the ox, which are between 1:00 and 3:00am. The practitioner is usually a woman who dresses in white and wears a crown made of an iron ring holding three lit candles. She then hammers a nail into a sacred tree within a Shinto Shrine. 

'Ushi-no-toki, Mairi' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853 (Detail)

In some versions it is said the nail must pass through a straw effigy of the intended victim, impaling it upon the tree behind it. The ritual must be performed seven days in a row at which time the curse is said to succeed, causing death to the target. If anyone witnesses the ritual it will stop the curse working. The 'witches' who perform ushi no toki mairi are generally scorned or betrayed women seeking revenge.

'Casting a Curse at the Hour of the Ox (Ushi no toki mairi)' - Suzuki Harunobu, 1765

'Ushi no Toki Mairi' - Sekien Toriyama, 1779

'Ox' from the series 'Twelve Signs of the Zodiac' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1852

'A woman summoning a yokai through ushi no toki mairi' - Katsushika Hokusai

Ushi (Hour of the Ox) from the series 'Parody of the Twelve Hours' - Toyohara Kunichika - 1875

'Ushi-no-toki, Mairi (Two-o'clock in the morning prayer) to curse a person to death whom he or she detested' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853


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