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Learn about the Japanese legend of Kiyohime, a story of love and revenge (清姫)

11 de April de 2024

The snake woman named Kiyohime (清姫), is one of those rare yokai who started out as a human, but whose emotions ran so deep that she ended up becoming a snake… Read her story of love and revenge!

Anjin Priest and Kiyo – (Japanese legend of Kiyohime 清姫)

At the time of Emperor Daigo in Japan, there lived a handsome young priest named Anjin. Every year he made a pilgrimage from Mutsu to Kumano.

On the way, Anjin rested at the mansion of Masago no Shōji (a local village headman), which was located along the banks of the Hidaka River.

At the Masago no Shōji mansion, a daughter named Kiyo, later Kiyohime, was born. Over the years, Kiyo fell in love with the handsome priest Anjin and believed that he liked her too.

Anjin’s prank on Kiyohime 清姫

The Japanese legend of Kiyohime

Kiyo was a cheerful young woman. Unfortunately, she also enjoyed causing trouble in the mansion, so Anjin tried to convince her to behave, jokingly telling her that if she behaved, he would marry her and then she could return with him to Mutsu.

Although it was just a joke to Anjin, Kiyohime took it seriously. She was very obedient while he was away, waiting for his arrival every year.

In the year she reached marriageable age, when Anjin was on his way to Kumano, Kiyohime reminded Anjin of what he had promised her.

He was embarrassed that Kiyohime had taken his joke seriously. He lied, telling Kiyohime that he would indeed marry her when he returned from Kumano. But, returning to Mutsu, he decided to go around the mansion, avoiding the young woman who was still waiting for him.

Kiyohime searched for Anjin

The Japanese legend of Kiyohime

When Kiyohime heard the news that the priest Anjin would not be stopping by her mansion, she realized that Anjin had lied. Filled with sadness at the betrayal, she ran out of the house, not bothering to put on her shoes. She ran after him down the road to the Dojo-ji temple.

Anjin, seeing her, asked the boatman Chikanobu to help him cross the Hidaka River. And he also asked the boatman not to help Kiyohime to cross.

He felt relieved after reaching the other bank, believing that he had finally escaped Kiyohime’s pursuit.

Kiyohime’s transformation into a snake woman

The Japanese legend of Kiyohime

However, it was too soon for Anjin to relax. Kiyohime, filled with grief and anger at the priest’s lies, dove straight into the Hidaka River. As she was tossed by the waves, her body transformed into a giant snake or dragon.

With her new Kiyohime form, she easily crossed the raging torrent and continued chasing Anjin, all the way to the Dojo ji temple.

The priests of the Dojo-ji, seeing Kiyohime transformed, hid Anjin under the great bronze bell of the bonsho.

But not even the metal of the bell could stop her. Kiyohime swung her long body around the bell and began to spew fire. Her fury turned into incandescent heat, hot enough to melt the metal of the bell. As the heat increased, Anjin, hidden inside, burned to death.

Kiyohime’s revenge 清姫

The Japanese legend of Kiyohime

Although Kiyohime’s revenge was completed, her heart was empty and aching when she killed the man she loved. Kiyohime dove into the Hidaka River, drowning, to follow him even in death.

However, in some versions, Kiyohime’s story does not end there:

Another version of Kiyohime’s ending

Some time after the death of Kiyohime and Anjin, an elderly priest of the Dojo-ji temple saw a snake in a dream. The snake told the priest that he was Anjin, who had now also become a snake because he was a liar.

The snake Anjin asked the priest to release him and Kiyohime from their suffering. When the priest awoke, he performed a ceremony for the 2 snakes, saving them and allowing them to rise and thus end up together for eternity.