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The Ogres of Oyeyama

Page 1, Ogres of Oyeyama

The Ogres of Oyeyama (also known as Shuten-doji) is a very familiar story to westerners and easterners alike. Long ago, a group of ogres residing in the mountains of Oyeyama kidnapped the people who lived near the mountain. In response, the Japanese Emperor (known as the Mikado) sent a warrior named Raiko with a band of soldiers to kill the ogres and rescue the civilians. On the way, they met a god disguised as an old man, who gave Raiko a mighty sword, an impenetrable helmet, and a wineskin with a secret compartment that could carry two items or liquids. He also gave the group very strong wine and hermit disguises. Disguised as hermits, they approached the chef of the ogre chief Shutendoji and asked to spend the night. The chef agreed, plotting to feed them to the other ogres. That night, he gave all the ogres the strong wine to get them very drunk and very sleepy and then slaughtered them all except Shutendoji. Raiko chopped off Shutendoji’s head but it came alive and tried to kill him. However, because Raiko was wearing the impenetrable helmet, Shutendoji was defeated. Raiko and his warriors brought the head back to the Mikado as proof of their victory and everyone lived happily ever after.

The exact origins of this story are unknown but the earliest known scrolls containing the story were written in 1670, during the Tokugawa period (Herring 13). It’s worth noting that the hero of the story Raiko is actually Minamoto no Raiko, a national hero who died in the 11th century. From this and the location of the tale, we can infer that the story might date as far back as the late 11th century in Oyeyama. The scrolls were drawn and written by hand on ornamental gilt paper; the paper was colored blue while the stencil and drawings were gold. These scrolls were primarily read by the women and children of the nobility and were very popular (Herring 13). The story is still published today but in other formats; for example as the live-action film The Demon of Mount Oe (1960) and a loosely adapted version as the anime Shuten-doji (1989). It’s not particularly popular outside of its home country, so finding non-Japanese translations is very difficult. 

Exhibit Created by: Alex Morson and JT Fitzpatrick