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Literature / Urikohime and the Amanojaku

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Hello, May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar? And the whole of your skin? I've got a school project, you see.
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Urikohime and the Amanojaku is a Japanse Fairy Tale of the type that starts with a childless couple finding the protagonist as a very small baby. Here that baby is Urikohime (瓜子姫), meaning Melon Seed Princess, for she is discovered within a melon.note  The titular amanojaku is the villain of the story. Amanojaku are youkai commonly used in depictions of divine heroes as the evil entities those heroes subdue, but rarely do classic stories incorporate amanojaku. Urikohime and the Amanojaku is the best known tale to feature this youkai.

The couple adopts Urikohime and she grows up to be a fine young lady, reputed for her beauty, her song, and her weaving. One day, the couple has to leave Urikohime home alone and instruct her not to open the door for anyone. This is when the amanojaku strikes. It convinces Urikohime to open the door just a little bit and that is enough to force it open in full.

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In versions generally told in West Japan, the amanojaku strongarms Urikohime outside, undresses her, and ties her up in a persimmon tree. Then it dons her clothes and shapeshifts into her image. Upon the couple's return, the amanojaku pretends to be their beloved daughter and takes place in the litter readied for her. The group doesn't get far before either Urikohime's voice or those of the birds taking pity on her warn of the deception. The amanojaku is decapitated on the spot, staining the roots of the millet red. In versions common to East Japan, the story is much more grim. The amanojaku murders Urikohime, flays her to disguise itself in her skin, and consumes the rest of the evidence. Either curious behavior by the amanojaku betrays it or Urikohime's soul reincarnated as a bird reveals the deception (a common motif in folklore also found in The Brothers Grimm's story "The Juniper Tree"). The amanojaku is killed, staining the roots of the proso millet red.

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While Urikohime's fate is region-bound, the further story variations are not. Another major one is the presence of a prince. In case he's not part of the fairy tale, the litter is readied for Urikohime to take her to a festival and the amanojaku is killed by Urikohime's father. In case the tale includes a prince, Urikohime is to marry him and the litter is to transport her safely to the palace. The amanojaku is killed either by guards or the prince. As well, instead of acting for evil's sake, the amanojaku goes after Urikohime for political influence. Incidental story variations include Urikohime's origin not being mentioned, the villain being a wolf instead of an amanojaku, the amanojaku also being born from the melon, Urikohime falling to her death out of the persimmon tree, Urikohime's parents being tricked into eating her flesh, and the amanojaku's blood also staining the chestnut's and the buckwheat's roots red.

At the very tail end of the 1970s, a Bloody Mary-style Urban Legend developed from the East Japanese version of the fairy tale. It had its popularity in the first half of the 1980s and goes that if one says "Urikohime" in front of a mirror at 12 o'clock, Urikohime's resentfulness will manifest and kill the one who summoned her.

See also Momotarō, with which Urikohime and the Amanojaku occasionally exchanges traits.


Tropes associated with Urikohime and the Amanojaku:

  • Beautiful Singing Voice: It's not as praised as her skill at weaving, but Urikohime's singing voice is often noted to be exceptional. It is also linked to her weaving because she always sings while at it.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: A few versions feature a wolf instead of an amanojaku as villain. Urikohime gets eaten by it once it finds its way inside her house and it may trick her parents into consuming the leftovers, which are details that suggest the fairy tale is part of the same thematic family that Little Red Riding Hood is also part of.
  • Born from Plants: Urikohime is a woman born from a melon. Technically "uri" means any cucurbit, but the common interpretation is specifically a melon. Her Evil Counterpart, the amanojaku, rarely is also born from a melon.
  • Bound and Gagged: If not killed, Urikohime is abducted and left tied up in a persimmon tree, wearing at most her underwear. She's not gagged, though, which comes back to bite the amanojaku when Urikohime's voice carries far enough to reveal the deception.
  • Bride and Switch: The amanojaku sometimes takes Urikohime's place to marry the prince instead.
  • Disguised in Drag: Especially in modern versions and adaptations, the amanojaku is male. He dresses up as the female Urikohime, either through shapeshifting and wearing her clothes or through wearing her skin.
  • Evil Counterpart: Urikohime and the amanojaku are generally interpreted as two sides of the same coin in a light-dark setup, especially in regards to versions in which they both die. They're both supernatural beings, the amanojaku takes Urikohime's role, there's creation on both sides by weaving and dyeing, and then death.
  • Genuine Human Hide: In the gruesome versions of the tale, the amanojaku flays Urikohime and disguises itself as her with her skin.
  • Happily Adopted: Urikohime is found as a baby inside a melon that was either grown by a childless couple or found floating down the river. They raise her as their own and love her dearly.
  • "Just So" Story: Urikohime and the Amanojaku explains why the roots of the millet, and sometimes the chestnut and the buckwheat, are red: it's the blood of the amanojaku.
  • Mugged for Disguise: The amanojaku wants what Urikohime has and therefore opts to impersonate her. This is done A.) by abducting or killing the real Urikohime, and B.) taking her clothes and sometimes her skin to dress up in as her.
  • Not Quite Human: Urikohime is found as a baby inside a melon and her unusual origins aren't cleared up by the fairy tale. She grows up to look and act no different from a human.
  • Public Domain Character: Both Urikohime and the amanojaku are popular for adaptation in all sorts of stories and they usually show up together.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: The main quality Urikohime is praised for is her high skill in weaving, which she always does with a song on her lips. She's weaving when the amanojaku arrives at her house and manipulates her into letting it enter.
  • Youkai: Amanojaku are youkai that represent great evil and have both the ability and aim to bring out the worst in humans. They are rare in classic stories, so Urikohime and the Amanojaku is a big influence on how the youkai is commonly understood.

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