The Legendary Watanabe no Tsuna Battles the Ibaraki Demon at Rashomon Bridge

Come see me at the Kryolan Professional Makeup booth at IMATS New York, April 14 to see the painted body illustration of this story

by Christopher Agostino

Watanabe no Tsuna was perhaps the greatest samurai of all, legendary even as a child for a strength no man had seen before. As a young man, fighting with the Heavenly Companions alongside the famous samurai Raiko, Tsuna had helped to kill Ichigumi, the Goblin Spider, throwing a giant tree down upon the back of that monstrous earth spider while Raiko fought him off in the cave beneath Kyoto castle.

One of several prints by Kuniyoshi depicting the battle

Watanabe no Tsuna had again been at Raiko’s side when he killed the Drunken Demon. Once, the Drunken Demon had once been a handsome courtier who preyed on the noble women only with his charms, but, deep in his lustful ways, as he began to drink he began to change into a true monster. He would steal the young women from the emperor’s palace, and hold them captive for his pleasure. When he grew tired of them he would eat their flesh and drink their blood to feed his demon strength. Then he kidnapped the Princess Ibaraki, and she was too beautiful to grow tired of, so he kept her alive for many years. One night in his room, perhaps to dull the pain in her heart, Princess Ibaraki joined him in his drinking and, once drunk, she tasted his feast of human sashimi. She too became a demon, though she kept her secret from the other captive maidens. When the samurai Raiko and his companions came to rescue the Princess it was fortunate that she had also drunk from the saki they had drugged to incapacitate the demon or she would have raised the alarm when Raiko came into the sleeping demon’s room and cut off his head with one swing of his sword. Tsuna saw the beautiful Ibaraki lying asleep in the demon’s bed and released her along with the other captive maidens, not knowing her terrible secret.

Years passed when word reached the emperor of a she-demon haunting the Rashomon Bridge, the bridge between this world and the next. Ibaraki had grown accustomed to the taste of human flesh and she haunted the bridge in her guise as a beautiful maiden. Women she would let cross unmolested, but when men passing across would stop to give solace to one they thought too young to be dying, she would grab them and rend them to pieces and eat their flesh, leaving the departed with the terrible fate of entering the next world incomplete and unable to find true rest.

In those years, the land had come to peace and, with no battles to fight, Raiko and his men had fallen in to sloth and dissolution. All but Tsuna, who had laid down his sword to find peace for himself tending his peach orchards. So it was to Watanabe no Tsuna that the emperor now turned, and when the emperor’s command came, Tsuna was disheartened but knew where his allegiance lie. He donned his armor and set off for the bridge.

Like many who had gone before him, Tsuna was surprised to see a young woman walking along the bridge as he approached. He rushed forward to rescue her from the demon he knew to be lurking there. Then, he saw her face and his surprise turned to shock as he recognized the beautiful Princess Ibaraki. As he saw the look of recognition in her eyes, and with it a flash of fear, he knew what she had become and slashed at her with his sword before she could grab him. With his first swing he cut off her right arm, but still she was so full of the demon strength of the countless men she had slain, that she held him to a standstill as they fought through the day. Finally came an exchange of blows so powerful it knocked the two combatants off their feet, and as Tsuna rose to strike again he saw the she-demon Ibaraki fleeing across the bridge to the other side. Perhaps when he were younger Tsuna would have followed Ibaraki into the spirit world to finish the battle, but on this day he was content to have cleared the bridge. He took up her arm as a trophy of his victory, sent word to the emperor that the task was fulfilled and returned to his home.

Back in his orchards, Watanabe no Tsuna rested. Although he did not speak of his battle, word still spread, enhancing the fame of the great samurai. Many came by to honor him. One night, a week after the battle on the bridge, his elderly aunt arrived to hear him tell the tale of his victory. She said she was so proud and wished nothing more than to see the arm of the demon he had taken as a trophy. Wishing to please her, Tsuna went to the trunk in which he had placed the arm, but  no sooner had he lifted the lid, then his aunt transformed into the she-demon, grabbed her arm and ran off into the night. Tsuna was so stunned that he had no chance to stop her, and wasn’t sure he wished too. For once she regained her arm, the she-demon disappeared never to be seen again, and perhaps, made whole, the tortured spirit of the Princess Ibaraki had finally come to rest.

© March 22, 2012 Christopher Agostino

Ibaraki Demon fleeing with her arm

Bits and pieces of this story had come to me, and I decided to use it as the basis for a bodypainting design for the IMATS show in New York, where I would be painting for Kryolan. I was all set to get online and really research it to find the full legend, but then it woke me up at 3:00 am on March 22 and asked to be written — so I pretty much had to make the whole thing up right then. The primary inspiration was an image I’d seen of the demon fleeing with her arm at the Storytelling In Japanese Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The text gave only the briefest description of the legend, with the intriguing notion that the battle took place on a bridge between this world and the next (something I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else). As I was looking for additional images, another bit that floated in was that I already knew who Watanabe no Tsuna was, because he’d been part of the samurai Raiko’s adventures, one of which I tell. I think what formed the story and compelled me to write it was learning that this same demon had earlier been part of the retinue of the Drunken Demon, and it was the idea that she had been one of the maidens he had captured, a Princess, that woke me up in the night (an idea which has no connection to the real legend).

A couple of online versions of the legend:

The legend of the battle between Watanabe no Tsuna and Ibaraki

Big In Japan: Ghosts, Witches and Foxes, Oh My!

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