I might have a bit of bias but Iwata is my favorite city that I’ve ever been to. The train station has an enormous 700-year-old camphor tree that was once the site of the temple Zendo-ji. But it’s the city’s backstory that really touches my heart.
Anyone who has ever played the video game Okami might recognize Iwata’s story.
Legend has it that 700 hundred years ago, Iwata was plagued by evil demons. Once a year, Iwata held Naki Matsuri, a Crying Festival. A white-feathered arrow would fly into the roof of an unsuspecting villager’s home. This arrow symbolized the next daughter to be sacrificed to the demons. The villagers, afraid of the demon’s curse, begrudgingly put the daughter in a coffin and left it outside for the demons to carry away.
And so this happened for many years. That is until a monk passed through Iwata and heard about this horrifying, annual event. When the day arrived, the monk decided to sneak a closer peek at these infamous demons.
As they carried the coffin away, he listened to one of the demons say, “Shippei Taro of Nagano mustn’t know about it.”
“I hope he isn’t watching,” said another demon.
Realizing these demons were terrified, the monk decided to find Shippei Taro and get his help. He traveled to the nearby prefecture of the city of Nagano. There at Kozen-ji temple, he found Shippei Taro. To his surprise, Shippei was not a man but a dog. Shippei, known to the locals as Hayataro, was a white dog larger than a wolf.
He asked the temple if he could borrow Shippei to fight the demons plaguing Iwata. And off they went! They ventured back to Iwata to prepare for the next annual arrow.
As the demon day approached, they crafted a cunning plan to trick the demons. Instead of a daughter, the villagers put Shippei into the coffin. The demons arrived to carry their next sacrifice away but Shippei jumped out before they could.
He fought the demons with tooth and claw until they were all slain. The village was finally safe again. Having accomplished his mission, he gave out a long, proud howl of victory.
Sadly, before Shippei could return home to Kozen-ji, he passed away from his grave wounds. In honor of their hero, Iwata made a shrine in Shippei’s honor. It is the only shrine in all of Japan dedicated to Shippei. His grave, however, can be visited at Kozen-ji Temple.
If you’re ever in Iwata, stop by and take a stroll. The park is massive and even has a beautiful pond. While you’re there, you can pray for any pets that you have. You can also buy a few goods with Shippei’s character on it.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my story about Iwata.
Tell me your favorite Japanese folklore in the comments below! I’d love to learn about it.
I’m Aspen Kumagai, an American living in Japan. Over four years ago, I made the craziest and best decision of my life. I hopped on a plane to chase my dreams and met the love of my life. Now I spend my days traveling across Japan, searching for my next favorite dish, and desperately trying to read the Japanese directions on the back of my face cleanser. Thank god for google translate.
Whether in the kitchen or on a mountaintop, I’m here to inspire you with home-cooked recipes, travel tips, and lifestyle hacks. I share my adventures (and my many mistakes) about living in a foreign country.
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