the online database of Japanese ghosts and monsters

Tōdaiki

By on February 14, 2018, in China, fire, house, light, magic, onmyōdō, Patreon, urban legend, yōkai

燈台鬼
とうだいき

TRANSLATION: candlestick spirit, candlestick demon

APPEARANCE: A tōdaiki is a magical lamp created using black magic and a living human being.

ORIGIN: Stories about people visiting strange lands and being transformed, or disappearing into another world and never returning are not uncommon in Japanese folklore. Fanciful stories like these might have originated in true but unsolved disappearances of loved ones.

LEGENDS: The most famous tōdaiki story involves a real historical figure. Hitsu no Saishō was the nickname of Fujiwara no Arikuni, a Heian period noble who lived from 943-1011 CE.

Long ago, during a period of great movement of culture and ideas between China and Japan, a government minister named Karu no Daijin was sent on a diplomatic mission to Tang China. He never returned, and his family in Japan, including his young son, Hitsu no Saishō, were left not knowing even knowing whether he was alive or dead.

Many years later, when Hitsu no Saishō was an adult, he traveled to China to search for news of his missing father’s whereabouts. He traveled far and wide, and in a particular location he came across something he had never seen before: a a candlestick fashioned out of a living human being! The man had been installed like a piece of furniture onto a fancy platform, and a large candle had been affixed to his head. Every inch of his body was covered in strange tattoos. And by some combination of strange drugs and sorcery, the man’s throat had been blocked up and ability to speak had been removed.

As Hitsu no Saishō looked in amazement at the strange creation, the tōdaiki began to shed tears. Unable to speak, the man bit hard into his finger tip until it began to bleed. Then, using his finger, he wrote out a poem in his blood:

Long ago I came to China from Japan. I have the same family name as you.
The bond between father and son transcends even the seas and mountains that have separated us.
For years I have cried in this horrible place. Every day I think of my parents.
I have been transformed into this candlestick in this faraway land. I just want to go home.

Upon reading this, Hitsu no Saishō realized in horror that the tōdaiki was his own father whom he had come to China looking for!