Translation: earth prison; hell
Appearance: Souls who are deemed unworthy of rebirth in the five upper Buddhist realms find themselves in the worst afterlife of all—Jigoku, or Buddhist hell. Though it is described as one realm, Jigoku is not just one place. There are countless different hells, which are usually separated into eight hot hells and eight cold hells. These are further subdivided into many other smaller planes and demi-planes—more than 64,000 according to some counts—and each one has a uniquely specialized form of punishment and length of stay, tailor-made to the sins of its inhabitants. While there are many different levels of hell in Japanese Buddhism, the general term Jigoku usually refers to the eight hot hells, also known as the eight great hells. The eight great hells are as follows:
Tōkatsu Jigoku, the reviving hell, is the plane of hell reserved for those who commit the sin of killing. Those who kill without remorse go to this hell. Even the killing of lesser creatures such as mosquitoes, flies, or ants—unless repented—will cause a soul to go to this hell. In addition, people who were particularly pugilistic in life, and those who died in mutiny or uprisings will also fall into this hell. Here, the ground is ever hot and burning. Denizens of this hell must fight each other with iron claws, tearing each other to pieces. Terrible oni roam the land, smashing, and pulverizing souls with their iron clubs. As soon as a soul dies, a cool breeze blows and it is instantly revived, and must fight to the death again. Souls here experience the pain of being killed countless times, for a life span in the reviving hell lasts 500 years. However, time in hell is measured differently than in the world of the living: one day in this hell is equivalent to 500 years in the realm of the Four Heavenly Kings, while one day there is equivalent to 50 years on earth. Therefore, a soul in Tōkatsu Jigoku must continue this punishment for over 1.6 trillion human years.
Kokujō Jigoku, the hell of black threads, is reserved for those who have not only killed but also committed the sin of theft. Here, oni knock the souls onto the hot ground and mark lines on their body with black threads. Then, using axes and saws, the bodies are hacked to pieces along the markings made by the threads. Others are made to carry heavy piles of hot iron across a tightrope suspended over a giant frying pan. When the victims fall, they are boiled and hacked to pieces in the pan. One life span here lasts a thousand years; however, a day in this hell is equivalent to 1000 years in the realm of Tōriten, while one day in Tōriten is equivalent to 100 years in the human realm. This works out to about 13.3 trillion human years.
Shugō Jigoku, the crushing hell, is reserved for sinners who have killed, stolen, and also committed the sin of lewdness. The suffering here is ten times greater than that of Kokujō Jigoku. Denizens here are crushed repeatedly between mountains of iron, being pulverized into a bloody jelly. When the mountains separate, life is restored and the process begins again. Trees with razor-like leaves dot the landscape, and beautiful men and women beckon to the souls from the tree tops. The lustful inhabitants climb the trees, slicing their bodies up in the process, and when they reach the treetops the beautiful men and women reappear at the bottoms of the trees, beckoning them back down. As blood and severed organs spout from the bodies, giant demons and beasts rush in to gobble of their entrails and pound the souls into a bloody mush. Fellators have their tongues stretched out and nailed to their ears. Pedophiles have molten copper pumped into their anuses until it pours out of their mouths. Homosexuals see their lovers covered in flames, and are forced to embrace them, only to be burned and torn into pieces themselves. Souls remain here for 2000 years; however, one day here lasts 2000 years in the realm of Yamaten, and one day in Yamaten lasts 200 human years. Thus, a lifetime here is equivalent to over 106 trillion human years.
Kyōkan Jigoku, the screaming hell, is for murders, thieves, lechers, and alcoholics. The suffering here is ten times stronger than in the previous hell. Here, sinners are thrown into boiling pots or locked up in iron chambers and roasted by oni. Those who committed crimes while drunk have their mouths wrenched open and molten iron is poured into their bellies. The cries of anguish of the denizens only serve to anger the oni further, and they fire arrows at the souls or bash them with iron clubs to make them stop, at which point they only revive and resume their suffering. One lifetime here lasts 4000 years, of which one day is equal to 4000 years in Tosotsuten, of which one day is equal to 400 human years. Thus, a condemned soul will spend over 852 trillion years in Kyōkan Jigoku.
Daikyōkan Jigoku, the hell of great screaming, contains murderers, thieves, debauchers, drunks, and liars. The suffering inflicted here is ten times worse than in the previous hell. Here, the tongues of the damned are pierced with iron nails and stretched and torn from their bodies, after which they grow back and are immediately pierced and torn again. This continues for 8000 years, one day of which equals 8000 years in Kerakuten, where one day is equivalent to 800 human years. The damned in Daikyōkan Jigoku suffer for an equivalent of roughly 6.8 quadrillion years.
Jōnetsu Jigoku, the burning hell, contains killers, robbers, perverts, drunkards, liars, and those who have held thoughts or beliefs contrary to Buddhist teachings. Here, the tortured souls are beaten with red-hot iron clubs. They have hot skewers thrust through their mouths and out their anuses, and are broiled over a great sea of fire. A life span in this hell lasts 16,000 years, one day of which equals 16,000 years in Takejizaiten, where one day is equivalent to 1,600 years on earth. A damned soul here spends the equivalent of 54.5 quadrillion human years.
Daijōnetsu Jigoku, the hell of great burning, is much the same as Jōnetsu Jigoku, only much hotter. The suffering here is equivalent to ten times more than all of the higher hells combined. This plane of hell is reserved for sinners who have committed all of the crimes listed previously in addition to physical crimes against Buddhist clergy—for example, raping a nun. The screams of the tortured souls here are so terrible that they can be heard up to 24,000 miles away. The power of this hell is so great that those who are to be sentenced here begin to feel their suffering up to three days before they actually die. The punishment on this level of hell lasts one half of an antarakalpa—a unit of time in Indian cosmology that is so unfathomably long that it defies mathematical description.
Mugen Jigoku, the hell of uninterrupted suffering, is the eighth and deepest circle of hell. It is reserved for the worst of the worst—murders of their own parents; killers of saints; those who have betrayed every single Buddhist precept. The souls down here are so hungry and thirsty that they tear apart their own bodies and drink their own blood in a useless attempt to ease their suffering. Words literally cannot describe how awful this hell is; if Mugen Jigoku were ever accurately described, both the reader and the writer would die from the sheer horror of it. It is so deep that it takes 2000 years of falling, non-stop, at terminal velocity, for a soul to descend all the way into this hell. Some say that those who are sent here never come back, while others say that the term of punishment here lasts one full antarakalpa, after which the soul may reincarnate again; although, even after a soul is finally released from this hell, its punishment is said to continue on into its next lives.
Interactions: Because Jigoku is so terrible and the buddhas so merciful, the tortured souls in Jigoku are allowed a few more trials like the ones they received in Meido to see whether they can be released from hell early or not—or at least have their existence “upgraded” to a less torturous one. On specific days, Buddhist memorial services are held by the deceased’s surviving relatives. While the specifics of what exactly happens in Jigoku vary between different Buddhist traditions, this is one explanation of the trials:
100 days after death marks the first trial in Jigoku. These trials are not so much judgments, as the soul is already being tortured in hell. They are more like appeals, where the soul (and his or her still-living family) get to appeal to the gods and the buddhas for one more chance at salvation. During the first of these trials, the soul is brought before King Byōdō (whose true form is Kannon Bosatsu, also known as Guanyin or Avalokitesvara in English).
On the 1 year anniversary of the death, the soul is once again brought to trial. This time the judge is King Toshi (whose true form is Seishi Bosatsu, or Mahasthamaprapta).
On the 2nd year anniversary of one’s death (the beginning of the third year after death), the soul is granted another chance for salvation by trial. King Godō-tenrin (whose true form is Amida Nyōrai, or Amitabha) presides over this judgment. In Chinese Buddhism, this tenth trial is the last chance for salvation; however, in some forms of Japanese Buddhism the soul still gets three more chances for salvation from Jigoku.
The next trial occurs 6 years after death, and is presided over by King Renge (whose true form is Ashuku Nyōrai, or Akshobhya).
Another trial occurs 12 years after death, and is presided over by King Gion (whose true form is Dainichi Nyōrai, or Vairocana).
The thirteenth and final trial occurs 32 years after death. This last trial is presided over by King Houkai (whose true form is Kokūzō Bosatsu, or Akasagarbha). Those who fail all three of these final tests, either through their own faults or from lack of prayers by their living relatives, are damned to remain in hell for a very, very long time before they can be reborn into one of the five other realms.
Origin: Like Meido, the Japanese concept of Jigoku derives from Chinese Buddhism—specifically the concept of Diyu, which is in turn derived from the Indian Buddhist concept of Naraka. After being imported to Japan from China, it developed other uniquely Japanese features, although it never merged with the native Shinto concept of hell, Yomi.