the online database of Japanese folkore

Otonjorō

おとん女郎
おとんじょろう

Translation: Otomi the prostitute

Appearance: Otonjorō is a famous kitsune from the old province of Inaba (present-day Tottori Prefecture). She haunted a mountain pass called Tachimi tōge. She is most famous for disguising herself as a prostitute named Otomi and bewitching men crossing through the mountains, and for her ability to escape capture over and over. Her name Otomi jorō (Otomi the prostitute) was shortened over time into the nickname Otonjorō.

Her favorite food was said to be fried rat, and if you put up a bunch of them for sale she was sure to come and try to buy one. She transformed leaves into one sen coins and used them to buy the friend rats. Sellers would try to rip the coins in half before accepting them. If it didn’t rip, it was a genuine coin. But if it ripped, it was a transformed leaf, and the person buying your fried rats was actually Otonjorō.

A number of famous kitsune come from this region. Together they are known as the Inaba Five Kitsune. In addition to Otonjorō, the other four are her husband Keizōbō, Shoroshoro kitsune, Onashi gitsune, and Onji no kitsune.

Legends: One night, a merchant was traveling through the Tachimi pass on his way to the castle. On the road up ahead he spotted a young woman wearing a kerchief. The merchant thought to himself that she must be the wicked Otonjorō, out hunting for men.

The woman called out to the merchant, “Oh merchant! Would you take me to a nearby village and help me find someone who would take me as a bride?” He decided to trick her before she could trick him. He could take her to his friend Jūbē’s house, and together they would capture her and make her suffer. He put on his best poker face and told her to come with him.

He led her to Jūbē’s house, only to discover it was already decorate in preparation to receive a bride. It was quite late at night, but Jūbē’s servants welcomed him inside, and treated him with the greatest hospitality. They offered him a nice hot bath, which sounded just wonderful to the road-weary merchant. He soaked in the hot bath for some time, and eventually the sky began to lighten as dawn approached.

The village’s farmers awoke with the dawn and headed out into the fields. They called out, “Look over there! That merchant must have been bewitched by Otonjorō! He’s washing himself in the dung pots!” The merchant suddenly found himself sitting naked in a dung tank in the middle of a field, rubbing fertilizer into his face, surrounded by laughing farmers. The whole night had been an illusion.

Another legend tells of a village headman who could no longer contain his anger at Otonjorō’s constant mischief. He called all the villagers together and promised to greatly reward anyone who would exterminate the kitsune. A pair of braggadocious young men volunteered to take her down.

The men ventured into the mountains to look for Otonjorō. Soon they reached Tachimi tōge, where they spied a fox walking along a small river up ahead of them. They watched as the creature rubbed river mud all over its body, and transformed into a young woman. Then, she picked up a river stone and transformed it into a baby, which she cradled in her arms. The two men followed her all the way to a small mountain hovel, which she entered.

Peering into the hovel, the young men saw an old man and an old woman gleefully cradling the stone baby. They burst inside and told the elderly couple that the baby was a stone, and that they had been bewitched by a kitsune. But no matter how much they explained, the old couple would not hear it. They kept insisting that the baby was their own grandchild.

The young men had enough. To prove the baby was just an illusion, they snatched it up from the elderly couple and dropped it into a boiling pot. The baby screamed, and died, and did not not turn back into rock. The young men were horrified. The elderly couple were furious. They overpowered the shocked young men and tied them up, then called for someone to fetch the town magistrate to come arrest them.

A passing priest heard them, and said that he had a better idea. They should give the two criminals to his temple, and he would ensure they spend the rest of their lives praying for the soul of the dead grandchild. The elderly couple agreed. The young men shaved their heads, and traveled into the mountains to join the priest’s temple to pray for the soul of the baby they had killed.

Some time passed, and people back in the village began to worry about the fate of the two strong young men. They sent a search party into the mountains to find them. Near Tachimi tōge, by a small river, they discovered the two young men sitting river mud. Their heads were shaved, and they were reciting the name of Buddha over and over while striking a river rock.

Alphabetical list of yōkai