the online database of Japanese folkore

Shio no Chōjirō


Translation: Salty Chōjirō
Alternate names: Shio no Chōji

Appearance: Shio no Chōjirō was a man who was known for his love of horse flesh and the curse that this sinful pleasure brought upon him. His story is a famous example of umatsuki—possession by a horse spirit.

Origin: Shio no Chōjirō’s story is an old and well known tale with many variations. Perhaps it’s most famous appearance is in the Edo Period collection of illustration stories Ehon hyakumonogatari, however it was a well known tale before then, with variations all over Japan. It may have been inspired in part by famous performance magician who lived in the late 17th century named Shioya Chōjirō. Shioya Chōjirō could perform sword swallowing and other tricks, but was best known for his mastery of of donbajutsu (“horse swallowing technique”) in which he would swallow a live horse before an audience. Illustrations of his performances appear to have been used as the basis for his illustration in Ehon hyakumonogatari.

Legends: Long ago in Oshio no Ura, Kaga Province lived a very wealthy man named Chōjirō. Chōjirō was quite fond of eating meat—a practice which was taboo in feudal Japan. His household kept over 300 horses. Every time one of his horses died, he would pickle its meat in salt or miso to enjoy at his leisure. Thanks to this, he always had plenty of sinful meat to eat.

Gradually, Chōjirō’s horses began to dwindle, and consequently so did his stock of pickled horse meat. One the day that his supply of meat ran out, Chōjirō selected an old horse that was no longer capable of working. He slaughtered and ate it. That was the moment Chōjirō’s life changed. From then on, he was haunted by the old horse’s ghost.

Every night, the old horse appeared before Chōjirō in his dreams and snapped at his throat. Further, every evening at the very minute that Chōjirō slaughtered the horse, it’s vengeful ghost would appear before him. It would force itself down his throat and into his stomach, where it would violently thrash about.

Chōjirō’s suffering was unbearable. He developed a high fever and began to hallucinate. He screamed and babbled, confessing all of his life’s sins in painful delirium. Doctors examined him and priests prayed for him, but nothing helped. He descended into madness and his condition deteriorated.

One hundred days after his haunting began, Chōjirō finally succumbed to the horse’s curse. When he died, it is said that his body was bent like that of an old horse who had spent a lifetime carrying heavy loads.

Alphabetical list of yōkai