Summer in Japan means heat and humidity — enough such that people will try to cool down by any means necessary, including enjoying a few hair-raising ghost stories. From haunted houses to horror films, there are plenty of ways to get goosebumps in Japan, but today we’ll be taking you to the location of one of Tokyo’s most famous angry spirit!
Though it’s not exactly a shinrei spot (a place where ghosts have allegedly appeared), Taira no Masakada Kubizuka is one of the most famous “ghost” spots in Japan. It’s where Taira no Masakada’s head was enshrined in order to quell his spirit…because people believed it was wrecking havoc on the capital!
Taira no Masakado, pictured above, was a wealthy samurai during the Heian Period. Though his date of birth is unknown, what is known is the date of his death: March 25, 940. That was the day he was beheaded after starting the Taira Masakado Insurrection, which lasted only 59 days from the year 939 to 940.
Legend has it that after Masakado’s head was displayed in the capital (which was Kyoto at the time), it flew off — of its own accord — and landed in the area which would later become Edo (present-day Tokyo). Though the head apparently landed in several places, it is most famously enshrined in Otemachi, not far from Tokyo Station.
▼ A street sign indicating the way to Taira no Masakado Kubizuka
In case you’re unfamiliar with Tokyo’s various districts, Otemachi could be considered the Wall Street of Japan, as it is one of the largest financial districts in Japan and home to numerous company headquarters. Land prices in the area are, as you might imagine, extremely high, and yet the monument is large enough to fit a couple of small Tokyo apartments, as you can see in the photo below. Why in the world is still standing, you might be wondering. This is prime real estate!
▼ The monument as seen from the street
First, let’s go back in time a little bit to the early part of the 1300s. A number of calamities were plaguing the people of the area, and the disasters were blamed on the spirit of Taira no Masakado. To quell the angry spirit, the original monument was built in 1309.
But over 600 years later, the value of the land had risen significantly — and it was conveniently located in the country’s new capital. The site of the monument was the perfect spot for a new building! But would anyone dare to disturb the angry spirit? If you’ve ever seen any horror movie ever, you’ll already know the answer to this question.
In 1923, following the Kanto Earthquake, which destroyed much of the city, the monument was cleared away and the Finance Ministry set about constructing a new building. However, the executives and leaders of both the ministry and the construction company suddenly started dying, one after another. A total of 14 people died, and people began to think that this was the result of a curse caused by clearing away the monument. The ministry gave up on building on the site and a stone monument was erected in 1927. The event is even mentioned on the National Tax Agency website!
However, that wasn’t the end of the trouble for the Finance Ministry. In 1940, the new headquarters was burned to the ground following a lighting strike, and many thought it was the result of disturbing the shrine nearly two decades earlier. The ministry planned an event for Masakado and another monument was built to preserve the original.
Five years later, in 1945, after the end of World War II, the American military – not knowing the history of the site – attempted to turn the area into a parking lot. However, a bulldozer flipped over, killing the driver. As you might imagine, there was a large outcry and the plan was, obviously, abandoned.
Finally, during the high-growth era after World War II, the government sold off land around the monument to various financial institutions, leaving only the ground the monument was on. The Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan was thus built on what had been the path to the monument, and one after another people who had offices bordering the monument fell sick.
These days, the monument stands unmolested as high-rise buildings tower above it — there’s even a construction project going on across the street right now. However, there still seems to be quite a lot of fear of (or maybe it’s simply respect for) the site. For example, a volunteer group has been established to take care of the monument, and a bank account has been opened under Taira no Masakado’s name in the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ which borders the monument.
There are also two rumors about buildings next to the monument. Many claim these are merely fiction but there are others who claim they are true. We’re not sure who to believe, but the first rumor is that in buildings around the monument, there are no windows which overlook it. The second is that desks in these buildings are arranged so that executives cannot sit with their backs to the monument.
In addition to the land and monument, people still come to pray. In fact, in the time we were there, at least four people came and paid their respects! There are a wide variety of reasons for people to pray here, but the frog statues provide a possible clue for the biggest two.
As you can see, there are large number of frog statues and toys surrounding the stone monument. There are a few reasons for this, the first being that Masakado’s head allegedly landed at several spots on its “trip home” to the Kanto area — basically hopping like a frog. In addition, the word for frog in Japanese is kaeru (蛙) and the verb for going home or returning is kaeru (帰る). As such, office workers who are sent to work at branches which are doing badly or who have themselves been demoted will come here to offer a frog for a safe “return.” Also, families whose children have been abducted or who are have gone missing will offer frogs for their safe return.
If you’re in Tokyo doing some sightseeing and heading to the Emperor’s palace, stopping by Taira no Masakado Kubizuka isn’t a bad option. It’s not far from the palace or Tokyo Station on foot. Obviously, you’ll want to be respectful of monument and the office workers in the area!
Below is a map of the area with the monument marked in the center. The green area on the left is the emperor’s palace.
So, are you feeling a bit chillier now? Hopefully this story has scared you enough to get through the summer heat. If not, maybe we’ll have a report from a shinrei spot soon!