kinu

The flooding in Japan has been absolutely awful, without a doubt, and the news has rightly been focused on the resulting devastation. But there is one aspect of the flooding that’s become a bit of a hot topic online, aside from all the rescues and damage. The overflowing river has an…unusual name: Kinu River or the Angry Demon River.

Obviously, the name has proven to be quite apt this year, but it sparked a lot of discussion online as people have wondered: Where the heck did this name come from?!

Of course, when a river has such an evocative name as “the Angry Demon River,” it’s sure to get people’s tongues wagging. And that’s exactly what happened on Twitter, with numerous people discussing the origins (or at least the supposed origins) of the river’s name. There are any number of explanations, but there are two that are particularly common and compelling. The first is that it’s always had the name because its floods were like angry demons and the second is that it was originally called the “Silk River” or the “Cloth River” (the kanji for both “silk” and “cloth” are read “kinu”), but then changed to use the kanji for “angry demon” because of the violent floods.

Here are a few tweets by Japanese Twitter users discussing the river’s name.

“According to my grandfather, the Kinu River used to overflow and flood often in the past. Apparently it’s called the ‘Angry Demon’ River because the flooding was like a demon that had gotten angry.”

“Here’s a photo of the Kinu River, which everyone has been talking about, right now. Based on what I’ve heard, it used to reach even higher than this a long time ago.”

“The Kinu River is written as the ‘Angry Demon’ River, so it must have been a really scary river since long ago.”

“The Kinu River is usually a really quiet river, so a long time ago, it used be written with 絹 (kinu), the kanji for silk, or 衣 (kinu), the kanji for cloth. But when it floods, it’s so bad, it’s like an angry demon.”

“The Kinu River is such a beautiful river that it was originally written with 衣 (kinu), the kanji for cloth, but it causes such awful natural disaster, that it became 鬼怒川 (“Kinugawa”), the Angry Demon River.  Well, that’s what I heard a long time ago, but I’m not sure if it’s true. (><;) I’m just praying that the flood from the Kinu River flowing through Ibaraki doesn’t turn into anything too bad.”

▼ Photo of the flooding in Sojo, Ibaraki

As you can see, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement or consensus, but you should always take everything you read on the Internet with a grain of salt anyway, right? So, we decided to see if we could find anything like an official explanation for the river’s name. Fortunately, the website for the Shimodate Kasen Office of the The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism actually has a bit about the river’s name! Let’s see what they have to say.

“There have long been a number of origin stories for the Kinu River’s name. Apparently, long ago, both Ibaraki and Gunma Preferctures were one area called 毛野国 (Kenunokuni), and the river that flowed through it was called 毛野川 (Kenugawa or Kenunogawa), which is today what we call the 鬼怒川 (Kinugawa, or Kinu River). It’s said that in the Ibaraki dialect, the え (“e”) sound is replaced with the い (“i”) sound, and “Kenugawa” got changed to “Kinugawa.” It’s also said that at one point it was written 絹川 (“Kinugawa” or “Silk River”) or 衣川 (“Kinugawa” or “Cloth River”). The reason it is 鬼怒川 (“Kinugawa” or “Angry Demon River”) now is because when it floods, the normally quiet river develops vicious currents and boulders tumble around making loud noises, like a demon getting angry.”

Well, that’s…a little helpful. But at least it’s easier to understand why there’s so much confusion — even the official explanation goes back and forth! But considering the age of many of the place names in Japan are, it’s easy to see how some things could be lost to time.

Of course, the “Angry Demon” River isn’t the only extreme place name  in Japan. There’s also 人喰い谷 (“Hitokuidani”) or the Valley the Eats People in Toyama Prefecture, 魔面 (“Maomote”) or the Demon’s Face in Akita Prefecture, 血流れ坂 (“Chinagaresaka”) or the Hill of Flowing Blood in Kanagawa Prefecture, and 地獄谷 (Jigokudani) or Hell Valley in Nagano Prefecture.

Of course, many of these places are also shinrei spots, places believed to be haunted by ghosts. So, if you do decide to take a visit, be sure to bring the Ghostbusters with you!

Sources: Togetter, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (Shimodate Kasen Office)
Image: Twitter (@chamura2k)