Greetings my intrepid gang of fright-seekers! Here we are again, everyone’s favorite day of the week, which means only one thing: a plunge into the dark recesses of the Japanese underworld to unearth horrors beyond measure! This week I shine the spotlight on one of Japan’s freakiest looking Yokai – the chimerical abomination known as…
Well known among Yokai aficionados, yet not quite as popular among the general populace, I first discovered these crazy looking buggers when flicking through one of my nephew’s well thumbed volumes of Hiroyuki Takei’s ‘Shaman King’.
Though the manga was new to me, I dug the the cool depictions of ghostly spirits within its pages, particularly the ‘Nue’. Ultimately though, I all but forgot about this fantastical creature, until a couple of years later when I watched a Japanese thriller called ‘The Hybrid: Nue no ko’ with my wife. I had a vague idea of what the beast looks like but when it came busting on to the screen, it was even more horrific than I could have ever imagined!
One of the oldest Yokai ever recorded, the Nue isactually a very mysterious beast, with relatively little known about it. What we do know about the Nue however, is that it is said to be a very dangerous creature. With the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki, the legs of a tiger, and the top half of a snake for a tail, this chimeric abomination will strike fear into anyone unlucky enough to cross its path!!
Unlike many Yokai, the Nue’s name doesn’t have a literal translation, and is instead written as a single kanji character consisting of the words “night” and “bird”. This is because in ancient Japan, the Nue was considered to be a frightful nocturnal bird whose eerie calls sounded very much akin to that of a Scaly thrush.
Throughout history, Nue sightings have been rare but it’s said that on the handful of occasions they encountered mankind, they descended from the skies in a billow of black clouds and brought about disastrous consequences. Perhaps the most famous Nue attack in recorded history would have to be the brave tale of Minamoto no Yorimasa, a master archer and descendent of the legendary Minamoto no Yorimitsu who slew the infamous King of the Oni, Shutendōji (See Weekend Yokai Hunter #5!).
On a hot summer night in Kyoto, 1153 AD, Emperor Konoe began suffering from a terrible recurring nightmare, costing him both sleep and his health. His misfortune was believed to be in connection with a mysterious black cloud that habitually visited his palace each night, accompanied by an ominous crying sound akin to a bird.
With the visitations showing no sign of relenting, Emperor Konoe grew increasingly afraid and no amount of medicine or prayers could stop him from falling into this illness. Reaching the limit of his patience, the emperor called upon the legendary Minamoto no Yorimasa to deal with the mysterious “bird” tormenting him from within the black smoke.
Along with his trusty servant, Ino Hayata, and armed with the arrowheads he inherited from his famous ancestor, Yorimasa, set about fulfilling the emperor’s wish. Thankfully the emperor didn’t have to wait long! Within just a few days, a black cloud once again descended upon the palace and Yorimasa immediately fired an arrow into the smoke. His shot was well aimed and with a blood curdling shriek, a Nue came crashing down from the sky and landed around Nijō Castle where Ino Hayata rushed in to deal the finishing blow.
Receiving the legendary katakana, Shishiō, as payment for his services, his brave deed was said to immediately restore the health of the emperor.
So, considering the rarity of this particular Yokai, you’d be forgiven for thinking there aren’t many places to get close to one. The good news however, is that you couldn’t be further from the truth! Due to the varied accounts regarding what happened to the Nue’s corpse on that fateful day, there are several places you can visit that are said to be enshrined with the beast’s remains.
Due to the Nue being strongly associated with the Kansai region of Japan, all of the sites are situated down there (sorry, Tokyo!), but one place of note would be in Osaka. The people of Kyoto, fearing the potential curse the slain Nue might bring, placed its corpse on a boat and sent it sailing down the Kamo River where it eventually ended up in Osaka. The burial mound in Nuezuka, Miyakojima-ku still stands to this day and is said to be where the body of the Nue is enshrined.
Another cool place to check out would be Chōmyō-ji in Nishiwaki, Hyōgo Prefecture. Not only does it have a magnificent bronze statue of Yorimasa taking aim at the Nue, but it’s also surrounded by the very same bamboo grove where he is said to have made the lethal arrow used on that fateful summer night.
Despite how little is actually known about the Nue, they have still have their place in modern culture. As mentioned earlier, they play a central role in the 2015 Japanese horror movie ‘The Hybrid: Nue no Ko’ which, as a B-movie lover, I thoroughly enjoyed.
Needless to say they also feature in many manga and anime, such as Masashi Kishimoto’s ‘Naruto’, Hiroshi Shiibashi’s ‘Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan’, and even Comic Zenon’s own Yaeko Ninagawa dedicating an entire arc to the Nue in her manga adaption of ‘Mononoke’. Personally, I’m still hoping that someone will create a manga retelling of the legendary Yorimasa Nue, so I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed for that I think!
It also goes without saying that it would be a waste if something as cool as the Nue wasn’t used in a video game franchise. Luckily this is where Capcom’s ‘Breath of Fire’ series, Koei’s ‘Nioh’, and Atlus’ ‘Megami Tensei’ series have all stepped up to the plate admirably in giving the Yokai the exposure it rightly deserves. After all, what kind of world would we be living in if Japan’s greatest chimera DIDN’T feature in a video game?!
So, as the ominous black clouds begin to descend upon my computer, I sense it’s time to bid farewell to the Nue and pack my backpack in preparation for the next Yokai hunt. Until then, have a frightfully good weekend, and I’ll see you back here again next week for more ghastly hijinks!
If you have any interesting Yokai related stories, questions, or even recommendations for Yokai you’d like to me hunt in a future installment, feel free to contact me directly over on Twitter @Brendan SMAC! Cheers!!