As I sit down to write this, I’m many kilometers up in the sky aboard a Finnair flight bound for Helsinki. For the next few days, I’ll dutifully be escorting a group of Japanese journalists around the Finnish capital. While I much rather be digging up hidden gems back in Japan, I need to fund my travels somehow (these trips don’t pay for themselves after all) and managing press tours like this is one way for me to make a quick buck or two. So, seeing as I can’t actually introduce a new destination to you this week, I want to take a few minutes to cover another topic that I’ve been wanting to examine for some time now, the phenomenon of the Kimon (lit. “Demon Gate”).
Now if you’ve never heard of the Kimon before, know that, like death and taxes, it is something that everyone under the sun is subject to. You have one. I have one. Even the emperor has one. We all have one. It’s the place where the terrifying oni (Japanese demons that are loosely analogous to the western ogre) and other malignant spirits sneak into your house. Unlike the far more benevolent Santa Claus though, these foul fiends don’t come bearing prettily wrapped presents. Instead, the haunts entering via the Kimon have little but malevolence and ill will to share. Yikes, not exactly what you want coming down your chimney on Christmas eve!
Now, following a description like that, you’re probably clamoring to know where your Kimon is so that you can go and plug it up or something. Ah, if only life were so simple! You see, in traditional Asian geomancy, the entire direction of northeast is thought to be unlucky. This section of the compass falls right between the cardinal orientations for “bull” and “tiger.” In many renditions, oni are depicted to be a cross between these animals with their horns and tiger pelt loincloths. Even to this day, houses are designed so that there are no doors or entrances facing the northeast. Moreover, local beliefs assert that nothing related to fire or water should be placed in that direction as they too entice the oni.
While no one really knows for sure, some of the research I’ve done into the Kimon phenomenon suggests that, like with many things “Japanese,” this superstition comes originally from the pages of Chinese antiquity. I’ve read that the fear of the northeast spawned from seasonal winds that would gust into homes if there was a door or window facing that direction. To prevent the maladies caused by these icy blasts, people started erecting structures that didn’t have their northeastern areas exposed to the elements. Over the years, the practical reasons faded into the mists of time, leaving behind only the custom. Sometime thereafter, this belief made its way over to Japan with other tidbits of traditional Chinese culture.
Once you know about the Kimon, you’ll start to notice its influence all around you in Japan. Next time you’re out and about, pay special attention to the residences and buildings that you encounter. Assuming you can discern which direction is northeast, you’ll notice a peculiar lack of windows or doors oriented towards where the evil spirits are said to enter from. In fact, there’s an entire industry that has popped up surrounding the Kimon. Case in point, many contractors actually have a specialist in house who is an expert in preventing the hellions of the northeast from entering. Moreover, you can even buy compasses made for divining the location of a home’s Kimon.
Traditionally, many buildings in Japan have been erected with some sort of odd irregularity towards the northeast. In many cases, this peculiarity takes the form of an L-shaped indentation that is said to keep out the oni and other spirits. If you look carefully, you can see that the Kyoto Imperial Palace has notched corners on the northeastern exterior. Likewise, similar features can be found all over Japan showing that fear of the Kimon wasn’t just relegated to the former capital. In my own experience, I’ve seen northeasterly wards on all four of the country’s major islands.
By the way, in many cases, cities were also built to have their Kimon protected with clusters of temples place towards the northeast. Allegedly, the spiritual power of these sepulchers would rebuff the evil flowing from the Kimon. If we look at the example of Kyoto, we see that Saicho’s famous Enryaku-ji complex on Mt. Hiei sits at exactly where the city’s Kimon would be. The Tokugawa shogunate’s capital of Edo (modern day Tokyo) also shared a similar layout too, though the story is a bit more complex for reasons I won’t bore or confuse you with.
Think this is all a steaming pile of cow manure? I wouldn’t be so quick to judge! There are a lot of examples of calamities befalling those who do not heed the advice regarding Kimon. Additionally, you’ll often find areas of major metropolises having issues to their northeast. For example, Tokyo’s neighborhood of Ueno lies just where the city’s Kimon should be and has for years been home to slums and red light districts. As anyone who has visited themselves can attest, Ueno also has its fair share of homeless too so perhaps there is something to this Kimon idea after all.
By the way, if you’re a suicidal maniac who actually wants to open up the Kimon, I have good news. Somewhere on the deepest and darkest recesses of the Japanese interwebz, I stumbled across the following formula for summoning the legions of darkness into this world. While I cannot say that I’ve tried to beckon a hellion into the physical realm yet myself, I’ve read online that the below account actually has some truth to it. Note that I take absolutely zero responsibility for whatever trouble you get yourself into should you choose to follow through. Just sayin’…
- Step One
Take the Hibiya line from Akihabara to Kayabacho. After getting off at the station, go to the platform for trains bound for Hatchobori. Under the iron bars, you’ll find some salt on the ground. Scatter it with your feet.
- Step Two
Make your way to the Tozai line and get off at Takadanobaba. From there, go to the platform for the Seibu Shinjuku Line. Like in step one, you’ll also find some iron bars with salt littered about on the ground. Again, scatter it with your feet.
- Step Three
Get back on the Tozai Line and make your way again to Kayabacho Station. From there, you’ll want to exit the ticket gate before heading to exit 4A. Form there, go down the stairs and scatter ten grains of rice.
- Step Four
Take the Hibiya Line from Kayabacho to Tsukiji and go to the platform that heads towards Tsukiji Hongan-ji. There, you’ll find some more iron bars with salt on the ground. Like with the previous steps, scatter this about with your feet.
- Step Five
Get back on the Hibiya Line and close your eyes. With your eyelids tightly shut, think about the one thing you want most then claps your hands together and continue to ride the train.
This method of opening the Kimon and letting in evil originally appeared on the occult message board of the infamous Japanese site 2 Chan. About a month after it originally was posted on July 10, 2008, reports started circling that a netizen who had actually followed the instructions mysteriously ended up dead. While I am most certainly a stickler for authenticity and first hand experiences, opening the demon gate is one thing that I will not be trying myself. As much as I love my readers, there’s limits to what I’ll do for content.
Anyway, until next time, happy travels and be sure to be extra vigilant of anything hailing from the northeast…