The Mythologies in Hōzuki no Reitetsu

Hōzuki no Reitetsu is a fun anime about hell and its branches. The main protagonist is Hōzuki, hell’s chief deputy and the right-hand man of King Enma. We know that some of the anime characters are based on real Japanese/Chinese mythology and folktales, and today we will tackle each of them and their in real life background!

But before we get to the characters themselves, I think it’s best if we first learn about the different kinds of hells in the Japanese culture. Yes, you read that right! Hells. Hells yeah.

BUDDHIST HELL

The Buddhist religion’s version of hell is possibly the most popular one used to depict hell in animes instead of the Shinto religion’s. It is similar to the Catholic’s interpretation where there are demons, fire, and endless torture, and it is called Jigoku (地獄, Hell).

Although the location of Jigoku is only in one place, the Jigoku-Zōshi (地獄草紙, Scrolls of Hell) indicate that there are eight main hells and sixteen lesser hells, in some interpretations there are eight hot and eight cold hells. Each one giving you the torture depending on your mortal sins. Sometimes, it is believed that there are far more different kinds of hell, some counts that the Japanese hell has more than 64,000 kinds.

It’s a lot if we tackle all 64,000 hells (obviously) and most are not even identified so we will simply focus on the eight main hells and its functions: (WARNING: Graphic Violence)

  1. Tōkatsu-Jigoku (等活地獄, Reviving Hell) – Murderers who killed without remorse often go here, whether it is murdering another human or a lesser creature like an animal. A terrifying Oni (鬼, demon) roam the ever burning grounds, smashing and killing the souls using their iron clubs, only to be revived and killed all over again. Aside from that, they must also fight with the other souls using an iron claw.
  2. Kokujō-Jigoku (黒縄地獄, The Hell of Black Thread) – Murderers also go to this kind of hell but they are the ones that had also committed theft. The souls here are knocked down on the ground by the oni and mark lines on their body using black threads, then using axes and saws the bodies are hacked using the markings on their body as a guideline. Other souls are made to carry heavy piles of hot iron across a tightrope that is suspended over a giant frying pan. If the souls slip, they fall into the frying pan where they are hacked to pieces and boiled.Omnivore+src+hoozuki+no+reitetsu_36edc1_5084749.gif
  3. Shugō-Jigoku (衆合地獄, The Crushing Hell) – If you’ve committed not only murder and theft but also act of lewdness then your place in the Japanese hell is in Shugō-Jigoku. As the name suggests the sinners here are given punishments that are heavier than the previous hells. The souls are repeatedly revived and crushed into glob in between mountains of iron. There are also trees that have razors as leaves, on top of each tree are several beautiful men and women that lures the sinners, as they climb up, their bodies get cut up in the process. Once they reach the treetop the alluring men and women appear at the bottom, beckoning the souls to go back down. Once that blood and guts spill out of the sinners’ bodies, the oni and other beasts rush to devour them and then pulverize their carcass into mush. Fellators have their tongue stretched out and nailed to their ear while Pedophiles have molten copper pumped from their anus until it comes out of their mouth. Homosexuals are punished by making them watch their lover burn and then are forced to hug each other until they are both engulfed in flames and torn into pieces.
  4. Kyōkan-Jigoku (叫喚地獄, The Screaming Hell) – Alcoholics, thieves, lechers, and murderers (seems like murderers are their fave) go to this hell. The punishments here are more severe than in Shugō-Jigoku. The oni locks up the sinners in iron chambers and roasts them or they throw them in a giant pot of boiling water. The ones who committed crimes while drunk is forced to open their mouths and drink molten iron until it pours out of every hole in their bodies. The cries of the damned only enrage the oni and they end up shooting flaming arrows at them or bash the souls into nothing but a bloody puddle, only to be revived and repeatedly tortured.
  5. Daikyōkan-Jigoku (大叫喚地獄, The Hell of Great Wailing) – The souls that usually go here are the liars. Debauchers, alcoholics, murderers, and thieves may also sometimes end up here. The sinners who go to Daikyōkan-Jigoku usually have their tongues stretched out to the point of tearing which then are pierced with iron nails. After the sinners’ tongues are torn or if it falls out from their mouths, they grow it back only to have it tortured again and again by the oni executioners.6e03a5fa96797128bd01b0511ae61840.jpg
  6. Shōnetsu-Jigoku (焦熱地獄, The Burning Hell) – The sinners who committed sins that are against the Buddhist beliefs have this place reserved for them. They usually are the people who commit more than one mortal sin. The ground here is half a sea of fire where the souls are either beaten by red-hot iron clubs by the oni or are skewered by an iron rod inserted from their anus and comes out from their mouths. All of the skewered ones are then broiled over the great sea of fire.
  7. Daishōnetsu-Jigoku (大焦熱地獄, The Hell of Great Burning) – Unlike the previous hell, Daishōnetsu-Jigoku is hotter and the suffering of the damned here is ten times worse. This place in the Japanese hell is reserved for those who have committed almost all the mortal sins and has held beliefs that oppose the Buddhist way. It is also the hell for those who did crimes against Buddhist clergies, for example, if they raped a Bikuni (比丘尼, Buddhist Nun) or assaulting a monk.
  8. Mugen-Jigoku (無間地獄, The Hell of Uninterrupted Suffering) – The deepest part of the Japanese hell and the most gruesome of all the layers. Here the worst of the worst are sent, they are the sinners who committed all the things that go against the Buddhist teachings like murdering their own parents. The damned that is thrown here are very deprived, their hunger and thirst lead them to tear up their own bodies to eat their own flesh and drink their blood in a useless attempt to ease their suffering. It is believed that if Mugen-Jigoku truly exists and detailed scriptures have been written, both the writer and the reader would die from the horror of the inhumane punishments the oni gives to the damned. It is also believed that the souls sent here are unable to reincarnate and if ever they do get blessed the gift of reincarnation, their reincarnated life would be miserable until their death.tumblr_n1c1tqoVOX1s6m3imo2_500

Whew. Now that we know the Eight Great Hells, it’s finally time to get to know which Hōzuki no Reitetsu characters are based on real-life mythologies and tales.

Hōzuki (鬼灯)

So far, it is revealed that Hōzuki is not naturally an oni so he is the odd one out of this list. His backstory tells us that he was born a human child and was chosen by the village as a sacrifice to the gods in exchange for bountiful crops. Since he is an orphan child unknown by the villagers they nonchalantly sacrificed him. The spirits surrounding the forest took pity on him and possessed him, turning him into a yōkai (妖怪). He also got his revenge on the village elders as he promised before he was sacrificed. When the elders were sent to King Enma in the afterlife, he turned them into Hitobashira (人柱, human pillar) for Izanami’s palace in one of the branches of hell.

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King Enma Daio (閻魔大王)

In Hōzuki no Reitetsu we know that King Enma is portrayed as a gigantic, sort-of-bubbly king who always gets beaten up by Hōzuki. I also think he is kind of written as idiotic although, in the real-life mythology of King Yama (which is also another name for Enma Daio), he is far from what he is in the anime. In statues made of him, he is seen to have a scowling red face, bulging eyes, and a long beard. He wears a traditional robe and a judge’s crown which has the word Daio (王, King) embroidered on it. He is the king of kings in the afterlife, he is the one that passes judgments on the dead. Although he is the ruler of the underworld, people still pray to him for good things. He is popular among businessmen and also those who pray for the safety of their families. Students also pray to him before entrance exams because it is believed that although he is tough on liars, he is generous towards hard-workers. There is a saying that parents used to scare their children with if they are lying which is; “嘘をつけばと閻魔さまに舌を抜かれる” (Uso o tsukeba to Enma-sama ni shita o nukareru) or which roughly translates to “If you lie, Lord Enma will pull out your tongue.” which is what often the King Enma does to liars that lie before him (Yikes!).

Hakutaku (白澤)

The herbalist and notorious womanizer of the show who ironically lives in Tōgenkyō (桃源境, Shangri-La) up in the Heavens. He is a mythical beast who loves to get drunk and chase after women who rejects him every time because they prefer Hōzuki. Although in mythologies, Hakutaku is actually based on a Chinese mythical beast called Baí Zé (白澤, White Marsh). Like in the anime, Baí Zé/Hakutaku had encountered the first emperor of China, Huáng Dì (黃帝, The Yellow Emperor) to whom he shared his knowledge of all the 11,520 types of supernatural entities/beasts. In one legend he had also appeared above Tateyama (立山, Mount Tate) and predicted that the land would be swept by a deadly plague, he then prescribed that his image be used as a talisman to ward off the disease. After that, Hakutaku has been worshipped as the guardian spirit of herbal medicine, which is also why his anime version is portrayed as a great herbalist doctor. There are many depictions of Hakutaku but the most common one is of him having a white lion’s body that has several eyes and horns, sometimes he is described as having only one eye on the center of his forehead which stood for his intelligence.

Momotarō (桃太郎)

Perhaps, Momotarō’s myth is one of the most well-known folktales in the bunch. Although his character in the anime initially seemed angsty, he turned out to be good and became the sensible one in his pair up with Hakutaku. His name Momotarō literally means Peach Boy; in his tale, he was said to have been washed along a river inside a giant peach. He was taken cared of by the couple who found him and he grew up to be an oni slayer (which is why he also challenged Hōzuki when they first met). As stated in the folktale Momotarō has gained animal friends in the form of a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant bird, they helped him defeat the group of oni that terrorized an island. In Hōzuki no Reitetsu though, the three animals are named, Shiro (シロ, the dog), Kakisuke (柿助, the monkey), and Rurio (ルリオ, the pheasant bird) and they had parted ways with Momotarō to work for hell while Momotarō went to help Hakutaku in heaven.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源 義経)

Although he was featured briefly in one of the episodes in the OVA, there is a real-life story behind him. Minamoto no Yoshitsune is a nobleman and the military commander of the Minamoto clan during the late Heian (平安時代) and early Kamakura (鎌倉時代) periods. Yoshitsune has lead and won several battles during his prime. In his last years, his brother betrayed him and he was forced to commit seppuku (切腹) and that is also why he is seen in hell in the anime series as the crow police force’s strategist.

Izanami (伊弉冉尊)

True to the myth of Izanami no Mikoto, the Izanami in the series share the same backstory, although her personality is altered for comical purposes. In the series, she became the first chief deputy of hell before Hōzuki thus why hell has a lot of unnecessary branches. The Izanami of Japanese mythology is (also) the wife (later former) of Izanagi no Mikoto (伊邪那岐), the two of them are the creators of the earth and the gods. She is considered as the goddess of creation and death. Izanagi and Izanami produced a lot of children that became deities although, the first two children, Hiruko (蛭子, also called Ebisu) and Awashima (淡島) were born deformed and was considered as illegitimate children that became demons. Izanami died from birthing the fire god Kagutsuchi (軻遇突智) and went to Yomi where Izanagi followed. Upon arriving in Yomi, Izanagi went to see his wife and was told by Izanami that she cannot leave anymore because she had eaten the fruit and is bound to Yomi. Izanami told her husband not to look at her yet while she pleads to the god of the underworld to let her leave. Izanagi didn’t follow and lit a fire, he then saw that Izanami was a rotten corpse. Horrified, he began running away which made Izanami furious and ordered several minions to go after her husband. Izanagi was successful in escaping Yomi and blocked Yomotsuhirasaka (黄泉津平坂, the entrance to Yomi) forever using a boulder.

 

I think I’ll end my post with Izanami although, I know that there are tons more to cover like Ox Head & Horse Face, the cute Zashiki Warashi (Ichiko and Niko), Houou (the phoenix friend of Hakutaku) and more. I think I will make a follow-up post when the other remaining mystery characters are introduced! Thank you for reading!tumblr_npkyftBRLS1un5e8wo1_500.gif

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