Akama Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi. Its beautiful and colorful facade hides a dark history. The shrine is dedicated to Antoku, a child emperor who was killed during the monumental naval battle Dan-no-Ura that took place in the nearby Shimonoseki Strait in 1185.

Red and green shrine
Akama Shrine

Battle of Dan-no-ura

The Taira and Minamoto clans were fighting for control of Japan in what is known as the Gempei war. The Minamoto clan was victorious in the battle of Dan-no-ura and Antoku`s grandmother grabbed him and jumped into the water and drowned to avoid capture.

A painting of the battle of Dan no Ura by Tosa Mitsunobu( before 1525)

Heike Crabs

The Taira were also called the Heike and it is said that Heikegani (Heike crabs) that live in the Shimonoseki strait are the reincarnations of the Heike soldiers that died in the battle. The crabs were named for their shells that eerily resemble the face of an angry samurai.

crab with a shell that resembles an angry face
Heikegani crab

Hoichi the Earless

This leads me to an iconic Japanese story known by those in Japan and abroad that is directly related to events of the battle of Dan-no-ura, Hoichi the Earless. It was made famous in the west by Lafcadio Hearn`s Kwaidan, a collection of Japanese ghost stories he collected and translated.

Hoichi was a skillful blind biwa(lute) player who was particularly adept at “The Tale of Heike”, it was about the Gempei war and the tragic downfall of the Heike. One night, a samurai demanded that Hoichi play “the Tale of Heike” for a mysterious rich lord whose request he complied with and received thunderous praise after his performance. The same thing happened the next night but this time the priest of the temple where Hoichi lived grew suspicious of his absence and followed him. Hoichi was found in the middle of a cemetery for it was the ghost of the Heike that he was performing for. To save Hoichi from the ghosts, the priest covered him in the Japanese characters of heart sultra. When the samurai ghost returned that night, Hoichi was invisible except for his ears that the priest forgot to paint. The ghost ripped off his ears in anger but Hoichi survived and became a famous musician. There is a shrine and statue to Hoichi At Akama shrine.

statue of a blind and earless biwa player playing the biwa

10 thoughts on “Akama Shrine and the Tale of Hoichi the Earless

    1. Haha,I was thinking about putting the crabs in the title but it didn`t quite fit. I like them because their shells do look a lot like a face.

  1. Sorry, that kyotsunegani actually is a reference to one of the Taira family. I found several other names that also relate to the Taira clan, but the only name I could find that was not related to the Gempei war was kumogani (spider crab), used in parts of Kochi.

    1. That is an interesting question. But probally a bit difficult to find with the lack of historical records that far in the past. Perhaps kumogani was used for them in other parts as well. Or maybe just simply kani

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