The destruction of the Toad at Kaizoji – Koan 34

During the regency, in the twenty-third year of O-ei (1316), Uesugi Ahonokami Norizane retired, on the fifth day of the eighth month, to Shirai Castle in his domain in Kamakura, to mourn for Ashikaga Mochiuji (for whose life, though an enemy, he had pleaded). At the same time Uesugi retainers, apprehending danger to themselves in the troubled times, left Kamakura and dispersed in many places in Izu and other regions, with a good number of them also renouncing home to become students at the temples of Kamakura. Now Suwako, one of Uesugi’s favourite concubines, had fallen in love with Iwai Hanzo Kaneshige (an official at Kaizoji temple). Because of this affair, she did not wish to go to Shirai Castle with her lord. She suddenly appeared at Kaizoji, and in an agony of frustration, stabbed herself. Kaneshige, fearful that the whole circumstance would come to light, buried her at night under the Buddha hall of the temple. It was said that afterwards she became changed into a great toad which sucked out life from living things, and this became known as one of the ten ghost stories of Kamakura.

Now about this time it was found that the few fawns which were born each year from the white deer at Enkakuji, after the departure of the Uesugis began to die within two or three days. So one year the monk who was in charge of the accounts at the temple went to see the birth, which was always in the White Deer Grotto. When he looked, he saw at the back of the cave a great toad, crouching as if it were sucking up something, and the baby deer seemed as if falling into unconsciousness. They gradually weakened and died. Then he remembered the stories that had been going round, about a weird toad that had the power of sucking out the life from living things. He rushed at it and chased it till it disappeared under the floor of the Buddha Hall of Kaizoji, where its tracks suddenly came to an end.

At the time, in the Kamakura area many new-born children had been dying within two or three days of birth, and there was always an appearance in the house just after the birth of an uncanny toad, which appeared and then disappeared under the floor. Sometimes people had managed to find a track, which they followed until in every case it disappeared under the floor of the Buddha Hall of Kaizoji. So Morikawa Michiyoshi (an official for the area) came to Kaizoji and conducted a search under the floor of the Buddha Hall. There was no trace of the giant toad, but they discovered a place where there was a mound of earth; when this was opened up they came to a coffin containing the remains of the body of a woman dressed in beautiful robes and golden hairpins. Then Soetsu (who was in charge of affairs concerned with lay people) was ordered to arrange a funeral ceremony to exorcize the toad, but its visitations continued as before. Morikawa reported this to the authorities, who thereupon arranged a prayer ceremony to be performed by the priests of the Hachiman shrine, but again without effect.

Then an official request was made to priest Jikin (namely Ketsugan, the 126th master at Kenchoji) to conduct a service of prayer for the destruction of the witch-toad. Accordingly on the eighth day of the third month of the 29th year of Oei, under the chairmanship of Hosokawa Hidestsugu, the ceremony was organized, and when the public had assembled, the priests of all the Kamakura temples were ranged in their ceremonial ranks in the main hall for the service. Jikin however came by himself to Kaizoji, and without coming to the main hall, went straight to the Buddha hall. Glaring, he shouted the word ‘Kan!’ (frontier-gate) at the top of his voice, and then declared to them: ‘The service today is over; do not make the offerings of incense, do not read the sutras, but go back to your temples.’

Thereafter there were no more visitations of the toad, and the people of the region were at peace.


(1) What is the meaning of the word Kan!? Say!

(2) What is the virtue in that one word Kan!? Say!

(3) What was the real meaning of shouting Kan! and terminating the service?

This incident became a koan of Kamakura Zen at the interviews of Unei, the 174th master at Kenchoji.



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