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To survive, you must tell stories…(“,)

Tomino’s hell: the creepy legend of a cursed poetry.

5 min read

Can some verses hurt someone?
A popular Japanese story is about a poem called “Tomino’s Hell” (トミノの地獄). They say that you should only read with your mind, and never out loud.
It’s said that the poem became known to modern audiences after Japanese writer and film critic Inuhiko Yomata (also known as Goki Yomata) included it in a book published in 1998 called The Heart Is Like A Rolling Stone (心は転がる石のように). However, the poem itself is much older, having originally been written by Saijo Yaso in his 27th collection of poetry called Sakin, or Gold Dust, in 1919. He was a university professor and lived in France for a time, studying at the Sorbonne; his work is heavily influenced by French poets, especially symbolists like Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Valéry (with whom he became friends). Though Saijō’s later work was ostensibly for children, it was filled with strange symbols and wordplay that could be quite macabre.
It’s not sure how this rumor started, but there’s only a warning that, “If you read this poem out loud, tragic things (凶事) will happen.”
And it looks like a curse!

A little known legend has that disabled girl/or boy (the gender is never mentioned in Japanese, nor is Tomino a common name particular to boys or girls) who lived in Japan in the late 1800s, Tomino, after writing this gruesome poem was punished by his/her parents and locked up in the cellar, refusing to feed him/her until his/her death came, occurred due to a bronchitis due to cold and humidity.
Thus her spirit remained imprinted in the words of his/her poetry, which if read aloud evoke his/her curse. Tomino was not crazy, on the contrary, he/she wrote the verses in anger for his/her condition: it is said that he/she was born with a serious disability of the legs that forced him/her from a tender age on a wheelchair. Tomino’s poetry also collects the sadness and feeling of helplessness of a child who, in addition to not being able to manage him/herself, lived in a very bad and cruel family, who often treated her as an animal or scapegoat for their problems.
In any case, even for Japanese speakers, the true meaning behind Tomino’s Hell can be difficult to understand and there are several interpretations.

And now back to reality.
In 1974, a movie called Denen ni Shisu (To Die in the Countryside) was released. It was written and directed by Terayama Shuji, and he took a lot of inspiration from Tomino’s Hell when making the film. When he later died people claimed it was because of that poem. There were also rumours of a female university student who died after reading it.
Moreover, urban legend has there are some serious accidents (such as falls, permanent loss of voice, road accidents and sudden illnesses) and also deaths for no apparent reason, and all these cases have one thing in common: reading aloud Tomino’s poetry.
The “victims” were mostly set common people, including simple onlookers who tried to dispel the myth of poetry.
Despite this, in Japan in the 80s the trend of filming friends intent on reading aloud the poem was born and it must be said that many times there were no consequences, so it seems that the curse strikes at random (or maybe it is only auto-suggestion?), or with a scheme not yet understood. Despite this, even today, especially the elderly, prefer not to mention the legend behind this poem, because superstition in Japan is still very present.
Never mind that Terayama died nine years after his film was made, no-one knew who this female university student was, and that the poem’s creator, Saijou Yaso, lived to the ripe old age of 78 himself, 51 years after creating and presumably reading the poem out loud countless times during his long life.

And now, for the more courageous here is the translation of the fatal sonnet, but rest assured, because it is said that to attract the evil calamities on oneself one must read it in the original language and above all aloud. However, even if this is a translation, I recommend that you always read it in mind, just in case!

“Elder sister vomits blood,
younger sister’s breathing fire
while sweet little Tomino
just spits up the jewels.

All alone does Tomino
go falling into that hell,
a hell of utter darkness,
without even flowers.

Is Tomino’s big sister
the one who whips him?
The purpose of the scourging
hangs dark in his mind.

Lashing and thrashing him, ah!
But never quite shattering.
One sure path to Avici,
the eternal hell.

Into that blackest of hells
guide him now, I pray—
to the golden sheep,
to the nightingale.

How much did he put
in that leather pouch
to prepare for his trek to
the eternal hell?

Spring is coming
to the valley, to the wood,
to the spiraling chasms
of the blackest hell.

The nightingale in her cage,
the sheep aboard the wagon,
and tears well up in the eyes
of sweet little Tomino.

Sing, o nightingale,
in the vast, misty forest—
he screams he only misses
his little sister.

His wailing desperation
echoes throughout hell—
a fox peony
opens its golden petals.

Down past the seven mountains
and seven rivers of hell—
the solitary journey
of sweet little Tomino.

If in this hell they be found,
may they then come to me, please,
those sharp spikes of punishment
from Needle Mountain.

Not just on some empty whim
Is flesh pierced with blood-red pins:
they serve as hellish signposts
for sweet little Tomino.”

Original Japanese:

Tomino no Jigoku
ane wa chi wo haku, imoto wa hihaku,
可愛いトミノは 宝玉(たま)を吐く。
kawaii tomino wa tama wo haku
hitori jigoku ni ochiyuku tomino,
jigoku kurayami hana mo naki.
muchi de tataku wa tomino no ane ka,
鞭の朱総(しゅぶさ)が 気にかかる。
muchi no shuso ga ki ni kakaru.
tatake yatataki yare tatakazu totemo,
mugen jigoku wa hitotsu michi.
kurai jigoku e anai wo tanomu,
kane no hitsu ni, uguisu ni.
kawa no fukuro ni yaikura hodoireyo,
mugen jigoku no tabishitaku.
春が 来て候(そろ)林に谿(たに)に、
haru ga kitesoru hayashi ni tani ni,
kurai jigoku tanina namagari.
kagoni yauguisu, kuruma ni yahitsuji,
kawaii tomino no me niya namida.
nakeyo, uguisu, hayashi no ame ni
妹恋しと 声かぎり。
imouto koishi to koe ga giri.
nakeba kodama ga jigoku ni hibiki,
kitsunebotan no hana ga saku.
jigoku nanayama nanatani meguru,
kawaii tomino no hitoritabi.
地獄ござらばもて 来てたもれ、
jigoku gozaraba mote kite tamore,
hari no oyama no tomebari wo.
akai tomehari date niwa sasanu,
kawaii tomino no mejirushi ni.

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