Wanyūdō (in Japanese 輪入道, literally “wheel (輪) monk (入道)”), also known as “Firewheel” or “Soultaker”, is a figure in Japanese mythology, a relatively well-known yōkai in the folklore of Japan.
Earliest reports of Wanyūdō date back to the Heian period, the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185.
He takes the form of a burning oxcart wheel bearing the tormented face of a man, and his head is shaved like a monk’s in penance for his sins during life.
Various accounts describes him as the condemned soul of a tyrannical daimyō, a feudal lord who, in life, was known for having his victims drawn on the back of an oxcart. Legend has it that a tyrannical daimyo was touring what is now Kyoto on an ox cart when an assassin struck him down. The evil man, so angered by his untimely demise, became a monstrous spirit.
He is said to guard the gates of Hell, and to wander back and forth along the road between this world and the underworld, scaring townsfolk as he passes and stealing the souls of anyone who gets too close in order to bring them to Hell with him.
Despite Wanyūdō are servants of Hell, they spend most of their time on Earth, patrolling for the wicked.
They are in constant suffering from the flames and the wheel, and take a sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain on others.
When they capture a victim, ideally a wicked criminal or a corrupt priest, but often enough just an ordinary person, they drag their victim back to Hell to be judged and damned.
Then the Wanyūdō returns to Earth to repeat his work until the sins of his former life have been redeemed.
Stories differ a bit as to where the Wanyūdō resides when it is not streaking through the night skies and terrorizing people. Some say it sleeps in the mountains, while others say it guards the gates of Hell.
Few things can protect against the wrath of the monster, and staying inside is about the only sure bet.
When a Wanyūdō is sighted, smart townspeople keep off the roads at night and stay away from all doors and windows to avoid any contact with this demon.
The extra-cautious decorate their homes with prayer charms in hopes that the monster will be repulsed and not come near. Merely witnessing the wanyūdō is enough to strike calamity upon a whole family.
Most have their souls torn from their body and brought to hell by the wheel.
One of the most famous legends comes from Kyoto. As Wanyūdō rolled through the town, a woman peeked out her window at him.
Wanyūdō told her “Instead of looking at me, have a look at your own child!”
She looked down at her baby to find him lying on the floor in a pool of blood with his legs missing.
When she looked back outside at the Wanyūdō, the child’s legs were in its mouth, being eaten by the mad, grinning monster….
Remember this the next time you find yourself in Kyoto.
And don’t look too close at any fireballs that happen to streak through the sky. Just in case….
Images from web – Google Research