A Japanese Folk Hero, Jiraiya

After I wrote about Amaterasu yesterday, my daughter said I should tell you guys about Jiraiya.  She reads Manga, Japanese comic books.  Jiraiya is a character in the Manga that is based on a Japanese folk hero, and no one knows if he actually lived or not, but he has been part of Japanese literature a long, long time. His appearance in Manga is just a recent development in the long line of places you can find him written about in Japan.  The people who write Manga were inspired by a Kabuki play with the character Jiraiya in it.  Kabuki is a traditional type of Japanese theater where they dress up in beautiful brocade kimonos, wear white makeup on their faces, and wear black wigs in traditional hair styles. If you want to know more about it, I wrote about it in other blogs.  However, Kabuki is not the first place this folk hero showed up. There was a series of novels written about him between 1839-1868 by several different authors.  There were 43 different novels written about him, and the first Kabuki play about him took place in 1852.  It was based on the first ten novels and written by Kawatake Mokuami and performed in Edo. There have also been Japanese movies made about him.  In March of 1975, there was a revival of the Kabuki play in Tokyo at the National Theater.  That is where the Manga writers got inspired to write about Jiraiya.

Here is a picture of a Kabuki painting of Jiraiya.

Jiraiya is a kind of Chinese Robin Hood.  When they began making pictures of him, they used the face of a Kabuki star, Onoekikugoro III.   He is a ninja and a shape shifter. He can turn into a giant toad.  He is from Kyushu from the Ogata clan.  In the Manga, he falls in love with Tsunate-Hime, a Matsuura clan’s princess.  She is also a ninja, and she can turn into a giant slug.  In the Kabuki play, these two are raised together and are extremely good friends. In the Manga, his enemy has more than one name, but in the Kabuki play, his enemy’s name is Orochimaru. Orochimaru can turn into a giant snake.  In the Manga account, this guy used to be one of Jiraiya’s students, but not so in the Kabuki account. In the Kabuki account, Orochimaru is the one who killed everyone in Jiraiya’s and Tsunate-Hime’s families.

Here is a photo of the Kabuki painting of Orochinaru, the bad guy who can turn into a snake.

Here is a basic recap of the Kabuki story:

If you know much about Japan, you may know where the Nigata Prefecture is.  In this story, Nigata is given its old name, Echigo Province because this is supposed to have taken place long, long ago.  The Lord of Echigo Province was Tsukikage Gunryo Miyukinosule.  He was appointed regent by the shogunate.  He was on his way to accept this regency.  When he was almost to Kamakura, he want attacked by a giant snake.  Orochimaru comes in the form of a young man with a sword and kills the snake protecting Tsukikage, the regent.  Tsukikage doesn’t know that the snake was actually Orochinaru’s father and that Orochinaru is actually part snake.  Tsukikage is so thankful for what Orochinaru did he takes him home with him and adopts him as his own son.

This is a photo of the Kabuki painting of Tsunade, the princess of the Matsuura clan fighting Orochinaru with a sword. 

Tsukikage has other children, but he dotes on Orochinaru and makes him sole heir to everything he owns. Orochinaru wants more than just to be the heir to the regent. He wants to rule the whole land. He hatches a plan to get rid of two great families of that region who are also ruling class families.  The names of these families are Ogata, the one that Jiraiya is part of, and Matsuura, the one that Tsunade is part of.  Jiraiya and Tsunade are babies at this time.

Orochinaru is supposed to be a big snake.


Orochinaru does a lot of lying and cheating, and he cheats the Matsuura and Ogata clans out of precious items they are holding from the shogunate.  He gets the Seal of the Moon and the Flag of the Shogun from them.  After that, he lies to his adoptive father some more. He tells his father that these two clans, the Ogata and the Matsuura clans, are planning on overthrowing the shogunate. He convinces his father to go to war against them and kills everyone in both of the clans.  Jiraiya and Tsunade are babies, so he just throws them off a cliff. He thinks they died, but he is wrong.

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Jiraiya has the power to change into a big toad.///Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Senso Dojin rescues Jiraiya and Tsunade.  He raises them himself. They grow up strong, happy, and healthy.  When they are grown, he tells them what happened to their families.  They are ready for revenge!  They both train to be ninjas.  Jiraiya learns ninja magic and learns to shape shift into a giant toad.  Tsunade learns ninja magic and learns to shape shift into a giant slug. Senso Dojin tells them what they have done is good because the slug is more powerful than the snake, the snake is more powerful than the toad, and the toad is more powerful than the slug.  He calls it Sansukumi (Triangular Balance of Power).

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Tsunate has the power to turn into a giant slug.///Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Senso Dojin also tells them that if they are bitten by the snake, they must drink the blood of a woman who was born in the hour, on the day, in the year of the snake.  The hour of the snake is between 9-11 A. M.  If you have seen the oriental calendars, each year has a different animal.  You can look back through my blogs to learn about the oriental zodiac that tells what each year is for and the story behind it if you want to know more about the Chinese zodiac.  Senso Dojin also tells them they need a special sword if they want to kill the snake. The sword is called the Namikirinatsu sword, “the Wave Cutting Sword.”  Jiraiya and Tsunate head off on a quest to find the sword.

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Ochinaru lives in a Japanese style mansion.///Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Meanwhile, Orochinaru has killed his adoptive father.  Orochinaru has inherited his father’s domain and is the lord of all of it.  He lives in a huge mansion.

As they are searching for the sword, Jiraiya happens into the mansion not realizing whose mansion it is.  He and Orochimaru end up fighting, and Orochimaru wounds Jiraiya, and he is dying, but at the last minute, Tsunate comes in and saves Jiraiya from Orochimaru. She takes him off to a Japanese bath and tries to nurse him back to health. However, he is handicapped by what Orochimaru did to him. He actually needs the blood of a woman born in the year of the snake, in the time of the snake.

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Ayame commits suicide so her brother can drink her blood and get well.///Photo by Posawee Suwannaphati on Pexels.com

Even if he is sickly, they continue their journey looking for the sword.  They run into Ayame who is the adoptive daughter of another clan and realize that she is actually Jiraiya’s sister, and that three of them weren’t killed, not just two.  They tell Ayame what happened. Ayame wants revenge too, but she is not a ninja.  She figures out how she can help, though. She was born in the year of the snake, in the time of the snake.  She commits suicide so her brother can drink her blood sacrificing herself so he can be well enough to get the revenge.

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They find that Nakimirinatsu sword! ////Photo by Felipe Cardoso on Pexels.com

Jiraiya and Tsunate continue traveling trying to find the Namikirinatsu sword, and they finally find it.  Now, they have the tool they need to defeat the snake, Orochinaru!

They have found the sword!

When Orochinaru realizes they have the sword, he knows his world has come to an end, and they will kill him.  He tries to commit suicide, but they stop him, and he can’t complete the job.  Jiraiya and Tsunate take Orochinaru to the shogunate. The shogunate puts Orochinaru in jail and reinstates the families of Jiraiya and Tsunate into their royal positions they previously had.

The snake is exorcised from Orochinaru by means of the Nakikirinastus sword. Orochinaru becomes a normal person. Jiraiya asks the shogunate for Orochinaru’s freedom explaining the Orochinaru won’t hurt anyone anymore, and the shogunate grants Orochinaru his freedom.  Everyone parts in peace.

There are many, many more stories about Jiraiya in Japan.  He is a folk hero. His Manga pictures are much different from these.  However, he was in Kabuki before he was in Manga, and this is a Kabuki story.  No one knows if he actually lived or not. We don’t know if Robin Hood of England actually lived either.  We have a folk hero in America called Davy Crockett. There are a lot of outlandish stories about him, but we know he was a real person. He died at the Alamo in Texas, and his name is written among the dead slain there by the Mexican army.  Every story has a basis in fact somewhere even if they stretch the truth, so who know, Jiraiya may have originally been a real person.

(I have seen the paintings I used elsewhere on the web.  Some of them are for sale. If you like the pictures and want to buy some, just put Jiraiya’s name in your search engine, and also putting “Kabuki” in would help because if you don’t specify  “Kabuki,” you may just get the Manga character’s pictures.)





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