Gege Akutami has slipped many references to a variety of disciplines in Jujutsu Kaisen. From Gojo Satoru’s technique explained using mathematical concepts to pop culture references, the story is a bag of Easter eggs. There are a lot of references to Japanese mythology and lore as well. Take Megumi’s shikigami based on the Imperial Regalia of Japan, for example.
Nobara’s cursed technique is another such reference to Japanese culture. Since the very early eras of Japanese history, the rituals concerning straw effigies or wara ningyo were prominent. Even today, straw effigies are an ominous symbol in popular culture. However, the origins of wara ningyo rituals are quite dual.
What is it related to? Let’s see this interesting reference! The primary source behind the Japanese lore article is this article!
Straw Doll or Wara ningyo rituals
Nobara uses a kit of a straw doll, hammer, and nails for her Straw doll cursed Technique. We can trace the appearance of this kind of kit to ancient Shinto rituals of Japan.
The wara ningyo rituals were prominent during the Hein era (794-1185) in Japan. Back then, wara ningyo had a more positive image. These little straw dolls were a symbol of hope, as people crafted them to ward off sickness during the plague.
However, there is another side to wara ningyo lore that is more popular. This version is tied to the legend of princess Hashihime and the ushi no koku mairi ritual found in the Heian literature. In this story, straw dolls are a medium used for cursing. This apparently served as a direct inspiration for Nobara’s cursed technique.
In Heian literature, princess Hashihime is shown to be a beautiful woman, or even a water deity like her name implies. Well, her name is quite meaningful, but in all versions of the legend, her end is not.
Beautiful as she was, Hashihime was lonely too. Her husband or lover was unfaithful to her and left her for a different woman. In her loneliness and rage-filled despair, she turned to Kifune no Kami.
An oracle of Kifune no Kami apparently instructed her to wear an iron candle topped with candles, red clothes and makeup, and make a visit to the shrine at 2 AM. Doing all this at the hour of the ox by the old zodiac clock (1-3 AM), she could become an oni or devil. Thus, she could take revenge on her unfaithful lover.
However, a popular onmyoji (shaman), in order to protect the unfaithful lover from the vicious oni, made straw dolls (in some versions, paper mannequins) to exhaust Hashihime’s rage. Instead of killing her ex-lover, Hashahime would proceed to strike the straw dolls with nails at a tree near the shrine. She prayed to the Gods to curse and annihilate the person responsible for her dire straits.
And so, the ritual of ushi no koku mairi became known.
The ushi no koku mairi ritual
Ushi no koku mairi literally means shrine visit at the hour of the ox, just like Hashihime. In truth, we can even trace this ritual back to the Kofun period in a different form. But perhaps, Hashihime’s tale was just romanticized enough.
For ushi no koku mairi, first, one needs is a straw doll as the target’s effigy. The straw doll should have some part of the person in it like hair, blood, etc. Once the major instrument of the ritual is prepared, one has to wear the proper costume as well. The visit to the shrine between 1 to 3 AM should be in secret.
Shinto shrines usually have shinboku, or sacred trees, that hold the gods’ spirits. The effigy is nailed into these trees to curse, or even wish death upon, the target. Legend or not, there are many holes in the Kifune Shrine tree where Hashihime became an oni.
Ushi no koku mairi and wara ningyo in today’s time
As stated before, the wara ningyo still remain as a symbol of cursing. Something that is used to spread dread and fear. Actually, it is surprising the origins of this fear lie in actual Shinto rituals. It is interesting to note because Shinto rituals mostly concern purification, good luck, and dispelling evil.
However, while most of us only view straw dolls and their related rituals as ominous, some people indulge in them too. The Kifune Shrine of Kyoto is considered a hub for ushi no koku mairi.
Humans are sinister beings by nature, and once our darker side overtakes the better one, we flail around to find a way out. But, some people find it harder to float above the deep currents and give in. It is quite terrifying when that happens because then humans do terrible things. The following real examples from Japan about not-so-friendly rituals are proof we can never shed our evil side.
On January 25, 1995, police arrested a man for intimidation in Gunma Prefecture. This man was a regular at an arcade and developed feelings for the owner. However, his feelings were unrequited. Thus, he turned to a makeshift version of the ushi no koku mairi. He left a straw doll with a nail in it at the arcade’s parking lot. The doll also had the owner and the arcade’s names on its chest.
There is a better solution for people who want to curse someone but don’t want to go to such lengths themselves. People can now meet their “cursing needs” via online services that curse targets on the client’s behalf. Nihon Jujutsu Kenkyu Jukikai offers such services for ¥20,000 to ¥300,000. On average, this firm receives 20 to 30 inquiries and 10 to 20 percent turn into actual contracts.
The origins of Nobara’s technique are deep-rooted in the Shinto rituals of Japan. Since the beginning, wara ningyo, or straw dolls, have appeared for many purposes. These rituals have two sides, entailing both good and evil.
However, now they have a closer association with curses. Another such ritual that involves wara ningyo is the ushi no koku mairi from Hashihime’s legend. Ushi no koku mairi means visiting a shrine in the hour of the ox (1-3 AM) and wish ominous prayers. This ritual revolves around using the same kit Nobara uses in her technique: a straw doll, hammer, and nails, amongst other things.
Surprisingly, a few people still practice these rituals today. In fact, Japanese law can prosecute the practitioners of ushi no koku mairi.
After having seen the cultural references, Nobara’s technique seems all the more fascinating. In the fanbook (unofficial tanslation), Gege Akutami said that Nobara received her technique from her grandmother. We also know how Akutami has referred to the Heian period in Jujutsu Kaisen multiple times.
These facts and the lore make us wonder if the Strawdoll cursed technique is actually quite potent. It might even be possible that it has been passed on for generations, and Nobara still has to explore her entire potential.
What do you think of these cultural references? Hasn’t Gege Akutami put incredible thought into all aspects of the story? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!