EP2 Iron Rat


Show Notes for EP2 – Iron Rat.

Story Notes:

Iron Rat
Tesso in the Gazu Hyakki Yagyo.

Raigo was a Buddhist monk living at the Temple of Mii-dera in Kyoto. He was approached by the Emperor Shirakawa with a proposition. If he was to pray for the safe birth of his son, he would expand his temple.

Raigo agreed and eventually his son was safely born. However, the Emperor reneged on his pledge and so Raigo went on hunger strike until it killed him.

His angry spirit returned as a plague of rats called Tesso which attacked the libraries of Kyoto. In particular the temple libraries of Enryaku-ji. A rival temple who helped convince the Emperor to renege on his promise.

Poem Notes:

Ono no Komachi was born around the mid 9th century and was possibly a lady-in-waiting under Emperor Ninmyō and Emperor Montoku. It is well attested she was a woman of great beauty who treated her lovers cruelly, however, it is likely this is merely a legend. In fact there are many legends now revolving around her it is difficult to separate the truth from the myth.

Iron Rat
Ono no Komachi.

Her fame in poetry saw that she was included in Kinto’s list of the Thirty-Six Poetic Geniuses, as well as Thirty-Six Women Poetic Geniuses. Prior to this she is included as part of the Six Poetic Geniuses, and she is the only woman in this list of six.

Her poetry is collected in numerous works including the Kokinshū and Gosenshū, however, only 21 poems attributed to her are seen as authentic. There are many poems attributed to her in later sources that may likely not be hers. The Komachi-shū (Collected Poems of Komachi), created after her death also contains poetry that is unlikely to be hers.

Famously one of her poems can be found in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poems, One Poet Each). Her poem is the 9th in the anthology and reads:


Hana no iro wa
utsurinikeri na
itazura ni
wa ga mi yo ni furu        
nagame seshi ma ni

A life in vain.
My looks, talents faded
like these cherry blossoms
paling in the endless rains
that I gaze out upon, alone.


  • Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.  
  • Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd. 
  • MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics. 
  • Suzuki, H. et al. (1997) ”Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. Tokyo: Bun’eidō. 
  • Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2016) “Japandemonium: Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopaedia of Toriyama Sekien.”. New York: over Publications, Inc.

Feature Image: Tesso by gegebo on deviantart.

You can listen to the full episode over on Anchor here: Japan Archives, or wherever you listen to Podcasts.

Follow us on Social Media: FB-@japanarchives Twitter-@japanarchives

And be sure to check out Heather’s blog on lifes little adventures here: HeatherOverYonder.

Iron Rat