Sakura Sōgorō

Hear about Sakura Sogoro on Bonus Episode 16 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.


Sakura Sōgorō
Sakura Sōgorō

  • Period: Edo Period
  • Occupation: Peasant
  • Family: Wife and 4 children.
  • Birth:
  • Death: September 24th 1653

Sakura Sōgorō

Sakura Sōgorō (佐倉 惣五郎) also known as Kiuchi Sōgorō (木内 惣五郎) was a peasant living in the village of Kozu, now close to modern day Narita.1 At the time this was in the Sakura Domain in Shimōsa Province.3 He was killed by crucifixion September 24th 1653. After this he returned as an onryo.

Sōgorō’s village was ruled by the hatamoto Hotta Masanobu (堀田 正信), a very greedy ruler who took most of everyones rice as tax, though the area was a fertile land. This led to everyone being on the brink of poverty.

As the head of the village (shōya), Sōgorō decided to go over the lord’s head and send a petition (jikiso) straight to the shogun concerning the greediness of Masanobu. He crept to a bridge they knew the shogun would cross and managed to get the petition into the palanquin of the shogun.1 The shogun at the time was Tokugawa Ietsuna.2

The shogun after reading the petition requested Hotta to consider the villagers request.

Masanobu rounded up Sōgorō and his family, saying he would do as the petition said, but as Sōgorō had gone over his head Sōgorō would have to pay.

He crucified Sōgorō and his wife, and made them watch their 4 children be beheaded (their children being aged 11, 9, 6, 3), with Masanobu leaving Sōgorō and his wife hanging for three days before finishing them.1 The crucifixion perhaps occured between 1645-1652.2

He cursed Masanobu as he died and soon after apparitions of him and his wife then began haunting Masanobu and his family. Masanobu’s wife died, and the spirits made him so crazed Hotta killed a maidservant thinking it a phantom. Then he saw Sōgorō in the shoguns castle in Edo and attaked it. Unfortunately it was actually another nobleman, so Masanobu lost his titles and holdings.

There are many versions of how the tale ends with one saying Masanobu realised how evil he was. If Sōgorō would stop his terror he would venerate him in a shrine. The hauntings wanes, and so Masanobu built a shrine using a vast sum of money leading to Sōgorō becoming a patron saint of the peasantry.

The shogun feeling sorry for Masanobu restored his holdings.1

A kabuki play was later written concerning Sōgorō called Sakura gimin den.23

Other Depictions

Sôgorô by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: The Story of Sakura Sôgo (Sakura Sôgo no hanashi).
Sôgorô presenting his petition.Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Spirit of Sakura Sogoro Haunting Hotta Kozuke.
Sôgorô and Hotta Masanobu.

Footnotes

1. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2012) “Yurei Attack: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide” Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.
2. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
3. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.

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