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Lock, Stock, and History

Spooky Folklore from Medieval Japan —- The Legend of the Ubume,

In Medieval Japanese folklore, the Ubume is the ghost of a woman who died in childbirth.  Often the ghost of the woman will appear soaked in blood and wander about crying obareu! obareu! (be born! be born!).  Typically Ubume are found along travel routes, such as roads or rivers.  There the Ubume will ask travelers to hold her baby, just for a moment.  When the traveler takes up the swaddled infant, the Ubume will disappear and the infant will become heavier and heavier.  When the infant becomes to heavy to hold and is dropped, it is revealed to be a large stone.

One infamous Ubume was said to take up residence at a river crossing in the Mino Province (now modern day Gifu Prefecture).  When passerby’s crossed the river, the Ubume would appear among the raging waters begging them to take her baby and save its life.  Those who took the infant found that it became heavier and heavier until they were drug under the water and drowned.

In the early 11th century AD the samurai Urabe Suetake was traveling with a groups of soliders.  One night in camp the soldiers talked of tails about the Ubume at the river crossing.  So frightened were they that they refused to cross the river, a crossing which was to be made the next morning.  The brave samurai Suetake announced “I shall cross the river myself.  Right now!”.  

To prove to his men that there was nothing to fear, he crossed the river, all the while his men stayed in camp out of cowardice.  He made it across the river, and was halfway across his return trip when the Ubume appeared to him, begging him to take her baby.  Depsite the danger, Suetake took the crying infant, which grew heavier and heavier in his arms with each yard he stepped.  By the time he reached the shore the bundle would have been too heavy to carry for most, but due to Suetake’s superior strength and stamina he continued onward to the camp.  By the time he reached the camp the swaddled infant was almost too heavy for even Suetake to handle.  When he reached camp he dropped the bundle before his men to show them his great deed.  When the swaddling clothes were opened, it was found to be nothing more than a bundle of dead leaves.

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