On Mount Oe, northwest of Kyoto, there lived a giant demon who terrorized the capital, abducting all beautiful maidens. When a daughter of aristocrat Ikeda Kunimasa disappeared, he consulted the famous seer (onmyoshi) Abe no Seimei (921 – 1005) to learn where his daughter had been taken. Seimei revealed that she was imprisoned within the demon’s mountain palace.
The emperor ordered Minamoto no Yorimitsu (948 – 1021), known as Raiko, and his five trusted retainers to rescue the maidens and rid the land of this scourge. Before setting out they made a pilgrimage to three shrines – Hachiman, Sumiyoshi, and Kumano – to pray for a successful mission. They were rewarded for their piety, encountering avatars of the gods of these shrines who guided them deep into the mountains and gave them powerful tools with which to carry out their task: poisoned sake and a golden helmet. The gods created a tree bridge over a deep ravine and led Raiko and his men to the bank of a rapidly flowing river. Just before departing, the gods instructed the warriors to climb the adjacent mountain. During their ascent, they met a woman washing bloody clothes who told them the location of the demons residence.
Strange-looking creatures led them inside the compound, where they were greeted by the demon, He was gigantic – nearly ten feet tall – but had a boyish kamuro hairstyle (similar to kappa’s hairstyle). The demon, who was flanked by two maidens, one of whom was Kunimasa’s daughter, treated them to a macabre feast of sashimi made with human flesh, washed down with goblets of blood. The demon’s subjects entertained the guests and were even joined by one of the heroes, Sakata no Kintoki who was a gifted dancer. Having earned the demon’s trust, Raiko offered him and his retinue the poisoned sake. The host became drunk and disappeared into his chamber, while his subjects fell ill from the poison.
With their captors incapacitated, the terrorized maidens told the warriors their story and offered to lead them deep inside the mansion to find the sleeping demon. The warriors donned their armor and took up their weapons. The three gods who had helped them along the way reappeared to break through a strong iron gate that stood in their way. The warriors found the demon sleeping in his chamber, attended by and abducted maiden. Raiko chopped off the demon’s head, which flew into the air and landed on his own, but his life was saved by the gods’ golden helmet. Raiko and his entourage conquered the demon’s subjects and rescued scores of maidens who had been imprisoned in caves throughout the compound. The brave warriors and maidens returned to the capital, carrying the vanquished demon as their trophy, and the ladies of Kyoto could thereafter sleep in peace.
The literal translation of shuten doji is “drunken boy”, alluded to in the scroll by the boyish haircut of the demon, who becomes monstrous when he consumes alchohol. There are two versions of the tale, one that identifies Mount Oe (Oeyama), situated between Tanba and Tango provinces (northwest of Kyoto), as the demon’s mountain abode, and another that suggests he lives on Mount Ibuki (Ibukiyama), located between Omi and Mino provinces (southwest of Kyoto). Recent scholarship has suggested that the demon’s original residence might have been at Oi-no-saka (The Slope of Aging), at the northeast entrance of Kyoto on the border between Tanba and Yamashiro provinces.
Numerous illustrated handscrolls of The Drunken Demon have been produced since the Muromachi period. The story entered the kano school‘s repertory in the early sixteenth century with a version of the subject by Kano Motonobu (now Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo) and it remained popular among Kano artists throughout the Edo period. However, this version from the New York Public Library exhibits an animated quality that belies the academic style of the Kano. The painter identified by the seal “Motosada”, is Kaiho Yuchiku (1654 – 1728). The vivacious movement and exaggereted forms created by the third generation of the Kaiho school perfectly embody the gruesome story