Izu Rhythm

The Red Cow of Ike

Category: Japanese Folk Stories

In the village of Ike sits a Buddhist temple called Ryukeiin. It was built 502 years ago and replaced an older temple that was haunted by a murderous red cow.

There are several variations to the story. The story below is a translation of one of the more compassionate versions.

 

The Red Cow of Fukusenji Temple

This story takes place in the 17th year of Eisho (1520), about 500 years ago.

In the village of Ike, in the domain of Izu, there was a large pond brimming with water. The pond was sandwiched between two tall mountains: Mt. Omuro to the east, and Mt. Yahazu to the west. There was a temple called Fukusenji located about 14 cho (roughly 1-5 km) beyond the river that flowed through the valley.

After finishing their work in the mountains, the villagers would stop near the temple, take off their packboards, and catch their breath.

“Wonder if that priest will come back to Fukusenji this month . . .”

“If the next priest to visit that temple doesn’t come out, that’ll make seven.”

“They say there’s a dragon lord that’s been living in that pond for a thousand years. It turns itself into a red cow and eats anyone who comes near the temple.”

“Fukusenji is full of ghosts! That monk must have been eaten alive.”

“Horrible!”

“So horrible!”

. . . the villagers would say such things as they hurried home at dusk.

The world was such in those days that wandering samurai were fighting for their land. There was no end to the battles, and every day many people died.

Yoshitaka Izumi, the third son of Ryuoki Saito, a samurai from the Mino Province, became weary of that endless world. He shaved his head and became a monk to help those who had died.

It was late autumn when Yoshitaka left Mino Province and walked east, visiting temples deep in the mountains of Mikawa, Toe, and Suruga Provinces.

By the time Yoshitaka had descended from the mountain road and arrived in Ike, the setting sun had descended almost behind Mt. Yahazu.

He stared down at the pond, its surface awash in the red of the sunset.
Soon, it turned into a blazing city of fire, set ablaze by war. Women and children were running for their lives, and one by one they were swallowed up by the flames. Yoshitaka’s heart ached as he watched them.
The sun disappeared and the flames were quickly extinguished. All that remained was a silence spread over the water’s surface.

When Yoshitaka came back to himself, he impulsively clasped his hands and began to chant sutras. At that moment, Yoshitaka heard someone behind him call out, “Hello, priest.”

When Yoshitaka turned his head, he saw a group of villagers standing there.
“Travelling priest. I suspect you’ll stay at a temple tonight, but the only temple in this village is Fukusenji. Of course it can’t be helped if you want to visit it, but that Fukusenji is a terrible temple…”

The villagers urged Yoshitaka to stay at their home for the night. “Then I’ll take your word for it,” Yoshitaka said, clasping his hands in thanks and leaving the pond with the villagers.

Stories of the dreadful Fukusenji were repeated late into the night, when everyone suddenly realized that dawn had come.

“Thank you all very much for your help last night. I’ll try to visit the temple now. Even if just a little, I would like to return your kindness”.

Sensing the firmness in Yoshitaka’s decision, the villagers gave up protesting and showed him to the temple. Yoshitaka separated from the villagers near the outskirts of Fukusenji and went on toward the temple alone.

The temple was thoroughly in ruins. Yoshitaka sat down facing the dusty statue of Buddha in the main hall and began to chant quietly. He continued to chant the sutras, oblivious to the passing of time. At some point, his surroundings became enveloped in darkness.

Moooooo!

All of a sudden, he heard the high-pitched bellowing of a cow coming from the temple grounds. The bellowing soon turned into a low growl. Yoshitaka stood up quickly, went out from the main hall, and stood in the temple’s sodden garden.

In front of him was the biggest cow he had ever seen. It was colored in the same red he had seen last night, and it seemed to have just emerged from the pond.

“When you assume that kind of shape, it’s hard to understand what you’re trying to tell me,” Yoshitaka said. “If you have something you want me to hear, it would be best to come back when you are able to speak.”

The red cow listened intently, and when Yoshitaka had finished speaking, it slowly stood up, turned around, and shuffled away through pampas grass, disappearing toward the outskirts of the temple.

When Yoshitaka returned to the main hall, he continued to chant the sutra again as if nothing had happened.

After a while, he heard the vague sound of a human voice coming from the temple grounds.

“I’m sorry.”

Yoshitaka stood up quickly and stood again in the wet garden. There, he saw a vague, white, human figure with sparkling eyes floating inside the pampas grass. It was a young and beautiful girl.

“We can’t speak comfortably here. Please come this way,” Yoshitaka said gently to the girl. The young girl followed Yoshitaka into the main hall, sat down facing him, and began to speak slowly.

“I am the dragon, Lord of the pond that stretches across this village. I have lived a full thousand years, but I have not been able to learn the teachings of the Buddha. Just once, I would be so grateful to experience those teachings. With that in mind, I came to the priests of this temple to request their guidance. However, they were horrified by my appearance and even tried to burn me to death with torches. I had no choice but to kill and devour those priests.”

“I thought to myself, ‘If I take the form of a cow, maybe the monks won’t fear me.’ Thinking so, when I heard chanting coming from the temple, I turned into a red cow. However, then they probably thought I would stab them with my horns. Just as I had thought, they were horrified.”

When she finished speaking, the young woman began to cry, her voice shaking with the horror of what she had done. Yoshitaka went to her side and chanted a sutra called the Three Returning Precepts. It is a sutra that says if you give up everything and chant intently, you will receive salvation.

The young woman closed her eyes, put her hands together and listened intently. Her muffled voice overlapped with Yoshitaka’s chanting, and eventually their voices became louder and louder.

After they finished chanting the Three Precepts, Yoshitaka told her all about the Buddha’s teachings. She kept her hands clasped together and listened quietly. When Yoshitaka had finished, she bowed her head again and again, stood up slowly, and walked away without making a sound.

The sky in the east became brighter and brighter, and as night fell, Yoshitaka walked back along the road to the village, feeling refreshed.

The villagers were waiting for him at the spot where he had left them the day before. When they saw Yoshitaka in the distance, they rushed to him. Yoshitaka began to slowly recall the events of the previous night. The villagers nodded and listened attentively. Every once in a while, a loud sigh escaped their lips.

“And that’s is how the story ends,” Yoshitaka said.

As if they had been waiting for these very words, the villagers began to plead with him.

“Monk, please stay in this village and teach us the Buddha’s teachings.”

“Since Fukusenji has become a desolate temple, I have completely forgotten to chant the sutras.”

“You are such a noble monk that even the lord of the pond listens to you, as everyone can see.”

“You were able to lead the dragon, who has lived for a thousand years, to the Buddha’s side.”

Yoshitaka gently placed his hands on his chest. He felt as if his training had come to an end. So he decided to listen to the wishes of the people of his village.

Eventually, a temple was built near a place surrounding the pond where there was already a smaller temple. The temple was named Ryukeiin. The red cow/dragon, which was guided by the Buddha, is worshiped as a guardian deity of the village of Ike. Even today, it gently watches over the village.

Before long, Fukusenji Temple was abandoned, and now only its ruins remain.

All that remains of the ancient Fukusenji temple is a five stone memorial, and a historical marker.

The sign barely mentions the temple, and instead focuses on the stone memorial.

 

Stone pagoda (five-ring pagoda) at the entrance of Fukusenji Site

This pagoda is called a “stone pagoda,” but it is thought to be a “five-ring pagoda” rather than a mere stone pagoda.

If the bottom stone is called “Shimodai” and the next is called “Kamodai”, then the top is called “Godai”, which means “Five Elements” in ancient India. Earth * Water * Fire * Wind * Sky.

Ike Historical Research Association, November, 2008″

Statue of Kensoyo Yamato Osho, founding priest of Ryukeiin (the story's Yoshitaka Izumi).

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