Something Old, Something Nue


I was looking at the Wikipedia page listing flying mythological creatures. There were many I’d either already written about or didn’t appear to have much information, but I did take some interest in the Nue, a kind of yokai from Japanese mythology. It’s one of those creatures made up of parts of a lot of different animals, described as having the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki, the legs of a tiger, and a snake for a tail. Oddly, its name translates to “night bird,” which you may notice isn’t one of the animals mentioned. There’s an alternate description that gives it the torso of a chicken, but it’s not like they’re nocturnal. The suggestion I’ve seen is that the name originally referred to a kind of thrush, but it later came to be applied to this hybrid being. It’s said to sing like a bird at night, with its call being considered an ill omen. They’re also known to travel in the form of black clouds. A famous legend concerning the Nue has it that one of them hung around above Emperor Konoe’s palace in 1153. The Emperor was sick, and medicine and prayer had no effect, so he called for the samurai Minamoto no Yorimasa, who shot down the Nue with an arrow made from a mountain bird’s tail.

Yorimasa’s companion, I no Hayata, then dealt the final blow to its fallen body and tossed it in the Sea of Japan.

It floated to the village of Ashiya, where the people gave it a proper burial for fear of a curse. The burial mound, Nuezuka, is apparently a real landmark even today. There are conflicting claims as to where it was buried, as well as a legend about the Nue’s spirit turning into a vengeful horse. As the death of the Nue instantly cured the Emperor, he gave the katakana sword Shishio, or “King of Lions,” to Yorimasa. I assume that wasn’t the only Nue in the world, however, and I even saw a mention of Yorimasa killing another one during the reign of a later emperor. I don’t recall coming across the Nue before, but it is a boss in Breath of Fire III. I’m not familiar with that game, but I am with the first two in that series. This Nue is female, stealing food from a nearby village to feed her children, not realizing that they’re already dead.

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