Japanese Folklore and Famous Ghost Story: Botan Doro (The Peony Lantern)

Japanese Folklore and Famous Ghost Story: Botan Doro (The Peony Lantern)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


The time is hundreds of years ago in old Japan when the forces of Buddhism and Shintoism were strong.  Therefore, the supernatural and the real world were often connected and in the dead of night, where shadows went unseen but the feeling of coldness could be felt, people would tell ghost stories and while some were pure myths, others held grains of truth or deep mystery.

The setting for my story, which is based on Japanese ghost stories, begins in Koyasan where the local Buddhist priest was telling the story of Botan Doro (The Peony Lantern).   People had been waiting ages because they knew that he could tell ghost stories with passion and the setting was very mysterious.

Fog was descending on Mount Koya and the sound of a rumbling storm led to enormous anticipation and inner-fear. After all, the darkness of night meant that the walk home would be nervous. Also, the famous old graveyard looked not only spooky at night but also old spirits could be felt in the Buddhist sanctuary of Koyasan.


Twelve people had gathered therefore the Buddhist priest welcomed them one by one before he began.  The backdrop was also dramatic because the local graveyard was visible to the gathering place despite the closing fog.

Then he began to tell the story of Botan Doro by beckoning them even closer and this added to the suspense. The atmosphere now became tense because the feel of the occasion was so dramatic. He then spoke in a softly voice and told them about Ogiwara Shinnojo who would soon enter another realm.

Ogiwara Shinnojo was a samurai warrior but his heart was full of woe because he was a widow.  At night he felt so alone and memories of the past came back to haunt him. Therefore, it appeared that he would never feel the fluttering heart of love again because his pain was enormous.

His place of abode was surrounded by the countryside and in each room you could feel emptiness. This reality meant that sorrow and the feeling of regret could be felt by locals, when they would visit Ogiwara Shinnojo from time to time.


Each night Ogiwara Shinnojo would sit on his porch and if lucky he would enter the dream world of his past on a good night. However, he mainly felt little because of daily silence all around him apart from the noises of nature, which was the only sign of real life in his world. Therefore, in time even this became like a hollow reality because the more he looked and waited for something to happen the more it seemed that nothing would happen.

Then one night, when his heart felt so low and full of morose, he saw a stunning young lady with lovely long black hair and features which melted his heart.  She was not alone because her loyal maid was carrying a lantern which was significant by the feature of a pony crest.

Ogiwara Shinnojo, despite being a samurai, was caught off guard because he did not think to ask where she came from – or what she was doing in the dead of night.  Instead her deep brown eyes and long hair silenced all caution and soon he was smitten by Otsuyu. At the same time, Otsuyu could also feel the passion of Ogiwara.

The Buddhist priest stated: “Ogiwara Shinnojo was vulnerable because all logic had left his soul and instead he was tempted by the flesh and firm breasts of Otsuyu.” He continued: “that with each night Ogiwara Shinnojo was being drawn into the world of the unknown but he could only see the mirror that he desired and yearned.”

After a short time Ogiwara Shinnojo and Otsuyu became lovers after he invited her into his home and seduced Otsuyu with so much passion.  The maid was always patient and carrying the peony lantern during the nighttime. Therefore, she would just wait while Ogiwara Shinnojo and Otsuyu embraced in passion throughout the night.


The day time now became a time of rest and sleeping for Ogiwara Shinnojo. However, he felt at peace with the world and lusted for the body and lips of Otsuyu.

Each time Ogiwara Shinnojo made love to Ogiwara he would feel more alive. This reality blinded him to all known forms of what was natural, after all, why did they always meet in the same setting?  Therefore, the heated passion drew Ogiwara Shinnojo into a new world that he could not see or understand.

The priest then told the listening crowd that one day: “A passing neighbor was concerned about Ogiwara Shinnojo therefore when he did not respond to his call he looked through the small whole in the wall.  Immediately the old man felt sick because all he could see was Ogiwara Shinnojo fondling rotting flesh. This sent a shudder down his spine alongside enormous shock.”

The neighbor was elderly and the sight was revolting. However, Ogiwara Shinnojo had been bewitched by the beauty of Otsuyu because of his own broken heart therefore he was easily fooled.  The tender body and firm breasts were real to Ogiwara but little did he know that this had empowered Otsuyu and enabled her to appear like she once had been.

After this, the elderly neighbor got help from the local Buddhist priest therefore they both went together and chastised Ogiwara Shinnojo.  The priest warned him that his soul was in mortal danger because he was being taken into the other world. He continued by telling him that the living world must not enter this environment because untold misery would happen. Also, in time he would become damned and become like her.


At first Ogiwara Shinnojo was in shock because all logic had left him. After all, he was besotted by Otsuyu.  However, he respected the Buddhist priest and knew that something didn’t make sense. Despite this, his lonely heart was weak and crying out for the feel of passion and the warmth of a beautiful lady.

After some time all agreed that something had to be done therefore Buddhist sutras called ofuda were placed around his home. These holy Buddhist sutras were powerful because no ghost could breakthrough these magical sutras. The ofuda sutras were special because they had magical powers and clearly the Buddhist priest and local community were worried deeply about Ogiwara Shinnojo.

For a short time Ogiwara Shinnojo could resist his strong desire. However, the sobbing tears of Otsuyu and the maid was breaking his heart because he loved her so much.  Ogiwara Shinnojo understood now that both belonged to the world of the dead but he felt that his life was like the living dead without her embraces of passion.

Despite all the warnings, and the sutras that would protect him, he could not resist their pleas because they were driving him mad with anguish and confusion.  After all, since being a widow he felt nothing in his heart until Otsuyu and she was so beautiful within his home.


The Buddhist priest who was telling the story stated: “Otsuyu and the maid would cry……please meet us, please Ogiwara Shinnojo, we miss you and you know Otsuyu loves you…..do not listen to others for it us who care for you.”

This created great pain inside the heart of Ogiwara Shinnojo. Therefore, one night he could no longer resist temptation because he yearned to touch Otsuyu. Since the Buddhist priest had begun to help Ogiwara Shinnojo he had become confused and trapped between two worlds. However, despite knowing that others were correct and that he faced real danger he could no longer resist Otsuyu – and her loyal maid that also beckoned him to rejoin them.

The following day neighbors who had been distant decided to make a rare visit to see if Ogiwara was in good condition. However, it soon became apparent that he was not at home.  This set off alarm bells therefore the Buddhist priest feared the worse.  After searching endlessly, but without any luck, it dawned on the Buddhist priest to search the place where the dead were buried.

Now nervously they visited the graveyard to look for the crypt with the name Otsuyu on it. When they finally found the crypt it soon became apparent that the maid was inside because both had been laid to rest together according to the words on the tombstone.  On opening the crypt they could see the peony crest therefore the worse was feared.

The Buddhist priest telling the story then said in a nervous voice that: “Their eyes gazed on Ogiwara Shinnojo because his corpse was entangled with Otsuyu. However, it appeared that the final minutes were full of fear judging by the face of Ogiwara Shinnojo.” 


The priest continued by saying: “After Ogiwara Shinnojo entered the crypt it shut by itself once he embraced Otsuyu to make love. Yet this time she would never let him go therefore the last few minutes of his life were ended in a perverse and panic stricken nature – one can only imagine his fear because now he was being dragged into the dreaded underworld.”

The fog was getting stronger and an owl could be heard in the graveyard close to where the Buddhist priest was telling the story.  Then the priest told everyone to blow out the candles and that it was time to go home alone. However, he told everyone to be vigilant and to seek guidance when unsure because he could feel spirits in the holy place of Koyasan.

With this, everybody set off home and while the Buddhist priest did not fear the dead of night and the closing fog – clearly others were less strong.  Therefore, people walked home nervously and were looking around often when a slight noise could be heard.

They all slept that night but it was a restless night because each person would wake up from time to time with the sense of fear, sorrow, nervousness and anxiety.  However, in the morning they all met and thanked the Buddhist priest for telling the story.

Before they parted the priest commented: “Some ghost stories are based on myths but others have elements of truth. Therefore, never be off guard like Ogiwara Shinnojo because some in the spirit world can’t rest based on being trapped between both worlds. Also, other spirits are lonely and desire the weak in order to finally rest.”



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http://www.koyasan.org/ (Information about Koyasan)

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4900.html   (Information about Koyasan)

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