Jigoku Tayuu （地獄太夫）, the “Hell Courtesan,” is a character who has been fascinating for me since I first read about her in high school or university.
Known as the daughter of a Samurai (therefore of noble blood) of the Muromachi Period in Japan (1336 to 1573) Jigoku Dayuu was apparently abducted while young and forced to work as a high-class tayuu (太夫), or high-class courtesans.
She lamented her fate, and didn’t dress in the gorgeous kimonos that were the standard of courtesans — she wore a kimono depicting hellish images, fire, skeletons, blood. It was dark imagery, but she was legendary for her beauty regardless, and was once visited by the famous Buddhist Monk Ikkyu, who was impressed by her wisdom and strong character.
It was said that they exchanged some witty one-liner observations about their respective social positions, and became friends afterward.
Jigoku Tayuu died young (of course!) and famously left behind instructions not to cremate her or bury her, but to “simply leave her body in the fields to feed the bellies of starving dogs.” A compassionate, wonderful thought. But, it’s said that she was buried anyway with respect and not left for the dogs to eat, which she actually would not have considered an insult.
She might be too dark for a YA book. But I’m strongly considering her as a key character in my yokai fantasy.
I’ve got in the works a comic about a young woman about self-discovery.
Rika Kasugai is lost in life, caught in between her Asian and Western identity and fitting in nowhere. She’s got a Japanese name that doesn’t match her looks — she’s tall (175cm), big-boned, pale-skinned, freckled, red-haired, and nobody really believes she’s born and raised in Japan.
Now living in Canada, she’s socially anxious and has no friends, but needs money to get to college so has taken on a summer job guiding Japanese tourists around Vancouver.
Her life is irrevocably changed when one day, she gets a tour bus for 100 VIPs from across Japan who are actually ghosts, sprites and demons — 妖怪，or Yokai — in disguise. Once a year in midsummer, they go on a demonic tour at night, and this time, they’ve chosen to take their visit overseas to Canada.
In dealing with her terrifying and mysterious clients, Rika ends up learning a lot about them, and about her own personality and past.