The following is a conversation with SS that details her interpretation of the Japanese legend about the Dojo Temple (Dojoji in Japanese).
SS: The story is about the Dojo temple; the title comes from a temple that forbid women from entering. Women were considered to pollute the sacred religious space. There’s a story that surrounds this temple where at a nearby, I think it was an inn, a woman was running the inn, you know, like, a little house that she was letting people stay at and she’s running it, a beautiful monk comes, and they fall in love, or maybe not exactly in love, because she seems to be really interested in him and he promises her that he will come back after he goes to this religious pilgrimage to Dojoji, this temple. Well, it turns out that he was just using that as an excuse because he got scared of her, so he goes away. But the woman gets really angry when she finds this out and turns into a serpent and then chases the guy until he gets to the temple and hides in this, kind of like, bell, and the serpent coils around the bell and burns him to death. So, there’s a lot of variations of the story but this is like the main part. So, you can see the story can be very dramatic and the Japanese perform it a lot, so you can see it in Kabuki theater, Noh theater, puppet theater, etc., etc.
EK: Would you say this is a legend or more of just a story?
SS: Well, it’s kind of hard to say. It’s been retold a lot in narrative form, performance, and so on, it’s all over the place, it’s been around from medieval to early modern Japan, which is from like eleventh century to 1868. It first appears in a religious text, so it could be a story that was made up to alert men of the danger of women, that they kind of pollute the sacred space. But then people became fascinated in the serpent itself. So, like in artworks, they’re not at all interested in the moral of the story that was important for probably the religious community very early on, but [instead] in the serpent that keeps on becoming this dramatic highlight.
EK: Where did you first hear this?
SS: I mean it’s one of those works that you read in school, like, one of those works that keeps coming up when you’re teaching pre-modern literature. It’s just all over the place. It’s actually associated with a specific region, like there’s and actual temple and a space, so I think, there are lots of different ways to access or come in contact with it. I grew up in Japan too, so I also know the story pretty well.
I believe the story that SS is a legend, in that it has questions of factuality but occurs in the real world. It seems that there are several variations of this story out there as well. SS noted that its origins are in religious texts and it’s also told by word-of-mouth, as well as performed in many different Japanese theaters, all of which I’m sure have their own interpretations or performances of the story. It seems that back when the story was first thought up, women were not thought of very highly of, as the legend presents the woman as pollution to sacred spaced, as well as a serpent creature. A serpent symbolic of being sneaky and deceitful, like the snake in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
I suppose that this could have been fable at the time for men to hear in order for them to watch out for women who would “cause” them cheat on their wives or manipulate them into doing bad things. Overall, I think it’s an easy legend to repeat, so although there is most likely lots of variation to the story, the way it flows has helped the main plot remain similar over thousands of years.