Japan is a land rich with folklore. It is also the land that gave us Godzilla and many other iconic monsters. This predilection for mythology and gargantuan creatures comes together in the ancient story of the destructive and invasive giant foot.
During the Edo Period (1608-1868), a story began to circulate about a peculiar phenomenon taking place in Honjo (present-day Sumida Ward, Tokyo). Nightly disturbances were centered on the home of Aji no Kyūnosuke, a high-ranking samurai.
Evidently, as Kyūnosuke’s family was enjoying a quiet evening at home, they heard a thundering voice, commanding, “Wash my foot!” Before the inhabitants of the home could respond, the roof splintered apart as a giant foot crashed into the dwelling. The foot was covered in thick, bristly hair, and it was filthy. In some accounts, it was also covered in blood.
The bewildered servants scrambled to gather their cleaning equipment and set to work scrubbing the invading foot until it was thoroughly clean. Having completed the task, they then watched as the foot ascended back through the shattered roof, leaving everyone to wonder about what they had just witnessed.
Unfortunately, this was not the only night they would be visited by the monstrous body part. Every night thereafter, the serene silence would be shattered by the foul-smelling, filthy foot. The household spent each night washing the foot and presumably spent each day patching the roof.
Finally, Aji no Kyūnosuke had enough. He ordered his servants not to wash the foot anymore. When the foot reappeared that night and did not get the expected washing, it thrashed around violently, causing even more destruction than usual.
When Kyūnosuke complained about his unfortunate lot in life, his friends were intrigued. One of his friends offered to trade homes with him for the night so he could see it for himself. Kyūnosuke quickly agreed, eager for at least one night’s respite from the horrifying ordeal. Strangely, the foot did not show up that night or ever again.
It remains a mystery as to whom the foot belonged, why it showed up, or what caused it to stop. It is often blamed on a mischievous tanuki, magical creatures that are known for their pranks. Another theory looks at the fact that the term “washing feet” is a Japanese idiom for rehabilitating a criminal. A culprit whose “feet have been washed” can be said to have paid his debt to society. One interpretation of this story might be that Aji no Kyūnosuke was doing something illegal, and this mischievous spirit appeared to punish him.
The home of the samurai became known as the Ashiarai Yashiki (foot-washing mansion). It added to the mystery of the Honjo region, where yokai (supernatural monsters and spirits) stories abounded. The actual mansion no longer stands. Whether it was trampled into non-existence by a giant foot remains unclear. The site of the former mansion, however, has been identified as one of the Seven Wonders of Tokyo is featured in ghost-story tours of Honjo. You can see the site on Google maps here. If you have the opportunity to visit Tokyo, you may want to check it out for yourself. If you do, however, you might consider bringing a sponge, a bucket, and possibly a few odor eaters.