Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Tsuchigumo (土蜘蛛) were a peoples of ancient Japan, believed to have lived in the Japanese Alps until at least the Asuka period. The name means "ground spider", probably due to perceived physical traits that were later exaggerated or embellished. A spider-limbed monster of the same name appears in some Japanese folktales, which possibly were mythical retellings of battles against these peoples.
The most famous example is that of Minamoto no Raiko. In this story, Raiko investigates tales of a giant skull flying through the air. He and his retainers chase the skull, but it eludes them. It is during this chase he found a youth named Kintaro. Raiko, impressed by Kintaro's strength, added him among his retainers and continued on his venture. The search for the skull proved fruitless, and Raiko retired for the night. At the house where they stayed, Raiko found himself feeling ill, and a young servant boy brought him medicine daily under the pretense of helping him to recover. Raiko continued to grow ill, and began to suspect the boy of mischief. He waited for the daily visit and then lashed out, striking the boy and causing him to run wailing from the house. This broke a powerful illusion, and Raiko found himself covered in a spider's web. His retainers freed him, and together they tracked down the boy by his trail of blood. They followed it into the mountains, and there found a huge spider, dead from a sword wound.
There are many alternate tellings of this popular story. In another famous version, rather then a small boy, the Tsuchigumo appears as a beautiful woman leading an army of Yokai. Raiko's retainers prepare to battle the Yokai, but Raiko avoids them and strikes the woman, causing them to disappear as if an illusion. He then follows the woman to a cave in the mountains where she becomes the great spider, and after a battle splits her open. Even in death, several thousand spiders the size of human infants are said to have crawled from the Tsuchigumo's belly. Raiko and his retainers claimed total victory only after having made sure every last one was slain.
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