One of the very many aspects I enjoyed about Hozuki’s Coolheadedness is the neatly bureaucratic depiction of Japanese hell. And if you think “Japanese hell” is a weird way to put it, I agree, it’s just the expression they used in the series and it stuck with me.

Hoozuki fan art
turns out there’s tone of gorgeous Hozuki fan art! (by Kai Shizimi)

Turns out not only is it a somewhat odd sounding expression, but it’s also a rather misleading one since Jigoku (the place we see in the series) is not in fact the most traditional form of Japanese hell. That would be Yomi-no-Kuni(link) which is the realm of the dead in Shinto religion. I’m not going to go into much detail about Yomi today but from the myths and legends I know, it’s sort of similar to Hades. There are also some similarities with Orphic legends which I find fascinating as a general fact but have no idea what to make of.

But I digress. How unusual!

The hell, or maybe I should say hells, I want to talk about today is Jigoku or the traditional Buddhist hell(s). Some of you may know that Buddhism adheres to notions of reincarnation and nirvana so some may be tempted to think that any form of hell would be superfluous in such a system let alone multiple (and if Hozuki is to be believes, ever growing in number) hells.

****As usual, my understanding is limited and I am not a Buddhist scholar, not even a Buddhist at all. Take everything I write with a salt factory and please know that any lighthearted comments are made with respect and an honest interest in the material. I’m just a goofy sortof person****

Hoozuki 2
ok, one more! (Pixiv Id 6867114)

But you know, for any good system to work ell, it needs organization. So on the one hand the worthy can reincarnate their way into Nirvana but you still need a fallback position for the less-than-worthy. And because not all sinners are made equal (I’m not sure if sinners if the right word here. Irina discussing religion is way out of her depth. See I even slipped into 3rd person, that’s how intimidated I am here), there is a specific hell to suit the specific crime.

One of the oldest records of the existing hells is the Nara scroll(link) which depicts the 8 main hells as well as 16 additional lesser hells. And let me tell you folks, these hells sound just delightful! They are : The Black Sand Cloud, Excrement, The Five Prongs, Starvation, Searing Thirst, Pus and Blood, The Single Bronze Cauldron, Many Bronze Cauldrons, The Iron Mortar, Measures, The Flaming Cock, The River of Ashes, The Grinder, Sword Leaves, Foxes and Wolves, and Freezing Ice. I’m not sure why the fact that there is a Single Bronze Cauldron hell AND a Many Bronze Cauldrons hell, makes me so happy, but it does…

This said, that’s really just a sampling. Much like Yokai, there’s no agreed-on number of hells with some text hinting at over 60 000 of them. Let’s go through all of them now! Just kidding, although I bet that’s one of them. The hell of enumerating and detailing every other hell…. If not, can I just say 60,001!

The main hells though are reserved for the big or more popular crimes. I assume this is what was popular in ancient Japan/China so some updating may be required. For instance, if you’re a murderer (and killing animals does count as murder!) you go to the deliciously ironic Reviving hell, where you get murdered then revived over and over again until it’s out of your system, I guess. However, if you’re a murderer and a drunk then you go to the Screaming hell to get cooked. As in boiled.  I’m not sure why the alcoholism is what takes priority here…

the spider's thread
hell in the classic tale – The Spider’s Thread

The hell of black threads, is for folks that have murdered and stolen. I’m not entirely sure if the two crimes have to be related, as in killing someone to steal their stuff or if it can be two completely separate instances. Anywho, if you end up there, your body gets marked up by these threads and then demons hack you to pieces along the lines. Cause you can’t just hack people up willy nilly! Alternatively, you can end up having to carry heavy loads of burning hot iron across a tightrope that goes over a hot frying pan. Cause you might as well get some labour out of your torture victims. Oh, if you fall you get hacked to pieces in the frying pan There’s a theme

If you happened to have killed, stolen and committed lewdness (I should say I’m not sure what exactly constitutes lewdness, I maybe in trouble) then off to the crushing hell. Guess what happens here! Yup, you get crushed, between mountains, into a fine goo, over and over again. But if that’s not your jam (Jam! Get It! Is there a hell of puns?) you can also climb these threes ith razort sharp leaves that will slice through your body. You figure that you’re all good once you get to the top but nooo, there are beautiful man and women that appear at the bottom of those threes and you can bet that your lewd little behind is gonne climb right back down to them tearing yourself open in the process and literally spilling your guts. Yummy!

I already mentioned the screaming hell, which is for murders, thieves, lechers, and alcoholics. It’s not as entertaining in description because really you only get cooked here but apparently, it’s way more painful then the previous hells. So there’s that.

There’s also a hell of great screaming, which is for folks that did all of the above and lied about it! Which I feel would be the majority. Not that many honest drunk, thieving murders around. Here you can have the wonderful experience of getting an unwanted iron nail tongue stud before someone just goes head and tears your tongue right out. Of course, over and over again.

there’s also cold hell…

Burning hell, contains killers, is for people who did all of that and on top of it all held beliefs not in line with Buddhism. This one is a bit confusing to me since I thought that as soon as you murdered it sort of implied a non-Buddhist way of thinking. I should read up on it. This is sort of a recreational hello for the Oni because they get to just beat you with clubs as much as they want. I’m thinking this was originally just a break room.

Of course there’s also a hell of great burning, which is basically a much hotter version of the burning hell. This is where people who have actually done violence against members of the Buddhist clergy end up. Fair enough.

Finally, there is the ultimate hell, the Hell of Uninterrupted Suffering. And this is where the worst of the worst end up. People who kill saints or their own parents or people ho not only held beliefs not in line with Buddhism but actually betrayed every single Buddhist doctrine. Here is a hell of the self where denizens roam eternally starving and completely parched to the point that they will devour their own bodies in a futile attempt to quench themselves. It doesn’t work by the way. It’s not clear if you can make it out of this hell but my recommendation would be to try to avoid it at all costs.  

This can get rather confusing for newly departed souls. All these hells and subhells and priorities and stuff. But fear not, hell might be torture but it’s not inconvenient. Jigoku is one organized place.

Enma.Ai. Hell Girl
Hell Girl

Jikogu is about rehabilitation as much as it is punishment and ending up there doesn’t need to be an eternal sort of damnation. This said, like most heavy bureaucracies though, it is a little time consuming. King Enma is the big fish who actually rules over everything but the grueling day to day stuff is delegated to other kings of hell who each have there on courts. It’s a pretty civilised system. The departed have a chance to argue their case and try to rejoin the reincarnation cycle. The kings need to impartially review all the evidence and there are many chances given.

You may have noticed that the main hells are somewhat incremental. A soul gets assigned to the appropriate hell where it spends 100 days waiting for judgement in the first court. If they cannot successfully plead their case there, they have to wait until the one year mark (from death) to go to the second court. Then two years, six, twelve and a final chance at 32 years from death…  

You can however speed the process up a bit. Good behaviour counts but also, the prayers of your living relatives, so remember to be nice to your family! This is partly why Japanese sometimes hold memorial services on the one year anniversary of a person’s death. In case they need some extra help with that second court!

Of course, this is a huge oversimplification, but I do find all this dogma really interesting and colourful. I mostly know of a religion where the biggest sin is to just not be entirely convinced of the existence of a deity so this is a different take that appeals to me.

Hoozuki 3
Hozuki being reminescent of Natsume – how could I resist (by Araragi (Pixiv Id 80668)

13 thoughts

      1. The sinful characters who get sent to hell each get a foretaste of what is coming up. The hell they head into is custom-tailored to their sin. Originally they were given an opportunity to repent and presumably that would have had an effect on what happened next. Since they never repented we never know what would have happened. That opportunity to repent was dropped later on.

        There is a version of Buddhism where there are 64,000 hells depending on exactly what you did. That would be the functional equivalent of a custom Hell for each person. Very similar sins could be lumped together.

        Dante’s Inferno has a similar notion of specialized Hells for specific sins. There’s a book titled “Inferno” by Larry Niven you might really like with a more modern interpretation of the idea.

        A “client” might just send an innocent person to hell. We don’t find out what happens here. No foretaste is given, just a sad person being rowed by Ai across the river to their fate. One full arc is dedicated to when Ai refuses to send a saintly boy who has been thru Hell already in this life to Hell in the next.

        In Buddhist theology, Hell serves to reform the character of the person. They are periodically checked to see if they’ve learned their lesson. If they have, they get back on the wheel of reincarnation. If they haven’t, it’s back to the pits again. A virtuous person would presumably go to a minor hell briefly for whatever misdeeds they might have done (nobody is perfect) and move on quickly.

        The person doing the sending goes to Hell too. I suspect it is a pretty bad Hell. But that is later, after they lived their natural lifespan. The question arises: What if you knew you were going to Hell, regardless of how you lived your life? How would you live your life after that?

        I did a blog on the show once. I really enjoyed the first couple seasons then I think they started running out of new plotlines.

        Jigoku Shoujo, 地獄少女 (Hell Girl)

  1. “Burning hell, contains killers, is for people who did all of that and on top of it all held beliefs not in line with Buddhism. This one is a bit confusing to me since I thought that as soon as you murdered it sort of implied a non-Buddhist way of thinking.” I have an answer for you!

    There is in Buddhism ‘the right intention’ and ‘the right action’ (typically part of the 8 fold path, but has been adapted into many Buddhist sects) which can serve as a loophole for killing but in line with Buddhism. Straight up killing a dude doesn’t fit right intention or right action. However, defending oneself or one’s family with the intention to protect, follows the thought of ‘right intention’, and can serve as something that would divert to a different hell. Most Japanese policemen and servicemen are taught to disarm and disable over killing for this reason actually! However, if the person being attacked are backed into a corner (literally or physically) and the only action to preserve your life or the life of someone else, is to kill, it can be interpreted as the right action in said circumstance.

    Then again, it depends on what branch of Buddhism you follow. Some sects say it’s better to be killed outright, then kill someone even in self defense. Thank goodness King Enma has to figure out all the circumstances and such not us!

    But a great article talking about the different hells! I’m sure they’re ever expanding and it’s good to know that someone is keeping track of them all.

      1. You’re welcome! Buddhism does have different nuanced rules of conduct, but like most religions it has differences between branches and sects so it gets even more confusing at times >..> It is quite the nifty system though!

  2. Hell sounds like hell. Wait…

    I’ve heard it said that the Japanese get born Shintoists, marry as Christians, and die as Buddhists. A sort of spiritual pick’n’mix culture, religious division of labour. At the very least the yomi sounds a tad uneventful when compared to Jigoku.

    I still think that when you die you get sewn into a peg-legged penguin costume that explodes when thrown. That’s the makai version of hell. Nippon no jigoku/Nippon Ichi no Makai.

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