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Yogen no tori by Kanou Hiroshi

Yogen no tori are prophetic birds which resemble two-headed crows. One head is white and the other is black. They can speak, and are sent by the gods to deliver important messages to humanity such as warnings about epidemics. In addition to delivering important messages about epidemics, yogen no tori are so sacred that merely an image of them is enough to keep evil spirits, (that cause disease), away. It has been long-told that looking at a picture of a yogen no tori is said to protect the viewer from any harm.

This special two headed bird dates back to the Edo period and it has always been a symbol that delivered warnings about outbreaks and offered its image as a protective charm. Contagious diseases like cholera are spread by invisible means, and for a long time there were no known cures or methods of protection against them. Amulets, talismans, and image of sacred yōkai might not have done much to actually prevent sickness, but the willingness of people to cling to the promise of salvation is indeed understandable.

Yogen no tori in history: A serious cholera outbreak struck Japan in the summer of 1858. During the outbreak, a government official from Kai Province (Yamanashi Prefecture) named Kizaemon, discovered the legend of the yogen no tori and reported it in Bōshabyō ryūkō nikki, a journal detailing the outbreak. According to his report, a yogen no tori was sighted in December of 1857 near Mount Haku in Kaga Province (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture). The bird foretold, that “Around August or September of next year, a disaster will occur, killing 90% of the world’s population. Those who gaze upon my image morning and night and believe in me will be spared from this suffering.” Kizaemon believed the yogen no tori to be a messenger from the gods. He declared it to be a symbol of the great power of Kumano Gongen. An illustration of the bird was printed alongside the report so people could see it and receive its protective powers.

Source: Yokai.com, retrieved 08/16/2022; shared under Creative Commons and Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.