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Jorōgumo: The Shapeshifting Spider of Japanese Lore

In Japanese mythology,a Jorōgumo is a ghost, goblin, or spider, that can transform and shapeshift into a beautiful woman. In Japanese Kanji, the word Jorōgumo means woman-spider, entangling bride, or whore spider. Just as its name suggests, the Jorōgumo attempts to seduce men and eat their flesh. Let’s take a closer look at the Jorōgumo and its role in Japanese mythology.

The Role of the Jorōgumo in Japanese Mythology

Jorogumo spider woman
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The Jorōgumo is a shapeshifting and magical spider that can live for thousands of years. When it reaches the age of 400, it gains special skills to seduce, ensnare, and eat young men. It particularly likes to invite handsome men home and weave them into its web. While some Jorōgumo like to eat their victims at ones, others keep them in their web and gradually consume them.

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These spiders can’t be easily killed or poisoned, and they reign over other smaller species. The Jorōgumo’s guarded by the fire-breathing spiders, who ensure to snuff out any rebellion or protest against their chief.

Characteristics of the Jorōgumo

In their spider form, the Jorōgumo are usually between two to three centimeters long. They can grow much larger depending on their age and diet. These spiders have beautiful, colorful, and vibrant bodies. But their primary strength lies in their threads, which are strong enough to hold a fully grown man.

These creatures usually live in caves, forests, or empty houses. They are extremely intelligent creatures, who can seduce a man with their conversational skills. They are also known to be indifferent, cruel, emotionless, and heartless.  

A person can identify a Jorōgumo, by looking at its reflection. Even in its human form, if placed against a mirror, it will resemble a spider.

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The Real Jorōgumo

Jorogumo spider

The Jorōgumo is the actual name for a real species of spider known as Nephila clavate. These spiders grow large, with the females’ body reaching sizes up to 2.5cm. Although the Jorōgumo is found in many places in Japan, the island of Hokkaido is an exception, where there are no traces of this spider.

This species of spider became associated with eerie stories and supernatural myths because of their size and the meaning of the name.

Jorōgumo in Japanese Folklore

During the Edo period, there were numerous stories written about the Jorōgumo. Works such as the Taihei-Hyakumonogatari and Tonoigusa featured several tales where the Jorōgumo transformed into beautiful women, and ensnared young men.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ancient myths that feature the Jorōgumo.

Things That Ought to be Pondered, Even in Urgent Times

In this story, a young and beautiful woman asked the child she was carrying to go and embrace a man, whom she claimed to be his father.

However, the intelligent man didn’t fall for the woman’s trickery, and he understood that she was a shapeshifter in disguise. The warrior unsheathed his sword and struck her.  The woman then headed to the attic and stayed there.

The next morning, the villagers searched the attic and found a dead jorōgumo, and its eaten victims.

The Legend of Kashikobuchi, Sendai

In the legend of Kashikobuchi, Sendai, there was a jorōgumo who resided in a waterfall. However, the people of the province were aware of its existence, and cleverly used a tree stump as a decoy. Due to this reason, the jorōgumo threads could only manage to grasp the stump and pull it into the water. Once when the jorōgumo understood that it was being deceived, it responded with the words clever, clever. The Japanese term, Kashikobuchi, originates from this myth, and it means clever abyss.

People worshipped and built shrines for the jorōgumo of this waterfall, because it was believed to prevent floods and other water related disasters.

How Magoroku Was Deceived by a Jorōgumo

A man in the Okayama prefecture was getting ready to take a nap. But just as he was about to sleep, a middle-aged woman appeared. The woman claimed that her young daughter was infatuated with him. She then invited the man to see the girl. The man reluctantly accepted and when he reached the location where the girl was, the young girl asked him to marry her.

The man refused because he was already married to another woman. However, the girl was very persistent and continued to pester him.  She told him that she was willing to marry him, even though he had almost murdered her mother.  Shocked and stunned at her words, the man fled from the estate.

When he reached his own porch, he narrated these events to his wife. However, his wife reassured him by saying that it was nothing more than a dream. At that moment, the man saw a small jorō spider,  and realized that it was this creature that he had tried to chase two days ago.

The Jōren Falls of Izu

In the Shizuoka prefecture there was an enchanted waterfall called the Jōren Falls, where a jorōgumo lived.  

One day, a weary man stopped by to rest near the waterfall. The jorōgumo tried to snatch and drag the man into the water. She made a web to ensnare him, but the man was clever, and he wound the threads around a tree instead. So she dragged that into the water, and the man escaped. However, news of this event reached far and wide, and no one dared to venture near the falls.  

But one day, an ignorant woodcutter went near the falls. When he was trying to cut a tree, he accidentally dropped his favorite axe into the water. Before he could comprehend what had happened, a beautiful woman appeared and handed the axe back to him. But she implored him not to tell anyone about her.

Although the woodcutter tried to keep this a secret, the burden was too much for him to bear. And one day, when he was in a drunken state, he shared the story with his friends.

From here onwards, the story has three different endings. In the first version, the woodcutter shared the story, and fell asleep. Because he had broken his word, he passed away in his slumber. In the second version, an invisible string pulled him, and his body was discovered at the falls. In the third version, he fell in love with the jorōgumo, and was eventually sucked into the water by the spider’s threads.

The Jorōgumo in Popular Culture

The Jorōgumo appears frequently in works of fiction. In the book In Darkness Unmasked, the Jorōgumo appears as the antagonist, who kills female musicians, takes on their appearance, and mates with male musicians.  

In the animated show Wasurenagumo, the protagonist’s a young Jorōgumo child. She’s sealed inside a book by a priest, and is released later, to embark on an adventure.

In Brief

The Jorōgumo is one of the most dangerous shapeshifters in Japanese mythology. Even today, people are warned against such creatures, who take on the appearance of a  strange and beautiful woman.

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Yordan Zhelyazkov
Yordan Zhelyazkov

Yordan Zhelyazkov is a published fantasy author and an experienced copywriter. While he has degrees in both Creative Writing and Marketing, much of his research and work are focused on history and mythology. He’s been working in the field for years and has amassed a great deal of knowledge on Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, Japanese mythology, and others.