The Curse of the Fugitive Samurai 落人の祟り

Below is an excerpt from my article The Curse of the Fugitive Samurai: A Look at Social Stratification and Conflict in Rural Japan (for details see my Publications 研究業績)


The inhabitants of the inland village of Kogata situated in Japan’s Tōhoku region have for generations on end fought famine, flood, and fire in a climate that is widely-known as being less than hospitable. Their community along with its arable land is largely found wedged between thickly forested mountainous terrains. On the hilltops are the tobacco fields, and lined alongside the river that cuts across the village are the rice paddies on which the community’s few thousand residents have traditionally carved out a living. Today, less than 700 households form a village constituted of about thirty neighborhoods.

An entrance, or intrusion, into any given community by an “outsider” can be a cause of interest, concern, and possibly fear for the community’s inhabitants. Yoshida Teigo in his research on the “stranger” in connection to Japanese folk religion surmised that strangers are “unknown and unclassified” and therefore present a potential threat in both a “physical and mystical sense” (Yoshida 1981: 95). Such a thought-provoking appraisal of the relation held between, to borrow the words of Norbert Elias and John Scotson, “the established and the outsiders” leads us to ask, Is it possible for the outsider identity to linger on even though the outsiders themselves have become “known and classified,” being firmly entrenched within the social fabric of a community?

During the course of my research in Kogata, I discovered that in two neighboring hamlets a group of six households derived their status and authority from the peculiar circumstances surrounding their founding settlement in the village. They are known by the term Ochiudo (落人) which means fugitive samurai…