Background Information

Alternative name: O Tokoyo San [6]
Origin: Japanese Mythology, Japanese Legend
Dragons Slain: Yofune-Nushi

Background: During the reign of Hojo Takatoki in the early fourteenth century A.D., [14,15] there lived a young woman named Tokoyo. Her family resided in the Shima Province, where many earned their living from the sea. [6] She could paddle and knew something of water vessels. [7] She was a perfect swimmer, [10] and she had been brought up among the divers of her country. [9] As a child, she loved to swim and dive with the Ama, even though the work carried the risk of death. [6]

Her father was a samurai named Oribe Shima. [6] Like many women of her position in those days, Tokoyo studied jujitsu and fencing and became skilled in both. [10] She was very brave, as she was willing to fight and die to protect and save another's life. [10]

When she was eighteen years old, her father offended Hojo Takatoki, [1] and so was banished to the Oki Islands, [6] specifically Kamishima ('Holy Island'). [1] The Oki Islands were forty-five miles (72.4 km) from the mainland of Hoki Province. [5] Forced from his home, [6] Oribe had to leave his beloved daughter behind. [2]

As her father was her only living family, Tokoyo became miserable without him, for she loved him very dearly. [2] After much suffering, she resolved to risk everything to reunite with her father. [2,6]

Tokoyo sold all she could, including her property, [6] for money and supplies, all in preparation for a long journey. [2] She traveled for many weeks to the Hoki Province, finally arriving at a place on the sea called Akasaki. [7] On clear days, the coastal towns of the Oki Islands could be viewed from Akasaki. [2,7]

However, it was forbidden to visit anyone banished, [7] and no one was allowed to transport her to the Oki Islands to look for her father. [2] Everyone she asked advised her to forget her quest and return home, [2,7] but she refused. One night, she took a light vessel [2] and crossed the waters on her own under the cover of night. [7] But even on the Oki Islands, no one would help her find her father. [2,7] So she wandered from one place to another, subsisting on charity as she continued her search. [2,7]

It was during this time of despair that Tokoyo encountered the dragon Yofune-Nushi.

Tokoyo, the Dragon Slayer

Every year on the Day of the Dog, June 13, a sacrificial ceremony took place. A local priest would bless a young maiden of fifteen years and take her to the cliffs. After nightfall, the girl would be pushed into the waters below to satisfy the evil serpent Yofune-Nushi, lest he raise terrible storms that cost many lives. [8]

It was the eighth year of this annual sacrifice that Tokoyo took a nightly refuge at a nearby Buddhist shrine. She was so close that the maiden's weeping woke her up. [2,8] When she investigated the noise, she met the maiden and priest, who explained the desperate situation. [8,9]

Tokoyo resolved to save the young girl, and every future girl who might suffer the same fate. [2,8] She explained her situation to the priest and asked to take the girl's place. [3,9] In return, all she requested was that the priest deliver a letter she had written to her father [9] so that her last words of love and farewell would go to him. [3]

Then she took the maiden's ceremonial dress and put it on herself [3,9] and prayed before the figure of Buddha for the courage, the strength to defeat Yofune-Nushi. [9] Then she took a small dagger, [3] placed it between her teeth, and jumped into the sea. [9] She kept diving down through the dark waters until she came to an underwater cave. She perceived the shape of a man within [3] but soon discovered that it was a wooden statue in the likeness of Hojo Takatoki, [10] the man who banished her father.

The cavern was decorated with shells, pearls, and phosphorescent lights, [10] but no one else living was there.

Tokoyo decided to take the statue with her to the surface. She undid one of her girdles and wrapped it around the figure, [10] but before she could leave, the monster appeared. [3]

Yofune-Nushi had an enormous serpentine body with legs, [11] and he undulated slowly towards her. [10] His eyes burned with fire and that all his features, down to his scales, were a pale white. [3] But Tokoyo was unmoved by his size or shape; instead, she recognized him as the monster that had incurred the deaths of seven young girls. [11]

The dragon, upon spying the ceremonial cloths, no doubt thought that this girl was his tribute. [11] So she waited.

When the dragon was within six feet of her, Tokoyo showed him who she was. She darted sideways [11] and struck out his right eye with her dagger. [3] Disoriented by the blow, Yofune-Nushi attempted a retreat, but the blood from the wound flowed into his left eye, nearly blinding him. [11] Perceiving this weakness, Tokoyo followed him and stuck a second blow, [3,11] this time plunging her dagger into his heart. [3] She was far too agile and clever for the dragon, [3,11] who died near the entrance of his own cavern. [11]

Tokoyo, having slain the monster, realized that she must prove that the dragon was dead. So she took the remains of Yofune-Nushi and the wooden statue to the surface. [11,12]

The entire adventure, from her dive into the sea to her return to the surface, took half an hour. [12]

The Rewards of Bravery

When Tokoyo reached the surface, the remains of the serpent and the wooden figure encumbered her. The priest and the maiden, having kept watch since the moment she leapt, came to her aid. [3,12]

The maiden went for more help. [12] The priest took the statue and placed it on a high rock [3] and secured the dragon's remains with his own girdle. [12]

Others appeared and moved the statue and remains to a safe place in their village. [12]

In time, the word of Tokoyo's adventure reached the lord of the island, a man named Tameyoshi, [3] who then reported to Hojo Takatoki. [4]

Takatoki had long suffered an illness that defied even the best physicians, and his recovery was just as mysterious. [4,12] Someone had carved his image into a statue, cursed it, and dropped it into the sea where Yofune-Nushi would guard it. In this way, Takatoki became afflicted with illness. [4,13]

But when Tokoyo returned the wooden figure to the surface, the curse broke [13] that very hour and the ruler's health returned. [4]

When Takatoki heard the story, he made inquiries, and he discovered the brave woman who saved him was Tokoyo, [4] the daughter of his old enemy Oribe Shima, who he had banished and put in prison. [13] Takatoki ordered his immediate release, [13] and Tokoyo and her father returned to their own country in Shima Province. [4]

People received them with joy, as the story of Tokoyo's adventure had been widely spread. They were so loved that, even though Tokoyo had sold everything she owned before she left, they returned to an estate where many men dedicated their work until their home was properly restored. [13]

To commemorate the event a small shrine was built on the Oki Islands, named the Tomb of the White Sea Serpent. [13]

Quick Facts

  • Tokoyo freed those living on Kamishima ('Holy Island') from the terror of Yofune-Nushi. [1,13]
  • She sold everything she had to reunite with her father. [2,6]
  • She knew how to swim and dive down into the depths. [6,10]
  • She was well trained in jujitsu and fencing. [10]
  • She offered to take a young maiden's place to save her life, [3,9] and, if she could, the lives of every other maiden that would be sacrificed after her. [2,8]
  • After Tokoyo blinded Yofune-Nushi, she stabbed through his heart [3,11] and brought his remains to the surface. [12]
  • She also brought a wooden statue in the likeness of Hojo Takatoki to the surface with her, which lifted a curse put on the ruler. [12]
  • Having freed the islanders from the dragon and destroying the curse on Hojo Takatoki, she became a famous heroine. [12,13]
  • She and her father, Oribe Shima, were allowed to return home. [4,13]

Related Articles

Term Reference

n. The Ama are skilled divers that collect pearls, seaweed, shellfish, and other maritime necessities. As an ancient practice, the Ama are trained to descend into the deep without equipment. The majority of Ama divers are women.
Hojo Takatoki
n. Hojo Takatoki (1303-1333) was a shikken (regent) of the Kamakura Shogunate. He reigned from 1316 to 1326.
Ama n. The Ama are skilled divers that collect pearls, seaweed, shellfish, and other maritime necessities. As an ancient practice, the Ama are trained to descend into the deep without equipment. The majority of Ama divers are women.
Hojo Takatoki n. Hojo Takatoki (1303-1333) was a shikken (regent) of the Kamakura Shogunate. He reigned from 1316 to 1326.


  1. Davis 333
  2. Davis 334
  3. Davis 335
  4. Davis 336
  5. Smith [Japan] 101
  6. Smith [Japan] 102
  7. Smith [Japan] 103
  8. Smith [Japan] 104
  9. Smith [Japan] 105
  10. Smith [Japan] 106
  11. Smith [Japan] 107
  12. Smith [Japan] 108
  13. Smith [Japan] 109
  14. Deal [Japan] 92
  15. Deal [Japan] 100

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.