Discussed many times before, urban legends take place in a variety of ways. It usually consists of fictional stories, often thought of as true in popular, local culture. Some legends are fact-based, with embellished elements to “sell” the story. Some legends are told with light-hearted tones, while others escalate fairly quickly, taking a darker path, becoming a warning to those foolish enough to test the limits. 

In 1919, a poem with very dark tones, was rumored to be cursed. Saijō Yaso penned the highly interpreted, “Tomino’s Hell”, describing the path of a boy named Tomino, damned for unnamed, unspeakable acts which leads him through “Hell”. 

Tomino’s Hell was originally found in a collection of published works, by Saijō Yaso, called the “Sakin” or ‘Gold Dust’. Yaso, a Japanese university professor, who lived in France for a time, was heavily inspired by the country’s poets. Though his target audience was often children, some of his works included eerie symbolism, and articulated in a disturbing manner. 

Although unclear exactly how this seemingly ordinary poem began its dark shadowy history, the rumors and whispers started to circulate after the 1983 death of director and screenwriter, Shuji Terayama. Shuji took inspiration from the poem to make the film, “Video Letter”, a lauded, yet unnerving film that records the videotaped correspondence between Shuji Terayama and his acquaintance, the famous modern poet, Shuntaro Tanikawa in the months before Terayama’s death. Months later, reports of a female college student, who died while reading the poem aloud in class. Those rumors dissipated for a time, until the poem’s revival in 1998, when writer, Inuhiko Yomata, included it in his book, “The Heart Is Like A Rolling Stone”, with the foreboding description: “If you by chance happen to read this poem out loud, after, you will suffer from a terrible fate from which cannot be escaped”.

Since it’s haunting debut, English translations, had been spotty, and loosely translated. It has been hotly debated for its metaphors, and some believe that the “Hell” Tomino journeys through, maybe symbolism for a wartime battlefield. It is said that for the curse to take effect, it must be spoken in its original form. Though, again, the details can become marred as it’s passed on. In 2014, an American poet, author, and translator, named David Bowles, provided the most accurate English version of the poem:

“Elder sister vomits blood,

younger sister’s breathing fire

while sweet little Tomino

just spits up the jewels.

All alone does Tomino

go falling into that hell,

a hell of utter darkness,

without even flowers.

Is Tomino’s big sister

the one who whips him?

The purpose of the scourging

hangs dark in his mind.

Lashing and thrashing him, ah!

But never quite shattering.

One sure path to Avici,

the eternal hell.

Into that blackest of hells

guide him now, I pray—

to the golden sheep,

to the nightingale.

How much did he put

in that leather pouch

to prepare for his trek to

the eternal hell?

Spring is coming

to the valley, to the wood,

to the spiraling chasms

of the blackest hell.

The nightingale in her cage,

the sheep aboard the wagon,

and tears well up in the eyes

of sweet little Tomino.

Sing, o nightingale,

in the vast, misty forest—

he screams he only misses

his little sister.

His wailing desperation

echoes throughout hell—

a fox peony

opens its golden petals.

Down past the seven mountains

and seven rivers of hell—

the solitary journey

of sweet little Tomino.

If in this hell they be found,

may they then come to me, please,

those sharp spikes of punishment

from Needle Mountain.

Not just on some empty whim

Is flesh pierced with blood-red pins:

they serve as hellish signposts

for sweet little Tomino.”

I haven’t read it aloud, yet, only through my mind’s voice. I have to make sure I have all my ‘ducks in a row’ before displeasing a vengeful spirit and contracting an ominous fate. Take the Pepsi challenge yourself but do so at your own risk. We don’t need someone haunting us afterwards, to moan about no warnings first. 

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