There exists a poem that you must not read out loud. That poem is called Tomino’s Hell. This poem is the work of Saijou Yaso, a popular poet who worked on children’s nursery rhymes and popular song lyrics. The poem is recorded in the poetry collection Sakin.
If you read it out loud, you will meet with misfortune. In reality, people have claimed to feel ill whilst reading this poem, so I recommend those who are weak to self-suggestion to read the poem silently.
I will leave it up to you how you perceive the poem itself.
You will find it below.
His older sister vomits blood, and his younger sister vomits fire,
And the cute Tomino vomits his soul.
Tomino falls into Hell alone,
The darkness of Hell where even flowers don’t bloom.
Is it Tomino’s older sister wielding the whip?
The blood on the whip weighs on his mind.
Beating and striking yet not hitting at all,
There is but a single road to the eighth and most painful Hell.
Would you request guidance into the darkness of Hell,
From the golden sheep, or the nightingale?
Put as much as you can into the leather sack,
In preparation for the journey into the most painful of Hells.
Spring comes to the forest and the valley,
And to the seven twisting valleys of dark Hell.
The nightingale in the cage, the sheep in the cart,
And tears in the eyes of cute Tomino.
Cry, nightingale, in the forest rains,
He screams as loud as he can in yearning for his younger sister.
The cries echo throughout Hell,
And the buttercup blooms.
Through the seven mountains and seven valleys of Hell,
The cute Tomino’s solo journey.
If they are in Hell, bring them,
The mountain of pins and needles.
The red pins don’t stand out,
As a sign leading to cute Tomino.
Ane wa chi wo haku, imoto wa hibaku,
Kawaii Tomino wa tama wo haku.
Hitori jigoku ni ochiyuku Tomino,
Jigoku kurayami hana mo naki.
Muchi de tataku wa tomino no ane ka,
Muchi no shubusa ga ki ni kakaru.
Tatakeya tatakiyare tatakazu totemo,
Mugen jigoku wa hitotsu michi.
Kurai jigoku e anai wo tanomu,
Kane no hitsuji ni, uguisu ni.
Kawa no fukuro niya ikura hodo ireyo,
Mugen jigoku no tabijitaku.
Haru ga kite soro hayashi ni tani ni,
Kurai jigoku tani nana magari.
Kago niya uguisu, kuruma niya hitsuji,
Kawaii tomino no me niya namida.
Nakeyo, uguisu, hayashi no ame ni
Imouto koishi to koe kagiri.
Nakeba kodama ga jigoku ni hibiki,
Kitsune botan no hana ga saku.
Jigoku nanayama nanatani meguru,
Kawaii tomino no hitoritabi.
Jigoku gozaraba mote kite tamore,
Hari no oyama no tomebari wo.
Akai tomebari date ni wa sasanu,
Kawaii tomino no mejirushini.
Tomino’s Hell, or Tomino no Jigoku, was written by poet Saijou Yaso in the 1919 poetry collection Sakin. He was 26 at the time. On the surface, the poem is about a person named Tomino and their journey through hell. It’s said that if you read the poem out loud, then you will either die or suffer from a great catastrophe. In 1983, a director by the name of Terayama Shuji made a film based on the poem and later died, which was how rumours of the poem being cursed first came about.
But why is the poem cursed? Who is Tomino and why is he or she in Hell?
Even for Japanese speakers, the true meaning behind Tomino’s Hell can be difficult to understand. There are countless blog entries and forum posts where readers ask others what the poem means, and if any of them have been brave enough to read it out loud. There are several interpretations, and it’s up to the reader to decide for themselves what the poem means to them. I’ve included the Japanese lyrics in romaji above to go with my original translation, as I found most of the available English translations on the internet to be lacking. There appears to be a lot of misleading information about this particular legend in English, so let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.
At face level this is a poem about Tomino travelling through hell. Who is Tomino? The gender is never mentioned in Japanese, nor is Tomino a common name particular to boys or girls. It can be deduced from the poem that Tomino is a male, however, as expressed by his love for his younger sister. There’s more, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The poem begins by letting the reader know that Tomino has thrown up his tama. This is the first important point. The kanji used in the poem are the characters for ‘treasure.’ The reading given for those kanji, however, is tama, expresses ‘balls’ or ‘beads.’ This is on purpose, as it’s meant to draw a parallel to tamashii, one’s spirit. Tomino has thrown up his spirit. He has lost his soul, and thus he begins his descent into Hell.
Yet Tomino is not travelling through Hell; not literally, anyway. It is largely believed that the poem is a metaphor for war. His older sister spits up blood; she is passionately encouraging him to fight for their country and win the war. His younger sister spits up fire; she is encouraging him in her own innocent way as he sets out. Then Tomino spits up his tama; he is presenting his life for the cause. The poem repeatedly refers to Tomino as cute, letting the reader know this is only a young man, still innocent himself when he sets out.
Much of the imagery presented throughout the rest of the poem draws allusions to the battlefield and the horrors present within. He sees the buttercups, those flowers that often grow between the rice fields back home. The poem mentions him hitting and beating and yet not striking at all, reminding us of the fruitlessness of it all. He cries for his younger sister, and as he travels through the seven valleys of Hell to reach the last, the eighth and most painful, he suffers more and more.
Something that gets lost in translation is the last few lines. The ‘red pins’ signify the senninbari that soldiers used to wear into war. This was a piece of white cloth, usually a metre long, that was sewn with a thousand red stitches from a thousand different women. Different patterns and slogans could be sewn in, and the soldiers wore them as good luck and a sign of devotion to the women they left behind. They were supposed to give the wearer courage, good luck, and immunity from injury. These were generally made by the soldier’s family; their mothers, sisters, girlfriends or wives. These women would traditionally stand near temples, stations or other busy areas of town and ask passing women to sew a single stitch, although in later periods, such as WWII, these were made en masse by thousands of women at once and then posted to soldiers already at war.
So this senninbari is not just a sign of good luck, it’s also supposed to be an identifying mark, a mejirishi; should Tomino die on the battlefield, they can identify him by his senninbari and return him to his family. The final lines mention that his senninbari does not ‘stand out,’ however, and it’s left to the reader to imagine why. If Tomino is unable to be identified, that means first of all that he has likely died in battle, and secondly that he won’t be returned to his family. Suddenly the poem takes on an entirely different meaning, one even scarier than the literal reading of traversing through Hell.
BECOMING A LEGEND
In 1974, a movie called Denen ni Shisu (To Die in the Countryside) was released. It was written and directed by Terayama Shuji, and he took a lot of inspiration from Tomino’s Hell when making the film. When he later died, people claimed it was because of that poem. There were also rumours of a female university student who died after reading it.
Yet in reality, Tomino’s Hell did not become the urban legend it is today until 2004. In the book Kokoro wa Korogaru Ishi no you ni, author Yomota Inuhiko claimed “If you by chance happen to read this poem out loud, after you will suffer from a terrible fate which cannot be escaped.” Even though people have been reading Tomino’s Hell out loud since 1919, it wasn’t until 2004 that one person claimed that it was cursed. While Yomota only claimed that one would suffer a terrible fate, rumours of Terayama and the university student were also floating around at the time, so it didn’t take long for the legend to mutate and turn into “read this poem out loud and you will die.” Never mind that Terayama died nine years after his film was made, and no-one knew who this female university student was. The poem’s creator, Saijou Yaso, lived to the ripe old age of 78 himself, 51 years after creating and presumably reading the poem out loud countless times during his life.