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I don’t know if it’s related to the occult or not, but this story is about the origin of my family name.
When you head out into the countryside, it’s not uncommon to find close groupings of houses all with the same last name. Out where I lived was made up of mostly the same two or three last names as well.
Ah, I should have said this earlier, but my last name is Sueyoshi. People often mistake it for Suekichi, but it’s actually read Sueyoshi. Apparently this is a really common surname in the Kyushu area, but I’m not from there.
So, all of the houses around us had the same last name, but we alone were the Sueyoshis. When I was younger I didn’t really think much about it. I thought it was convenient for us because that meant the post office never confused us, and maybe our family had only moved into the village in fairly recent history.
When I was in junior high school, I was watching a program about the meaning of last names and I casually asked my grandfather, “Where does our last name come from?”
His face suddenly looked troubled. Then he slowly started to speak after considering my question for a moment.
“Well, this is related to you to after all…”
It started long ago, back when farmers still didn’t even have last names. The village our ancestors lived in was located in the mountains, so it wasn’t suitable for farming. People made their way getting enough food for themselves and that was it.
Yet one year the crops failed, and people gradually started dying one by one from starvation. The villagers, desperate and clutching at straws, had a shaman pray for a bountiful crop for them.
“If you wish for a bountiful crop,” the shaman said, “Then once a legitimate child is born to this village, you must cut its head off, tie the body to the highest point of the highest tree in the village, and then bury the head in the dirt by its roots.”
Then he continued.
“Once you begin, you must sacrifice one legitimate child each generation. If you don’t, the crops will fail once more, so you mustn’t ever stop,” he warned them.
Before long, our ancestors were the first to give birth to a legitimate child. They hesitated, of course, but the other villagers persuaded them to go through with the ritual, and so reluctantly, they did.
The following year saw the most bountiful harvest ever, and there was no more starvation after that. Our ancestors fell pregnant once again not too long after, and they lived peacefully with the rest of the grateful villagers.
However, once their second-born son got married and his wife got pregnant, the shaman returned to the village.
“You didn’t forget, did you? You must continue the ritual for each generation.”
The villagers once again persuaded our ancestors to go through with the ritual, and so they cut the child’s head off, hung the body from the tree, and buried the head in the ground.
The sacrifices continued each generation after that, yet for better or worse, our family line ceaselessly continued. Then, several generations after it began, one of our ancestors decided that they’d had enough. The other villagers tried to persuade them to keep going, but they refused.
Perhaps they felt that we should no longer bear the burden after sacrificing so many children over so many generations, but that ancestor did exactly as they said and they stopped the ritual.
Yet the other villagers couldn’t just ignore the warning of the shaman, and so as our ancestor stopped the ritual, they went to consult yet another shaman.
“The curse from this ritual is incredibly strong and difficult to break,” he said. “Even if we can break it, the malice of the children sacrificed will continue to plague their family for generations to come.”
After praying, the shaman cut down the tree used in the sacrifices. The following year didn’t see a failed crop, but the eldest son of our ancestors died.
After that, the eldest legitimate son from each generation of our family line was either stillborn or died while still young. In reality, both my grandfather and my father were also second sons, meaning that they should have had older brothers, yet they both died when they were young.
I’m the oldest son though and I’m still alive, although unmarried, and my younger brother is married with a child, so maybe the curse has been broken now?
Either way, back to the story of our surname. So that our ancestors never forgot the ritual they had to carry out, they chose the surname Sueyoshi. Sue for the top of the tree they had to hang the body from, and Yoshi for the ground below they had to bury the head in.
That’s the meaning behind our family’s surname.
When I was a child I was raised with almost excessive care, so looking back on it now, that was probably why. Although I’d like to think the pain I’ve started to feel in my neck recently is just all in my head.