A Baptist Exorcism Story from Japan

I’ve always loved Halloween. No doubt, my delight in the holiday takes on new meaning as I see it through my children’s eyes. But I still celebrate it in my own way as well. At this time of year, I marinate in accounts of the mysterious and anomalous. I step away from mundane concerns and responsibilities so as to become re-enchanted by stirrings of a deeper reality.

I was listening to an episode of The Paranormal Podcast featuring Joseph P. Laycock, a religious studies scholar at Texas State University. Laycock is the editor of a recently-published anthology of primary sources on exorcism: The Penguin Book of Exorcisms. During the interview, Laycock mentioned a report from a Baptist missionary in Japan in the year 1900. I opened the work on Google Books preview and found this story, located on pages 197-202.

Traditional Japanese lore attributes paranormal abilities to the fox, including the phenomenon of kitsune-tsuki, or the possession of a human host by the spirit of a fox. As Laycock notes, reports of kitsune-tsuki have occurred even in modern times. One is provided by the Baptist missionary Harriet M. Browne and was published in a periodical called “The Japan Evangelist” in May 1900. Browne, unsurprisingly, interpreted the possession state she witnessed to have been of demonic rather than vulpine origin.

The victim was a 15-year old girl named Nishiyama Tsugi, a runaway who had ended up at the orphanage where Browne worked. Like other accounts of demonic possession, Browne reports that Tsugi exhibited superhuman strength:

We tried to bind her, but could not, as she showed such strength, and it took several to manage her.

Browne reproduces an apparent dialogue voiced by Tsugi between the kitsune and a local patron deity complaining about her misbehavior. Recognizing that readers may find the story to be comical or absurd, Browne avers:

It may sound only amusing written down; but I assure you to see the evil face and actions, and hear the evil spirits as they in turn use a human being to say and do what they will, the face and voice changing with the speaker – to have indisputable, visible, and audible evidence before one that demons are in one’s house, tormenting and using at their will one of us, who but a half hour ago was laughting and talking with the rest, is a fearful experience that is apt to shake even pretty strong nerves.

In a subsequent incident, Tsugi’s appearance seemingly shape-shifted before Browne’s eyes, “becoming distorted into a resemblance to foxes.” She spoke as a spirit requesting an offering of a rice ball before departing the body. Browne responded, “This house and all in it belongs to our God Jehovah. We will never give so much as one rice grain to such as you.” Then she commanded the removal of the possessing spirits in the name of Jesus. With these words, the account comes to a close.

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