Most people know Jiraiya, Tsunade and Orochimaru from the Naruto series. But did you know that these characters were originally from “Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari” a 200 year old folklore?
Here are the origins, story, character profile and early movies of Jiraiya, Tsunade and Orochimaru.
Origins of Jiraiya, Tsunade & Orochimaru
Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari (児雷也豪傑物語; “The Heroic Tales of Jiraiya” or “Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya”) was first published in 1839. Over the next 29 years (till 1868), it became a popular series of 43 illustrated novels completed by 4 different authors.
If you thought Naruto was draggy, this story took 10 years longer to complete.
Yet, the inspiration for Jiraiya has its origins in old legend in Song-era China. This bandit, whose real name is unknown, was a heroic bandit whose deeds were similar to Robin Hood. The only reason he was called 自来也 (zi lai ye – mandarin pronunciation), was because he’d leave those characters in graffiti at places he robbed. Those characters translate to: “I was here”.
When that bandit legend made it to the Japanese novel, elements of shape-shifting magic and ninja mysticism was added. The Japanese Jiraiya’s name in kanji later became 児雷也 (young thunder).
So, after the series was completed, part of the story was adapted for the kabuki theatre in 1852.
Here is the kabuki version of The Tale of the Gallant Jiraiya. Enjoy this Japanese ninja folklore…
Story Time: The Tale of The Gallant Jiraiya
In this kabuki summary, the demonic giant snake spirit was the cause of misery for the Tsukikage, Ogata and Matsuura clan – in which Orochimaru (大蛇丸), Jiraiya (自来也 or 児雷也) and Tsunade (綱手) belonged to respectively.
A long time ago, there existed an evil giant snake spirit that preyed on humans. This demonic snake spirit had ambitions to gain power over all of Japan.
For that to happen, it decided to take control of the influential Tsukikage clan, whose feudal domain was Echigo province. Their leader – Tsukikage Gunryo Miyukinosuke – was also the regent of the Shogunate (feudal government of Japan) and crucial to the evil snake’s plan.
The Giant Snake Spirit takes over the Tsukikage Clan
On that fateful day, the snake spirit attacked Lord Tsukikage Miyukinosuke. Had it not been for Orochimaru who came out of nowhere to intervene, the lord of Echigo and regent would have died.
Therefore, out of indebtedness, Lord Miyukinosuke adopted Orochimaru as a son. This was a huge mistake for it sealed the fate of the Tsukikage, Ogata and Matsuura clans.
Unbeknownst to Lord Miyukinosuke, the demonic snake spirit had possessed Orochimaru and he was merely a puppet from the start. The snake spirit and Orochimaru had staged the attack and rescue. And the lord of Echigo effectively adopted the evil snake into his clan.
Over time, the snake manipulated the lord into murdering all of his offspring, leaving Orochimaru as his sole successor.
Massacre of the Ogata & Matsuura clans
The Ogata and Matsuura clans held two powerful seals (i.e. insignia stamps) in trust for the feudal government. Documents marked by these seals were proof of the Shogun’s support to raise an army and navy fleet.
The giant snake spirit wanted the power afforded by those seals, and needed the two powerful clans out of the way.
As a result, Lord Miyukinosuke first led the shogunate into believing that their allies were staging a coup. He then tricked the two clans into giving up their seals before obliterating them. His forces then threw the infants Jiraiya and Tsunade down the cliff, thereby eliminating the two respective successors of the Ogata and Matsura.
Luckily, a hermit by the name of Senso Dojin saved and raised them.
Training Jiraiya & Tsunade to defeat Orochimaru
Determined to avenge their clans and restore the tarnished honour, Senso Dojin began to train Jiraiya and Tsunade respectively in shape-shifting magic of the toad and slug.
However, the three-way deadlock was a problem. Snake magic surpassed toad magic; toad magic surpassed slug magic; slug magic could defeat snake magic. The key to defeating Orochimaru, was to use the Nakirimaru sword (wave-cutting sword).
First Battle against Orochimaru
In their first battle, Orochimaru fought and severely wounded Jiraiya. Fortunately, Tsunade arrived in time and saved Jiraiya with her prodigious used of slug magic. While he escaped death, the wounds were serious enough to disable Jiraiya.
The only antidote was the blood of a maiden who was born in the year, day and hour of the snake.
A Sister’s Sacrifice to Save Her Brother
Jiraiya and Tsunade continued their search for the sword. As they entered the Echigo province, they met Ayame of all people, the adoptive daughter of the Tsukikage clan.
Jiraiya then made a surprising discovery that Ayame was his sister (spared during the clan’s massacre).
Realising that she was the maiden born in the year of the snake, she stabbed herself as a sacrifice to save her brother. Her blood was the antidote. And with her sacrifice, she ensured that Jiraiya and Tsunade could take revenge and reinstate the two clans.
Jiraiya was fully healed.
Years pass when both Jiraiya and Tsunade finally found the Nakimaru (wave-cutting sword) at Hell Valley.
Together they cornered Orochimaru with the sword and exorcised the demonic spirit. The misunderstanding over the Ogata and Matsura clan was cleared. And the Shogunate reinstated their clans.
Since the demonic snake was exorcised, Orochimaru was no longer possessed. He was pardoned for his crimes at Jiraiya’s request to the Shogun.
Note: This kabuki play was written by Kawatake Shinshichi II and summarised by Watanabe Hisao. There are other versions – closer to the original – where Orochimaru was the former disciple of Jiraiya.
Characters in Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari
The character profiles may have discrepancies as there are different versions of the folklore. For full movies related to the Jiraiya folklore, scroll to the next section.
|Name||Jiraiya (自来也 or 児雷也), Ogata Hiroyuki|
|Status||Successor of the Ogata clan in Kyushu. In some versions of the folklore, he was a bandit leader and his master was the giant toad spirit.|
|Name||Tsunade or Tsunate (綱手)|
|Status||Princess of the Matsuura clan. In some versions, she was taught slug magic by the giant slug spirit.|
|Name||Orochimaru (大蛇丸) or Yashagoro (夜叉五郎)|
|Clan||adopted into Tsukikage (in the Kabuki version)|
|Clan||Ogata & also adopted into Tsukikage (in the Kabuki version)|
|Powers||Her blood was the antidote to snake magic|
|Name||Tsukikage Gunryo Miyukinosuke|
Unknown (assumed to be well-versed in toad and slug magic)
In other versions, Senso Dojin does not appear in the folklore. Instead, the giant toad spirit and giant slug spirit are the ones to train Jiraiya and Tsunade respectively in shape-shifting magic.
Jiraiya in Pop Culture
Besides the kabuki theatre, the original series clearly inspired numerous modern adaptations in film and anime. Here are a few.
Jiraiya the Brave (Silent Film) in 1921
Also known as Goketsu Jiraiya, this short silent film has kabuki-style action scenes. There may also have been an accompanying narration when it premiered in the past, but that can no longer be found. The battle scenes are comical.
The Magic Serpent in 1966
George Lucas’s Star Wars movies was said to have a plot similar to this film, The Magic Serpent (Kairyu Daikessen).
This video happens to be the full movie, dubbed in English. Watch it if you have the time.
Naruto – Jiraiya, Tsunade & Orochimaru
In the Naruto series, Jiraiya, Tsunade and Orochimaru are extremely prodigious ninja who have the ability to summon toads, slugs and snakes respectively. They were former team-mates until Orochimaru betrayed the village. This is a battle scene, similar to what you might expect in the original folklore.
With that, the report on the original Jiraiya, Tsunade and Orochimaru has come to an end. Another version of the Jiraiya folklore will be posted next week.
Blair, Jeff, and Watanabe Hisao. “Jiraiya Gôketsu Monogatari.” JIRAIYA. http://www.kabuki21.com/jiraiya.php. Summary of Jiraiya Gôketsu Monogatari in Kabuki form
Boehm, Jasmin. “Musings V – Adaptation in Japanese (Pop) Culture.” Japan Powered. Accessed August 30, 2016. http://www.japanpowered.com/anime-articles/musings-v-adaptation-in-japanese-pop-culture.
Very cool! I’ve enjoyed myths and legends pretty much all my life. Thanks for sharing this one!
You’re welcome, Joelle! I too enjoy cultural folklores.