The tale of the first samurai whose severed head still terrorises Tokyoites today is the story of the city itself
A Tokyo bank once opened an account in the name of a man who had been dead for 1,000 years.
The bank was a branch of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (now part of MUFG, the largest bank in Japan), which looked out over a neighbouring lot that contained the grave where the man was buried. The bank employees were reportedly instructed not to open any windows to the mans grave, nor to turn their backs on it, even when at their desks; the account was set up to placate him.
The figure? Taira no Masakado, a rebellious warrior who was killed in 940AD but whose spirit has terrorised the region ever since. How Masakado became such a malevolent symbol to ordinary Tokyoites is the story of the city itself, and its centuries of violence, superstition and coincidence.
At the time of Masakados death, the region now known as Tokyo was little more than mudflats and plains of high reeds. Japan was ruled from far-away Kyoto literally the Capital while the Tokyo area was the lawless north, the destination for younger sons, bastards and outcasts who were packed off to the frontier. These borderland warlords called themselves the samurai those who serve and boasted of their lifelong loyalty to the throne.
Mostly. Masakado was the first glimmering of a shift in power away from Kyoto and towards these new warriors. One day, announcing that the Sun Goddess had chosen him, he proclaimed himself emperor, killed a local governor and seized two northern provinces. Shocked by his treachery, the real emperor put a price on his head, which one of Masakados cousins soon collected. Dead or alive, however, the damage had been done: Masakado had challenged the sovereigns divine authority.