There are several rumors of deaths that some say resulted due to reading this particular piece out loud. These include a film director who made a movie titled Denen ni Shisu, released in 1974 that was based loosely around this poem and a university student. The mystery that’s been created around ‘Tomino’s Hell’ has allowed it to maintain cult popularity.
The poem uses intense and disturbing images to depict this journey. He falls as if truly entering hell, to the deepest level. He is made to suffer along the way,, and when he gets there, he cries out for his sisters and the warmer, joyous pre-war world he used to inhabit.
You can read the full poem in English and Japanese here.
‘Tomino’s Hell’ by Saijō Yaso was originally written in Japanese. Since the poem has been translated into English and it is that English version that will be analyzed in this article. The line breaks, any rhyme or half-rhyme, as well as examples of other literary techniques such as alliteration or repetition, may not have existed in the original version. In this particular translation, the text has been separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. There are in total thirteen. The version of ‘Tomino’s Hell’ used in this analysis was translated by David Bowles.
Stanzas One and Two
Elder sister vomits blood,
younger sister’s breathing fire
while sweet little Tomino
just spits up the jewels.
All alone does Tomino
go falling into that hell,
a hell of utter darkness,
without even flowers.
In the first stanzas of ‘Tomino’s Hell,’ the speaker introduces several strange and unusual images. These describe Tomino and his sisters fantastically, setting the tone for the rest of the poem. Tomino is throwing up his soul, or his “tama.” The second stanza informs the reader that the main character is on his way to hell. He falls alone into the “utter darkness.”
This brings in themes of solitude, loneliness, fear, darkness, and many others. The darkness is “without even flowers.” This is a very interesting addition to this stanza and may be interpreted by readers in several different ways. Most obviously, this new world, he’s entering into is one that is without any redeeming qualities.
While the poem might reference hell, some readers and translations have determined this piece to be a larger metaphor for war. He is not falling through a physical afterlife, but one that’s very much of our world. Tomino is young and is perhaps giving himself and his soul over to a cause. With this possible interpretation in mind, other aspects of the poem start to make more sense.
Stanzas Three and Four
Is Tomino’s big sister
the one who whips him?
One sure path to Avici,
the eternal hell.
In the next stanzas, the speaker goes on to ask a general question, they do not expect an answer, but it does provide the reader with some more background information. Someone whips Tomino, maybe it’s his big sister, maybe it’s someone else. He is tortured on this journey, lashed and thrashed about, but there’s nothing he can do to halt his journey “to Avici / the eternal hell.” Avici is an allusion to the lowest level of the Naraka or the realm of hell in Buddhism. It is where those who have committed the most terrible deeds end up.
The whipping appears futile or lacking in these lines. It is never quite hitting or shattering as if it is. In the end, it is purposeless. This could represent the efforts of Tomino in this possible war, fighting back against an enemy.
Stanzas Five and Six
Into that blackest of hells
guide him now, I pray—
to prepare for his trek to
the eternal hell?
In the next stanzas of ‘Tomino’s Hell,’ the speaker reemphasizes the fact that Tomino is headed for the worst place imaginable. The speaker also transitions into the first person, describing themselves praying for Tomino. Tomino is being punished, but for the reader, it is unclear why this is the case. The speaker describes praying to the “golden sheep” and the “nightingale.” Perhaps these are references to Tomino’s sisters or are symbols for something deeper and more metaphorical. They might refer simply to the world above, one that is defined by calmer, warmer, and more joyous imagery.
The sixth stanza alludes to the fact that Tomino knew he was going to hell and could’ve had some time to prepare for it. But, did he? The speaker is unsure, asking a rhetorical question of the reader. The journey is a “trek,” something that is very obvious at this point. There is no pleasure to be had on this trip.
Spring is coming
to the valley, to the wood,
to the spiraling chasms
of the blackest hell.
His wailing desperation
echoes throughout hell—
a fox peony
opens its golden petals.
The seventh and eighth stanzas bring in more images just as fantastical as those which have come before them. He cries for his sister or sisters during this period, and young Tomino continues to suffer. The youth’s desperation in these lines is the clearest of all the images. The speaker brings in another important one, though, that of buttercups. It is important to note. Perhaps, thatches flowers come into the story after the speaker has asserted that there are no flowers in hell.
Stanzas Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen
Down past the seven mountains
and seven rivers of hell—
the solitary journey
of sweet little Tomino.
Not just on some empty whim
Is flesh pierced with blood-red pins:
they serve as hellish signposts
for sweet little Tomino.
In the final three stanzas of ‘Tomino’s Hell,’ the speaker describes Tomino traveling through the seven mountains the seven valleys of hell. This is his solo, solitary journey. The speaker also reemphasizes the boy’s youth. This is juxtaposed against the terror of his war-like surroundings. It is on the eighth level of hell that he is going to suffer the worst.
The twelfth and thirteenth stanzas refer to soldiers, the patterns of their clothes, and how the women sewed them in. These might’ve given the wearer strength in the face of battle. The “blood-red pins” that appear in the last lines could refer again to this idea of sewing in and waring symbols, known as senninbari in Japanese.
They were white clothes that were seen with a thousand red stitches by as many women as possible. The red dots, in some circumstances, would be used to identify the body if Tomino was to die. In his case, though, they don’t stand out as a sign leading the way to Tomino. This perhaps alludes to his larger destiny, to become lost forever.
‘Tomino’s Hell’ is a poem written by Saijō Yaso and released in 1919, in his collection Sakin.It is a supposedly cursed poem that if read out loud will result in death, illness, deadly accidents, or any number of other terrible consequences.
It is said that if you read ‘Tomino’s Hell’ out loud something terrible will happen to you or to someone you love. Reportedly connected to the poem are illnesses, car crashes, the ‘feeling’ of evil lurking around one’s home, and other mysterious deaths after someone has read it out loud.
‘Tomino’s Hell’ is about a young man’s journey through a symbolic hell, likely representing war. He journeys through hell to its deepest level. On the way, he suffers and cries out for his sisters and his past life. It presents the reader with themes of solitude, fear, and darkness.
It is unclear if there’s a way to break the curse of ‘Tomino’s Hell.’ Some believe that once you read the poem out loud, that there’s no going back. Skeptics suggest that the only curse one gets is a feeling of depression after reading about Tomino’s bleak life.
Saijō Yaso, a Japanese poet, wrote ‘Tomino’s Hell.’ It was published in his collection, Sakin, in 1919. He was born in January 1892 lived to be 78 years old. He died in August of 1969.
Yaso supposedly created ‘Tomino’s Hell’ after the death of his sister or father. He may have wanted to chronicle specific feelings of guilt and/or sorrow and convey those to the reader. It is these feelings of grief and guilt that many skeptics connect to the “curse.”