• Kennan Area
  • Folk Customs


Photography/TAKEUCHI Yasunori

Everyone’s Hero

 Kitchomu-san is one of the favorite people of all Oita citizens. He is not legitimately a hero or brave man, a scholar nor a cultural influencer. Nonetheless, there will not be a single individual from Oita that doesn’t know who Kitchomu is. You must have heard a story or two about “Kitchomu” from your grandparents or parents, such as “Ten Nobori” or “Zeniguso.”
 I probably don’t need to go over all of it again, but “The Tales of Kitchomu” have been told throughout Oita, mainly in the middle, western and southern parts. It is not necessarily a fairly tale, a legend, or a story. But you can’t be sure that it’s a folklore. It is a series of stories that have been passed down through generations, whose main character is named Kitchomu-san.
 They say he actually existed. Kichiemon Hirota, who was allowed to have a family name and carried a sword back then (only the bushi class were allowed to have a family name then), in the current Notsu, Usuki. The local Fugenji temple holds his grave and the mortuary tablet dated 1715. Was he the person with witty sense of humor and eccentric behavior? It could have been that his words and actions built the foundation of the folklore we know today.
 Notsu was also called Notsu-shi (city), or Notsu-in (building surrounded by gates), and was a key transportation hub in the region. The story created there spread across Bungo, adding more stories while being passed onto new generations.
 It was probably a witty and humorous story based on Kichiemon. Now it has more than 200 stories with so many additions of Kitchomu being foolish, hasty, funny, or even cunning, including stories made in the modern days. What is common is that they all make you laugh, and his attitude against authority using his wit brought sympathy to the common people.
 Kitchomu is now played in the residents theater, with a special theater group and regular performances, and “Kitchomu Land” for visitors was also made. His character has been used for shochu and pickles, which has become a great Oita brand in full scale.
 We also have stories of Kichigo, who is probably considered a brother of Kitchomu, told in Nakatsu and the northern part of Oita. Similar stories exist in Kumamoto starring Hikoichi, and in Hyogo starring Hikoshichi. Something to add is that a theory says Kitchomu was a Kirishitan (hidden Christian).

Kitchomu is popular throughout the prefecture, including the appearance in festivals and regular performances. He is a representative brand of Oita with plays, Kitchomu Land, shochu and pickles under his name.