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Enma is the god of hell in the Buddhist religion. He is often called Yama. He is the god who judges whether the souls of people go to heaven or hell.

Kawanabe Kyosai EnmaToJigokudayu-zu
Enma looking at a woman


Enma is the god of hell who judges right and wrong after a human dies and falls into hell. Enma gives many kinds of dreadful punishments. The word Enma comes from Yama in Sanskrit and Pali, a language for Buddhist writings in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. He is said to be a human ancestor in the Rigveda (an ancient Indian sacred book). He is a god of the Indian Veda myth and he is said to be the incarnation of the Jizo Bosatsu, the stone statue which is the god of help in Japanese Buddhism.

Believers in Buddhism think Enma comes from the start of the world. He was linked with death at first. People thought he was king of paradise for the dead, the god who ruled people when they lived in heaven. People thought he tied up souls of the people with the rope that he held in the hand. He became a feared god. Then he was treated as just the god of death. Because he is also an incarnation of the god of help, it is said that he can come and go freely between heaven and hell.


The appearance of Enma usually frightening in nature. Enma is always shown wearing Chinese traditional clothes from the Sung era (AD 960–1279). Why he wears Chinese traditional clothes is unknown. Usually, his dress and face are both red. He has a square crown on his head and a mace in his right hand. His eyes are open wide and angry, and are slanted upwards.

However in other countries and at different times in history, Enma is pictured differently. For example, in old pictures from India, Enma has a crown and is riding a water buffalo. He has a club and a big rope. Another Enma from ancient India has a flag and steps on water buffalo with one leg. Enma is well built, with thick arms and a very big chest.

His job

Enma was the first person in the world to die. He went to paradise, called Gokuraku Jyoudo (極楽浄土). He lived in paradise and his job was looking after the dead. People believed Enma was the god of paradise. Over time people became scared of Enma. His job was changed from looking after the dead to judging them. Enma used a club and a big rope to tie up the souls of dead people. He ruled the lower world and judged the dead. He decided if a dead person went to heaven or hell. He made his judgment on what they had done in their lives. People who had behaved well went to heaven. People who had behaved badly go to hell.


The stories about Enma are very mysterious. The most famous story is how Enma will pull someone’s tongue out if they did a bad thing. Japanese parents teach their children to be honest by using this story. Enma can also bring dead people back to life. Abe-no-seimei, a famous person in Japanese history, died and was revived by Enma. He also can decide when life should end. This is the strangest story; an actor died and met Enma. The actor went to hell because he plays other people – it means "lying". He told Enma all about himself his life and Enma started to be interested in his acting. He said “I would like to see you act.” The actor agreed and said "I need a costume, so please give me yours." Enma gave it to him and the actor played as Enma, saying "Ogres! Ogres! Take this bad man away!" Enma was taken away and punished. The actor became a new Enma instead of the real Enma.

Books and movies

There are a number of books and movies about Enma in Japan and even in other countries. Enma has been written about by many Japanese novelists. The First Love of Enma, Bungeisya, by Hideo Watanabe, is about escaping from hell and falling in love with a beautiful dead woman along the way. Another side of Enma is shown in Enma’s sword, Syodensya and Hiraiwa by Koshihiro Igawa and The Worship of Enma by Yumie. Enma is not fearful or strong at all. In comic books, like Dragon Ball , Enma is shown as kind and calm. Enma in Ojarumaru is funny. In the American movie called Heaven Can Wait (1943), a dead man talked with Enma about his whole life before his death. This Enma is not kind but strict. This movie was nominated for best picture. Enma has also appeared in One Piece as the name of the sword wielded by Kozuki Oden who passed it onto his daughter Kozuki Hiyori, who then entrusted it to Roronoa Zoro as a replacement for his Shusui. Some writers write about his power and the fear he causes and others write about his opposite side, kind, and calm.

Enma. Yahoo encyclopedia. Retrieved on 4 June 2009.閻魔/

Maturi-da Maturi-da. The author of the site is unknown. Retrieved on 27 May 2009.

Saburo Ienaga. Nippon bunnka-shi. Iwanami shotenn, Tokyo. ISBN, 0-3337-4940-5, 4th, June , 4th, June

Watanabe, Hideo (2005), The First Love of Enma, Bungeisya.

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