The Nyūnai suzume (入内雀; "Palace Striker Sparrow"), also called Sanekata suzume (実方雀; "Sparrow of Sanekata"), is a fictional being of Japanese folklore from the group of yōkai ("demons"). Although it should be intrusive and penetrating, it should not harm the person himself. Instead, this sparrow demon is feared for its destructiveness and gluttony. According to folklore, the Nyūnai suzume is the demonic reincarnation of the poet Fujiwara no Sanekata, who is said to have died in exile.
The Nyūnai suzume is said to appear in the shape of a sparrow, specifically the red sparrow (Passer rutilans), but be significantly larger and glow ghostly. It can appear singly or in swarms and cause great devastation. It is said that he can plunder entire rice and grain fields and even empty pantries in a matter of minutes. This yōkai's name is a play on words. The Japanese nyūnai (入内) usually means "to take over something (by force)", but also "to storm the (palace) courtyard". Suzume (雀) is the Japanese word for "sparrow" and "sparrow". The way the sparrow demon appears in the legend allows it to be translated as "palace storming sparrow" or "sparrow taking over the palace courtyard".
Fujiwara no Sanekata became known posthumously through a dark legend from the Tōhoku region, which was probably attributed to him by envious people in the truest sense of the word: during the reign of Tennō Ichijō (Heian period), Sanekata was considered a gifted but easily offended poet. With his closest rival, Fujiwara no Yukinari, he fought spectacular poetry competitions at the imperial court and courted with him for the favor of the poet Sei Shōnagon. Legend has it that Sanekata and Yukinari went so far as to give each other writing utensils and/or Writing drafts sabotaged. One day, however, Sanekata is said to have gone too far, allegedly he tore Yukinari's magnificent hat off his head and trampled it in the middle of the courtyard of the imperial palace. Because of his irascible temper and previous fisticuffs, Sanekata had already fallen out of favor at court and in the last escalation he was sent into exile as punishment. He was exiled to a small island in Mutsu province, where he is said to have starved to death three years later, full of bitterness and resentment. His heart was so consumed by vengeance and resentment that his spirit transformed into a yōkai and took the form of a frenzied flock of sparrows. This flew to the imperial palace in Kyoto, penetrated the kitchen and dining room and devastated and soiled the entire facility. All food was devoured in no time, even the pantries were plundered. When the incident repeated more than once, the tennō finally summoned the priest Kanichi Shōnin (上人観智) and asked his advice. In a dream vision, Kanichi managed to ask the sparrows who they were and why they behaved like that. The sparrows finally told the priest about Sanekata's fate. The next morning the priest discovered a dead sparrow near a wooded area. Kanichi reported what had happened to the Tennō and advised the imperial court to forgive Sanekata and bury him with dignity. This was done and a small temple was built right next to Sanekata's tomb. Since then there have been no raids by swarms of sparrows.
Background of the legend
Role model and inspiration
The Nyūnai suzume most likely derives from a Chinese superstition that marauding, invasive swarms of sparrows are the work of evil demons or black magicians, or the manifestation of a curse. In Chinese, the creature is known as Rùnèi Què (入内雀; lit. "Invading Sparrow", symbolic "Spat