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A-Yokai-A-Day: Yamaoroshi

Well it was rainy all day today, so clearly yesterday’s amefuri kozou did the trick!

Today we’ll look at one of everybody’s favorite yokai genre: tsukumogami.

For the uninitiated, tsukumogami are a class of yokai made up of tools, clothes, and other man-made items that have been discarded or fallen out of use. They grow resentful of having been put aside after years of faithful work, and that resent turns into a powerful grudge which animates the item and turns it into a yokai.

The name tsukumogami is a bit of a mystery. It means “99-year spirit.” The 99 years is symbolic of extreme old age, which is essentially what causes these yokai to form. However, it is also one year shy of 100 years, which is even more significant. So the fact that it reached only 99 years instead of 100 is a metaphor for the fact that these items were discarded before they reached their full potential. Supposedly, one of these objects would have become a splendid kami after 100 years; but having their life finished prematurely at 99 turns them into a twisted mockery of the divine spirit that they almost became.

Furthermore—and this gets a little bit into linguistics here—the kanji for one hundred is 百. If you remove one from one hundred, you get nintey-nine. If you remove the kanji for one (一) from the kanji for one hundred (百), you get the kanji for white (白). The kami in tsukumogami means spirit, but the word kami can also mean hair. So, one hundred minus one gives you either ninety-nine or white, and kami gives you either spirit or hair. You end up with either “ninety-nine year spirit,” or “white hair”—another symbol of old age. It’s a bit of a pun, really!

Anyway, here is today’s tsukumogami:

Yamaoroshi

Don’t forget, you can learn all about yokai from my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons. The second volume, The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits, will be released this winter!

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