Today’s yokai comes by request: the yosuzume! In any case, it’s a very interested yokai that has a connection with another yokai we will look at later this week; and on top of that, it’s a bird yokai, and I am a huge bird lover!
Yosuzume is a relatively obscure yokai from Kochi and Ehime prefectures on the island of Shikoku. They also appear in nearby prefectures on Honshu, such as Aichi and Wakayama. The name is a combination of night (yoru, 夜) and sparrow (suzume, 雀), and just like it sounds, the yosuzume is a kind of sparrow that appears at night time. They appear at night on remote mountain passes and roads, swirling around travelers in a creepy swarm like something straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
By themselves they don’t do any particular harm, but they are a sign of very bad luck and are thought to bring terrible evil to those whom they swarm around. Because of this, the locals of these areas have superstitious chants which one is supposed to say at night to keep the yosuzume away. Roughly translated, one of them goes, “Chi, chi, chi calls the bird, maybe it wants a branch; if it does, hit it with one.” Another well-known one goes, “Chi, chi, chi calls the bird, please blow soon, divine wind of Ise.”
Conversely, in some areas, the presence of yosuzume is not seen as a bad omen, but as a warning call that an okuri-inu (another yokai which we will look at later this week) is nearby. This was a mixed blessing, as an okuri-inu would keep wolves and other bakemono, or monsters (including yokai), away from the road, and thus travelers would be safe; however, as we’ll see, the okuri-inu has its own dangers. For this reason it is also known as the okuri-suzume (送り雀), and its call serves as a helpful reminder to travelers to watch their footing on the dangerous mountain paths and to not fall down.
In some areas, they are also known as tamoto-suzume (袂雀), or “sleeve sparrows”, and similarly their appearance was a warning sign that wolves, wild dogs, or other yokai were nearby. Their call is frequently mysteriously only heard by a single individual, even when traveling in groups. It was considered very bad luck if a tamoto-suzume should jump into your sleeve while walking, and so travelers would hold their sleeves tightly shut when traveling in areas inhabited by these birds.
Are you interested in yokai? Can’t get enough of strange Japanese culture? Then you should check out my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, on Amazon.com and learn the story behind over one hundred of these bizarre monsters!