Today’s yokai is related to Tuesday’s yosuzume. And it is another dog yokai, for all of you dog lovers out there!
Okuri-inu means “sending-off dog.” It is also known as okuri-ōkami, or “sending-off wolf,” as this yokai is known the appear is both wild dog and wolf forms. The “sending-off” part of the name comes from the fact that these animal yokai follow closely behind travelers, trailing behind them as if they were sending them off on their way. Of course, friends who send you off rarely rip you to pieces when you fall down…
This superstition is extremely old, and found in all parts of Japan; certainly wolves and superstitions surrounding them have existed for as long as humans have existed on the Japanese isles, and the legend of the okuri-inu must have originated in the mists of pre-historic Japan. Basically, this yokai is a wolf or a dog that follows travelers late on the road at night. It stalks them, keeping a safe distance, but following footstep for footstep, as long as they keep walking. If the traveler should trip or stumble, the okuri-inu will pounce on them and rip them to shreds.
The okuri-inu is a double-edged sword of a yokai. On the one hand, if you should trip and fall, it will pounce on you with supernatural speed and gobble you up. On the other hand, though, they are so ferocious that while they are following you, no other yokai or wild animals will come close. (In the old days, wild dogs and wolves were a serious problem for foot travelers making the dangerous night-time journeys through wild mountain passes.) As long as you keep your footing, you are safe… but traveling in the dark over root-infested, rocky mountain footpaths, especially while carrying a large pack of whatever it is you are going to sell does not make for easy footing!
There are two asterisks to add to this story. One is the other day’s yokai, the yosuzume. This creepy bird’s night-time song is often a warning that an okuri-inu is following you. If you should hear the yosuzume’s chi, chi, chi song, then you can take extra care to watch your footing so that the okuri-inu trailing you doesn’t have dinner that night.
The other one cracks me up. Apparently, if you should stumble, as long as you fake it so it looks like you did it on purpose, the okuri-inu will be tricked into thinking you are just taking a rest, and it won’t pursue. You do this by saying “dokko-isho” (“Heave-ho!”) or “shindoi wa” (“This is exhausting!”) and quickly fixing yourself into a sitting position. Sigh, sit for a bit, then continue on your way and the okuri-inu will wait patiently for you.
Some areas have followups to the story as well. If you should make it out of the mountains safely, you should turn around and say, “Thanks for seeing me off!” Afterwards, it will never follow you again. Further, when you get home, you should wash your feet and leave out a dish of something for the okuri-inu to show your gratitude for it watching over you.
In Izu and Saitama, the okuri-inu has a friend known as the okuri-itachi. This is a weasel that works in roughly the same way as the okuri-inu, only that if you take off one of your shoes and throw it at it, the weasel will eat the shoe and run away, leaving you in peace.
Finally, in modern Japanese, the word okuri-ōkami also applies to predatory men who go after young women, pretending to be sweet and helpful but with ulterior motives… That word comes straight from this yokai!
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!