We’ve seen a lot of animal yokai and legendary beasts so far this month, but today we look at a weird, truly yokai-ish goblin invented by Toriyama Sekien.
Also known as the tenjō-sagari, its name means “coming down from the ceiling,” and that is pretty much the long and short of what this yokai does.
It has the appearance of an ugly old woman with disheveled hair. It pops out upside-down from the ceiling to shock people, usually in the middle of the night.
In old Japan, the space above the ceiling was connected with a lot of superstitions above dead bodies rolling about or women being confined like prisoners. (These legends remind me a lot of the scariest scenes in my favorite horror movie, Ju-On.) Tenjō-kudari seems to have been Toriyama’s invention based on those myths. Additionally, in Toriyama Sekien’s time, the phrase “show someone the ceiling” was a colloquial expression for causing trouble for someone.
A few possible connections to actual myths outside of Toriyama’s imagination exist. One involves a myth of a yokai that moved into the roof of an inn in Yamanashi. During the night, it would descend from the ceiling and snatch up travelers to eat. Another myth from Yamanashi tells of a creature called tenzurushi (“ceiling hanger”) which in pretty much all aspects is identical to the tenjō-kudari. However, it’s not sure whether these myths inspired Toriyama Sekien or rather were inspired by his work.
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!