A-Yokai-A-Day: Tōfu-kozō

Yesterday’s Kickstarter launch was a great success! We reached 100% of the funding in just about 19 hours, and we just now reached 100 backers! Not bad for a day and a half!

Today’s yokai was chosen for a reason, albeit a silly one. Today, 10/2, in Japan is toufu no hi, or Tofu Day in Japan. The reason is a play on words: The number 10 can be read “tou” and the number 2 can be read “fu,” so today’s date can be shortened to “tofu!” It may seem silly, but I guarantee you the grocery stores take advantage of this kind of gag, just as they do on 2/9 (niku no hi, or Meat Day), 8/7 (banana no hi), 9/2 (kuji no hi, Lottery Ticket Day), 1/5 (ichigo no hi, Strawberry Day)… pretty much any other thing you can buy can somehow be spelled out with Japanese numbers, which makes for a great marketing gag.

Anyway, as today is Tofu Day, I present to you…

Tōfu-kozō (豆腐小僧, とうふこぞう)

Tōfu-kozō is one of the most popular yokai from the Edo period, and also one of the yokai responsible for possibly initiating the “yokai boom” of the Edo period. They are cute, slightly grotesque little goblinoid yokai who are too weak and puny to do anything dangerous. They act as servants to other yokai (and sometimes even humans!), and often get teased or beat up by nasty, stronger yokai.

Their only real job seems to be serving tofu. They wander around dressed as a young boy wearing a big straw hat, carrying a block of tofu. Occasionally they will follow a human home on a dark, rainy night, but they are incapable of performing any evil.

Tōfu-kozō first entered the yokai stage in the 1770’s. They were a very popular character in the pulp literature of the time, which were essentially illustrated comics. Tōfu-kozō were one of the very first yokai to be created for an urban audience, i.e. the new elite upper classes of 18th century Edo.

The late 18th century saw a sort of golden age in Japan, as the country had stabilized and was enjoying peace, growth, and an explosion of literature and art. This is right around the time that yokai, kaidan, and all things supernatural began to become extremely popular among the urbanized Edo elite. Illustrators began collecting yokai stories and inventing new ones to sell, and it seems that Tofu-kozō was among the forerunners of these yokai created especially for the new, urban lifestyle. As such, the upper class loved him, and he is found in many of the penny novels and comic poetry books of the period.

It’s not likely that tōfu-kozō has any basis in older myths, however, he may have been based on a very ancient yokai known as hitotsu-me-kozō. They wear similar dress, both appear as little boys, and are both weak, little messenger/servant yokai. In fact, the two have often been substituted for each other; many old illustrations depict a one-eyed yokai carrying a block of tofu — a sort of hybrid of these two yokai.

Toufukozou

If you’d like to read more about tōfu-kozō, head on over to yokai.com/toufukozou.

If you like this yokai and want to learn more about Japanese monsters, check out my book or join my Kickstarter project to become a part of my next book!

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