Just a reminder to those who are coming here for the first time: A-Yokai-A-Day ends on October 31st, but you can keep on getting new yokai in your inbox past Halloween! Just join my Kickstarter project — even if you only pledge $1! — and you can become a part of the making of The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits! Your name will go into the book as a supporter, and you’ll get to view the entire process of making the book, including all of the yokai that go in it. For the time being, all of the Kickstarter updates are public (and viewable here), but come November 1st, once the magic of Halloween ends, all of future updates will be private for backers only, and you’ll have to wait a whole year for more yokai!
Now, on to today’s A-Yokai-A-Day:
Yamajijii (山爺, やまじじい)
Wow, look at all of those dotted i’s and j’s!
Yamajijii is a strange and reclusive yokai from Kochi prefecture and other parts of the island of Shikoku. It’s name means “mountain geezer,” but an alternative name for this yokai is yamachichi, which means “mountain father.”
Yamajijii takes the form of an eldery man about 3-4 feet tall, with only one leg and one eye. Well, actually, he has two eyes, but one of them is huge and the other one is so tiny that you can barely see it, so he appears to have only one eye. His body is covered in fine gray hairs, and he is just as often seen scamping about in his hairy birthday suit as he is in old clothes or rags. He has sharp teeth and powerful jaws — his bite is said to be strong enough to crush the bones of wild boars or monkeys. Because his bite is so strong, hunters used to try to tame yamajijii and use them to drive away wolves.
Yamajijii rarely appear before humans, but their tracks are easily recognizable. They leave deep, sunken footprints about 12 inches long every 6 to 7 feet (from their hopping about on one leg). They are most well known, however, for their powerful voices. The cry of a yamajijii is so powerful it blows the leaves off of trees, shakes branches and moves rocks, reverberates through the mountains, and shakes the heavens and the earth. People who are too close to a yamajijii’s call sometimes have their eardrums burst, or even die from the impact of the shout.
Yamajijii enjoy shouting contests with each other, and one legend from Shikoku tells of a brave hunter who challenged a yamajijii to a shouting contest. The hunter fired off his rifle when he shouted, winning the contest. Later on, the yamajijii realized he had been tricked, shape-shifted into a spider, and attacked the hunter in his sleep. In some versions of the tale, the clever hunter goes to the Ise Shrine on New Year’s Eve to prepare for the shouting contest, and crafts a special holy bullet with the name of the gods of Ise inscribed upon it. This bullet had special power, and when fired it would never miss its target. Because of its strong power, whenever the hunter carried it with him he would inevitably encounter yokai; however, any time a yamajijii came near enough to threaten him, the hunter would display the bullet, and the yamajijii would flee in terror.
Yamajijii also have the power to read peoples’ minds. Another tale from Tokushima tells of a group of woodcutters who were warming themselves by a fire in a cabin. A yamajijii suddenly appeared at their cabin, and the woodcutters were terrified. They all came to the same decision — to kill the yamajijii — and one by one the yamajijii read each one of their minds to know what their plans were. Suddenly one of the logs in the fire split with a loud snap! The yamajijii thought that there was a mind he could not read among the hunters, and he quickly fled the cabin in a panic.
Despite their tricky and sometimes dangerous nature, yamajijii can also be kind to humans. A story from Kochi prefecture tells of a yamajijii who gave a sorghum seed to a farmer as a gift. The farmer sowed the seed and had a great harvest that year. In the winter, the yamajijii returned and asked for some mochi to eat. The grateful farmer gave the yamajijii as much mochi as it could eat. The next year, another great harvest followed, and again the yamajijii came back to ask for mochi. Each year, however, it was able to eat more and more, until it was able to eat 3 huge barrels full of mochi. The farmer, fearing for his livelihood, gave the yamajijii a pile of burned stones and told him they were mochi. Upon eating them, the yamajijii felt sick and hot. The farmer offered the yokai a cup of hot oil, pretending it was tea. Surprised and hurt, the yamajijii fled into the woods, but died before it could get back to its home. Afterwards, the farmer’s family fell into ruin and was never rich again.
The moral of the story is as it always is: never f*ck with a yokai.
You can read a little bit more about yamajijii at yokai.com!
Don’t forget to join my Kickstarter!