A-Yokai-A-Day: Furaribi

Today’s yokai is another bird-like one. I kind of want one as a pet… except for the whole flames and vengeful curse thing…

Furaribi (ふらり火, ふらりび)

Furaribi appears in a number of old yokai picture scrolls as well as in Toriyama Sekien’s Gazu Hyakki Yagyō. It appears as a bird-like creature wreathed in flame, floating about aimlessly in the night sky. While it has the body of a bird, its face resembles a mix between a dog and the Hindu god Garuda. It is a type of hi-no-tama, or fireball yokai, and is said to be born from the remains of a soul which has not properly passed on to the next life, most likely due to not receiving the proper ceremonial services after dying. In Japan you don’t just get a funeral, you have a number of services commemorating your death and praying for your soul which repeat on certain days, months, and years after your death — missing even one of these could spell doom for your soul (so the priests tell us…).

One legend about Furaribi comes from Toyama city in Toyama prefecture. In the late 16th century, this area was ruled by a samurai named Sassa Narimasa. Narimasa had very beautiful concubine named Sayuri, who was not well liked by the other female servants in Narimasa’s innermost circle. One day, these women conspired against Sayuri and started a rumor that she had cheated on Narimasa with one of his men. Narimasa, in a fit of jealous rage, murdered Sayuri, then took her down to the Jinzū river, hung her corpse from a tree, then proceeded to carve it into pieces with his sword. On top of that, he captured Sayuri’s entire extended family, 18 people in all, and executed them in the same manner. Afterwards, their tortured souls aimlessly wandered the riverbanks every night as furaribi.

It is said if you go down to the riverside and call out “Sayuri, Sayuri!” late at night, the floating, severed head of a woman will appear, pulling and tearing at her hair in a vengeful fury. As for Sassa Narimasa, he was later defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Some have attributed his defeat by Hideyoshi to the vengeful curse of Sayuri’s ghost.


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