A-Yokai-A-Day: Kasha

What says “Halloween” more than an evil cat, right? Well, if you thought witches’ black cats were scary, you haven’t seen anything! Japanese cats are far scarier than anything the West has cooked up, and today’s is a perfect example. I also think it’s a good counterbalance to all of the bird yokai we’ve looked at recently…

Kasha (火車, かしゃ)

Kasha is a kind of bake-neko, or monster cat. It’s name translates into “fire cart,” which is a more than little confusing… not only is there no cart made of fire, there are a number of other yokai who seem to be much more deserving of the name “fire cart;” wanyuudou, for one, and its cousin the katawaguruma come to mind, as well as a yokai not yet featured on this blog called hi-no-kuruma, which actually translates into “fire cart” as well, and is even written with the exact same kanji as kasha!

Nevertheless, the yokai most commonly referred to as kasha is this one. It is a large, roughly man-sized demonic cat who preys on newly deceased corpses, stealing them and dragging them to… somewhere. To hell? To the land of the dead? Or do they just eat them up? Similar yokai like the ones I mentioned above take their victims back to hell… while other bake-neko like to eat humans. Some stories refer to them as messengers of hell, or as messengers of gods, others imply that they are acting on their own… So it could be any of those reasons. Kasha generally tend to target people who were wicked in life and thus perhaps deserve whatever that fate is, but there are always exceptions to any rule…

Kasha are found all over in Japan. They are fast and strong, and can leap from rooftop to rooftop with their snatched corpses. They can appear in the middle of a thunderstorm, and vanish with the corpse in a flash of lightning. It is pretty much impossible to retrieve one’s remains after they have been taken by a kasha; the best defense against them is to be prepared. As such, temples all over Japan in areas where kasha are said to prowl have devised their own ways of defending against these monster cats:

In Yamagata prefecture, clever priests have taken to holding two funeral ceremonies for the deceased. The first ceremony is a fake: the casket is filled only with rocks, so if a kasha comes for the body it will end up with nothing. In Ehime prefecture, a head shaver is placed on top of the coffin as a ward to keep kasha away. In Miyazaki prefecture, the funeral procession chants “Baku ni wa kuwasen” and “Kasha ni wa kuwasen” (“Don’t be eaten by a baku, don’t be eaten by a kasha”) two times in front of the coffin, which supposedly keeps kasha away. (I don’t know why baku, who eat bad dreams, would be included in this chant…) In Okayama prefecture, the priests play myohachi, a type of cymbal used in religious ceremonies, in order to keep the kasha away.

Whatever their true nature, it is pretty undeniable that kasha are bad. Cats, in fact, have long been considered evil beings in Japan. Since ancient times, folk wisdom tells us, “Don’t let cats near dead bodies,” and, “If a cat jumps over the coffin, the corpse inside the coffin will rise!” If a simple house cat is evil enough to raise the dead, just imagine what a giant monster cat like the kasha could potentially do…

Kasha

2 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Kasha”

Leave a Reply