A-Yokai-A-Day: Sakabashira

Tonight my Kickstarter was featured in the Kickstarter-themed podcast at DJ Grandpa’s Crib! You can listen to my interview and hear some extra details about The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits and other yokai at this link. Check it out!

Sakabashira (逆柱, さかばしら)

It may seem impossible that a pillar in a house could turn into a yokai, but that’s just what today’s yokai is. Sakabashira, literally “upside-down pillar,” is a strange kind of yokai; part tsukumogami, part tree spirit, and part onryō, it is a phenomenon that occurs when a pillar is installed in a house “upside-down,” that is, with the grain pointing towards the floor instead of to the ceiling.

Why would a pillar turn into a yokai just for being installed upside-down? Perhaps the spirit of the tree from which the pillar was carved is angry and having been planted in the wrong direction. Sakabashira appear late at night, causing yanari to appear, shaking the house, and making loud noises like collapsing beams as a manifestation of its urami, or grudge. The family living in such a house may lose their fortunes, or be so creeped out by the terrible sounds that they have to move out. In extreme scenarios, the column can even cause disasters such as large conflagrations. In order to prevent this yokai from appearing, folk superstition tells us that a pillar must be erected in the same orientation as the tree had when it was alive.

It may seem like a simple carpenter’s mistake to install a pillar upside-down, and while that is often the case, sometimes support pillars are actually installed this way on purpose. The famous shrine at Nikko is such an example, having been built with just one pillar purposefully pointing in the opposite direction. The reason for this is another folk superstition: “The moment a house is completed, it starts to fall apart.” (I think we have all experienced something like this with cell phones, cars, or computers — the moment they are paid off or the warranty is finished, something breaks! Same idea.) So, as a kind of ward against bad luck, Japanese buildings were sometimes built only 99% correct, with that final step being a mistake, or just left unfinished. This same superstition was followed when building the imperial palace — placing a single pillar upside-down. During the Edo period a similar superstition was commonly followed by purposefully “forgetting” to place the last three roof tiles on a house. Ironic that in order to prevent bad luck, one must essentially invoke bad luck. I guess the risk of having a perfectly-built house outweighs the risk of having a yokai-infested pillar in your house…

Sakabashira

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