A-Yokai-A-Day: Nyoijizai

Today’s presentation at Camden County Library went well and was really fun! I’ll have video up soon so the rest of you can see. Thanks so much to everyone who could make it. I really enjoyed meeting you all!

Today’s yokai is another funny and cute little creature. It resembles a Japanese magonote, or backscratcher. I really love that word — magonote. In Japanese, it means “grandchild’s hand.” Of course, one of a little kid’s common chores is to scratch his granparents’ back, so the idea that a portable backscratcher is called a granchild’s hand just cracks me up…

Nyoijizai (如意自在, にょいじざい)

Nyoijizai first appears in a Hyakki Yagyō Emaki (a genre of picture scrolls depicting the night parade of one hundred demons, i.e. a lot of yokai!) from the Muromachi period (1337-1573), though it is just an unnamed character in those early scrolls. It was finally given a back story and a name by Toriyama Sekien, in his Gazu Hyakki Tsuruzure Bukuro (Illustrated Bag of One Hundred Random Demons, published 1781).

Sekien decided that this yokai looked like a priest’s staff, called a nyoi, and dubbed it a tsukumogami of a holy staff. However, its resemblance to a magonote was not lost on the clever artist, and he made its name a play on words. While nyoi means a priest’s staff, it can also mean “as you wish,” and jizai means “freely.” While it evokes a willful priest’s staff, its name also literally means, “exactly as you please.” Sekien must have had a chronic itchy back, because his description this yokai talks about that place in the center of your back that you just can’t scratch no matter how hard you try. According to him, this yokai solves that problem for you by allowing you to freely scratch any place as you wish, exactly as you please. What an amazingly useful yokai!

Sekien really loves his double meanings… but those claws! I’m not sure I would want one of these scratching my back…


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