Today’s yokai continues the theme of the week: aquatic yokai.
I painted this yokai earlier this year at the request of one of my Patreon backers. He had found it in the book Yokai Museum, and asked me to explain more about it. Yokai Museum is a cool book showcasing some of the collection of yokai scrolls and paintings belonging to Yumoto Koichi—yokai researcher, professor, and former curatorial director of the Kawasaki City Museum. This particular yokai exists solely in his collection; it appears only on the Bakemono tsukushi emaki, a yokai scroll painted in 1820. What’s interesting about this scroll is that it contains a lot of yokai which don’t appear anywhere else in folklore. Most likely they were entirely made up by the artist. However, since he didn’t give any explanation text along with his illustrations, we can only speculate about these yokai. I wish we knew more, because the illustrations in that scroll are fantastic!
A lot of yokai work is like that—guesswork. Usually it’s not too hard to get a general idea of the yokai’s concept, because so many of them are puns or plays on previously created yokai. Of course, it helps to have a bit of knowledge of other yokai, the author’s personality, and the context in which it was written. That’s not so hard with Toriyama Sekien’s yokai, because he had a very distinct sense of humor. But with this particular scroll, we don’t have much of that, so we have to rely on the names.
Shihofuki pretty much literally means “salt sprayer,” and judging by its appearance, we can picture it leaping out of the water and spitting salt at passing boats. Maybe it is the creature that sprays you with water when you sit too close to the edge of a boat.
I really love this yokai, partially because it is so adorable, but also in part because of its mysterious nature. People often ask me to elaborate on a yokai’s “powers” or “abilities” as if they were creatures in a video game with specific abilities. But yokai can not be so well-defined. They are by their very nature and definition mysterious. They exist in the spaces that we don’t know and don’t understand. Their whole appeal is their mystery. When you define them too much, they start to lose their mystique, and the very essence of “yokai-ness.” Shihofuki, and the others for which we have literally no information at all, will always remain ill-defined, and so will always be excellent examples of true yokai.
Click below to read about shihofuki on yokai.com: