I know you won’t be surprised to hear that today we are looking at another aquatic Ainu yokai!
This is easily one of my favorite Ainu yokai just for the pure strangeness of it’s origin story. This week we’ve already talked about “promotion” animals yokai like shusseuo and shussebora. And we’ve talked about creatures that morph from one into another like pokemon. And on this site we’ve taken plenty of looks at tsukumogami—household objects sprung to living versions of themselves. But today’s yokai is the only one of it’s kind I’ve ever come across: a pair of women’s underwear that turned into a giant sea cucumber-god. Interestingly, this one actually lives in the same bay as yesterday’s yokai… so I wonder if they have great kaiju battles, or do they get along well? There’s definitely room for a fanfic there…
But what I want to talk about tonight is how atuikakura is a good example of the difficulty in finding accurate yokai information online.
When this yokai was requested by one of my Patreon backers, I was asked to write about “atsuuikakura.” I hadn’t heard of it before, but when I searched around, I found plenty of hits. However, they were a lot of wiki pages, blogs, deviantarts, and even fanfictions. I couldn’t find anything reliable. Even Japanese Wikipedia mentioned atsuuikakura—as a footnote in the entry of akkorokamui. It also gave two ways to write the name in Japanese: アツウイカクラ and アヅイカクラ.
Now, I can read Japanese alright, but I don’t know Ainu at all, so there was a nagging part of me that thought maybe I’m wrong and it’s a totally normal Ainu word. But I had just done all of the research for the other Ainu yokai recently, and something about those names didn’t seem right. The “atsuui” part didn’t sound Ainu, and certainly wasn’t Japanese. The alternate spelling that Wikipedia gave, “azuikakura,” didn’t sound either Ainu or Japanese. Something began to feel fishy (no pun intended) about this yokai—there were no reliable sources, and its name didn’t make any sense.
I started to think this was a case of internet feedback loop—someone writes a blog post, another person copies it to Wikipedia, then other people cite the Wikipedia page, and eventually the first person sees the Wikipedia page and thinks its corroborating evidence, and voila! you have a horrible citation feedback loop with no source at all. Everything I searched for seemed suspiciously similar, which is not usually the case with yokai. There were hints of video game and anime characters spattered about, so maybe he was a boss in some video game, or a monster in some anime that someone mistook for a real legend? At the same time, though, it felt like there was a core source which this all came from, and I wanted to find it.
To get to the bottom of this creature I started with the weird name. I was sure that’s where the problem was. Atsui sounds Japanese, but the double u sound in atsuui is a sound that I have never encountered before in Japanese, or in any of the Ainu dictionaries I was looking.
Now, Ainu is a hard language to transliterate into Japanese. It contains a number of sounds that aren’t normally written using hiragana and katakana. So the result is that over many years, many different ways of transliterating difficult words have come into practice. Nowadays there are standards for writing Ainu in Japanese, but what about fifty years ago? One hundred? I don’t know… but it’s certainly possible that they were written different back then. After all, Edo used to be transliterated into English as Yedo, and kaidan used to be written kwaidan. Maybe the same thing happened for Ainu.
The name felt like it might be a mistyped version of “atuy,” which is found in tons of Ainu creatures. Sure enough, looking at Ainu-Japanese dictionaries and encyclopedias written about one hundred years ago, there was a difference: the word atuy, which today is written in Japanese with a アトゥイ (a-tu-i) used to be written アツゥイ (a-tsu-i). I wondered if maybe the first person to post atuikakura on the internet had found an old document and then mis-write アツゥイ (a-tsu-i) as アツウイ (a-tsu-u-i). The size of that ウ is very important!
I compared the way our previous friend, akkorokamui, was written back then, with the way he is written today, and it confirmed my guess that atuy is written differently today than one hundred years ago. Then looking through some Ainu-Japanese dictionaries I was able to find that kakura was indeed a northern species of sea cucumber! So this creature’s Ainu name was not actually atsuuikakura, but atuy-kakura. With that knowledge, I was able to search around, using all of the various archaic ways of transliterating the name, and did indeed find some old documents referring to the creature. There wasn’t very much, but there was enough to confirm its bizarre origins. These were backed up by an Ainu cultural museum in Hokkaido, which featured the correct spelling of atuikakura in one of its newsletters a few years back (thank you, Google, for your PDF search abilities!).
In the end, it turned out that that the blogs and wikis describing atsuuikakura’s bizarre origins weren’t too far off from the actual Ainu legend. Although it had been filtered and copy-pasted many times, the heart of the story remained intact. Mainly the biggest error was the mistake in transliterating its name. I still don’t know where the misspelling originated, but I am glad that I was able to find the right way to write its name. I feel like I did a tiny good deed for this non-existent supernatural sea cucumber.
Anyway, click below to read the awesome story of this properly spelled Ainu yokai. And if you liked the story about hunting down its proper name, please sign up for my Patreon project!