A-Yokai-A-Day: Hoko

Slipcases were made available on the Kickstarter project yesterday, and I am in the process of coming up with more slipcase designs for the other two hardcovers. In addition, more t-shirt and hoodie designs will be posted soon, so if you’re interested in yokai apparel, you have something to get excited about!

On to today’s yokai!

“evergreen lord; refers to the penghou”

Hoko, from the Wakan sansai zue

It is said that an old man once cut a camphor tree with an axe, and blood came out from the tree. Inside that tree lived a hōkō.

The hōkō comes from China and appears in a number of Chinese and Japanese chronicles. It is a nature spirit which inhabits 1000-year old trees. It resembles a black dog with no tail and a human-like face. Being a tree spirit, it is said to be similar to a kodama or a yamabiko, although Toriyama Sekien goes out of his way to specifically mention that it is a separate animal from the yamabiko. (Understandable, since it does resemble the yamabiko quite a bit.)

Hōkō are recorded as being edible; the ancient Chinese records that mention them include accounts of them being stewed and eaten. Apparently they taste sweet and sour, and similar to dog meat.

Toriyama Sekien’s hoko

Hōkō is the Japanese pronunciation of its Chinese name, Penghou, and thus does not translate perfectly into Japanese. Legends of the creature generally refer to it being found inside of camphor trees. However, the first characters in its name can refer to a different kind of evergreen: the sakaki (Cleyera japonica), which is an important sacred tree in Shinto. The second character in its name was used as a title for feudal lords. It’s not really clear that these were the intended meanings in the original Chinese though. Supposedly, its name was first recorded in the Hakutaku zu (“The Book of the Hakutaku”), a book written many thousands of years ago which has since been lost to history—so the true meaning of its name is difficult to decipher.

Hoko, from The Book of the Hakutaku

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