A-Yokai-A-Day: Domo komo

If yesterday’s yokai was a cross between Sloth and Eddie Munster, then today’s is probably the conjoined twin offspring of a Ninja Turtle and a Fraggle. The loose kimono and his hand position also make me think he is taking a break backstage in a vaudeville follies show. He looks like he’d be a fun yokai to hang out with.

For added enjoyment, when you get to the story below, imagine him on stage in full theatrical costume telling you the story himself.

Now, on with the show!

Domo komo

Domokomo

Domokomo is another odd-looking fellow (fellows?) originating in the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki. He/they appear(s) in plenty of other later scrolls as well.

No story or explanation was given when this yokai was written down, however there are a few clues. His name is usually written どうもこうも in hiragana, a phonetic syllabary which doesn’t carry any extrinsic meaning. However, in the older written style of the Edo Period, his name was sometimes written 右も左も, which was still pronounced domokomo but also carries the meaning “right and left.” That makes a lot of sense, considering his two heads.

It still doesn’t tell us anything about who or what this yokai is or does. But there is one more folk tale that might be able to provide us some insight. Domokomo is a word in the local dialects of Ishikawa and Niigata Prefectures. It’s usually seen in the phrase どうもこうもならない (dо̄mokо̄mo naranai), which is kind of like saying “either way you look at it, it’s impossible.” The folk origin of this phrase is this story:

Long ago there were two doctors, Domo and Komo. Together they were the most skilled doctors in Japan, and were equally renowned for their skills.

One day, Domo and Komo decided to have a competition to see which of the two of them was the better surgeon. They agreed to perform surgery on each other to see who did the better job.

First Domo cut off Komo’s arm. Then he reattached it with such expertise that it left no scar at all. Afterwards, Komo cut off Domo’s arm and reattached it. Similarly, there was no mark. Both doctors had performed so excellently that it was impossible to say which one was better.

So they elected to perform a second, more difficult competition. They decided to cut off each other’s heads and reattach them. By this time a large crowd had gathered to see which doctor performed better.

The second competition went much like the first. The first doctor cut off the second’s head and reattached it. Then the second doctor cut off the first’s head and reattached it. Neither was worse for wear, and neither had left even so much as a tiny scar. There was no way to say who was better.

Finally, they decided to cut off their heads simultaneously. The doctors prepared as the crowd watched on. Then, they cut off each other’s head at the same time. Without their heads, neither doctor was able to continue the surgery, and they both died.

The townspeople who had gathered to watch all said “dо̄mokо̄mo naranai,” which translated one way could mean “there’s no way that was going to work” but translated another way could mean “neither Domo nor Komo won.”

rimshot

So maybe that folk etymology was also the origin of this yokai. It’s just a guess, but with the name and the two heads, it’s not a bad guess. Either way, it makes for a fun story!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

Leave a Reply