A-Yokai-A-Day: Akagashira

It is day 5 of A-Yokai-A-Day! I hope you’re enjoying the rare and mysterious yokai we’ve been looking at, because I’ve got another one for you today!

To be honest, while I absolutely love the yokai which are strongly connected to folk tales and have many stories associated with them, something about the “random” yokai found in the old picture scrolls excites me even more. They seem to represent the artist’s unbridled creativity, often being based on puns, but just as often based on nothing. Some of these yokai are just pure silliness.

I have to wonder how some of these artists’ patrons reacted upon seeing creatures like a goat with scissors for horns, a geisha’s head on a spider’s body, a deer skeleton with a human skull, and a centipede with human heads sprouting from its body.

No, I didn’t make any of those up!

I imagine the patrons must have reacted the same way I do: with delight. Otherwise these scrolls probably would not have been preserved as they are. But it goes to show that there’s no limit to the world of yokai, the creativity of the artists who invented them, or Japan’s appetite for new and weird monsters.

Now, on to today’s yokai:

Akagashira

Akagashira
“red head”

Akagashira is a yokai which is very accurately named for its flaming crimson coiffure. It’s a glorious wave of straight and curly ginger tresses which poofs out and shouts “I’M HERE!” Once your eyes adjust and you’re able to look away from that fabulous mane, we can also see that he’s got a dull grey body, very sharp teeth and claws, and red markings on his face which could possibly be horns, or stripes, or something…

While the origin of akagashira’s name is no mystery, that’s unfortunately the only thing about him that isn’t. No description was included with his name and portrait, and there’s no folklore which matches his appearance.

There are, in fact, plenty of red-headed yokai. Some of them have very similar names: another unrelated yokai from Kochi Prefecture shares the name akagashira. Aka atama (which also means “red head”) and aka shaguma (“red hair”) are also closely named but different characters. The shojo and shishi are depicted in noh and kabuki with wild, unkempt bright red hair just like the akagashira. Okinawa’s kijimuna also is famous for its red hair. However, despite similar names and features, there is nothing solid to connect akagashira with these other red-heads. It may just have been a doodle that the artist invented, or perhaps it is a formerly known yokai who has been lost to time…

But that’s ok. Yokai are all about mystery, and sometimes half the fun is making up our own guesses as to what their true nature is. You might describe akagashira as a troll doll with what looks to be silicone butt injections, doing something that resembles dabbing—and nobody could tell you that you’re wrong!

To me, he resembles a bright fuzzy caterpillar. Which is why I chose to depict the red marks on his face as dangling eye-stalk-like protuberances rather than horns or just color patterns (also because they look similar to how dangling eyeballs are frequently depicted in other yokai). The sharp teeth and claws kind of remind me of a caterpillar’s mandibles and prolegs. The stripes on his belly and the bulging limb sections also resemble a caterpillar’s puffy body.


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