Today on A-Yokai-A-Day we return to the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki for a look at one of the weirder yokai that we can find out there. This one raises so many questions that I really wish we could talk to the artist of the scroll to see what he had in mind when he painted it! It looks like it could easily fit into a tokusatsu type of movie or show as a monster-of-the-day.
Plenty of yokai go by the name ____ monk, or ____ priest. It’s a common suffix, and as I’ve said before it doesn’t always denote that the creature is in any way related to the clergy (though sometimes they clearly are). This hitotsume bo is one example of a creature that doesn’t have any connection to Buddhism.
There is another yokai confusingly named mehitotsu bo (which also means “one-eyed monk!”). Mehitotsu bo looks completely different from this yokai—it actually resembles a one-eyed Buddhist monk! It looks very similar to a number of other one-eyed monk yokai like ao bozu, hitotsume kozo, and hitotsume nyudo. Be careful not to mix them up!
So what is hitotsume bo? Nobody knows. It’s depicted as a green creature with long arms, protruding fangs, a scruffy beard, human-like hands, and its namesake: a large, single eye in the middle of its face. It’s most amazing feature is located above its eye: a red dot on its forehead from which a beam of what appears to be light shooting out in a cone.
Hitotsume bo is only depicted in the Hyakki yagyo emaki from the shoulders up, so we don’t even know what its lower body looks like. Presumably that means it is relatively unremarkable. Looking at the position of its arms and the shape of its body and hands, I get the impression of a Japanese macaque, and so I depicted hitotsume bo with a long body and stumpy, monkey-like legs.
We don’t even know how tall hitotsume bo is. Looking at other one-eyed monk yokai doesn’t help either, because they range from child-sizes all the way up to gargantuan! To me, hitostume bo looks like he would be big. That eye-beam seems like it could be used as a search light, and I don’t think it would be particularly useful if he were a short yokai. It would be useful for spotting humans hiding among the underbrush! My own impression is that it could be anywhere from slightly taller than a human, to as tall as a tree. I kind of like the picture I get in my head of this guy peering from behind a treetop that he has pushed aside and beaming light down onto a woodcutter.
Gleaming eyes are something we do see in a number of yokai—particular mountain spirits—so I would guess that hitotsume bo is some kind of mountain creature. Perhaps a fallen, degenerate kami-turned-yokai. This fits the pattern of other one-eyed monk yokai, particularly hitotsume kozo. One eye, or one foot, is another recurring theme we see in mountain spirits (see yamawaro, yama jiji). And with so many isolated mountain villages all over Japan, it should be no surprise that bizarre local mountain spirits are found all over.
Perhaps hitotsume bo is modeled after some village’s local superstition, or a long-forgotten kami. Or maybe the artist was just goofing around and came up with this bizarre-looking thing. We’ll never know!
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