Today’s illustration is watery, which is fun for me because I love painting the swirly multicolored waves that you see in Japanese prints and paintings. My friend calls them “candy waves” and I like that name.
Like the other yokai in the Bakemono tsukushi emaki, there’s no explanation that comes with this one. Just a picture and a name: namija. Wave, snake. Wavesnake. Actually, this one is easy to explain. Heck, it explains itself! It’s a wave that’s a snake. Or a snake that’s a wave. Either way, the name and the illustration pretty much tie this one up very nicely.
One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of yokai that are named for serpents are actually referring to dragons. Long ago, snakes and dragons were used interchangeably, and this illustration certainly looks more like a fancy dragon than a simple snake. On top of that, dragons in Japan are often considered to be the guardians of bodies of water; lakes, rivers, oceans, all of these are the realm of dragons. So it’s quite likely that this illustration and yokai are meant to represent some kind of sea dragon.
It’s easy to imagine how sailors of yore might personify something like a rogue wave as a dragon, or perhaps a phenomenon caused by the sea dragons that they knew lived beneath them. Perhaps namija is the yokai version of a random, destructive wave that appears out of nowhere!
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