A-Yokai-A-Day: Meppokai

We’re getting close to the end of the Bakemono tsukishi emaki. But don’t worry, there are still plenty more bizarre yokai after we finish with this scroll. And as far as bizarre yokai go, today’s is a doozy!

Meppokai

Meppokai
“extreme shellfish”

Meppokai looks like a clam or some other kind of shellfish, with a few very important differences. For one, it has a pair of eyes on its outer shell; the last place you’d expect a shellfish to sprout eyes. The rest of its shell is covered with sharp spines. It also has whiskers and a tail which make it look a bit like a mouse. The wedge-shaped parts at the bottom of the shell have turned into flippery fins. It looks like this little guy could probably move around pretty quickly if it spun that tail like a flagellum and used its fins to steer.

Translated into English, its name sounds like something out of the late 90’s, when everything was labeled “extreme” this or that. Meppo is a bit old fashioned sounding. Phrases like meppo oishii (“extremely delicious”) or meppo takai (“ridiculously expensive”) sound dated today, but would have been common once.

Originally, meppo was a Buddhist word. It’s a difficult concept. Basically it means extremely, very, extraordinarily, or absurdly. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. In its Buddhist context, it’s more of the sense of extreme or absolute truth; the truth that lies at the utmost limit of understanding or consciousness. Something like the extreme awareness of absolute reality that an enlightened person would have.

Hokai (or hokkai) refers to Dharmadhatu—the state of mind in which you have absolute truth and understanding. It’s the world you would only be able to observe if you had the pure mind of a buddha, free from the distractions and interruptions inherent in a normal human mind. At some point, the words meppo and hokai were combined into the word meppokai, which basically carries the same meaning as meppo: to the extreme limits of reality. It’s the state of extremity that is furthest separated from all desire, all ignorance, pain, and attachment, and exists in pure bliss, wisdom, and perfect unadulterated comprehension. In other words, really really extreme.

The Kai (界) in meppokai means boundary or limit. However, kai (貝) also means shellfish. So this yokai is basically a silly pun based on the word meppokai. It is the most extreme limit of what a shellfish can possibly be.


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