A-Yokai-A-Day: Sunamura no onryo

It’s finally upon us! Halloween is here! During this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day we’ve seen hungry ghouls, dark clouds, hunchbacks, giant bugs, vampires, cats, ghosts, and old hags. But I wanted to save the most quintessentially Halloween-y yokai for today. Creepy or not, I don’t think anyone can make an argument against this guy being the most Halloween-y yokai of all.

Sunamura no onryo

Sunamura no onryo
“the ghost of Sunamura”

Sunamura was a neighborhood in what is now Koto City, Tokyo. Today it has been fully swallowed up by municipal mergers and technically no longer exists, although some parts of the area still contain remnants of its name. During the Edo Period it was famous for one particular vegetable: pumpkins!

The ghost of Sunamura is a walking pumpkin monster. Its body and limbs are formed of a tangled mess of pumpkin vines and leaves. Its head is a heavy, bright orange pumpkin which it struggles to carry around in its thin arms. There is a face in the head, although it doesn’t appear to be carved like a Jack-o’-Lantern.

According to legend, this spirit would appear night after night in the village of Sunamura and chase people. What strikes me as interesting is that it is referred to as an onryo rather than the more common obake or kai, or some other generic term. As you may know, onryo are the scariest type of ghosts. They born out of extreme emotional attachment or grudges, and wreak their vengeance upon the living. But what could cause a pumpkin to come back as an onryo? What kind of grudge can a pumpkin hold??

Sadly, there aren’t any surviving contemporary documents with more information on its story, so how this little guy began and any others details about it are lost. It may even have been lost to time if not for its inclusion in an 1858 ghost-themed board game by Utagawa Yoshikazu which features famous local ghosts:

Kaidan hyakumonogatari sugoroku
Kaidan hyakumonogatari sugoroku

It’s amazing that this creature so closely resembles a Jack-o’-Lantern even though it was created long before the concept of Halloween ever reached Japanese shores. In fact, in the 1850’s Halloween wasn’t even a big thing in the United States yet! Before The Great Pumpkin, before The Pumpkin King and Pumpkinhead, and even before David S. Pumpkins, the ghost of Sunamura was hopping around Tokyo scaring people!

Pretty incredible, huh?

Sadly, this marks the end of A-Yokai-A-Day for 2018. Thanks for reading every day, whether on my blog or on social media! If you enjoyed it, please consider joining my Patreon project and following along as I continue to paint and translate yokai all year long. The support of my patrons is what allows me to keep making art and maintain yokai.com year round.

2 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Sunamura no onryo”

  1. It´s always sad to see this end.I´ve been following your work for three years now, and I love it! I´ll be waiting expectingly for next October!

  2. I recently read a story that includes a yokai that was the transformation of a mouse/rat (unclear witch) into a human with two tails and dressed in what I believe were shrine maiden clothes it made me curious but your other site didn’t have it so I was curious if you could help me figure out what it is I put the web address in the link below (https://mangarock.com/manga/mrs-serie-175409/chapter/mrs-chapter-175420)
    Thank you for any help you may provide

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