A-Yokai-A-Day, Pandemic Edition: Jinshaku

Greetings yokai lovers!

It’s October, and you know what that means: it’s time for A-Yokai-A-Day!

This year, like every year since 2009, I will be painting a yokai every single day of the month and posting it to my blog. Click here for my A-Yokai-A-Day archives to see yokai posts from the past decade.

If you’d like to join me and many others in painting a yokai a day this month, all you have to do is paint, draw, or create any yokai you like, and share it using the hashtag #ayokaiaday. There’s no set list of yokai you have to paint, but you’re free to browse yokai.com or any other yokai resource and choose your favorites.

For me, 2020’s theme is pretty much dictated by the events of the year. The pandemic has allowed me to turn some attention to disease-and-cure-themed yokai, like all of the amabie types that I’ve posted on my Patreon this year. But there’s so much more than I’ve been able to cover so far, so it makes sense to dig a little deeper into it during a marathon-like project such as A-Yokai-A-Day.

When I was writing The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits, I included a bunch of disease-causing yokai from an old Edo Period medicine book called Harikikigaki. You can see them here. These mushi, or “bugs,” are what Japan imagined the causes of sickness were, well before the germ theory of medicine was available.

To give you an idea of what the original work looked like, here are a few scanned pages from Harikikigaki:

Each entry describes a particular mushi that causes the sickness, the disease symptoms it imparts, and how to treat it using acupuncture, Taoist magic, and herbal remedies. The philosophy in this book is pretty fascinating, and quite complicated. It’s based on traditional Chinese folk magic , so in the descriptions of these mushi you’ll see the names of a lot of herbs, as well as Chinese elements. If you’d like to know more about those, Wikipedia does a good job of running it down.

There are so many of them (over 60 in the Harikikigaki, and hundreds of others scattered throughout the whole of folklore), and showcasing more of them has been a long time goal of mine. So you won’t see any repeats from my books or yokai.com during this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day.

So, with introductions out of the way, on to today’s A-Yokai-A-Day entry.


Translation: kidney shaku*
Alternate names: honton (“running pig”)

Jinshaku is a bug that affects, as the name suggests, in the kidneys. It resides beneath the belly button, but it incessantly moves up and down inside the body, causing pain.

Overall, it resembles a tiny boar. It’s back is whitish while its belly is red. It has two long, red protrusions on its face that look like a mustache. Its tongue is very long, and its tail and legs are short. It is usually accompanied by a number of small, white worms, together with which it rampages around throughout the body.

In Chinese Elemental Theory, the area a jinshaku lives in (below the belly) is related to the north direction. However, elementally it is categorized as a water spirit, so it endlessly wanders about inside the body like a flowing liquid.

Symptoms of a jinshaku infection include a difficulty in detecting the pulse in the wrists. The face and body turn dark, and the patient develops a taste for salty foods. A severe, putrid smell emanates from the breath.

It can be treated by numerous acupuncture methods. (These closely guarded secrets were always transferred by oral tradition, and so the book only ever mentions if there are treatments or not, but never what they are!)

*Shaku is a word we’ll see quite a few times this month. It’s not easily definable or translatable. It’s essentially one of a few categories of sickness that the creatures we’ll be looking at fall into. The basic theory behind them was that various types of energies would accumulate as shaku in the organs until they become a large mass, which would then cause various symptoms to occur.

If you enjoyed today’s A-Yokai-A-Day entry, please consider becoming a patron and supporting my work by visiting patreon.com/osarusan.

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