Tenjōname

Greeting yokai fans!

Today I present tenjoname, the ceiling licker. I’m pretty sure my house has had a tenjoname in it at some point, because our ceilings are covered in spots. At first we thought they were water stains from a leaky roof, but now… now I’m pretty convinced it was a tenjoname after all. (I’m pretty sure we have a sakabashira as well, so this house is clearly yokai-friendly.)

Tenjōname

tenjoname

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Shumoku Musume

Greetings yokai fans!

Today I present to you shumoku musume, or “hammer girl.”

I fell in love with this yokai the first time I saw her, in one of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s prints. Although there’s no description of her in that print, I really wanted to find out more of that strange, snail-like yokai in the background:

She’s actually quite a minor yokai, and is not the subject of any stories or legends. She appears in obake karuta, however, and that is her main claim to fame. While she doesn’t do much except for maybe jump out and spook people, it’s her unique appearance that makes her so appealing, and I’m sure that’s why she was included in the obake karuta.

What’s not to love about that?

Anyway, here she is:

shumokumusume

Shumoku musume

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Appossha

Greetings yokai fans!

It’s been a while since the last post, but I am excited to share with you the appossha! Although this is a winter yokai, I thought it might help to keep you cool in this unquenchable summer heat!

I think that appossha is a really interesting yokai for a number of reasons. First of all, he is a super local yokai, found only in one tiny hamlet here in Fukui prefecture. He’s so local that people in Fukui who aren’t from that village hardly even know of him.

Koshino, Fukui, pop. ~1700 -> probably the same as the number of people who have heard of appossha.

So I love this yokai because he’s so local and so unknown, and also because he’s from Fukui, where I live. But more than that, I love what this yokai represents.

You can read about his origins on yokai.com, so I won’t repeat them here, but I just love the story of how this yokai came about. It’s one of those things where you can visualize almost exactly what happened in your mind’s eye: some foreign-speaking fisherman with only a smattering of Japanese, crawling out of the icy waters, red-faced, covered in sea weed, and banging from door to door begging in his broken language for some food. Of course children would be scared! And yet, when offered food and warmth, he turns out to be not monstrous at all.

What’s more, this yokai is a remnant of a lost aspect of folk religion, which has been blended and absorbed into modern traditions, but can be seen pretty clearly in this example.

The marebito religion is a concept that was put forward by folklorist Orikuchi Shinobu, a student of Yanagita Kunio. It describes a set of folk beliefs centered around what could be described as worship of “the stranger.” It describes an archetypal folk belief found in which a spirit from the world of the dead visits a village, and is offered food, shelter, etc. Yokai like the appossha and the namahage are perfect examples of this, but we also see some elements of this ancient folk religion in the festival of Obon, where the dead are welcomed back to the world of the living for one day. Although this isn’t a “religion” in the sense of having a doctrine or scriptures, it does describe a common set of practices seen throughout Japan, which still echo in contemporary Japanese culture.

Even pop culture can echo this, as we see in the scene where No Face enters the bath house in Spirited Away. No Face himself could be an example of a marebito; he is an unknown creature from an unknown land (unknowable, even, as he wears a mask — just as yokai like appossha wear masks). He brings gifts to the other guests at the bathhouse, but he also brings danger and threatens them. He’s welcomed in a ritualistic way with a song and a ceremonial parade. It’s clear that the storytellers did their research!

This sort of folk belief is of course not restricted to Japan. We see parallels in folk religions all over the world. Masks have been used as important religious devices all across the ancient world, and the concept of the stranger from another world is found all over folk lore, religion, and literature. They worship “the stranger” in the fantasy religion of Westeros. Heck, the movie E.T. is almost a perfect parallel to this type of story.

Well, that may be stretching it a bit, but it’s clear there is something deeply, profoundly human that can be found even in a little-known, somewhat goofy yokai like appossha.

Appossha

Appossha

Appossha

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July Yokai Plans

Greetings yokai fans!

July is here, and the rainy season is keep it at 90% humidity, making everything soaking wet and hot and miserable. But soon everywhere will be bright and sunny and green like in the video above! (And far too hot…)

July feels like the start of yokai season in Japan. As you may be aware, yokai/ghost season takes place in the summer over here, not around Halloween like in the US.
Of course for me that means it’s my busiest season. In addition to looking up yokai art exhibitions and other fun yokai events, I’m in the middle of preparing for a radio interview this week as Fukui city’s local yokai guy. I also just finished recording a podcast episode with The Monster Guys, which should be coming out later this month. Next week I’m heading to Tokai University to give a lecture on yokai (thanks to one of my backers for helping to set that up!). And if anyone is in San Diego, some of my yokai prints will be showing at the Japanese Friendship Garden coinciding with the start of Comic Con. That might mean some of the posts this month will be a bit staggered, so forgive me if that happens!

Join my Patreon project to preview the yokai I’ll be painting this month, or to make a request to have your favorite yokai done soon!

Kanazuchibo & Okka

Greetings yokai fans!

Today I bring you this month’s final yokai (or pair of yokai, rather). Up top we have kanazuchibo and down below we have okka.

kanazuchibou & okka

kanazuchibo & okka

These yokai are similar to the previous ones in that their names were stapled on after the fact, and nothing has ever been written to describe their appearance. They’re also not folkloric yokai, as they only exist in the world of paintings. That said, they appear in a lot of paintings! These guys pop up in almost every yokai picture scroll, and so for a pair of yokai with absolutely nothing to their names (and not even a name, technically!), they are pretty well known.

I have had many requests to paint these guys, going back years. A lot of people want to know more about them, so I never wanted to be the bearer of bad news and say that there really just isn’t much to know about them. However, it’s possible to go to some length about them even though they don’t have any stories or names.

Read on to find out more:

Kanazuchibō

Okka

Furuougi & Hasamidachi

Greetings yokai fans!

It’s been a bit quiet since the last posting… This illustration and these yokai were quite an ordeal! I’m happy with the results of the final image, but boy did I wrestle with these two and the accursed background for a long time!

Worse than the painting, though, was researching. As I mentioned before, there is literally no information on them at all, anywhere. They were invented as images only, and have appeared on the earliest known yokai scrolls as well as many copies in the following centuries.

I took that more as a challenge than a fact, and I searched and searched and searched and searched. I was really hoping to find something interesting, some obscure tale, or anything in older folklore… but ultimately I was only able to confirm that there is no reliable description or folklore related to these two characters. There are some apocryphal stories in English-language books, but they appear to have just been made up by the authors.

I did manage to get their names, which were also invented more recently, of course, but I have a more reliable source for those. They were “named” by a present day yokai researcher who is a member of one of the largest yokai societies in Japan. He put out a book in the early 2000’s and added names to a bunch of these bizarre yokai from the early scrolls, and I figure his naming scheme is good enough for me. You probably won’t find them named Hasamidachi and Furuogi anywhere else, other than in reference to the same book by Aramata Hiroshi, but they are better names than just “fan monster” and “scissors monster.”

Anyway, here they are:

furuougi & hasamidachi

Hasamidachi

Furuōgi

Fugurima yohi

Greetings yokai fans!

Today’s yokai is another companion piece.

This is fuguruma yohi, the strange queen of the book cart.

You can probably guess who her companion is, as they are king and queen. Last month’s chirizuka kaio and today’s fuguruma yohi appear opposite each other in their original publication, Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. Like the strange king, this strange queen was made up by Toriyama Sekien, based on a pun from the Tsurezure gusa.

It’s never specified just what she is queen of (if anything). Presumably, she is just the queen of that book cart and it’s just a fancy name. But maybe she is queen of the tsukumogami entirely, ruling alongside the chirizuka kaio? It’s fun to speculate, but really there’s no answer, as neither of them are folkloric or mythological figures. They were both invented for Sekien’s book and really just mainly as silly puns that sharp-eyed and educated readers would enjoy on a level above just the funny illustration. Toriyama Sekien was a master at creating multi-leveled humor.

But regardless of what she is queen of, she’s a fun character to look at and a good addition to our collection of yokai!

Fuguruma yōhi

fugurimayohiThis post originally appeared on Patreon.com. Support my work and feed your yokai addiction by becoming a backer for only $1 per month!