Okiku

Greetings yokai (and yurei) fans!Tonight I bring you Okiku, an amazing ghost story, and one of the most well known ghost stories in Japan. If you’re a fan of Japanese ghost movies, you can’t help but notice the similarities between this and modern ghost movies like The Ring. The influence of this story lives on strong today. I hope you enjoy it!

I’ll be in the UK for summer vacation for one week starting tomorrow, so there will be a brief pause between this post and the next one. But once I get back I’ll bring you the next ghost story right away! Until then, here is Okiku:

Okiku

Okiku

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Yonaki baba

Greetings yokai fans!

It’s the end of the month, and I bring you the final yokai of this month: yonaki baba. She’s a pretty simple and straightforward yokai, which makes it much easier to translate. 🙂

I was first attracted to this yokai because of the outrageously silly illustration of it as it appears in the Buson youkai emaki (incidentally this scroll also gave us the outrageously silly shirime).

I used that as my model, as I like to stick to the source material as much as possible, but I did try to make her a bit more sad looking. The Buson nakibaba looks so happy, and I wanted to make it a bit more ambiguous as to whether she is mocking or genuinely sad for those she haunts, because the folklore doesn’t agree on whether it’s one or the other.

Anyway, here she is!

Yonaki babā

nakibabaaThis post originally appeared on Patreon.com. You can share in my joy and her sadness by becoming a Patreon supporter. Help support my yokai work for only $1 per month!

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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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