A-Yokai-A-Day: Uyauyashi

Does anyone else remember Boglins? When I was a kid I thought they were the coolest toys and I really wanted one. They had that textured rubbery skin and those glassy eyes and you could morph their face into pretty much any facial expression. Looking at today’s yokai, I just can’t help but be reminded of a Boglin.

Uyauyashi

Uyauyashi
“respectful”

Uyauyashi comes from the same yokai scroll as yesterday’s yokai: the Bakemono tsukushi emaki, from the personal collection of Yumoto Koichi. As with many of the yokai in this scroll, its name is a bit of a pun. The word uyauyashii means respectful and deferential. However, this yokai’s name is not written with the normal characters for uyauyashii. It’s been written with ateji—nonstandard kanji that are chosen for their sound and often have a secondary meaning.

Still, as the name implies, uyauyashi is depicted as a very respectful yokai. It’s bowing down low to the viewer, almost smashing itself into the ground. It has a serene look on its face, with eyes closed. It looks to be enormously overweight, with fleshy rolls overflowing down its sides. Its flabby skin is covered in white speckles or pocks.

Nothing is known about its true form, but it resembles a blubbery toad. It has also been suggested that it is related to other blubbery yokai, like nuppeppo or nebutori.

One thing that jumps out is that, while appearing peaceful and respectful, uyauyashi has two large, sharp fangs peeking out of its flabby mouth. Could its respectfulness be a trick? Could it just be feigning respect? Could it be a trick meant to make it appear friendly, when it is really just waiting for a chance to bare its fangs and strike? If we consider that yokai are commonly used as explanations or reflections of bad human behavior, that certainly makes this character feel more yokai-ish!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Bakan nyudo

Today we’re moving on from the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki to start looking at the Bakemono tsukushi emaki, a very interesting yokai scroll painted in 1820. It contains 12 different yokai, 11 of which are unique to this scroll. It is 3 meters long, 30 cm high, painted by an anonymous artist. It doesn’t include a preface so for the most part the yokai are just as mysterious as the ones in the previous scroll we looked at. However, just like that scroll, we can guess a lot about their characteristics from their poses and the wordplay associated with their names.

Let’s take a look!

Bakan nyudo

Bakan nyudo
“horse liver monk”

Bakan nyudo is a humanoid yokai which looks roughly like a Buddhist monk or priest. Its skin in tinged with blue. It has big floppy elephantine ears and a wonky honky nose like a tengu’s. Its eyes are red and a bit bloodshot. It has a long white beard, mustache, and overhanging eyebrows. If he looks a little familiar to the shiofuki, which we’ve seen before on this blog and yokai.com, it’s because it’s by the same artist. It seems to be the way this artist painted his ears. On the other hand, it may be a clue that this yokai is as large as an elephant!

During the Edo Period, the liver of a horse was thought to contain a toxin so powerful that it could kill a man. As such, this yokai is sometimes thought to be a spirit of food poisoning, or even poisonous itself. Perhaps the bakan nyudo is a poisonous as a horse’s liver, and so running into one results in a painful death for the unlucky victim!

Conversely, there is a plant used in traditional Chinese remedies called bakkan ishi (“horse liver stone”). It’s made from the tuber fleeceflower (Fallopia multiflora). This remedy was said to completely  cure any sickness in an instantly. Could this yokai possibly be related to that?

It seems more likely that a yokai would be dangerous than related to medicine, so my money’s on the first theory. In any case, I would recommend that if an elephant-sized blue priest emerges from the woods, you run away, and don’t hang around to see if he’ll cure your acne!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Nihon ashi

The Matsui Bunko scroll has been really fun to look at. It’s got a lot of unique and bizarre images. Just when I thought yokai couldn’t get any sillier, that scroll was able to up the ante. Tonight’s yokai just may be the champion of silliness. At least for now…

Read on!

Nihon ashi

Nihon ashi
“two legs”

Oh boy this is going to be an easy one, isn’t it?

Nihon ashi, meaning “two legs,” is a yokai which consists of a head and two legs. Nothing more. Well, it has a little loincloth, and appears to be wearing socks as well. It’s mouth is all scrunched up in a Popeye the Sailor kind of way, as if he were eating his own nose.

Nihon ashi comes from the Matsui bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki, and also appears in a number of other yokai scrolls.

In some other yokai scrolls, nihon ashi was re-labled with the name rachimonai. It’s a silly and vague name which means silly or vague. At least it leaves more to the imagination than nihon ashi does.

What this yokai does is anyone’s guess. I can picture it running around a road or someone’s hallway chasing random people. Come to think of it, did anyone else ever pull their sweatpants up to their shoulders as a kid and run around as just a head and a pair of sweatpants? Cause I definitely did that. (Yes, as a kid! Why are you looking at me like that?)

Maybe it’s time to look at a different yokai scroll. The Hyakki yagyo emaki is really getting to be too silly and vague!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Kinako bo

If you are familiar with Japanese food, then you probably know about kinako. It’s a yellow ochre-ish colored powder with a slightly sweet flavor. It’s made from dried and ground up roasted soy beans. It’s a popular ingredient in traditional Japanese sweets, and it tastes fantastic on mochi! Well, what if I told you there was even a yokai for that!

Read on!

Kinako bo

Kinako bo
“kinako monk”

Kinako bo appears in the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki. It can also be found in other yokai scrolls like the Bakemono tsukushi emaki (where it goes by the name kasukurai). However, all depictions of it are pictures only. There are no stories or legends of this yokai which survive today. (Were there ever any? We don’t know.)

What’s more, the only pictures of this yokai show it from the neck up. We don’t get any glimpse of its body. So we can only guess what it looked like below the neck based on the shape of its head. (Somehow this makes me feel like a paleontologist who has to extrapolate the entire shape of a dinosaur based on a single bone or a tooth.) My favorite book by yokai-ologist Murakami Kenji describes its body as “buyo buyo,” or soft and flabby, which is why I gave it the body you see here.

Whatever its body looked like, it’s a pretty intimidating-looking yokai. Those saucer-like eyes and bright yellow skin certainly give it a horrific appearance. And the sharp teeth in its mouth! It’s truly monstrous! It makes me want to know more about it.

So how did something so sweet and wonderful turn into a yokai? It’s a mystery! Soy beans are of course used in rituals like the bean-tossing ceremony at Setsubun. Could some of the evil or magic from the oni rub off on to the beans? Maybe if soy beans which are used to ward off oni are then ground and turned into kinako, they turn into a kinako bo? Or, maybe this is a yokai who really loves to eat kinako himself? Is it soft and flabby because it ate too much kinako mochi? It’s anybody’s guess.

All this talk about kinako has made me hungry!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Minokedachi

In nine years of doing A-Yokai-A-Day, 3 books, my Patreon project, and all the various yokai events in between, I have seen a lot of yokai. I’ve seen just about every kind of slimey, sticky, bloody, gory, ghastly monster you can imagine. I’ve seen incredibly graphic illustrations, and mummified body parts sewn on to other animals. And yet, I think that drawing today’s yokai is the first time my stomach has actually turned slightly. This may just be the grossest-looking goblin I have ever come across, and bringing my face right up to his as I painstakingly recreated the details of his greasy body hair… phew, I tell you I could almost smell him!

Anyway, enough disgusting details. Enjoy the yokai!

Minokedachi

Minokedachi
“standing-up body hair”

Minokedachi first appears in the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki, where its name is recorded as jujubo. It appears in a number of other later yokai scrolls, and for some reason, the name was changed to minokedachi. Minokedachi seems to have stuck while jujubo eventually faded in obscurity. Perhaps because it is a more obviously descriptive name? In any case, feel free to use either name. I’ll be using minokedachi on this blog simply because it’s more common.

Minokedachi is a grotesque yokai with short, thick, bristly hairs all over its body. It has a hunched over posture and its arms are extended in front of it like an old perverted grandpa doing the creep. To make things worse, its lips are pursed or puckered in an almost pensive pose. It gives the impressive of a dirty old man sucking on his teeth, trying to find something to complain about. This is truly a repulsive specter.

What this yokai truly is or does is anyone’s guess. Some have theorized this yokai haunts people and causes them to whinge and gripe incessantly about things. That tooth-sucking, pursed lip pose certainly adds weight to that theory. Others have pointed out that the condition of your hair standing up on end is one of fear. This yokai’s name means hair standing up on end, and it is covered in thick, standing hairs, so perhaps this yokai is afraid. Maybe minokedachi is a spirit of fear?

Frankly, I think both of those theories can be simultaneously correct. If I ran into this tooth-sucking, nearly naked, hairy old pervert yokai out on the street, I think my hair would stand up on end!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Ushirome

Remember back in elementary school when your teacher used to say that she had eyes in the back of her head? Well, you might not be surprised by this, but there’s a yokai for that!

Ushirome

Ushirome
eye in the back

Ushirome originates in the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki. As such, it is another mysterious yokai with no origin story. But we can extrapolate a bit based on its name and its depiction.

Quite literally, ushirome has an eye right smack in the back of its head. It wears a women’s kimono, and has the shaved bald head of a Buddhist monk. It appears not to have hands, but instead it has arms that end in single, hooked talons.

The original illustration only shows ushirome from the shoulders up, and only one of its arms. However, because it’s wearing a kimono I think it’s safe to assume it has more than one arm. It may be a one-legged yokai, but if that were the case its one leg would probably have been painted, so it’s probably safe to assume it has two legs as well.

So why does ushirome have only one eye, and what does ushirome mean besides having an eye in the back of your head?

Ushiro no me (eyes in the back) is a Japanese idiom which is similar in meaning to the English idea. It means that you’re not able to hide something or keep something secret because eventually it will be discovered. Other bits of wordplay have been suggested: the creature is pointing its large single finger backwards, which hints at the Japanese idiom ushiro yubi wo sasu (pointing a finger at someone’s back; meaning to say bad things about someone when they’re not around). Ushiro wo miseru (to show one’s back) is another idiom that is brought to mind. It implies cowardice and running away.

The Hyakumonogatari bakemono emaki (painted in 1780) includes a copy of this yokai, but renames it oyanirami (“parents’ glare”) and a later version which is in the collection of Kyoto’s International Research Center for Japanese Studies is titled oyashirome (the whites of parents’ eyes).

The early Edo Period book Ikoku monogatari (Tales from Foreign Countries) speaks of a faraway land called Kogankoku (“the land of back-eyed people”) inhabited entirely by people with single eyes in the backs of their heads. The people of Kogankoku were archers, and resembled the Tatars of Central Asia. There’s no strictly expressed connection between those people and this yokai, but it’s hard to ignore the very obvious similarity as well.

The kanji used to write ushirome can also be read shirime, which is the name of another ahem famous yokai. Perhaps there is some kind of relation between the two? Or perhaps one of them is a wordplay on the other?

There are plenty of other mysteries about this yokai. Are there other idioms that it evokes which we have skipped over? Is there a meaning to the kimono and even the design on the kimono which it is wearing? Does it have eyes on the front of its face as well? We’ll never know, but there sure is a lot to speculate about this grotesque-looking character!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Nadezato

Yokai were often used as a way to poke fun at certain social topics that were taboo or illegal to talk about. The Edo Period, while relatively peaceful and prosperous, was still a military dictatorship, and the shogunate had the final word on what you could print or publish. Political cartoons were certainly off limits. However, a carefully designed yokai could skirt around those limits, and its message would still be understandable by educated readers, while maintaining plausible deniability about its true meaning.

Today’s yokai could be one such example:

Nadezato

Nadezato
stroking zato (a blind guildsman)

Nadezato is another mysterious yokai from the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki. For the most part it looks like a zato, and it joins the ranks of other zato yokai (umi zato, ozato). While we don’t know for sure what the artist intended by this illustration, it’s possible to make some educated guesses.

A zato, as you may know, was a member of a blind persons’ guild during the Edo Period. In order to ensure blind people could earn an income, the shogunate restricted a few professions to blind people (a sort of early experiment in social welfare). Among these were biwa & shamisen playing, massage, and money lending. While it may seem praiseworthy to reserve some jobs for the blind, it also allowed for a lot of corruption and stratification within the zato guilds. Particularly, the money lending aspect also caused zato to be viewed with fear and distrust, and for many a gambler or brothel-goer, the sight of a zato coming towards you was as terrifying as a monster! It’s no wonder that zato were a popular subject of yokai caricatures.

Nadezato’s main features are its oddly shaped ears which are pointed like a cat’s, and its razor sharp claws which are pointed… like… a cat’s…

Wait, could nadezato be the first cat cosplayer??

The nade in nadezato means to pet or stroke something. Nademono (petting thing) is an old way to refer to a cat. A cat of course pretends to be your friend in order to get you to pet and stroke it, but will just as quickly claw and scratch you if it feels like it. This is where the idiom neko o kaburu (“to act like a cat;” i.e. to feign friendliness) comes from. Neko nade goe (“cat stroking voice;” to talk with a soft, coaxing voice) also sounds similar, and refers to that ingratiating voice you use when you’re trying to gain someone’s favor.

But wait, there’s more!

In Japan’s magical traditions (Shinto, Taoism, onmyodo, etc.) there is an item called a nademono. This is a small fetish or talisman that one can stroke or rub, and their sins and uncleanliness will be transferred from their own body and into the nademono. The nademono could then be burned, or washed away in a river, or otherwise purified, taking the owner’s sins away with it.

Some yokai-ologists have inferred that nadezato is a play on words between the idea of nade referring to a number of cat-related things, as well as a talisman for sin. The nadezato appears to be creeping around with his sharp claws outstretched, looking for prey. “To sharpen one’s claws” is a Japanese idiom meaning to seize an opportunity. Perhaps nadezato just acts like a helpless blind man in order to gain sympathy, when it is really waiting for the opportunity to pounce. Then it sinks its claws into its victim and transfers its own sins and uncleanliness to that person! Scary!

…but still none of it explains the webbed feet…


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!