Setsubun is Just Around the Corner

For yokai fans, one of the really fun Japanese holidays is Setsubun. I’ve covered this on my blog a few times before so there’s not much more to say about it this time around. But I did want to share some of the yokai that I completed during January:


Firstly, the hososhi, which I covered on this blog during A-Yokai-A-Day, but now have a painted version. Of course, with Setsubun coming up, this yokai is more appropriately timed than ever!

Basho no sei

Byobu nozoki


All of the yokai for The Book of the Hakutaku are now painted, which is an exciting milestone. There is still a lot of layout and editing work to do, so the book is still a ways away, but it gets closer and closer to finished each day. There’s still time to pre-order it on Backerkit, and have your name included in the book as an early supporter!

In other news, I was also really pleased to see on 世界!ニッポン行きたい that one of the people featured was a young Hungarian girl whose dream to visit Japan was because of her love for yokai! She is writing about yokai for her graduation thesis, it seems. And I was extra honored that she presented one of my illustrations as part of her inspiration. Good luck メルセデス, I hope you get to visit Japan!

Happy New Year!

It’s 2018 already! Well it has been for a week, but with all the vacation followed by the bustle of getting back into things, it is just starting to sink in.

There’s only a few yokai left to post before the Book of the Hakutaku is complete! It’s hard to believe it’s that close to being packed, and that the Patreon project is that close to having produced 100 yokai!

In case you missed it, December produced four yokai:




Himamushi nyudo

And of course, more are coming this month!

There is still time to pre-order The Book of the Hakutaku on BackerKit. Pre-order backers will have their books signed by the author, and also have the opportunity to get collector’s editions, bookmarks, and yokai apparel that are only available through the Kickstarter/pre-orders. Pre-orders will close most likely in February, so there is still a little time left, but don’t miss your chance!

November Yokai Update

The blog has been quiet since the last A-Yokai-A-Day post and the end of the Kickstarter. That’s because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to post here until now.

Now that the Kickstarter is over, there may be some of you who missed the date or didn’t hear about the project in time, but you still want to get your hands on the collector’s edition hardcovers, or the awesome yokai apparel. The Book of the Hakutaku is now on BackerKit, so you can still become a part of it even if you missed the Kickstarter! BackerKit backers will still be able to order any of the add-ons that were available during the Kickstarter, including hardcovers, slipcases, bookmarks, and clothing! They will also be able to have their books signed, and even have their name listed in the book’s acknowledgments as a backer. So don’t fret if you missed the Kickstarter, you can still be a part!

What you may have missed if you’re not part of the Kickstarter or my Patreon, is the yokai paintings that have been completed this month. I’ve been working my way through the sketches from this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day. Here’s what’s been done so far this month:





On a side note, I visited Kyoto on Thanksgiving, and I found an interesting sight. At Kiyomizu Temple there was a small shrine dedicated to removing curses. I took a few photos to share on the blog:

This is a kind of “curse disposal area.” If you suspect you’ve been cursed, you can write down your name and birthday on a paper doll and drop it into the water.

The paper dolls will slowly dissolve in the water, taking your curse with them! You may remember reading in The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits about this exact sort of thing. In old times, curse dolls would be tossed into rivers to purify them; today, with concerns about pollution, a water bucket is a much more eco-friendly solution!

Interestingly, that’s not the only curse-related area in the shrine. Check out this tree below:

See the holes in that tree? Any guesses what they were made from?

The god of this mini shrine will supposedly answer one prayer, no matter what it is. Consequently, many people have used their one prayer to curse people. According to the shrine, the holes on this tree are the scars left behind by nails and dolls, from people performing the Ushi no Koku Mairi!

I love visiting yokai-sites in real life. There’s something of a bridge between the supernatural and the real world at these locations, as well as a connection between past and present. I wonder who the people were who nailed into this tree? And who they were cursing, and why…

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hangonko

This is it folks, the last yokai of A-Yokai-A-Day 2017! And also your last day to back The Book of the Hakutaku on Kickstarter! Collectors editions and stretch goals won’t be available in stores, so don’t miss your chance to get them as part of the Kickstarter!

I like to save my favorite and scariest yokai of the month for last. Today’s yokai won’t make you scream and won’t make you cringe in disgust. It won’t take your breath away… But it may just bring you true dread. Read on to find out why this is my pick for scariest yokai of the month!

“spirit calling incense”

Toriyama Sekien’s Hangonkō

Hangonkō is a legendary incense from ancient China which has the power to bring forth the spirits of the dead before those who burn it. Those who burn the incense will see the spirits of the dead within the smoke.

The incense was famously used by Emperor Wu (Japanese: Butei) of the Han dynasty in China. After his beloved concubine Li Furen (Japanese: Rifuren) passed away, the emperor fell into deep depression. A Taoist sorcerer, in an attempt to ease the emperor’s grief, provided him with a bit of hangonkō so that he might see Lady Li one more time.

Hangonkō was a popular subject in Japanese literature as well. It appears in a number of Edo period works, from ghost story books to theater, kabuki, rakugo, bunraku/ningyō jōruri puppet theater… The Japanese versions star different characters; for example a man whose beloved prostitute dies is overcome with grief, and a taikomochi recommends he try using hangonkō—a secret incense handed down by the onmyōji Abe no Seimei.

Hangonkō is made from the hangonjū, a magical tree with leaves and flowers that resemble those of a maple or Japanese oak. Its smell can be picked up from over 100 ri away. To make hangonkō, you steam this tree’s roots until the sap comes out. Then you knead the sap to make the incense. A small piece of this resin is said to be effective at recalling the spirits of those who died from sickness or disease.

There is, of course, a catch. Hangonkō only returns the spirit for a short time; and they only exist in the smoke of the burning incense. All of the different versions of the story share the same ending: the person using the incense meets their lover’s spirit one last time, but it only leaves them sadder and more grieved than they were before. It doesn’t alleviate their loneliness, it makes it worse.

There’s an allegory here. Smoke often symbolizes delusion. And in Buddhism the the strongest delusion is attachment to material things—like the inability to let go of a loved one after death. Delusion is said to be the ultimate cause of all suffering.The smoke of the incense prevents those using it from properly letting go of their loved ones and moving on. They’re stuck in the past, in a delusion, and will be miserable until they learn to let go.

To me, there’s nothing comforting about this story. No good moral, no reconciliation, not even a punchline. It just evokes pure, existential horror; the horror of losing a loved one too soon. How do you get over that? Either you do or you don’t… One of my best friends says that their greatest fear is to die alone. Staying alive, however, seems even worse.

Happy Halloween!

Hangonkō, from The Book of the Hakutaku

A-Yokai-A-Day: Kurobozu

Those of you long-time readers of A-Yokai-A-Day will probably know that I like to build up towards Halloween, with the scariest and most thematically-appropriate yokai saved for the end. This past week we’ve seen yokai dressing up in costumes, old hags, monsters hiding under your floor, the ghosts of people burnt at the stake (sort of), just to name a few. Today’s yokai is one that I find pretty spooky, a little funny, but mostly just darn creepy.

Be warned: kurobōzu is nightmare fuel. If you are the type of person who has to have your blanket tucked under your feet before you can fall asleep (I know I am!) then you might want to not read this before bed!

“black monk”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s depiction of the kurobōzu, from the Hōchi Shinbun issue #663.

As we’ve seen, there’s no shortage of bōzu (priest or monk-shaped) yokai. Heck, even black monk yokai are not in short supply. Kuro bōzu stands out those, because it is a relatively modern yokai. While the others come from the depths of folklore, this one appeared in the early Meiji period, in a newspaper article in the Hōchi Shinbun. It’s a good transitional link between the yokai of old and modern-day urban legends. The report came from the Kanda neighborhood of Tokyo:

At a certain carpenter’s house in Kanda, every night at 12 midnight, a dark, black, shadowy figure resembling a monk would appear in the house.

The creature would creep into their bedroom and stick its tongue in the ears and mouth of the carpenter’s sleeping wife, licking her all over.

The creature smelled so fowl, like rotting raw fish or garbage. The smell was so noxious that the family became ill.

The wife could not put up with this nightly treatment, so she left the house to go live with her relatives. After she left the house, the black monk never returned.

So what was the kurobōzu? Some yokai-ologists say it was a kind of nopperabō, due to its vague and indiscernible features. Others say it was related to a yamachichi, and it was sneaking into houses to steal the breath of sleeping humans.

Of course, less supernatural minded people might jump to the even more fearsome conclusion that some sort of homeless pervert was sneaking into the house and assaulting the wife. Or maybe it was even a hallucination caused by the unwanted advances of a drunk, disgusting husband? Who knows… Whatever it was, it’s difficult to imagine that poor woman’s trauma, and it’s hard to believe she had a good night’s sleep for a long time after that…

Kurobōzu. This one is going to be fun to paint!

Halloween is the final day of the Kickstarter for The Book of the Hakutaku! Don’t miss out on the chance to have over 100 yokai paintings and descriptions in glorious paperback, hardcover, or art prints!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Todaiki

There’s only a few days left in the Kickstarter project! In fact, Kickstarter is now counting the hours, not the days! So if you’ve been waiting until the end of the project, now is a good time to back. As we meet more stretch goals, more yokai designs will be added to the t-shirt and hoodie options.

“spirit candlestick”

Toriyama Sekien’s Tōdaiki

Today there are all kinds of urban legends about people traveling to foreign countries, staying in hostels, and then waking up in a bathtub of ice with surgical stitches and missing a few internal organs. As much as that sounds like a product of modernization and the trend of global tourism, urban legends like this have existed for as long as people have traveled. Tōdaiki is a fun example of such a legend; although, it deals with dark magic instead of amateur organ harvesting…

According to Sekien, long ago, a government minister named Karu no Daijin was sent on a mission to Tang China. This was a period of great movement of culture and ideas between China and Japan, so nothing is strange about that. However, when the envoy failed to return to Japan long after they were overdue, the minister’s son, Hitsu no Saishō, began to worry.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s print of Hitsu no Saishō encountering the tōdaiki

Hitsu no Saishō traveled to China to search for his missing father. He traveled far and wide, and in one particular location he came across something he had never seen before: a tōdaiki—a candlestick fashioned out of a living human being! By some combination of strange drugs and sorcery, the man’s ability to speak had been removed. His body was covered in tattoos, and a large candle had been placed in his head. He had been installed on a fancy little stand like a piece of furniture.

As Hitsu no Saishō looked in puzzlement at the strange sight, the human candlestick began to shed tears. Unable to speak, the man bit into he tip of his finger until it began to bleed. He scrawled out a few characters in his own blood. Upon reading them, Hitsu no Saishō realized in horror: the tōdaiki was his own father who he had come to China to search for!

The people involved in this story are real. Hitsu no Saishō was the nickname of Fujiwara no Arikuni, a Heian period noble who lived from 943-1011 CE. Although the story about the tōdaiki is a fabrication, it’s an interesting example of where fact and folklore intersect. Because this early urban legend involved real people who were well known to educated readers, it gives the story much more weight. It’s not really any different from the story about George Washington and the cherry tree when you think about it… well, except that this one is far more terrifying!

Don’t miss out on your chance to become a backer for The Book of the Hakutaku, and get Kickstarter-only special collectors editions of the book, as well as other awesome yokai goods.

A-Yokai-A-Day: Kidomaru

I love yokai stories that reference other yokai stories. There are a lot of recurring characters, especially heroes, among yokai tales; especially among tales from the Kamakura period, when the legends of brave samurai from the previous era were popular. The rise of the military caste during this period is probably responsible for the popularity of amazing warrior stories from that time.

Cross-referencing other yokai seems to give a little bit of credence or believability to folk tales. We see Toriyama Sekien do this a lot when he makes up new tales. Some of the really famous yokai, such as Tamamo no Mae and Shukaku trace their roots all the way back to India and China, linking their Japanese versions to famous folk tales from those countries, and adding more depth to their biographies.

In a way, it’s almost like a folkloric “expanded universe” or fandom, where sometimes contradictory stories exist, but they still feel correct despite the irregularities.


Toriyama Sekien’s Kidōmaru

Kidōmaru is the name of an oni who appears in Kokon chomonjū (“A Collection of Notable Tales Old and New”), a Kamakura period complication of myths and legends of the Heian period. Kidōmaru is his name, so I haven’t listed a translation, but the characters used roughly translate to “Oni Boy.” It sounds like a nickname, almost like “Billy the Kid.” I’m sure you could translation it a number of fun ways: “Li’l Oni” “Oni the Kid” or anything along those lines, but I will just call him Kidōmaru.

When speaking of oni, it is impossible to fail to mention Shuten Dōji, the king of the oni. We’ve also covered his right-hand man (woman?) on this blog: Ibaraki Dōji. Kidōmaru is another member of Shuten Dōji’s clan, and is sometimes said to be Shuten Dōji’s son!

His story takes place after the legendary samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu (aka Raikō) and his party of heroes had subjugated Shuten Dōji and freed all of the women captured by the oni’s clan. The women were grateful to the samurai for rescuing them, and returned home to their villages. One of the women, however, didn’t return to her home. Instead, she traveled to the village of Kumohara, where she gave birth to a baby oni—Shuten Dōji’s son!

Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicts Kidōmaru training in his cave and developing his magical powers

The boy was named Kidōmaru. He was born with a full set of teeth, and an oni’s strength. When he was only 7 or 8 years old, he was strong enough to kill a deer or a boar by throwing a single rock. By the time he had grown to an adult, he decided to get revenge on those who had slain his father.

Some versions of his story say that he was apprenticed as a temple servant to Mt. Hiei, just like his father was. And just like his father, he was eventually expelled from the temple for being a wicked, wretched little boy. He fled into the mountains and lived in a cave. He turned to robbing people to survive, and studied magic and honed his powers in his cave hideout.

Time passed, and the next thing we hear about Kidōmaru occurs when Raikō was visiting his younger brother, Minamoto no Yorinobu. Yoribonu had captured Kidōmaru in his bathroom—the story doesn’t say how or why this happened, but somehow, Yorinobu had locked the oni in the bathroom.

Raikō scolded his little brother for being so careless and not properly tying Kidōmaru up in ropes and chains. He then tied up the oni in chains to make sure he couldn’t escape and to show his brother how it was done. Raikō spent the night there just to make sure everything was OK.

During the night, Kidōmaru easily broke the chains that were holding him with his supernatural strength. He wanted to get his revenge on the cocky Raikō. He snuck up to Raikō’s door and spied on him. Raikō, however, noticed Kidōmaru spying on him. In a loud voice, he told his attendants that tomorrow morning they would ride to Kurama to make a pilgrimage to the temple there.

Hearing this Kidōmaru went ahead to set a trap for Raikō. He set up an ambush on the road near Ichiharano. He slaughtered a cow in one of the fields and climbed inside of its body to hide and wait for Raikō.

When Raikō and his companions arrived at Ichiharano, they easily saw through the oni’s disguise. Raikō’s best archer, Watanabe no Tsuna (the same Watanabe no Tsuna who cut off Ibaraki Dōji’s hand) shot an arrow through the cow’s body, injuring Kidōmaru.

Kidōmaru emerged from the cow’s corpse and charged at Raikō with all of his might. However, Raikō was too fast for him. He cut Kidōmaru down with a single stroke of his blade.

Kidōmaru, to be painted later this year!