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!

 

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hitotsume bo

Today on A-Yokai-A-Day we return to the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki for a look at one of the weirder yokai that we can find out there. This one raises so many questions that I really wish we could talk to the artist of the scroll to see what he had in mind when he painted it! It looks like it could easily fit into a tokusatsu type of movie or show as a monster-of-the-day.

Read on:

Hitotsume bo

Hitotsume bo
“one-eyed monk”

Plenty of yokai go by the name ____ monk, or ____ priest. It’s a common suffix, and as I’ve said before it doesn’t always denote that the creature is in any way related to the clergy (though sometimes they clearly are). This hitotsume bo is one example of a creature that doesn’t have any connection to Buddhism.

There is another yokai confusingly named mehitotsu bo (which also means “one-eyed monk!”). Mehitotsu bo looks completely different from this yokai—it actually resembles a one-eyed Buddhist monk! It looks very similar to a number of other one-eyed monk yokai like ao bozu, hitotsume kozo, and hitotsume nyudo. Be careful not to mix them up!

So what is hitotsume bo? Nobody knows. It’s depicted as a green creature with long arms, protruding fangs, a scruffy beard, human-like hands, and its namesake: a large, single eye in the middle of its face. It’s most amazing feature is located above its eye: a red dot on its forehead from which a beam of what appears to be light shooting out in a cone.

Hitotsume bo is only depicted in the Hyakki yagyo emaki from the shoulders up, so we don’t even know what its lower body looks like. Presumably that means it is relatively unremarkable. Looking at the position of its arms and the shape of its body and hands, I get the impression of a Japanese macaque, and so I depicted hitotsume bo with a long body and stumpy, monkey-like legs.

We don’t even know how tall hitotsume bo is. Looking at other one-eyed monk yokai doesn’t help either, because they range from child-sizes all the way up to gargantuan! To me, hitostume bo looks like he would be big. That eye-beam seems like it could be used as a search light, and I don’t think it would be particularly useful if he were a short yokai. It would be useful for spotting humans hiding among the underbrush!  My own impression is that it could be anywhere from slightly taller than a human, to as tall as a tree. I kind of like the picture I get in my head of this guy peering from behind a treetop that he has pushed aside and beaming light down onto a woodcutter.

Gleaming eyes are something we do see in a number of yokai—particular mountain spirits—so I would guess that hitotsume bo is some kind of mountain creature. Perhaps a fallen, degenerate kami-turned-yokai. This fits the pattern of other one-eyed monk yokai, particularly hitotsume kozo. One eye, or one foot, is another recurring theme we see in mountain spirits (see yamawaro, yama jiji). And with so many isolated mountain villages all over Japan, it should be no surprise that bizarre local mountain spirits are found all over.

Perhaps hitotsume bo is modeled after some village’s local superstition, or a long-forgotten kami. Or maybe the artist was just goofing around and came up with this bizarre-looking thing. We’ll never know!


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: Hosogyo

It’s been a very busy three-day weekend! I barely had time to post Saturday and Sunday’s yokai, and today I was busy all day long and wasn’t able to paint anything new. Fortunately, I was prepared for this. Every year I expect that there will be a couple of days where I’m not able to do a whole painting and translation, and so I prepare a secret stash of finished yokai in September that I can use to fill in the gaps. Today I’m dipping into my secret yokai stash.

Funny enough, today’s yokai fits right in with the ones we’ve been looking at recently. It’s not from the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki, however it is a rare yokai and it doesn’t have much in the way of a story to it. Today’s yokai came from a very old book debunking the yokai sideshows that were popular around the country. It exposed “mummified” kappa as the taxidermy creations that they were, and documented similar misemono (sideshow attractions) that were springing up across the country during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This book doesn’t quite debunk this yokai, but it does describe the creature and the reports of the local fishermen who claimed to have captured it. Click below to visit yokai.com and find out the whole story!

Hosogyo


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!