By request, today’s yokai is Kamikiri, a slightly less-known yokai than some of the recent ones I’ve painted. While there’s little that’s actually be written about Kamikiri, it’s said that it likes to sneak into houses during the night and cut peoples’ hair while they sleep — especially the hair of young women. Others say that the kamikiri appears just before a man is about to unknowingly marry a ghost, yokai, or spirit in disguise as a human. He cuts the bride’s hair to prevent such a perversion of nature. (Aside from being less attractive, a woman with no hair would look like a nun — certainly a groom might think twice if the woman he was arranged to marry appeared to be a nun.) So, good or bad yokai? Hard to say… There are some really good stories about folks who marry supernatural creatures over here.
The October air has been so wonderful this week, especially out here in the countryside. Nighttime air is sweet and cool and fresh, and the October harvest moon — important in Chinese and Japanese culture — was absolutely beautiful last weekend. These nights are the reason October is my favorite month, and why I’m so looking forward to Halloween. Today’s yokai captures, I hope, that feeling of a ghostly October night.
This is Hitotsume-kozo, a kind of ghostly cyclops. They appear as roughly 10-year old boys and resemble bald Buddhist priests. These yokai are fairly harmless, enjoying running around and spooking humans, or yelling at them to be quiet. However, these monsters are generally said to be bad omens, so encounters with them are to be avoided. In that respect, you should hang a basket above your doorway. Apparently these repel hitotsume-kozo, as the many holes in the basket represent many eyes, and the hitotsume-kozo will run away in jealousy and shame at having only one eye.
Not all yokai are born that way — some are ordinary humans transformed into yokai through some magic or other. Today’s yokai is one such cursed human: Rokurokubi. Her name means “pulley neck” and it comes from the fact that her neck is infinitely stretchable, allowing her head to fly about from her body. It’s said this ability only happens at night, and in fact, some rokurokubi are totally unaware of this ability, and their head roams around while they sleep, occasionally licking up lamp oil, or drinking other peoples’ blood, even (rarely) eating humans. Upon waking up, rokurokubi are said to remember strange dreams about what their heads went about doing in the night. This is another one of my favorite yokai. Enjoy!
Earlier I painted the hyousube, and today I bring you his non-hairy cousin, Kappa! Almost anyone with even a mild familiarity with Japanese culture should have heard of the kappa. This is one of the most famous yokai, with kind of a water goblin with a wide range of supernatural powers. They’re very mischievous troublemakers, and often end up interacting with humans, for better or for worse. They’re somewhat monkey-like, with rubbery, scaly skin and turtle shells. They have webbed hands and feet, reek of fish, and are supposed to have slippery, stretchable body parts. If you’re a sushi-lover, you’ve no doubt heard of the kappa-maki, a cucumber roll, named for the kappa because cucumbers are his absolute favorite food. (On the other hand, we can be thankful there is no sushi roll for the kappa’s other favorite food, the oshiri-dango, or ass dumpling, a mythical body part which resides inside the human anus.) In addition to reeking like fish, kappa are said to possess three anuses, which allow them to lay almighty farts. (I’m not making this up.)
It’s not uncommon to see signs warning about kappa near rivers or lakes here, with gruesome illustrations of kappa snatching children and dragging them into the water. Besides children, they like to eat horses, and occasionally adult humans. They’re most dangerous as perpetrators of drownings, cucumber theft, scaring livestock, and unwelcome bathroom touching (they like to hide in toilets and caress the buttocks of people sitting down). Kappa are also said to be masters of the bone-breaking martial art, koppojutsu, so be careful!
They do have one weakness, and that is that all of their power comes from a small dish which is found on top of their skull. This dish is filled with water, and if the water ever spills out or dries up, the kappa will lost all of its strength and magic. They go to great lengths to protect their dishes, but they have a strong sense of honor, and so always return a bow. Young children are taught to bow very low if they see a kappa, in which case the kappa will bow back, spilling the dish. Kappa captured in this way often have their arms or legs cut off, and only returned after the kappa promises to teach some magic or hidden knowledge to their captor.
So what have we learned today, kids? That’s right, there’s a delicious ball hidden deep inside every human anus!
The kitsune is one of the most beloved yokai, and is a pretty common spirit throughout East Asian folklore. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve no doubt seen statues of foxes at many shrines. The fox is considered a magical animal in Japan, and Japanese mythology is full of tales of foxes. There are both benevolent and malevolent foxes — good ones are connected to the god Inari — and they are believed to possess both long life and incredible intelligence, as well as magical powers.
The older a fox gets, the more powerful its magic becomes. It is said that after reaching 100 years of age, a fox learns how to shapeshift into a human; and indeed there are many stores of foxes interacting with humans in this way, including falling in love and even marriage. As foxes increase in age, they are also said to grow more tails. After reaching 1000 years old, a fox receives its ninth tail. At this point, it’s fur becomes white or gold, and it is able to hear and see anything happening anywhere in the world, and it gains infinite wisdom. These foxes are called kyubi no kitsune, and this is what I’ve drawn for you today:
Anyway, kitsune are such an important and interesting part of Japanese folklore, I strongly suggest you search around and read more about them. They’re just plain awesome.
Of all the yokai I’ve heard of, today’s has become my favorite. This is the kamaitachi, or to translate its name into English, the sickle weasel. It’s a pretty dangerous beast; it rides on a gust of wind and slices up its victims legs with its sickles. Another version says that it’s actually a trio of weasel brothers, the first of which knocks the victim down, the second of which cuts the victim up, and the third of which applies medicine to the wounds, making them appear to be only scratches, as if the person had run through brambles.
Aside from the name, which is awesome enough on its own, I think one of the reasons I love the kamaitachi so much is because it really just sounds like whoever made it up couldn’t think of anything good, so he just slapped some knives onto a weasel and called it a day. Though my wife tells me that this is definitely something to be feared, I find it hard not to chuckle at it, just a bit. Anyway, it’s a really cool yokai, so I hope you like my illustration!
Sickle weasel… *snicker*
Today’s yokai is Azukiarai, a fairly gentle yokai who lives in the mountains. They are very shy and elusive, so it’s quite difficult to see them. Their name means “bean washer,” and that’s exactly what they do — they wash buckets of red beans in mountain streams, singing their bean-washing song, which goes like this:
“Azuki togou ka? Hito tottekuou ka? Shoki shoki.”
“Should I grind my azuki beans? Or should I snatch a person to eat? Shoki shoki (the sound of washing beans in the bucket).”
It sounds scary, but he really just sings it for fun. Azukiarai doesn’t hurt people or cause mischief, though it is said that anyone approaching close enough to see one will inevitably fall in the water just before he runs away.