July Update

May and June have gone by in a flash, as I have been so busy working on the book as well as the Patreon that I haven’t had a moment to even think about updating the blog! We are also having our house remodeled so that has taken up a lot of my attention.

It’s been a busy couple of months for yokai painting. Here are the images you may have missed if you haven’t been following the Patreon or my social media:


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: Hoko

Slipcases were made available on the Kickstarter project yesterday, and I am in the process of coming up with more slipcase designs for the other two hardcovers. In addition, more t-shirt and hoodie designs will be posted soon, so if you’re interested in yokai apparel, you have something to get excited about!

On to today’s yokai!

“evergreen lord; refers to the penghou”

Hoko, from the Wakan sansai zue

It is said that an old man once cut a camphor tree with an axe, and blood came out from the tree. Inside that tree lived a hōkō.

The hōkō comes from China and appears in a number of Chinese and Japanese chronicles. It is a nature spirit which inhabits 1000-year old trees. It resembles a black dog with no tail and a human-like face. Being a tree spirit, it is said to be similar to a kodama or a yamabiko, although Toriyama Sekien goes out of his way to specifically mention that it is a separate animal from the yamabiko. (Understandable, since it does resemble the yamabiko quite a bit.)

Hōkō are recorded as being edible; the ancient Chinese records that mention them include accounts of them being stewed and eaten. Apparently they taste sweet and sour, and similar to dog meat.

Toriyama Sekien’s hoko

Hōkō is the Japanese pronunciation of its Chinese name, Penghou, and thus does not translate perfectly into Japanese. Legends of the creature generally refer to it being found inside of camphor trees. However, the first characters in its name can refer to a different kind of evergreen: the sakaki (Cleyera japonica), which is an important sacred tree in Shinto. The second character in its name was used as a title for feudal lords. It’s not really clear that these were the intended meanings in the original Chinese though. Supposedly, its name was first recorded in the Hakutaku zu (“The Book of the Hakutaku”), a book written many thousands of years ago which has since been lost to history—so the true meaning of its name is difficult to decipher.

Hoko, from The Book of the Hakutaku

A-Yokai-A-Day: Shokuin

The Book of the Hakutaku has passed 1000% funding, and more stretch goals are being added. Today’s yokai, Shokuin, will be appearing in the book as one of the over 100 fully illustrated entries.

“torch shadow”

Shokuin as he appears in the Shan hai jing

Shokuin is an impressive beast. He originally comes from China, and was brought to Japan in the Sengaikyo (Chinese: Shanhaijing; “The Classics of the Mountains and Seas”), an encyclopedia of fantastical Chinese mythology. In China he is known as Zhuyin or Zhulong. (Shokuin is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters that make up Zhuyin.)

A lot of yokai were lifted from the Shanhaijing by authors like Toriyama Sekien—some of them more or less word for word, others undergoing a bit of a transformation and reinterpretation, depending on how much liberty the authors decided to take. Shokuin doesn’t undergo too much of a change from his original form.

Sekien describes Shokuin as a god who lives at the foot of Mount Shō, near the northern sea. He has the face of a human, and the body of a red dragon. His body is 1000 ri long (a ri is an ancient unit of measurement which varies quite a bit from age to age and place to place; and 1000 is a number which means “a whole lot,” so suffice it to say, Shokuin is big—at least a few thousand kilometers long).

Toriyama Sekien’s Shokuin

There’s a bit more information about him in the Shanhaijing which Sekien referenced. When Shokuin opens his eyes, it becomes daytime, and when he closes his eyes, it becomes night. When he breathes in it becomes summer, and when he breathes out it becomes winter. So not only is he big, but he is so big that he is responsible for the seasons and the days! He does not need to eat, drink, or breathe, but if he does breathe it causes huge storms.

Judging by his size and the unique side effects of his blinking and breathing altering the day/night and seasonal cycles, it seems that Shokuin was a personification of the sun, or at least a kind of solar or fire deity in ancient China. He appears in a number of other Chinese sources, but like all good mythology, there are contradictory “facts” about precisely where he lives and other details.

It has also been speculated that Shokuin is a deification of the aurora borealis. This makes sense when we consider that his home mountain is placed in the north sea, i.e. the Arctic circle. It’s also interesting to note that an ancient Chinese word for the aurora was “red spirit.” It’s easy to imagine the feelings an ancient explorer would have felt traveling far north and seeing the northern lights—a giant red line dancing back and forth across the sky. It’s only natural he might think it was a writhing red dragon thousands of kilometers long.

Shokuin, appearing in The Book of the Hakutaku

A-Yokai-A-Day: Raiju

The Kickstarter topped 700% last night, which is amazing, considering we’re not even one week in! My previous two Kickstarters both managed to reach 900% on their final days, and it looks like The Book of the Hakutaku will reach that much earlier. It really is great to see that there are so many more yokai fans today than there were just a couple of years ago!

If you’re enjoying A-Yokai-A-Day, remember to become a backer for The Book of the Hakutaku on Kickstarter! Now, for today’s yokai:


Raijū is an interesting yokai. Once upon a time it was one of the most well known and most feared supernatural creatuires in Japan. Yet today it is relatively minor, or even practically unknown to the average person. Why the sudden change? Science of course!

Japan’s history is filled with natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, floods, and fires have done more than their fair share of destruction to the country. While we know much about the physical causes of natural disasters today, in earlier eras they were mysterious, considered to be the work of gods. Only gods had the power to move the earth, or send fire from the sky. Lightning, for example, occurs so fast and so randomly that it is all but impossible to observe. Only its aftereffects can be observed—the terrible sound that shakes the world, the weirdly shaped burns on the thing it strikes, and the fires that it starts. Particularly in old Japan when homes were all made of wood and closely packed together, a single lightning strike can cause a lot of damage!

The raijū was the personification (animal-ification?) and embodiment of lightning. They were seen as a kind of god, or at least akin to the thunder gods (raijin). They live in the sky, which was a world which was totally off limits to pre-flight humans. They rode bolts of lightning to earth. For seemingly no reason at all, they would strike buildings, start fires, and cause mass destruction. Nothing was known about them, and nothing could be known about them except that they were fast, merciless, and deadly. Whenever lightning struck, people believed that a raijū had been sent by the gods to punish them for some reason or another.

Raijū took on lots of forms over their history. Generally, they were thought to look like wolves, dogs, tanuki, or even weasels or cats. They had long, sharp claws and ferocious faces. Far more fanciful forms existed too. Sometimes raijū were said to look like little dogs, but with four rear legs and two tails. Sometimes they were said to look like insects or crustaceans. They would burrow into your belly button to hide from the angry thunder gods (which is where the Japanese superstition of covering your belly button when thunder claps comes from!). Others looked like miniature dragons. Even more exotic versions were chimerical monsters composed of many different animals, like the nue (who is really a kind of raijū when you think about it).

Because they were so scary, raiju were often presented in stories as beasts to be slain, just like oni. The nue, as mentioned above, is one such example. Another example involves the historical samurai Tachibana Dōsetsu. One night he was taking shelter from a storm under a tree. Lightning struck him, but he drew his sword just in time to strike the bolt, slaying the raijū who came with it. Afterwards, he named his sword Raikiri, or “lightning cutter.”

During the Edo period, “real” raijū were popular sideshow attractions, along with “real” kappa and mermaids. Mummified remains of cats, monkeys, and dogs presented as raijū were often toured around the country in traveling shows. People would pay a few coins to get a quick glimpse at the horrific corpses. Surely many must have realized that these were just man-made taxidermied monstrosities, but their popularity boomed anyway due to the sheer horror that they evoked.

During the Meiji period, with the rapid changes tranforming society thanks to the influx of foreign science and technology, yokai were one of the first victims. People were actively discouraged from bringing up “silly” superstitions because they were perceived as an embarrassment to the country—they were examples of how parochial and backwards the Japanese were in the previous era. New understandings about electricity and lightning, and the invention of the airplane made the raijū’s most important features—its life in the mysterious sky, and its attachment to lightning—suddenly no longer mysterious. Once those mysteries were gone, the raijū had nowhere left to live.

I’ve talked a lot before about how yokai are necessarily creatures of mystery. They live in the borderlands between life and death, light and shadow; they’re aren’t creatures of death, and they aren’t creatures of the night. They’re something intangible and unknowable. We can’t classify them the way we classify animals, because their very nature is that they are unclassifiable. Once we know too much about them, they cease to be interesting.

The raijū was a victim of probably the one thing that can truly kill a yokai: understanding.

Raiju, from The Book of the Hakutaku

A-Yokai-A-Day: Gumyocho

Hello everyone! Today a few new stretch goals were added to the Kickstarter: a few more options for yokai-themed bookmarks to go with my previous yokai books, as well as yokai t-shirts! Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

Now, on to A-Yokai-A-Day!

“connected life bird”

the six birds of nirvana – note the human-headed gumyōchō

As a huge bird lover, I have a special spot in my heart for all bird yokai. The gumyōchō is one of six bird species which are said to inhabit nirvana—the others being white swans, peafowl, parrots, mynah birds, and karyōbinga (one of these things is not like the others…). I painted the karyōbinga a few months back, and she appears in a few places in The Book of the Hakutaku’s Kickstarter. The gumyōchō will take its rightful place by her side in the finished book.

The gumyōchō is a beautiful two-headed bird that resembles a pheasant. Occasionally it is depicted as having two human heads instead of two bird heads. Like the karyōbinga, it is said to have an exceedingly beautiful voice. It and the other heavenly birds sing the holy scriptures in nirvana, and those who listen to them can achieve enlightenment. Gumyōchō is interesting not only because it is beautiful and has an amazing voice. Its story is also an important Buddhist parable.

Long ago, a gumyōchō lived in the snowy mountains of India. It had two heads and one body. One head was named Karuda, and the other head was named Upakaruda. The bird’s two heads had different personalities and desires. When one head was sleepy, the other one wanted to play. When one head was hungry, the other one wanted to rest. Eventually, the two heads began to resent each other.

One day while Upakaruda was sleeping, Karuda feasted on delicious fruits and flowers until he was stuffed and could eat no more. When Upakaruda woke up, he wanted to eat too, but he was already full because they shared one stomach. He could not enjoy any of the food.

Upakaruda decided to punish Karuda. While Karuda slept, Upakaruda found a tree with poisonous fruit. Because they shared a stomach, Upakaruda ate the fruit in order to make Karuda sick. Sure enough, when Karuda woke up, the poison had already taken effect. Karuda writhed and suffered, and then died. Of course, because they shared one body, Upakaruda also became sick, felt the agony of the poison, and then died.

Just before dying, Upakaruda  realized his foolishness. All the while that he had resented his other head, he failed to recognize that his own life depended on it. Just the same, by harming his other head, he was also harming himself. Upon realizing this, he understood one of the core tenets of Buddhism—interconnectedness—and was reborn in nirvana.

The gumyōchō is of course a metaphor for humanity. Our own selfishness often blinds us to the fact that our wellbeing and happiness is dependent on the wellness and the happiness of others. Sometimes we don’t care about what happens to those who we don’t know personally, or we want to hurt those who bother us. But we are acting as foolishly as Upakaruda. When we hurt someone else, we are hurting ourselves; when we refuse to help someone else, we are hurting ourselves. It’s only through caring for others that we can really take care of ourselves.

Although the story is ancient, it seems even more relevant today in the context of globalization. It’s easy to forget about the well-being of others and focus only on ourselves, or our friends and families. But when the food we eat is grown in different states, and the products we use every day are made in foreign countries, by people we will never meet, it’s important to keep in mind how interconnected we are. Our lives really do depend on each other, just like Karuda and Upakaruda. When people ignore global warming, the threat of nuclear war, mass shootings, natural disasters, and other problems that are affecting millions of lives today, they are missing the truth that those lives are the same as their own.

Gumyōchō – to appear in The Book of the Hakutaku