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.
Yesterday I showed you Zashiki-warashi, which is named for the zashiki — a kind of room in a Japanese house. I mentioned that there are different kinds of zashiki-warashi, and they vary in terms of pleasantness. Most zashiki-warashi appear as young children, and while they love to play pranks and mess around, they’re generally well-liked yokai. Today’s yokai has a much less wholesome image. This isUsu-tsuki-warashi. It’s named for a Japanese millstone, and has a slightly less wholesome image. Usu-tsuki-warashi is connected with ancient infanticide customs, in which an unwanted baby would be buried in a warehouse, in a dirt floor, or underneath the millstone.
Usu-tsuki warashi is said to cause general feelings of unease in houses that it inhabits. It crawls out from beneath the dirt floor and creeps about the house, making noises like someone pounding on a millstone (thus its name). It’s not a malevolent yokai, but it certainly can feel that way.
Unfortunately, it’s like that driving it out of the house would have the same ruinous effects that driving its more-pleasant cousin out would have… so a family with a Usu-tsuki-warashi may have to live with the creepy yokai rather than forcing it to leave.
Today’s yokai is a little less sinister than yesterday’s. This is Zashiki-warashi, a house spirit which looks like a young child. It’s generally a harmless spirit, and it’s said that if you see one in your house, it will bring you good fortune (though it’s also said they are invisible to adults). However, if it ever leaves your house, you will fall into ruin. Zashiki-warashi are pranksters who like to make noise, move things about, and goof off in other ways. They’ll often jump on sleeping guests in the middle of the night, and then vanish before anyone can see them. They also like to play with anything in the house that makes noise, or run around singing Japanese “spirit music.” Another of their favorite pranks to do is to rub their feet in the ashes from the fire place and run around the house, leaving footprints everywhere. In some areas, people leave food out at night for the zashiki-warashi in hopes to keep it happy.
There are a number of variations on zashiki-warashi, and while this one is a prankster, it’s relatively pleasant. We’ll see a less pleasant variation tomorrow.