A-Yokai-A-Day: Enenra

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“smoke fabric”

Toriyama Sekien’s enenra

There aren’t a lot of smoke yokai. In fact, there’s only one: this one. And rather than being a part of some distant folklore, it was just invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shui. Still, even if it was just made up by Sekien, it is conceivable that this yokai could have existed as a figment of peoples’ imaginations. Even today, the smoke that billows out of bonfires or incense, or even cigarettes, is truly mesmerizing if you watch it long enough.

Enenra doesn’t come with much in the way of a story or a description. In essence, it is just a personification of smoke. Sekien’s explanation talks about how the smoke from fires burned in the summer to keep mosquitoes away is mesmerizing and relaxing to watch. It floats about as it climbs, billowing in the wind, and appears just as fragile as a piece of ultra-lightweight fabric dancing in a breeze.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a smoke trail as a piece of extremely thin fabric floating about in the air. If you touch it, or if a strong breeze blows it, the fabric tears. This is how fragile this yokai is, and why it is so difficult to see.

Later analysis by yokai scholars has also pointed out that the “enra” in this yokai’s name sounds similar to the name Enma, the lord of hell. Hell, of course, being a place of many fires—and thus, smoke. It has been suggested that instead of being merely a yokai made of smoke, enenra might actually be the spirits of the deceased, temporarily haunting a wisp of smoke. For that reason, only those who are calm minded and pure of heart (as the calm and innocent expression on the enenra’s face in Sekien’s illustration suggests) can see the face of this yokai in the smoke.

Enenra, to appear in The Book of the Hakutaku