A-Yokai-A-Day: Byobu Nozoki

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Greetings, oh ye who love yokai!

Today’s yokai cracks me up. There’s no shortage of yokai with a bit of sick or perverted humor (taka onna, shirime, iyaya, kurote, okaburo, just to name a few…) but I am always happy to see more! Just like horror movies need their fair share of sex and comic relief, yokai stories work well when you add in a little bit of crassness and bawdlery.

Byōbu nozoki
屛風闚
びょうぶのぞき
“folding screen (byobu) peeker”

Toriyama Sekien’s byobu nozoki

The byōbu nozoki appears in Toriyama Sekien’s book Konjaku hyakki shūi, his third book of yokai. In fact, a lot of the yokai we’ve looked at this past week come from this book. It includes a lot of yokai that he borrowed from Chinese sources, and some that he made up, but with fake histories connecting them to Chinese history.

Byōbu nozoki is a pretty funny yokai, and fairly straightforward. It is a tsukumogami of a byobu (aka a Japanese folding screen). According to Sekien’s description, this spirit haunts a byobu which has seen its fair share of “nocturnal activities,” shall we say. It is tall enough to peep over a byobu seven shaku high (a shaku is roughly 30 cm long, so this spirit is well over 2 meters tall).

Sekien’s description of a seven shaku byobu specifically references a story about the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, in which he leaped over a 7 shaku tall byobu to escape an assassination attempt; a legend which would have been known to well-read Japanese during the Edo period. In this way, he invents a nice little narrative and finds a way to give this amusing yokai a fake history, legitimizing it as more than something he just made up.

Below is my sketch of the byōbu nozoki as it will eventually appear in my Patreon project and Kickstarter once it is painted. If you’d like to see the finished painting, consider joining one of those!

My byobu nozoki