A-Yokai-A-Day: Himamushi Nyudo

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Today’s yokai is one of Toriyama Sekien’s priest/monk yokai which I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Although this yokai doesn’t actually have anything to do with the clergy in particular, there’s a few reasons to depict as a priest. One is that there have historically been a lot of priest & monk yokai, so naming your yokai as a priest or monk automatically puts it in good company. Another is for humor; contrasting something so ugly and wretched with people who are supposed to be good and pure makes for good humor. Even in English we tell a lot of priest jokes. Good humor transcends geography.

Now, on to the yokai!

Himamushi nyūdō
“oven bug priest”

Toriyama Sekien’s himamushi nyūdō

Life is work. Or at least, work is a very important part of life. According to Toriyama Sekien’s description of this yokai (another one of his creations), those who were lazy in life, carelessly wasting their time from birth to death, will come back as this spirit. It lives under the floorboards and crawls out at night time. It’s main activity is to bother people who are working hard late at night or pulling all-nighters—by jumping out and scaring them, blowing out the lights, and licking up their lamp oil (in the Edo period, lamps burned fish oil).

Himamushi nyūdō’s name is a bit tricky to translate. There’s no such thing as an “oven bug” in Japanese, but according to yokai-ologist Tada Katsumi, it may be a play on words meant to refer to cockroaches. The “hima” part of this yokai’s name can also be read “kama,” and probably refers to the kamado, the traditional Japanese oven. There is a kamado featured in Sekien’s picture, and he usually only puts things in his pictures for a reason. Cockroaches, normally called gokiburi in Japanese, have a few nicknames; among them himushi (“fire bug”) and hitorimushi (“lamp bug”), both of which sound similar to himamushi. Cockroaches would have fed on the oil in old lamps just like this yokai. They live in dark, warm spaces such as under and around a kamado, just like this yokai. They crawl out of the floorboards to scare those working late at night, just like this yokai. Of course there’s also something satisfying about the idea that lazy people come back as cockroaches after they die…

Can you find the characters for ヘマムショ入道?

Another fun fact about this yokai’s name: According to Sekien’s explanation, this spirit was originally called “himamushiyo nyūdō,” and over time it became corrupted into “hemamusho nyūdō”—which was a popular Edo period cartoon. The hemamusho nyūdō is a monk drawn with the katakana characters used to write its name: ヘ, マ, ム, シ, ョ, 入, and 道. It appeared in all sorts of graffiti and prints during the Edo period. Today there’s a similar type of cartoon face called the “henohenomoheji“—the hemamusho nyūdō was the Edo period equivalent. Toriyama Sekien often liked to tie his made up yokai to contemporary real events and phenomenon, possibly in order to give them a sense of authenticity.

My himamushi nyūdō sketch for The Book of the Hakutaku