A-Yokai-A-Day: Iga bo

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One of Japan’s popular fall foods is chestnuts. You can find it in the form of roasted chestnuts, boiled chestnuts, chestnuts baked into cookies and desserts, even chestnut ice cream and chestnut custard. Seeing hordes of chestnuts piling up on the ground, and the empty husks which once contained them, is a sure sign that fall is in full swing!

So it’s no surprise that there should be a chestnut yokai! Perhaps the tragedy of falling to the ground and not turning into a tree or being eaten by a squirrel or a person is enough to animate some of the unlucky ones and cause them to dress up as a priest and march around snarling at people. What do you think?

Iga bo

Iga bo
“iga* priest”
*possibly “chestnut burr priest”

Iga bo appears in the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki. Though it is called a priest, like the other yokai that end with -bo, -bozu, -hoshi, -nyudo, -zo, it is not necessarily one. Yokai with monk and priest names are fairly often just a way of saying “guy,” so it’s possible instead of being “iga priest” that this yokai could better be called “iga guy.”

It has blue skin, and a face that looks reptilian, or perhaps like a blowfish… It’s most stunning feature is the mass of protuberances which stick out from its lower jaw. There’s no way to tell if these are soft nubs, hard spikes, or even a beard from the illustration.

Iga bo’s pose looks a bit a hostile, with its shoulders raised above his head like a snarling beast. Its kimono dangles half off its body. Is actually it mad? If so, why is it so mad? We don’t know, because nothing was ever written about it.

Today’s top yokai scholars have invented a little theory about iga bo. While it can’t really be considered folklore, there is no actual folklore for this yokai, so their description is as good as any. Using the name iga as a starting point, they claim that iga bo is snarling and snapping at humans (to snarl = “igamiau“). His chin hair resembles the burrs (iga) of a chestnut burr. Since igabo was not originally written with kanji, we don’t know for sure what the “iga” part of its name means. However that description covers some bases, and is sufficiently punny.

Whatever igabo is, there seems to be a general, if weak, consensus that it is probably a chestnut burr yokai.


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