A-Yokai-A-Day: Nebutori

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Now that we’ve finished two very vague yokai scrolls I thought as we got closer to Halloween I’d move on to some yokai with a bit more of a story or explanation to them. Maybe a bit scarier too. Today’s yokai comes from the Ehon hyaku monogatari (“Picture Book of A Hundred Ghost Stories”), and it’s one that I’m sure you’ll eat right up!


“sleep fattening”

Nebutori is a supernatural illness that affects women (and only women) who like eating and sleeping. (How cruel is that!) Women who go to sleep or lie down and nap soon after meals run the risk of transforming into a yokai! Once afflicted, they begin to massively expand during the night. Their appetites grow, and they begin to eat more and more, and expand more and more. Eventually they become too big to even leave their rooms. In addition, an afflicted woman begins to snore loudly, with enough force to shake a cart or a wagon.

Nebutori has also been blamed on tanuki and kitsune. Both of these animals can possess humans and cause them to do evil things. In particular, tanuki like to possess people and give them huge appetites. A tanuki-possessed woman who eats a lot and then goes to bed might be at risk of becoming infected by a tanuki and nebutori!

You might not think it by looking at it, but nebutori is closely related to two other yokai: futakuchi onna and rokuro kubi. This is because it afflicts only women, and is presented as a punishment for the man married to the woman. Futakuchi onna is a punishment inflicted on miserly old men who are stingy with food; rokuro kubi affects the daughters or wives of men who have committed terrible crimes; and nebutori is seen as more of a problem for the husband than for the wife! It’s basically 19th century fat shaming taken to a supernatural level.

It’s likely that nebutori was invented as a way to admonish women into maintaining thin, elegant figures; and as a way to parody married women who “let themselves go” once they’ve captured a husband. It’s a common folk superstition in Japan that lying down after eating will turn you into a cow; this yokai seems to be a twist on that concept.

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