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!

Nebutori

Nebutori
“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.


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Nanjaka

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Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I could never forgive myself if I let the last two—and most mysterious—yokai from the Bakemono tsukushi emaki go untouched. So while yesterday you got to see biyorori, today you’ll get to see perhaps the most mysterious yokai in all of yokai-dom. Read on!

Nanjaka

Nanjaka
“what??”

Like biyorori, nanjaka appears in this scroll and only this scroll. Like the other yokai in it, there is no story or explanation to go with it, so we can’t know for sure what it means. Worst of all, this one is not even a full picture! The upper half of the yokai has been completely left out of the scroll. Further, we don’t even get the rest of his legs. The picture cuts off at the knees. It’s basically just a yokai crotch shot!

Nanjaka has got a hairy belly with a bit of a paunch. It wears a loincloth. Its hands are curled up and look sort of bestial. It’s got a fluffy tail. Based on the tail, it’s probably safe to say that nanjaka is a shapeshifted tanuki or a kitsune, maybe even a mujina or an itachi. But we can’t know for sure.

Nanjaka is a bit famous among Japanese yokai fans only for being perhaps the most mysterious yokai of all. There’s really nothing you can say or even guess about it. Even the original meaning of its name—probably a wordplay—is not recorded. But the best part about it is that “nanjaka” is Japanese slang for “what??”

That’s the best possible name to describe this yokai. It’s like the artist himself didn’t even knew what he created, and in a drunk fit he wrote “what the hell is this?” next to the creature he just painted. The name alone makes this yokai worth talking about.


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Biyorori

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I mentioned a few days back that we were getting close to the end of the Bakemono tsukushi emaki. Well, by now I’ve done the whole scroll except for two yokai: biyorori and nanjaka. I was planning on skipping these two because they are so vague, so mysterious, that coming up with a full blog post’s worth of text was a serious struggle for me. I thought it would be easier to just translate a different yokai that I could actually say something about than to attempt to say something about these two. But the completionist in me would never forgive myself if I just let them be. They would always haunt the back of my mind…

Wait a minute! Maybe that’s exactly what these two yokai do! They haunt the minds of people trying to figure them out!

Biyorori

Biyorori

Biyorori is depicted in the Bakemono tsukushi emaki as a wavy snake. It kind of looks like a swimming water moccasin or other aquatic species of snake with the way it wiggles and waves back and forth. There’s nothing at all in the picture that gives any impression of supernatural ability. It looks exactly like a normal snake. No extra hands, or eyes, no strange fires, not even any tufts of hair which seem to accompany so many other yokai.

Even its name is vague. Biyorori looks like it should be a play on words, as so many yokai in this scroll are… but what wordplay it could be is a unfathomable. It sounds somewhat like this might be a jumping or a flying snake. Since there’s no water in the illustration, maybe we’re meant to be looking up at a snake flying through the sky, instead of down at one in the water. However, none of the other yokai in this scroll have backgrounds, so it’s not possible to judge either way. And there seems to be a large number of water-based yokai in this particular scroll, so that might tip the scales back towards it being a water snake…

Biyorori doesn’t appear in any other scrolls or books. I searched all of my yokai encyclopedias and dictionaries, and while there are many snake yokai, biyorori doen’t even get a mention in most of them. Even the most esteemed yokai-ologists have been unable to come up with anything on this yokai, and seem equally unwilling to invent a backstory for it with absolutely no clues on.


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Nikurashi

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There’s just over a week left of October and A-Yokai-A-Day! I can’t believe how fast this month flies by every year. I think there must be a yokai responsible for confusing one’s sense of time passing.

Anyway, today’s yokai is an interesting one. It reminds me of the “two-face” from season 9 of Seinfeld. It’s not the first yokai of its type that we’ve seen on my blog or yokai.com, as you will see.

Read on!

Nikurashi

Nikurashi
possibly “detestable”

Nikurashi appears to be a female yokai. She wears a women’s kimono. It’s hanging off of her shoulders sensuously, nearly exposing her breasts. She appears to be tossing her hair in the wind like in a shampoo commercial. Panning upwards towards her face we can see—OH GOD WHAT IS THAT! Her face is puckered and bloated like a catfish, her neck is like E.T.’s, her ears are elephantine, and her hair is disheveled. Ew and she’s get pudgy bestial claws instead of dainty lady’s fingers!

If you’ve got a copy of The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits, you may remember a similar yokai invented by Toriyama Sekien called iyaya. Like iyaya, nikurashi appears to be a “gotcha” yokai—as in, she appears to be a sexy, sensuous lady at first, but then GOTCHA! She’s a hideous beast! Of course there’s no way to tell for sure what the artists’ original intention was, since there is no description of this yokai, it’s as a good a guess as any.

Looking at the name, nikurashi doesn’t mean anything in itself, but it is very similar to another word—nikurashii—which means hateful, horrible, detestable. That certainly describes the feeling of revulsion one more shallow than you or I might feel as they eye up a seemingly beautiful person only to discover the hideous, monstrous face and hands. It also echos the naming scheme of Sekien’s iyaya. I’d like to think iyaya and nikurashi are cousins or even sisters on the yokai family tree.


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Meppokai

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We’re getting close to the end of the Bakemono tsukishi emaki. But don’t worry, there are still plenty more bizarre yokai after we finish with this scroll. And as far as bizarre yokai go, today’s is a doozy!

Meppokai

Meppokai
“extreme shellfish”

Meppokai looks like a clam or some other kind of shellfish, with a few very important differences. For one, it has a pair of eyes on its outer shell; the last place you’d expect a shellfish to sprout eyes. The rest of its shell is covered with sharp spines. It also has whiskers and a tail which make it look a bit like a mouse. The wedge-shaped parts at the bottom of the shell have turned into flippery fins. It looks like this little guy could probably move around pretty quickly if it spun that tail like a flagellum and used its fins to steer.

Translated into English, its name sounds like something out of the late 90’s, when everything was labeled “extreme” this or that. Meppo is a bit old fashioned sounding. Phrases like meppo oishii (“extremely delicious”) or meppo takai (“ridiculously expensive”) sound dated today, but would have been common once.

Originally, meppo was a Buddhist word. It’s a difficult concept. Basically it means extremely, very, extraordinarily, or absurdly. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. In its Buddhist context, it’s more of the sense of extreme or absolute truth; the truth that lies at the utmost limit of understanding or consciousness. Something like the extreme awareness of absolute reality that an enlightened person would have.

Hokai (or hokkai) refers to Dharmadhatu—the state of mind in which you have absolute truth and understanding. It’s the world you would only be able to observe if you had the pure mind of a buddha, free from the distractions and interruptions inherent in a normal human mind. At some point, the words meppo and hokai were combined into the word meppokai, which basically carries the same meaning as meppo: to the extreme limits of reality. It’s the state of extremity that is furthest separated from all desire, all ignorance, pain, and attachment, and exists in pure bliss, wisdom, and perfect unadulterated comprehension. In other words, really really extreme.

The Kai (界) in meppokai means boundary or limit. However, kai (貝) also means shellfish. So this yokai is basically a silly pun based on the word meppokai. It is the most extreme limit of what a shellfish can possibly be.


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Namija

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Today’s illustration is watery, which is fun for me because I love painting the swirly multicolored waves that you see in Japanese prints and paintings. My friend calls them “candy waves” and I like that name.

Namija

Namija
“wave snake”

Like the other yokai in the Bakemono tsukushi emaki, there’s no explanation that comes with this one. Just a picture and a name: namija. Wave, snake. Wavesnake. Actually, this one is easy to explain. Heck, it explains itself! It’s a wave that’s a snake. Or a snake that’s a wave. Either way, the name and the illustration pretty much tie this one up very nicely.

One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of yokai that are named for serpents are actually referring to dragons. Long ago, snakes and dragons were used interchangeably, and this illustration certainly looks more like a fancy dragon than a simple snake. On top of that, dragons in Japan are often considered to be the guardians of bodies of water; lakes, rivers, oceans, all of these are the realm of dragons. So it’s quite likely that this illustration and yokai are meant to represent some kind of sea dragon.

It’s easy to imagine how sailors of yore might personify something like a rogue wave as a dragon, or perhaps a phenomenon caused by the sea dragons that they knew lived beneath them. Perhaps namija is the yokai version of a random, destructive wave that appears out of nowhere!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Kani oni

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I was originally planning to do a different yokai from this scroll today. The plan was to paint biyorori, who appears before kani oni on the Bakemono tsukushi emaki. However, when looking at biyorori, I just couldn’t figure out what to write or paint. Biyorori is just a snake… there’s apparently nothing special at all about it. Maybe there’s a great pun hidden in its name, but I can’t find it. From its name it sounded like it might be a flying or a jumping snake, but there’s no way to know that for sure. It would have been enough if it at least had a grotesque or silly face, but it really is just a snake. So I decided to skip to save having to overly strain my brain to come up with an explanation as to why “just a snake” fits as a yokai. Today’s isn’t much better, but at least it has some features that are clearly yokai-ish.

Kani oni
crab demon

Kani oni’s name is pretty much a dead giveaway as to what it is. It’s a crab. It’s a demon. It’s a crab demon.

Fortunately, it’s a little more creative than biyorori is. Although it looks just like a crab for the most part, it has some very clear monstrous features. First and foremost are its large black tusks or fangs. Seeing those, it’s no wonder it’s named after an oni. Its carapace is also jagged and spiky and kind of resembles and oni’s horns as well.

In addition to the fangs, kani oni has what appears to be a beard! To complete the ensemble it’s got google eyes which seem to be rolling around in opposite directions.

Although there’s no story telling us what it does, I don’t know that it needs one. It’s a monster crab, and that’s enough for me. I’m just thankful it’s got more to it than biyorori…


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!