A-Yokai-A-Day: Kijimunaa

Today’s yokai is a bit unique in that he’s the one really well known yokai exclusive to Okinawa.

Okinawa is to Japan a bit like Hawai’i is to the US. It was an independent island country for a long time, and only about 100 years ago was annexed into Japan proper. The old name for Okinawa was the kingdom of Ryukyu. In the 1600’s, Japanese settlers conquered and occupied the fairly weak kingdom, and kept it as a vassal state. The native culture was suppressed, Japanese language education was forced upon the people, and other attempts were made at assimilating the islands. Despite this, the island retained a unique culture, with many customs assimilated from Japan, but also a tradition existing independent of mainland Japan. One of these traditions is today’s yokai.


No mention of kijimuna can be found in the “classical” yokai bestiaries by the great Japanese painters of past centuries, probably because Okinawa really wasn’t considered part of Japan in those times. However, the kijimuna is well known and beloved all throughout the island prefecture. Countless Okinawan folk tales talk about kijimuna, and one of the biggest annual festivals in the region is named the Kijimuna Festival.

Kijimuna live in the banyan trees that can be found all over the islands of Okinawa. They look like small, hairy, wild boys, and like little boys they are often mischievous, but generally good at heart. Physically they are short, they either go naked or wear leafy loincloths, and they are covered in wild red hair. My best description of them would be a cross between a troll doll and Link from the Legend of Zelda. In most depictions of kijimuna on the islands, they are rather cute and boyish, like Peter Pan, while the famous yokai chronicler Shigeru Mizuki depicts them as round, hairy, ball-like monsters with huge, crazy eyes and fanged mouths. I liked both depictions equally — the crazy eyes of Mizuki’s kijimuna, and the more “authentic” native Okinawan version — so I drew my version as a blend of the two.

Kijimuna are said to befriend humans easily, doing good deeds for them and bringing them presents, but also quickly become jealous and will punish people in very childish ways who don’t act friendly enough. Despite living in the banyan trees, kijimuna are expert fishermen, and often offer their help to kind human fishermen as well. If they really like you, they might even offer you the bodies of the fish they catch (after they suck out the most delicious part — the eyes)! As far as pranking goes, kijimuna will sometimes sit on a person’s chest at night, rendering them immobile and unable to breathe (sounds kind of like sleep paralysis, which I suffer from fairly often). Apparently they will also happily carry humans that they like piggy-back style through the banyan forests. However, if the person should *ahem* fart on the kijimuna’s back… well, he’d better beware!

One final fact of note about kijimuna — they loathe octopuses! I am so far unable to discover why they hate them so much, but the lowly octopus is the one thing they cannot stand. Kijimuna will avoid them at all costs, so keeping octopuses around is a fairly foolproof way for humans to avoid potential kijimuna-related troubles.



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