These days shunoban is commonly known as shunobon. It appears as shunobon on yokai.com and in my book The Fox’s Wedding. The reason for the spelling change is that it’s how this yōkai was written by Mizuki Shigeru, the comic artist whose work introduced yōkai to most of Japan’s population. Mizuki fell in love with yōkai as an adult, and decided he wanted to preserve these stories and share them with others.
I can definitely relate to that desire. My goal has always been to share yōkai with the world. When I moved in Japan over 15 years ago, there were virtually no books written in English on the subject of yokai. Since the time of Lafcadio Hearn and Yei Theodora Ozaki, 100 years ago, the subject has barely been touched. This shocked me as a lifetime lover of folklore, especially when I saw just how expansive the world of yōkai is. I thought there must be others out there who want to know more about yōkai, but for whom the subject is “locked” behind the Japanese language. And I was right. Yōkai have exploded in popularity all over the globe in the past decade. It seems as awareness in other languages of Japanese folklore increases, the demand increases as well. It makes me happy to contribute in some way to that.
The Bakemono Called Shunoban at the Suwa Shrine in Aizu
At a shrine called Suwa in Aizu there was a fearsome bakemono called shunoban.
One evening at dusk, a young samurai about 25 or 26 years old passed by Suwa. He had heard there was a bakemono there, and so he felt uneasy.
Another young samurai of about 26 or 27 was also passing by. Thinking he would make a good traveling companion, the first samurai joined the second.
“There is a famous bakemono called shunoban who lives here. Have you heard this legend?” he asked.
The second samurai replied, “Does the monster look like this?”
His face suddenly changed. His eyes became as round as saucers and a horn sprouted from his forehead. His face became scarlet, and his hair became like wire. His mouth split from ear to ear, and his teeth gnashed with the sound of thunder.
The samurai took one look and fainted. For about hour he lay as if dead, but then he gradually recovered. Looking around, he saw he was right in front of the Suwa Shrine. He managed to get up and walk to a nearby house to beg for a sip of water.
A woman greeted him. “Why do you need water?” she asked.
The samurai told her all about his encounter with the shunoban.
After listening, the woman replied, “Now then, that is a terrifying thing that you encountered! Did this shunoban look like this?”
As she spoke, her face transformed into the same bakemono that the samurai had just met. The samurai blacked out once again. He woke up after some time, but on the third day after that he died.