A-Yokai-A-Day: The Old Tanuki Disguised as a Samurai’s Wife

Tonight’s story features a tanuki, a yokai that is beloved by almost everyone. I have to wonder what the tanuki was thinking when it decided to do what it did… Maybe it saw how sad the samurai was and thought if it did something to cheer him up, it might get some food. Of course, as you can see by the illustration, even good intentions often end up in disaster when yokai and humans are involved.

The Old Tanuki Disguised as a Samurai’s Wife

In Bishū, there was a samurai with an income of 2000 koku who lost his beloved wife, and every night he thought only of her. One night, when he put out his lamp to go to sleep, his dead wife came to his bedchamber, looking as beautifully dressed as ever, and nostalgically pulled back the bedsheets to climb inside.

The samurai was startled and asked, “Have the dead come back to visit me?” He took his wife, pulled her to him, and stabbed her with his sword. She vanished into thin air. His retainers rushed into the room, lit lamps, and searched everywhere, but found nothing.

When dawn broke, they looked again, and there was some blood on the door hinge. They followed the mysterious blood trail to a hole beneath some bushes in the northwest corner of the estate. When they dug up the hole, they discovered an old tanuki, dead from a sword wound.

an old tanuki lies dead at the end of a blood trail, with a stab wound

A-Yokai-A-Day: The Mayoinomono That Was Afraid of the Go’ō of Nigatsudō

Tonight’s story features a great word that I haven’t heard in other stories: mayoimono! This is another word for ghost, and literally means “lost/wandering thing.” I love it. It reminds me of mayoibune, the wandering ghost ships on the Sea of Japan. While mayoimono is beautifully descriptive word, it’s also pretty undefined. Our ghost tonight resembles what is called a fudakaeshi, a ghost that asks strangers to remove protective talismans (fuda) from doors so that they can enter and cause mischief!

Two other words in the title also may be a source of confusion. First Go’ō. Go means cow and ō means king/lord. This is one particular way of saying the name of Gozu Tennō (“cow-headed celestial king”), a major Shinto-Buddhist god with the head of a cow. Gozu Tennō goes by many names besides Go’ō, and is a tatarigami who is an incarnation of the Shinto deity Susano’o and the buddha Yakushi nyōrai. The Gion district in Kyoto is named for him, and the Yasaka Shrine in Gion is one of his major shrines. It was created in 656 CE as a way to enshrine this hostile god of pestilence and disaster and to protect the city of Kyoto from it. Gods like Gozu Tennō are scary if you’re on their bad side, but great if you’re on their good side, which is why the ghost in tonight’s story was so afraid of his talisman!

Finally, Nigatsudō is a major temple that is part of the extremely famous temple complex Tōdaiji in Nara. Being such an important temple, the talismans sold here must be quite powerful. So its no wonder they held this ghost at bay.

The talisman in the painting tonight is the actual Go’ō talisman from Nigatsudō that is sold today. I don’t know if that is what it would have looked like in the mid-17th century when this story would have been written, but it’s a safe guess that it might not have changed too much.

The Mayoinomono That Was Afraid of the Go’ō of Nigatsudō

At a certain graveyard, there was a burial mound that burst into flames three times every night and called out in a woman’s voice: “I’m so lonely! So lonely!” It was so eerie that nobody was willing to investigate it.

Three young men held a meeting and decided to go investigate. So one night at midnight, they went there together, and the bravest one of them sat down upon the mound. Sure enough, from within the mound came a terribly sad voice that seemed to lament, “I’m so lonely! So lonely!” Then, an icy hand strongly grabbed the man’s waist from behind.

The man was brave by nature, so he did not make any fuss, but merely called his two companions over and had them check his back. The two of them were terribly surprised, and they ran home without looking back.

So the man said, “Who are you to grab onto my waist? Explain yourself!”

The voice in the mound replied, “Well, well, I have never seen a man as brave as you before. I am the wife of a blacksmith in Sanjō Muromachi, and I was poisoned by the woman next door. Moreover, not even three weeks after I was murdered, the woman next door married my husband. The more I think about it, the more angry I feel. Every night I go to their door, but a talisman from the Go’ō of Nigatsudō is affixed to the gate, and I am too scared to enter. And so I am lost in the darkness of my devotion. Please, please remove the Go’ō talisman from the blacksmith’s gate. If you do so, the flames of resentment for this world will clear away.”

The man took pity on her. He went to see the blacksmith’s house, and lo and indeed there was a talisman of Go’ō affixed to the gate. He tore off the talisman and stood off to the side to watch. Suddenly a mass of black clouds whirled up, then a light the size of a paper lantern appeared above the blacksmith’s house and flew inside.
Two voices screamed. Then, the ghost came out of the blacksmith’s house carrying the heads of the husband and wife.

She turned to the man and said, “Well, well, thanks to you I am free from my obsession of so many years. I am grateful.” She handed him a sack. “This is in return for your kindness,” she said, and then disappeared into thin air.

The man was amazed. He opened the bag and looked inside to find ten gold coins. He used the money to purchase a new grave tablet and hold a memorial service for the woman, and nothing strange ever happened at the burial mound after that.

a ghostly hand reaches up to remove a paper talisman attached to the lintel above a gate

(My Wife Draws) A-Yokai-A-Day: The Man Who Had His Bones Pulled Out by a Bakemono

Today’s illustration was once again done by my wife, to give my arm a day’s rest while it heals. I’ll be back to painting again tomorrow though.

Tonight’s story is one of my favorites due to the descriptions of the final scene. The way the sound is described, and the ultimate reveal are so unique, twisted, and spooky that it sticks out in my mind as one of the best stories in Shokoku hyakumonogatari. This story is of course the basis for the yokai known as tenome, although that name was not invented until later. For now, it is just a bakemono.

The Man Who Had His Bones Pulled Out by a Bakemono

There was a rumor that a bakemono lived in the graveyard at Shichijō Kawara in Kyōto. A group of young men gathered together and made a bet to test their courage.

One of them went to the graveyard at midnight and planted a stake in the ground and then pasted a piece of paper to it as proof that he had been there. As he was leaving, an old man of around eighty years, gray haired and standing about 242 centimeters in height, his face sickly white like a calabash flower, with eyeballs in the palms of his hands and two protruding front teeth, came chasing after him.

The man was so taken aback that he ran into a nearby temple and begged the monk to protect him from the monster. The monk opened up a long trunk and hid the man inside of it. The monk watched as the bakemono pursued the young man up to the temple, looked around for a while, and then left. There was a sound like a dog gnawing on a bone near the long trunk, and he heard someone groaning, but the monk was too frightened to move.

Then, after the bakemono had left, the monk went to let the man out of the trunk, but when he opened up the lid, he found that the young man had been stripped of his bones and was nothing but skin.

a man peeks out of a long chest while imagining a hand with an eyeball in the palm

(My Wife Draws) A-Yokai-A-Day: The Tengu Disguised as a Zatō in Iga Province

My wife is continuing to pull weight for me with her illustrations.

Today’s yokai is a tengu, and he behaves in a typically tengu way: by punishing those who are overly brave or haughty. Tengu changed greatly over the course of the Edo period. Early on, they were seen as major enemies of priests and nuns. Their favorite targets were the pious, and they were horribly brutal for no reason at all towards religious people. Tengu were thought to exist outside of the wheel of reincarnation. There are six realms that one can be reborn into after they die, and tengu were not one of them. To fall out of the cycle of reincarnation means to lose all hope of eventual salvation, and so tengu were illustrative of the ultimate fall. (Even those in hell would eventually get recycled and have another chance.) So tengu saw clergy as the ultimate insult, since clergy were the ones trying to guide others to salvation.

But later on, tengu turned into something more like noble warriors. They were sources of wisdom and power, willing to teach those who were worthy of their effort. Yamabushi, the ascetic priests who trained very harshly in the wilderness, were close with tengu. They still had a nasty streak, though, as evidenced by this story.

The Tengu Disguised as a Zatō in Iga Province
In Iga Province there was a temple deep in the mountains far from any village. A bakemono lived in this temple, and nobody would go there past 4 pm. A group of four or five young samurai called a meeting and said, “Is there none among us who would go to that temple and spend the night? If anyone goes, we’ll give him the swords from our waists.”

From among the group, a young man of around thirty-two or thirty-three years stood up and said, “I will go.”

“Very well then,” they said. And they all wagered their swords, while the young man fastened his family’s large and small katana, and tucked a small dagger into his breast pocket, then went out to the temple. There, he sat down on the offering box and glared outwords, ready to cut down in a single blow anything that might come near.

That night, sometime after 10 pm, there came the sound of a staggering gait accompanied by the tapping of a cane. Before long, it came up to the temple and opened the shōji to enter.

At that moment, the young man placed his hand on his sword and called out, “What thing are you, to come here so late at night! I am guarding this place, and if you come any closer I will strike you down!”

The voice replied, “Well now, there is a person inside this temple? My apologies. I am a zatō who lives in a house near here, and I come to this temple every night to pray for my wish. I am nothing that you need to worry about. And then, what person might you be, I wonder?”

“I am a man from near Ueno, and I am spending the night in this temple for my own reasons. And even if you try to trick me by disguising yourself as a zatō, I am not one to be fooled. Come no closer!” He grew no more willing to let the zatō in.

The zatō heard this and said, “You are right to be cautious. Very well, I will stay out on the veranda and perform Heike monogatari. When dawn breaks, you will see whether I am a man or a monster.” Then he removed his biwa from its box, and in a good voice told the tale of the Heike. His performance was fascinating beyond comparison, and the young man was so amused that he instantly opened his heart.

“On such a lonely night, you have provided excellent entertainment. Come inside, then,” he said, and opened the shōji to let the zatō in. They talked about various things, speaking freely and without restraint.

“You know, I would love to hear Heike once again,” said the man.

“My pleasure,” said the zatō happily. He took up his biwa and pulled out a ball-like object the color of pine resin from the biwa box, and drew it along the strings of the biwa. The young man looked at this and asked, “What is that?”

“You use this when the strings become unraveled.”

“I’d like to see it.”

“Of course.”

The zatō passed the ball, and it stuck to the young man’s hand and would not come free. When he tried to pull it free with his other hand, it stuck to both, and his fingers became interlocked and he could not let go. Frustrated that he had been tricked by the bakemono, he gritted his teeth and lamented, but it was in vain.

It was too much. “Take the ball back and let me go!” he said.

The zatō cackled. “Well well, what a ridiculous thing to say for such a brave samurai who came here to kill me! Enjoy dealing with that for the rest of the night.” Then he snatched up the man’s swords and the dagger tucked in his breast pocket, and disappeared into the unknown.

Well, the young man was mortified. He considered killing himself by biting off his own tongue, when he heard the voices of four or five men coming up to the temple. Just then his hands became free at once, and the ball disappeared.

When he looked at the people who had arrived, it was the samurai who had bet their swords. They were astonished. “Well, what was the situation with the bakemono? We were so worried that we came to see.”

The man thought of hiding what had happened, but since his swords were missing that would have been difficult. So he told them everything that had happened.

Everyone was shocked. “Well now, what a terrifying ordeal! But it’s funny that your swords were stolen.” Then the four or five samurai all laughed at him at once, and one by one they rubbed his face and disappeared. The young man fainted and blacked out, and soon dawn came.

When the real group of samurai went to the temple to check on the young man, they found him lying disarmed as if dead. They immediately gave him some smelling salts, and at last he resumed breathing. When they asked him what had happened, he told them in a daze, and then they all left together. They discovered his three swords hanging from the branch of a cedar tree 5 or 6 chō (546 to 655 meters) away.

Since the young man had pretended to be brave in such an arrogant manner, the tengu performed this deed. Afterwards, the young man’s mind became demented, according to the locals.

a tengu snickers behind a samurai whose hands are stuck to a ball of resin

(My Wife Draws) A-Yokai-A-Day: The Corpse That Came Back to Life in Echizen Province

I took it easy and rested my arm today, while my wife did another illustration. She was very happy to read all of your comments! The good news is that the swelling in my elbow has gone down a lot, and I am regaining a lot of lateral motion in my arm. I think I will be able to draw again soon, although I won’t be out of the sling until the end of the month. I’ll revisit this post again later and update it with my own illustration too.

Today’s story fascinates me because it took place in the very town I am in right now. My studio is located in Echizen City, Fukui Prefecture. Echizen City takes its name from Echizen Province, and Fūchū means “capital.” This city was the old capital of the province before the Edo period, when it was moved to Fukui City. This is the second story in Shokoku hyakumonogatari to come from Echizen Fūchū (the other one being from last year’s A-Yokai-A-Day, featuring the rokurokubi of Echizen).

The temple in the story no longer exists today, and its location is unknown.

The Corpse That Came Back to Life in Echizen Province

In Echizen Fūchū there was a Tendai temple. One time, a corpse was brought to this temple to be washed and shaved. The high priest had tumors on his hands, so he had his disciple shave the corpse instead. The corpse’s hair suddenly became stiff like deer’s fur and the razor could not cut it easily. After that the hair gradually began to grow longer, and the disciple threw away the razor and tried to run away.

Then the high priest addressed the corpse: “You have always had such strong attachments that I see even in death you’ve gone astray.” Then he read a sutra, and as he did the corpse’s hair became softer and shorter. All who heard this were moved by the high priest’s saintly character.

a man tries to shave a corpse in a bathtub, while imagining a deer's fur

(My Wife Draws) A-Yokai-A-Day: The Bakemono That Lived in the Pond on Lord Mori Mimasaka’s Estate

Well, my elbow has swollen up from the break and it was too painful to paint today. I’ll likely be out of commission for another day or two as well. My wife felt bad that I would be leaving you all without a painting for a day or two, and so she painted a picture for today’s story. I will come back and update this post later this month with my own illustration, once I am able to paint again. For now, I hope you enjoy the story and my wife’s illustration.

Today’s story talks about a bakemono who creates several creepy illusions. It’s hard to tell what kind of bakemono this might be… it starts out with the ghost of a child, which is always terrifying, and ends with a pair of kage onna. Lord Mimasaka’s mysterious death a year later seems tacked on, but it is implied that merely seeing these apparitions was enough to kill him.

Almost like viewing the cursed Ring tape, only instead of seven days it takes a whole year?

The Bakemono That Lived in the Pond on Lord Mori Mimasaka’s Estate

There was a small canal in back of the estate of Lord Mori Mimasaka, and sometimes a young child would emerge from the canal. Also, sometimes someone wearing a woman’s kazuki would walk back and forth around there.

One time, while Lord Mimasaka was holding an evening gathering with his attendants, the shadow of two women with their hair down walking back and forth could be seen projected on the walls of the tatami room. Lord Mimasaka thought this strange, and had his samurai walk around the tatami room and search every nook and cranny, but they did not find anybody. All they could see was just the shadows drifting about here and there. About one year later, the lord died.

a man searches near two shadows cast upon a sliding door

A-Yokai-A-Day: The Ōbōzu Bakemono at Lord Ogasawara’s House

After painting tonight’s yokai, I slipped on the stairs and broke my drawing arm… Which is pretty upsetting on top of being painful. It’s not a terrible break, but it’s enough that it will slow me down for the rest of the month. I don’t think it should outright prevent me from painting though. Maybe one day there will be stories about how an artist got punished by yokai for drawing too many of them…

Anyway, rather than dwell on unfortunate things, that’s look at something even more horrible: tonight’s yokai! This one is called an “ōbōzu bakemono.” Ōbōzu are common figures in yokai lore, although they go by many names, like ōnyūdō, ōhōshi, and others. All of these words mean “giant Buddhist priest.” And of course bakemono just means “monster.”

Why priests are such a common occurrence is a bit of a mystery, but there are several ways to look at it. One is that priests live outside of normal society, close to the realm of the supernatural, and they have that in common with yokai. Temples also had a lot of power in the middle ages and early modern Japan, and so in some ways they were a mysterious force to be reckoned with; just like monsters are. And of course, artists often liked to satirize what they saw around them, especially impious or dishonest priests who did not practice what they preach. Since artists were responsible for designing a lot of yokai, they had the means and motivation to invent all sorts of horrible priest yokai, and these were popular among commoners who also hated the dishonest priests. Even today we sometimes see priests driving porches, or televangelists with personal jet planes. This kind of corruption is universally hated, and its not easy to see how people could turn that into a monster.

I’m not sure why, but the ending of this story always makes me laugh. The climax of this story is brutally violent that it makes the final sentence, with its chilly crotch patting, seem tame and silly by comparison.

The Ōbōzu Bakemono at Lord Ogasawara’s House

During the Keichō era (1596 to 1615), the wife of a certain Ogawasara contracted smallpox at around age 45 and was in critical condition. Lord Ogasawara was in the next room discussing medicine, when a number of ladies came running out of the back room shouting, “How terrifying!”

When Lord Ogasawara went inside to investigate, he saw a giant, black monk towering over the folding screen and laughing at his wife. Lord Ogasawara immediately drew his katana and slashed at it, but the monk vanished.

One night, thinking it would return, he called five or six samurai to stand watch. Just as expected, the monk’s head rose up from behind the folding screen again.

“What are you that can create such an apparition?” he demanded. Then the monk snatched his wife, kicked through the ceiling, and tried to climb out. The samurai grabbed onto her and tried to hold her back, while the monk tried to pull her up through the ceiling. They pulled with such force that the wife was ripped in two, and the monk took her head and left.

Afterwards, for about a year, whenever the lord went to the outhouse, he was often subjected to all sorts of terrible things, such as cold hands patting his crotch, or having the door latch locked from the outside.

a giant priest holds the bloody, severed head of a woman in one hand