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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

A-Yokai-A-Day: How a Man From Gojō, Kyōto Was Punished For Scraping the Gold Foil Off of a Buddha

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Tonight’s story repeats some common themes — namely, a problem caused by attachment to material wealth, and snakes being used to represent that attachment. This story is interesting in that the people involved have the chance to make their sin right. At first they try to “outwit” their own karma, which I find very interesting, because it’s such a human, believable thing to try. I love that they halfway doubt the fortune teller at first. And when that fails they ultimately make a sensible, rational decision and choose the lesser of two evils. It’s about as close to a happy ending as kaidan often get.

How a Man From Gojō, Kyōto Was Punished For Scraping the Gold Foil Off of a Buddha
There was a poor oil seller who lived near Aburanokōji Gojō in Kyōto. Somebody told him that there was a golden buddha among the buddha statues at Sanjūsangendō. The oil seller was delighted to hear such good news. He went to Sanjūsangendō, broke off the buddha’s hands and feet, and burnt them to ashes so that the foil on them hardened into lumps of gold. He sold these lumps here and there, and soon he made thirty gold coins. His family became rich, and lived in affluence from morning to evening.

One time, when the oil seller and his wife were sleeping side by side, they felt a strange sensation like something cold touch their bodies. They lit a lamp and saw there were two small snakes. The couple were so startled that they beat the snakes to death, but two more snakes crawled out, and night and day the two snakes refused to leave the couple’s side. They prayed and prayed, but they did not receive any sign.

The couple grew more and more uneasy, so they asked a diviner to tell them their fortune. The diviner consulted his reading, and he asked, “Have you ever made money off of a buddha?” Then the couple confessed everything that they had done, saying that yes, indeed, they had made money off of a buddha. Hearing this, the diviner said, “In that case, if you use the money that you made to create a buddha and donate it to the temple, your curse will end.”

And so, they used half of the money that they had earned to make a buddha and they donated it to the temple. When they did this, one of the snakes went away, but the other one coiled its body around them and would not leave. The couple decided that being alive was the most important thing, and so they used the remainder of their money to make another buddha and donated it, after which the other snake left them. Then they returned to their old life as poor oil sellers.

a snake coils around a golden buddha statue

A-Yokai-A-Day: The Bakemono of Komatsu Castle in Ōshū

” href=”https://matthewmeyer.net/blog/2022/10/23/a-yokai-a-day-the-rokurokubi-of-fuchu-echizen-province/”>rokurokubi, although these necessarily have a body somewhere, and we don’t know if this bakemono does or not.

The Bakemono of Komatsu Castle in Ōshū
Not long ago, there was a samurai who was guarding a castle in a place called Komatsu, in Ōshū. His wife was the daughter of a certain Uwaki. One night, when she went to the outhouse, a woman’s head with blackened ohaguro teeth flew from across the way and grinned at her. She was horrified, but she knew that it would be bad to be defeated by such a thing, and so with her eyes open wide she glared back at the head. The head lost the staring contest, and then gradually flew away from her until it disappeared.

The woman was so happy that she left the outhouse and returned to her room, only to find that the lantern had gone out. She checked the next room, but the lantern in that room had gone out too, and it was pitch black. At that moment, she fainted.

When her husband returned home and searched for her, he found her in another room, lying flat on the floor, breathless and unresponsive. Everybody was astonished. They gave her some smelling salts, and finally she came to  her senses.

When they asked her what had happened, she told them the whole story. Afterwards, they built a new outhouse in a new location, and the monster never appeared again.