A-Yokai-A-Day: Ōishi Matanojō and the Blessing From the Chijin

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I’ve recovered enough movement in my arm to start painting again, which is a much more pleasant way to spend the day than sitting around and doing nothing.

Tonight’s yokai presents itself as another ōbōzu, but it becomes clear later that is just a form that it takes to scare Matanojō. Its actual identity is a chijin. These are local spirits that serve as tutelary deities of a specific area. Chijin are both the protector spirit and the spiritual representation of the land they rule over. It can be anything from a small plot of land, to a mountain, to even as much as an entire country. When their home is in disrepair, they may appear as angry monsters, but when their homes are well taken care of and they are worshipped and honored, they will be benevolent protector gods.

Since Matanojō was an educated, valorous, and logical samurai, he was not afraid of the ōbōzu, and was able to learn its true identity. One part of this story may be confusing to readers: There’s a scene where the ōbōzu tells him, “I am pleased that you worshiped me and vowed to enshrine me as your tutelary god for many years to come.” We don’t actually see this scene in the story, however we know that Matanojō was a properly educated and pious samurai, and we know that he repaired the house. So we can also assume that he took the time to fix up the small shrine on his property, remove the weeds, and once again pray to the spirit enshrined there. I’m not sure if this was omitted because it would be obvious to an Edo period reader, or if it was omitted because that is how the original editor heard the story and they wanted to reproduce it faithfully… But it does feel like there’s a couple of missing sentences there.

For my illustration, I chose to paint the happy chijin rather than the ōbōzu.

Ōishi Matanojō and the Blessing From the Local God
At the time of the Battle of Sekigahara, there was a rōnin called Ōishi Matanojō. He was a samurai well-versed in martial arts, especially the literary arts, devoted to Confucianism, with the heart of a poet, and with a discerning knowledge of logic and reason.

He was appointed to a military post in Izumo and given an estate by the lord, but this house had been inhabited by a bakemono for a long time, and there was nobody who could spend even one night there. Whenever somebody happened to go there, the monster would snatch them and take them away. Because of this, his friends urged him to decline this estate and request a different residence.

Ōishi replied, “As a samurai, it is no easy thing to request a change of residence out of fear of monsters. This is the type of estate that a true samurai would prefer to go to.” He took his men to the house, had them clean it up and perform repairs, and then chose an auspicious day to officially move in. After that, he decided that he would first stay overnight at the house as a test to gauge the bakemono situation, and after that he would move his wife and children in. He fortified the front gate, readied his bow, gun, spear, and his naginata, then he laid out his books on his desk and kept watch while studying.

Around midnight, a knock came at the front gate. Ōishi thought this was suspicious, and he went outside to check. There was a six-meter-tall ōbōzu, and it said, “Open this door.”

“So, this must be the bakemono,” thought Ōishi. He answered, “Who are you to tell me to open the door? Tell me your name, or I will not open the door.”

“Whoever I am, if I say ‘open this door,’ then open this door! If you don’t open it, I will stomp through it! Even if you think to strike me, I cannot be harmed by tachi or katana. Now, open this door!” replied the ōbōzu.

Ōishi felt uneasy, but he also thought it curious, as a monster should be able to get inside even without opening the door. So he opened the gate door, and a young monk of about eighteen or nineteen stepped inside.

“I see that you are concerned that I am some kind of monster. There is no need to be so anxious. I am the god who lives in the northwest corner of this estate, in front of the study. Since ancient times, all who have lived in this house have treated me with disrespect and tried to drive me away. I hated them and cursed them. This is your first time coming here. I have come to tell you that I am pleased that you worshiped me and vowed to enshrine me as your tutelary god for many years to come. From now on, I will guard your family so that your descendants will prosper. Now, my shrine is in terrible condition. You must repair it. There is a pine tree and some bamboo in front of my shrine. If you dig these up, you will find gold,” he explained kindly. Then he vanished into thin air.

Ōishi felt grateful, bowed three times, and shortly after that the dawn broke. His men and his friends all came to check on him, and as he had nothing to hide, he told them everything that happened. When the lord heard what had happened, he declared that Ōishi was a samurai favored by the gods, and he increased his salary from 300 koku to 500 koku, and made him an important advisor in the government.

Afterwards, when Ōishi dug up the spot the god told him, he found 100 gold coins. He used this gold to rebuild the shrine, and due to this great reverence, his household also flourished.

a guardian spirit appears in front of a shrine in disrepair

(My Wife Draws) A-Yokai-A-Day: The Bakemono of the Outhouse in Kasamari, Ōmi Province

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Tonight’s story is a tale that pops up time and time again in almost every prefecture. It’s the story of kurote, or the hairy hand that reaches up out of the toilet to stroke your butt while you do your business. Clearly Edo period people enjoyed potty humor as much as modern people!

I particularly enjoy this story because of the logical, even sarcastic tone it treats the monster with.

Once again my wife was kind enough to do the illustration while my arm is broken. I will have an illustration for you tomorrow, however!

The Bakemono of the Outhouse in Kasamari, Ōmi Province

In a place called Konse in Ōmi Province, there is a rural village called Kasamari. In the outhouse at a certain somebody’s house in this village, a bakemono supposedly lived, and nobody would go there. Whenever the wind blew, a hairy hand would stroke their bottom.

One person heard about this and decided he would go and see this monster for himself. He went into the outhouse and positioned himself above the toilet. Just when as the wind blew, sure enough, the bakemono’s hairy hand eagerly stroked his bottom. The man immediately thrust his hand down into the toilet to seize it, but it was a plume of pampas grass.

Because it was the countryside, pampas grass grew beneath the outhouse. When the wind blew, the plumes fluttered the wind and everybody thought that what they felt on their bottoms was a hairy hand caressing them. After that, the pampas grass was trimmed, and the stories about the bakemono stopped.

a man uses the toilet while a hairy hand tickles his rear end

(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 the Mistress of a Certain Man in Kii Province Died and Obsession Brought Her Back

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Tonight’s yokai is another ghost. However, while yesterday’s was described as a yūrei due to being faint and eerie, this one is much more violent. The story never uses a specific word to describe the ghost; it only refers to her as “the woman” and “the mistress.” Bōrei or shiryō would certainly be appropriate words to describe this ghost, as it is literally a spirit of the dead. Her attachment to her lover brought her back from the dead to be by his side, and he, none to pleased by this, insulted her and tried to kill her. Perhaps if he had treated her more kindly, would he have escaped unscathed?

But we already know this man is a scoundrel, for he has the audacity to bring a mistress into his own house night after night by the side door, with no thought whatsoever to his wife. So perhaps he was doomed from the start…

How the Mistress of a Certain Man in Kii Province Died and Obsession Brought Her Back

A certain man was caretaker of the castle at Matsuzaka in Kii Province. He had a mistress, and every night he would call for her by way of the alley side door. This woman always came to him wearing wooden shoes, but after a few years she fell ill and finally died. Afterwards, the man stayed awake at night, remembering what he and the woman had talked about over the months and years.

Then, late at night, he heard the sound of the woman walking in her wooden shoes from the alley side door. He grew suspicious, and he raised the curtain to see the woman, emaciated, with disheveled hair, entering the tatami room from the alley. He looked at her and rebuked her: “Well, well, what a cowardly creature!” The woman briskly came up to the tatami room and glared at him severely. She was about to cross the curtain into the room, when the man drew his sword and slashed at her, and she disappeared without a trace. After that, the man too fell ill and died.

a corpse-like woman with disheveled hair and sickly skin points threateningly at the viewer