Tag: ‘Paranormal’

Namazu-e: Earthquake catfish prints

06 Apr 2011

In November 1855, the Great Ansei Earthquake struck the city of Edo (now Tokyo), claiming 7,000 lives and inflicting widespread damage. Within days, a new type of color woodblock print known as namazu-e (lit. "catfish pictures") became popular among the residents of the shaken city. These prints featured depictions of mythical giant catfish (namazu) who, according to popular legend, caused earthquakes by thrashing about in their underground lairs. In addition to providing humor and social commentary, many prints claimed to offer protection from future earthquakes.

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
1. Earthquake victims take revenge on the giant catfish responsible for the destruction [+]

The popularity of namazu-e exploded, and as many as 400 different types became available within weeks. However, the namazu-e phenomenon abruptly ended two months later when the Tokugawa government, which ordinarily maintained a strict system of censorship over the publishing industry, cracked down on production. Only a handful are known to survive today.

* * * * *

Namazu-e earthquake catfish picture --
2. Namazu and the kaname-ishi rock [+]

Namazu are normally kept under control by the god Kashima using a large rock known as kaname-ishi. The Great Ansei Earthquake of 1855 is said to have occurred when Kashima went out of town and left Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce) in charge. In this print, the giant subterranean catfish unleashes destruction on the city while Ebisu sleeps on the job. Kashima rushes home on horseback while the city burns, and Raijin the thunder god defecates drums. Large gold coins fall from the sky, symbolizing the redistribution of wealth during the rebuilding phase.

* * * * *

Catfish ukiyoe print --
3. Tug-of-war between namazu and the god Kashima [+]

This print shows a namazu engaged in a fierce game of "neck tug-of-war" with the god Kashima. A group of earthquake victims root for Kashima, while those who typically profit from earthquakes (construction workers, firemen, news publishers, etc.) root for the catfish.

* * * * *

Catfish ukiyo-e print --
4. Ancient catfish (Artists: Kyosai Kawanabe and Robun Kanagaki)

Produced two days after the earthquake, this work by Kyosai Kawanabe and Robun Kanagaki is considered the first namazu-e catfish print. The picture, which makes reference to a popular kabuki play of the era, inspired the creation of many namazu-e prints to follow.

* * * * *

Woodblock print of earthquake catfish --
5. Magical method of earthquake protection [+]

This protective print, which claims to prevent earthquake damage to one's home if attached to the ceiling, shows a group of remorseful catfish apologizing to the god Kashima for causing earthquakes while he was away.

* * * * *

Namazu-e ukiyo-e picture --
6. Catfish family

This print shows a mob of earthquake victims coming to take revenge on a namazu and its children.

* * * * *

Namazue ukiyoe print --
7. For peace and tranquility [+]

In this print, which claims to offer protection from earthquakes, the god Kashima and prostitutes from the Yoshiwara red-light district express their anger toward the catfish responsible for earthquakes.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
8. Namazu saviors

Some prints show the benevolent side of namazu. Here, they are seen rescuing people from the rubble.

* * * * *

Namazu-e mythical catfish print --
9. Daikoku, the popular god of wealth, restrains a namazu and showers people with money [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
10. Kashima restrains a namazu using the kaname-ishi rock

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
11. Kashima, kaname-ishi, and namazu [+]

In this print, the god Kashima is pictured in the top right corner. The kaname-ishi rock, portrayed as a person, stands on the head of the catfish, while a crowd of people try to subdue the giant beast. The people on the left who are not helping subdue the catfish include construction workers and others who typically profit from earthquakes.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
12. Earthquake hand game

This print is a reference to the old Japanese saying, "The most frightening things are earthquakes, thunder, fires, and fathers." Here, a namazu plays janken (paper-rock-scissors) with the gods of thunder and fire while an elderly man (father) looks on.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
13. Earthquakes, thunder, fires and fathers [+]

This print also makes reference to the old Japanese saying, "The most frightening things are earthquakes, thunder, fires, and fathers." Here, a namazu and the gods of thunder and fire discuss their powers over a fish dinner while a middle-aged man (father) looks on.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
14. Tipsiness following the great namazu [+]

In this print, the god Kashima stabs his sword into the throat of the namazu, which is laid out on a giant table. The crowd of onlookers is divided into two groups. The people in the top half of the picture are labeled as "smiling" (those who benefit from the earthquake) and the people at the bottom are labeled as "weeping" (those who are harmed by the earthquake). The top group includes a carpenter, a plasterer, a lumber salesman, a blacksmith and a roofer, as well as an elite courtesan, an ordinary prostitute, a physician, and sellers of ready-to-eat foods. The bottom group includes a teahouse proprietor, an eel seller, various entertainers such as musicians, comedians and storytellers, a seller of luxury goods, a diamond seller, and a seller of imported goods.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
15. Prosperity of the Ansei era [+]

This print, which shows a namazu punishing a rich man and a famous actor, illustrates a popular theory that the gods deliberately allowed the earthquake to happen in order to rectify some of the imbalances in the world.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
16. Namazu attacked by the citizens of Edo [+]

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
17. Catfish and construction workers partying in the Yoshiwara red-light district, pt. 1 [+]

This print depicts a crowd of namazu and newly prosperous construction workers living it up at a parlor house in the Yoshiwara pleasure district.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
18. Catfish and construction workers partying in the Yoshiwara red-light district, pt. 2 [+]

This print also shows carpenters, plasterers and roofers drinking and making merry in the Yoshiwara pleasure district while a namazu is restrained with a gourd.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
19. The earthquake and a "million prayers" [+]

This print depicts a namazu as a priest seated inside a giant rosary. The creature does not want to cause any more earthquakes, but the "worshipers" -- tradesmen such as lumber dealers and carpenters who profit from the disaster -- are praying for it to act up again. The ghosts of earthquake victims float overhead.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
20. Earthquake catfish and world rectification [+]

In this print, a group of construction workers pay respect to the namazu for helping them strike it rich.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
21. The shaking of greater Edo [+]

This print shows a massive steamship-like namazu approaching the city. The creature is spouting money, and people on shore beckon for it to come closer. The depiction of this namazu conjures up images of Commodore Perry's black ships, which arrived in Japan in 1853 and eventually forced the country to open its ports to Western commerce.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
22. The perpetrators of three big quakes captured alive [+]

In this print, the god Kashima has captured the catfish responsible for the major earthquakes in Shinshu, Edo, and Odawara. A carpenter, fireman, plasterer and roofer try to persuade the god to release the catfish, saying the creatures have apologized enough. The unforgiving Kashima sentences the fish to be cooked in a nabe stew.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
23. Namazu of Edo and Shinshu

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
24. Ebisu apologizes [+]

In this print, Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce) apologizes to Kashima for falling asleep on the job after drinking. The catfish leader is also apologizing, saying it was the thoughtless ones that went wild.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
25. Peace in the Ansei era

This print shows the god Kashima using the kaname-ishi to subdue the namazu responsible for the recent earthquakes.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
26. Namazu is wrestled into submission and placed under the kaname-ishi rock [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
27. Ridgepole raising

This print shows a group of namazu construction workers erecting the kanji character å¹³ (hira), which can symbolize "peace."

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
28. A man entertains a namazu [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
29. People inspect a namazu picture

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
30. Monster namazu in the storehouse [+]

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
31. Gourd and catfish

In this print, a namazu tries to help a comrade escape from a trap by handing it a gourd. The image is a reference to the old Japanese expression "gourd and catfish" (meaning "slippery" or "elusive"), which originates from a famous 15th-century Zen painting of a man trying to catch a catfish with a gourd.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
32. Mob takes revenge on a namazu [+]

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
33. Catching a catfish with a gourd (Artist: Kunisada Utagawa) [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
34. People who profit from earthquakes make offerings to a namazu [+]

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
35. Fear of Kashima

This print shows people dancing around a namazu dressed as a representative of Kashima shrine in an annual ritual held before the start of the new agricultural season. The image of the rabbit represents the zodiac year of the rabbit (1855).

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
36. Reassurance of the quake-suppressing rock [+]

A crowd of elderly people, carpenters, young wives, china-shop owners, entertainers, Yoshiwara prostitutes, physicians, and others are offering prayers to the kaname-ishi rock, believed to have the power to keep earthquakes in check. When a person in the crowd voices his doubts about the rock's powers, the rock responds, "I assure you that if the earth moves even a little I will stand on my head." In the original Japanese, this answer features a pun on the words ishi-gaeshi ("overturning a rock") and ishu-gaeshi ("taking revenge").

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
37. Earthquake protection song

In this print, Daikoku, the popular god of wealth, showers people with money while the god Kashima restrains a namazu.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
38. Frightened namazu [+]

This print shows a mother namazu chasing a mob of people who have kidnapped her two children. The message on the flag carried by a person in the crowd suggests they intend to grill and eat the young catfish.

* * * * *

Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
39. Namazu with construction tools, portrayed as the legendary warrior Benkei

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Namazue earthquake catfish picture --
40. The god Ebisu restrains a giant catfish with a gourd [+]

[More: Disaster Prevention Museum, National Diet Library]

Monsters from the Kaibutsu Ehon

03 Mar 2011

The Kaibutsu Ehon ("Illustrated Book of Monsters") is an 1881 book featuring woodblock prints of yōkai, or creatures from Japanese folklore. Illustrated by painter Nabeta Gyokuei, the book is modeled after the influential works of Toriyama Sekien, an 18th-century scholar and ukiyo-e artist known for his attempt to catalog the many species of yōkai in Japan. Here are 25 monsters from the book.

Monster from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Mikoshi-nyūdō -- Monk-like creature that grows taller the more you look at it

Yokai from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Nue -- Chimera-like bringer of misfortune that can fly and morph into a dark cloud

Youkai from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Futsukeshibaba (a.k.a. Hikeshibaba) -- Mysterious old woman in white who extinguishes lanterns

Monster from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Kasha -- Cat-like demon that descends from the sky to feed on corpses before cremation

Yokai from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Noderabō -- Strange creature standing near a temple bell

Youkai from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Waraime (a.k.a. Kerakera-onna) -- Giant cackling woman

Monster from Kaibutsu Ehon --
Daibutsu-kaibutsu -- Mysterious pile of crumbling skulls

See more monsters from the Kaibutsu Ehon »

Pink Tentacle’s greatest hits – 2010

24 Dec 2010

As 2010 draws to an end, here's a look back at the year's most popular Pink Tentacle posts.

Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 --

Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 --

- Old-school Tokyo subway manner posters: 27 train etiquette posters from the 1970s-1980s

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Custom scooters: Photos of 30 Japanese scooter mods

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Post-apocalyptic Tokyo scenery: Fantastic photo manipulations by Tokyogenso

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Macabre kids' book art by Gojin Ishihara: Not just for kids

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Concept cars: A look back at 50+ years of Japanese concept car designs

* * * * *

Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 --

Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 --

- Japanese town logos: 50 examples of kanji-based logos for Japanese towns

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll: Mysterious mid-19th century scroll featuring 33 legendary monsters and human oddities

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Futuristic mega-projects: Shimizu Corporation's bold architectural plans for the world of tomorrow

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Horror illustrations by Tatsuya Morino: The great monsters of Gothic literature get a makeover

* * * * *

Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 --

Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 -- Best of 2010 --

Selections from the Japanese urban legend series

- Ningen: Giant humanoid sea creatures of the Antarctic
- Sony timer: Rumors of a secret kill switch in Sony products
- Severed samurai head in Tokyo: A head buried in Tokyo has haunted the city for 1,000 years
- Secrets of the Tokyo underground: Rumors of a hidden city under Tokyo
- Hanako-san: Girl ghost haunts restrooms across Japan
- Human-faced dog: Encounters with mysterious canines
- Okiku doll: A haunted toy with hair that grows
- Urban legends from Meiji-period Japan: Phantom trains, bloody chocolate, and more
- Cursed commercial: Infamous Kleenex ad that sparked fear across Japan
- Human pillars: Tales of human sacrifice for large-scale construction projects

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Sci-fi illustrations by Shigeru Komatsuzaki: Fantastic art from the 1960s-1970s (bonus points for the comments)

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Manga farming: Nifty gardening technique by Tokyo-based artist Koshi Kawachi

* * * * *

Best of 2010 --

- Paintings by Tetsuya Ishida: Surreal and provocative

Happy holidays, and thanks for reading. See you again in 2011!

Paintings of Japanese folklore monsters

26 Oct 2010

Fukui-based yōkai painter Matthew Meyer has been researching and painting a different traditional Japanese monster each day this month. Here are a few of the lovely horrors featured in the collection, which will continue to grow until the end of October. [Link: A-Yokai-A-Day]

Yokai painting by Matt Meyer --
Hari-onago ("Hooked woman" with deadly hair, from Ehime prefecture)

Yokai painting by Matt Meyer --
Kijimuna (Okinawan tree sprite)

Yokai painting by Matt Meyer --
Kerakera-onna ("Cackling woman")

Yokai painting by Matt Meyer --
Gagoze (Demonic ghost haunting Gango-ji temple in Nara prefecture)

Yokai painting by Matt Meyer --
Aonyobu ("Blue wife," the ruined aristocrat)

Macabre kids’ book art by Gojin Ishihara

26 Jul 2010

Here is a collection of wonderfully weird illustrations by Gōjin Ishihara, whose work graced the pages of numerous kids' books in the 1970s. The first 16 images below appeared in the "Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters" (1972), which profiled supernatural creatures from Japanese legend. The other illustrations appeared in various educational and entertainment-oriented publications for children.

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- Kappa (river imp), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Jorōgumo (lit. "whore spider"), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- Kubire-oni (strangler demon), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Goujin Ishihara --
- Rokurokubi (long-necked woman), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Goujin Ishihara --
- Onmoraki (bird demon), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Nekomata (cat monster), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- Tengu (bird-like demon), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Tenjō-sagari (ceiling dweller), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Enma Dai-Ō (King of Hell), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Kyūbi no kitsune (nine-tailed fox), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Baku (dream-eating chimera), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- YÅ«rei (ghost), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- Yamasei (mountain sprite), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Goujin Ishihara --
- Rashōmon no oni (ogre of Rashōmon Gate), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Waira (mountain-dwelling chimera), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Nure-onna (snake woman), Illustrated Book of Japanese Monsters, 1972

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Hell of Repetition (Illustrated Book of Hell, 1975)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Burning Hell (Illustrated Book of Hell, 1975)

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- Demons of the Orient (The Complete Book of Demons, 1974)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- The appearance of Satan (The Complete Book of Demons, 1974)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Gorgon (Illustrated Book of World Monsters, 1973)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Aliens in ancient Japan (Mysteries of the World, 1970)

Illustration by Goujin Ishihara --
- Alien (Mysteries of the World, 1970)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Emergency Command 10-4 10-10 (sonosheet book, 1972)

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- Emergency Command 10-4 10-10 (sonosheet book, 1972)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Kaiketsu Lion-Maru (sonosheet book, 1972)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Kaiketsu Lion-Maru (sonosheet book, 1972)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Prehistoric man as modern-day baseball player (Prehistoric Man, 1970)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Prehistoric man as modern-day wrestler (Prehistoric Man, 1970)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Prehistoric man as modern-day security guard (Prehistoric Man, 1970)

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
- The secretary who spied for 18 years (from Spy Wars)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- World's biggest glutton (World's Greatest Wonders, 1971)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Precognition of plane crash (Mysteries of the Body, 1973)

Illustration by Gojin Ishihara --
- Nostradamus (Psychics of the World, 1974)

Illustration by Goujin Ishihara --
- Frozen planet (Year X: End of the World, 1975)

Illustration by Gōjin Ishihara --
Dark star gravity (Year X: End of the World, 1975)

[Link: Gōjin Fechi]

Okiku doll

28 Apr 2010

A mysterious doll possessed by the spirit of a child has captured the curiosity of people across Japan for decades. The legendary Okiku doll, named after the girl who long ago used to play with it, is a 40-centimeter (16-in) tall kimono-clad figure with beady black eyes -- and hair that grows.

Okiku doll --
Okiku doll illustration by Shohei Otomo

The Okiku doll has resided at the Mannenji temple in the town of Iwamizawa (Hokkaido prefecture) since 1938. According to the temple, the traditional doll initially had short cropped hair, but over time it has grown to about 25 centimeters (10 in) long, down to the doll's knees. Although the hair is periodically trimmed, it reportedly keeps growing back.

It is said that the doll was originally purchased in 1918 by a 17-year-old boy named Eikichi Suzuki while visiting Sapporo for a marine exhibition. He bought the doll on Tanuki-koji -- Sapporo's famous shopping street -- as a souvenir for his 2-year-old sister, Okiku. The young girl loved the doll and played with it every day, but the following year, she died suddenly of a cold. The family placed the doll in the household altar and prayed to it every day in memory of Okiku.

Some time later, they noticed the hair had started to grow. This was seen as a sign that the girl's restless spirit had taken refuge in the doll.

Okiku doll -- Okiku doll --
Okiku doll at Mannenji temple [via]

In 1938, the Suzuki family moved to Sakhalin, and they placed the doll in the care of Mannenji temple, where it has remained ever since.

Nobody has ever been able to fully explain why the doll's hair continues to grow. However, one scientific examination of the doll supposedly concluded that the hair is indeed that of a young child.

[Note: This is the last in a series of weekly posts on mysteries and urban legends from Japan.]

Hanako-san, terror of the toilet

14 Apr 2010

Hanako-san -- a spooky young girl that haunts school restrooms across Japan -- has in recent decades become one of the nation's most famous ghosts.

Toire no Hanako-san -- Toire no Hanako-san --

It is not uncommon for schools to have a toilet permanently occupied by the mysterious girl, who is known in Japanese as Toire no Hanako-san (lit. "Hanako of the toilet"). She is often found in the third stall in the restroom on the third floor -- usually the girls' room -- but this can vary from school to school. Details about her physical appearance also vary, but she is usually described as having bobbed hair and wearing a red skirt.

Hanako-san's behavior also varies according to location, but in most cases, she remains holed up in the bathroom until an adventurous student dares to provoke her. Hanako-san can be conjured up by knocking on the door to her stall (usually three times), calling her name, and asking a particular question. The most common question is simply "Are you there, Hanako-san?" If Hanako-san is indeed present, she says in a faint voice, "Yes, I'm here." Some stories claim that anyone courageous enough to open the door at this point is greeted by a little girl in a red skirt and then pulled into the toilet.

Hanako --
Toire no Hanako-san, by Digital Dolls

Details about Hanako-san's origins are murky. Although she became a national phenomenon in the 1980s, there is speculation that she has existed since the 1950s. Some stories claim she is the ghost of a WWII-era girl who died in a bombing raid on the school while she was playing hide-and-seek. Other stories claim she is the restless spirit of a young girl who met her end at the hands of an abusive or deranged parent (or a perverted stranger, according to some stories) who found her hiding in the bathroom. In some cases, she is the ghost of a former student who died in an unfortunate accident at the school (one story from Fukushima prefecture, for example, claims she is the ghost of a girl who fell out of the library window).

Hanako-san in the toilet --
Hanako-san photo by Sammi Sparke

Countless versions of the Hanako-san legend have emerged over time. Here are a few of the more colorful variations:

- According to one Yamagata prefecture legend, something terrible will happen to you if Hanako-san speaks to you in a nasty voice. Another legend from Yamagata prefecture claims that Hanako-san is actually a 3-meter-long, 3-headed lizard that uses a little girl's voice to attract prey.

- At a school in the town of Kurosawajiri (Iwate prefecture), it is said that a large, white hand emerges from a hole in the floor of the third bathroom stall if you say "third Hanako-san" (sanbanme no Hanako-san).

- In the boys' room at a school in Yokohama (Kanagawa prefecture), it is said that a bloody hand emerges from the toilet (presumably an old-fashioned squatter) if you walk around it three times while calling Hanako-san's name.

- Stories have also circulated about a so-called "Hanako fungus" that can infect anyone who scrapes their knee on the playground. The infection reportedly causes tiny mushrooms to sprout from the scab.

Hanako --
Toire no Hanako-san, by HAL-2oo6

For the most part, Hanako-san is harmless and can be avoided simply by staying away from her designated hiding spot. But if you ever need to get rid of her, try showing her a graded exam with a perfect score. Some legends claim that the sight of good grades makes her vanish into thin air.

[Note: This is the latest in a series of weekly posts on Japanese urban legends.]

‘Kaikidan Ekotoba’ monster scroll

07 Apr 2010

Here is a look at the Kaikidan Ekotoba, a mysterious handscroll that profiles 33 legendary monsters and human oddities, mostly from the Kyushu region of Japan (with several from overseas). The cartoonish document, whose author is unknown, is believed to date from the mid-19th century. It is now in the possession of the Fukuoka City Museum.

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
White monster/Bird-dog hybrid [+]

The black creature on the right was born by a dog that mated with a bird in the city of Fukuoka in the early 1740s. Next to the bird-dog hybrid is an amorphous white monster -- also encountered in Fukuoka -- which is said to have measured about 180 centimeters (6 ft) across. People at the time believed this creature was a raccoon dog that had shape-shifted.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Old woman at the temple [+]

This illustration depicts a ghostly old woman known to appear late at night in a certain guest room at a temple in the Kaho area of Fukuoka prefecture. On multiple occasions, terrified lodgers ended up fatally wounding themselves after trying to strike her with a sword.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba mystery monster scroll --
Russian fireball [+]

During heavy winds, this Russian hitodama (a fiery apparition composed of spirits of the recently departed) could be heard to say, "Oroshiya, oroshiya" ("Let me down"). There is some speculation that the author dreamed up the creature based on a play on words, as "oroshiya" sounds like the old Japanese pronunciation of "Russia."

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba mystery monster scroll --
Tiger meow-meow [+]

This illustration depicts a Zenshu priest who was transformed by greed into a strange feline creature with three toes on each paw and the forked tail of a nekomata.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba scroll of horrors --
Toad from the sea near Pusan [+]

The illustration shows a fearsome horned toad said to inhabit the sea near Pusan, Korea.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba scroll of horrors --
Chinese sneezer [+]

This creature resembles a half-naked, cold-ridden Chinese man and is thought to be a caricature of China, which had fallen prey to Western colonial powers.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Man with oversized testicles [+]

Long ago, a man with massive testicles reportedly made a living as a sideshow attraction at Mt. Satta, on the old Tokaido Road near the city of Shizuoka. His scrotum is said to have measured about a meter across.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Wild woman [+]

The "wild woman" shown here appears to be an aquatic humanoid with scaly skin, webbed hands and feet (each with three fingers and toes), long black hair, and a large red mouth. People claim to have encountered the creature in the 1750s in mountain streams in the Asakura area of Fukuoka prefecture.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Ox woman [+]

The "ox woman" pictured here was sideshow attraction at Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine (Fukuoka prefecture) in the mid-18th century. The armless lady entertained audiences by using her peculiar feet to run string through the center holes of coins.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Man with snakes in his legs [+]

The illustration shows a middle-aged traveling monk from Nagano prefecture who would bathe in hot springs without removing his leggings. If anyone asked him why he did not fully undress before entering the water, he would show them the holes in his shins, which contained snakes. The man was born with snakes in his legs as punishment for misdeeds in a previous life.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Bizarre creature at Kanezaki Inlet [+]

Many Edo-period scrolls featured illustrations of unfamiliar creatures -- animals that actually existed but were rarely seen in Japan (such as fur seals and sea lions), along with creatures generally regarded as imaginary (mermaids and kappa). This illustration shows a 3-meter-long seal that was captured in the early 19th century at Kanezaki Inlet.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Giant red fish [+]

This illustration depicts a giant red fish encountered by a shark fisherman in northern Japan. The head of the angry fish is said to have measured about 2 meters across.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Tiger meow-meow [+]

Much like the money-hungry priest described above, the people shown here have been transformed by greed into bizarre cat creatures.

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Ezo wolf [+]

This illustration shows an Ezo Wolf (a.k.a. Hokkaido Wolf), which is believed to have gone extinct in the late 19th century (after this illustration was made). The animal is seen here with its paw on a human skull.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Korean monk [+]

The "Korean monk" in this illustration, seen singing and playing a gekkin (moon guitar), has the physical characteristics of a kappa (water imp).

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Lantern man [+]

In the early decades of the 18th century, a man with a malleable head made a living as a popular sideshow attraction. It is said that he could collapse his head like a traditional paper lantern.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Ghost of woman with child [+]

This illustration shows the ghost of a woman from the Asakura area of Fukuoka prefecture, who died during a difficult childbirth.

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Nekomata [+]

The nekomata is a cat monster with a forked tail and a taste for human flesh. The creature's powers include the ability to talk, walk on hind legs, shape-shift, fly, and even resurrect the dead. The nekomata pictured here was encountered in the Nasuno area of Tochigi prefecture.

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Kawataro [+]

The kawataro is a variety of kappa (water imp) which, according to the accompanying text, likes to eat people and practice sumo. An indentation on top of the creature's head is filled with water. The kawataro becomes weak when the water spills out.

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Monster hole [+]

This illustration shows a monster cave believed to exist deep in the mountains of Kumamoto prefecture. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary cave. But as you approach the entrance, the eyes and teeth become visible.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Snake woman [+]

The snake woman pictured here was reportedly encountered by six people on Mt. Mikasa in Nara prefecture. Five of the eyewitnesses died instantly. The sixth person survived long enough to make it home and tell the tale, but he grew ill and died three days later. The snake-bodied woman resembles the notorious nure-onna, except that this one has a beautiful face.

* * * * *

Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Rokurokubi [+]

This rokurokubi -- a woman with the ability to stretch her neck to extraordinary lengths -- is said to have been encountered by a messenger one night near Ninna-ji temple in Kyoto.

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Mikoshi-nyudo [+]

The mikoshi-nyudo pictured here was encountered by a peasant on the road late one night in the Naka area of Fukuoka prefecture.

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Kaikidan Ekotoba monster scroll --
Unknown [+]

Although no explanation is given for this creature, it seems to resemble the notorious gagoze, a demon who attacked young priests at Gango-ji temple.

[Note: This is the latest in a series of weekly posts on Japanese urban legends.]

Cow head

31 Mar 2010

For centuries, rumors have circulated in Japan about a ghost story so horrific that people die of fright soon after hearing it.

Two-headed cow --

The dreadful tale -- known as "Cow Head" -- appears to date back at least to the early 17th century. Several known written accounts from this era make reference to the awful story, but they merely mention its title and describe it as a tale too terrible to tell.

The actual details of the story remain a mystery to this day, because those with the misfortune of knowing it usually do not live long enough to repeat it. According to the rumors, most people who read or hear the story are overcome with a fear so great that they tremble violently for days on end, until they die.

Although most people nowadays regard the tale as a complete fabrication, rumors of its existence have strangely survived, passing from generation to generation by word of mouth. Some theories suggest the rumors gained new life in the 1960s, after science fiction writer Sakyo Komatsu wrote a short story (titled "Cow Head") based on the old tale. There is no hard evidence supporting this claim, though.

In any case, references to the rumored story occasionally pop up in conversation and online.

One recent account tells of an elementary school teacher who told the "Cow Head" story to his poor students while the class was on a school trip. According to the account, the teacher was entertaining the students on the bus with ghost stories. The students, who tended to become unruly on long trips, grew remarkably subdued as they listened to the teacher speak. Many of them seemed truly frightened by the stories he told.

After some time, the teacher announced he would tell a tale called "Cow Head." Before he could finish the first sentence of the story, however, the children began to panic. "Stop!" they cried. "Don't tell us!" One child turned pale and covered his ears, and the others began to scream. But the teacher did not stop. His eyes went blank and he proceeded with the story as if some unseen force had taken over his mind.

Later, after the teacher regained his senses, he found that the bus had stopped moving. The students had all fainted and were frothing at the mouth. The driver lay slumped over the wheel, sweating and shivering. It is unclear what happened next, except that the teacher never told the story again.

[Note: This is the latest in a series of weekly posts on Japanese urban legends.]