Tag: ‘Yokai’

Daily yokai portraits

23 Oct 2009

This month, in the spirit of Halloween, Fukui-based yōkai painter Matt Meyer is creating daily portraits of Japan’s traditional monsters and adding them to his A-Yokai-A-Day collection. Here are a few images from the site, which will be updated with a lovely new terror each day until the end of October.

Kuchisakeonna, the severed-mouth woman
Kuchisake-onna — slit-mouth woman

Akaname, the bathroom scum licker --
Akaname — bathroom scum licker

Nurarihyon, leader of the yokai --
Nurarihyon — yōkai boss

Yamamba, the mountain hag --
Yama-uba — mountain hag

Hyosube -- --
Hyōsube — river imp

[Link: A-Yokai-A-Day]

18th-century ‘Hyakki Yako’ scroll (for sale)

20 Oct 2009

Hyakki Yako scroll --

An 18th-century picture scroll featuring a procession of Japanese demons and monsters is for sale on eBay. This 11.25 meter (37 ft) long work depicts the Hyakki Yakō (lit. "Night Parade of One Hundred Demons") -- a deadly parade of demons and yōkai (traditional monsters) that, according to Japanese folklore, would often take place on summer nights. The Hyakki Yakō was a popular theme in Japanese visual art during the Edo period, and portrayals of these processions, while frightening, often incorporated a sense of humor. Here are a few images of the scroll, which is currently priced at $15,000.

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

Hyakki Yako scroll --

See more images and details on the eBay page for this item.

[Thanks, Darren!]

Anatomy of Japanese folk monsters

14 Oct 2009

Yōkai Daizukai, an illustrated guide to yōkai authored by manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, features a collection of cutaway diagrams showing the anatomy of 85 traditional monsters from Japanese folklore (which also appear in Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitarō anime/manga). Here are a few illustrations from the book.

Kurokamikiri anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Kuro-kamikiri [+]

The Kuro-kamikiri ("black hair cutter") is a large, black-haired creature that sneaks up on women in the street at night and surreptitiously cuts off their hair. Anatomical features include a brain wired for stealth and trickery, razor-sharp claws, a long, coiling tongue covered in tiny hair-grabbing spines, and a sac for storing sleeping powder used to knock out victims. The digestive system includes an organ that produces a hair-dissolving fluid, as well as an organ with finger-like projections that thump the sides of the intestines to aid digestion.

Makuragaeshi anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Makura-gaeshi [+]

The Makura-gaeshi ("pillow-mover") is a soul-stealing prankster known for moving pillows around while people sleep. The creature is invisible to adults and can only be seen by children. Anatomical features include an organ for storing souls stolen from children, another for converting the souls to energy and supplying it to the rest of the body, and a pouch containing magical sand that puts people to sleep when it gets in the eyes. In addition, the monster has two brains -- one for devising pranks, and one for creating rainbow-colored light that it emits through its eyes.

Dorotabo anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Doro-ta-bō [+]

The Doro-ta-bō ("muddy rice field man"), a monster found in muddy rice fields, is said to be the restless spirit of a hard-working farmer whose lazy son sold his land after he died. The monster is often heard yelling, "Give me back my rice field!" Anatomical features include a gelatinous lower body that merges into the earth, a 'mud sac' that draws nourishment from the soil, lungs that allow the creature to breathe when buried, and an organ that converts the Doro-ta-bō's resentment into energy that heats up his muddy spit. One eyeball remains hidden under the skin until the monster encounters the owner of the rice field, at which time the eye emerges and emits a strange, disorienting light.

Hyosube anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Hyōsube [+]

The Hyōsube, a child-sized river monster (a relative of the kappa) from Kyushu that lives in underwater caves, ventures onto land at night to eat rice plants. The monster has a relatively small brain, a nervous system specialized in detecting the presence of humans, thick rubbery skin, sharp claws, two small stomachs (one for rice grains and one for fish), a large sac for storing surplus food, and two large oxygen sacs for emergency use. A pair of rotating bone coils produce an illness-inducing bacteria that the monster sprinkles on unsuspecting humans.

Yanagi-babaa anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Yanagi-baba [+]

Yanagi-baba ("willow witch") is the spirit of 1,000-year-old willow tree. Anatomical features include long, green hair resembling leafy willow branches, wrinkled bark-like skin, a stomach that supplies nourishment directly to the tree roots, a sac for storing tree sap, and a cane cut from the wood of the old tree. Although Yanagi-baba is relatively harmless, she is known to harass passersby by snatching umbrellas into her hair, blowing fog out through her nose, and spitting tree sap.

Mannendake anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Mannen-dake [+]

The Mannen-dake ("10,000-year bamboo") is a bamboo-like monster that feeds on the souls of lost travelers camping in the woods. Anatomical features include a series of tubes that produce air that causes travelers to lose their way, syringe-like fingers the monster inserts into victims to suck out their souls, and a sac that holds the stolen souls.

Fukurosage anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Fukuro-sage [+]

The Fukuro-sage -- a type of tanuki (raccoon dog) found in Nagano prefecture and Shikoku -- has the ability to shapeshift into a sake bottle, which is typically seen rolling down sloping streets. The bottle may pose a danger to people who try to follow it downhill, as it may lead them off a cliff or into a ditch. The Fukuro-sage usually wears a large potato leaf or fern leaf on its head and carries a bag made from human skin. The bag contains a bottle of poison sake. Anatomical features include a stomach that turns food into sake, a sac for storing poison that it mixes into drinks, and a pouch that holds sake lees. The Fukuro-sage's urine has a powerful smell that can disorient humans and render insects and small animals unconscious.

Ka-sha anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Kasha [+]

Kasha, a messenger of hell, is a fiery monster known for causing typhoons at funerals. Anatomical features include powerful lungs for generating typhoon-force winds that can lift coffins and carry the deceased away, as well as a nose for sniffing out funerals, a tongue that can detect wind direction, and a pouch containing ice from hell. To create rain, the Kasha spits chunks of this ice through its curtain of perpetual fire.

Bishagatsuku anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Bisha-ga-tsuku [+]

The Bisha-ga-tsuku is a soul-stealing creature encountered on dark snowy nights in northern Japan. The monster -- which maintains a body temperature of -150 degrees Celsius -- is constantly hidden behind a fog of condensation, but its presence can be detected by the characteristic wet, slushy sound ("bisha-bisha") it makes. Anatomical features include feelers that inhale human souls and cold air, a sac for storing the sounds of beating human hearts, and a brain that emits a fear-inducing aura. The Bisha-ga-tsuku reproduces by combining the stolen human souls with the cold air it inhales.

Kijimuna anatomical illustration from Shigeru Mizuki's Yokai Daizukai --
Kijimunaa [+]

The Kijimunaa is a playful forest sprite inhabiting the tops of Okinawan banyan trees. Anatomical features include eye sockets equipped with ball bearings that enable the eyeballs to spin freely, strong teeth for devouring crabs and ripping out the eyeballs of fish (a favorite snack), a coat of fur made from tree fibers, and a nervous system adapted for carrying out pranks. The Kijimunaa's brain contains vivid memories of being captured by an octopus -- the only thing it fears and hates.

[Source: Shigeru Mizuki's Yōkai Daizukai, 2004]

+ See also: Kaiju anatomical drawings

Upstairs at Kitaro’s: Mini monster peepshow

24 Sep 2009

Several yōkai (Japanese folk monsters) inhabit the upstairs closet at the Kitarō Chaya teahouse in Chōfu (Tōkyō). Visible through peepholes in the door, these traditional monsters -- which are based on old folktales from across Japan -- appear in the popular GeGeGe no Kitarō manga/anime by Shigeru Mizuki, a long-time resident of Chōfu. (Click the [+] to enlarge each image.)

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Otoroshi [+]

The Otoroshi, a hairy creature depicted in Edo-period books and picture scrolls, perches atop the gates to shrines and temples, waiting to snatch up impious and ill-intentioned people passing below. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Abura-sumashi [+]

The Abura-sumashi (lit. "Oil Presser"), a folk monster from Kumamoto prefecture known for harassing mountain travelers, is believed to be the reincarnated spirit of an oil thief. Long ago, oil was essential for lighting and heating homes, and the divine punishment for people guilty of stealing this valuable commodity -- particularly from temples and shrines -- was reincarnation as a yōkai. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Kappa [+]

The Kappa, probably the most well-known yōkai in Japan, is a mischievous and often dangerous river imp. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Tsuchigumo [+]

The Tsuchigumo is a large blood-sucking spider sometimes found under the floorboards of old houses. Details about this creature vary from tale to tale, and some theories suggest the monster's origins can be traced back to the exaggerated and embellished stories of encounters with mountain-dwelling people of ancient Japan, who were also referred to as "tsuchigumo" (lit. "ground spiders"). [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Kurage no Hinotama [+]

The Kurage no Hinotama is a jellyfish-shaped fireball (will-o-wisp) found near the sea. An account from the mid-18th century tells of a samurai who encountered one such ghostly flame on a warm breezy night at Zenshoji temple in Ishikawa prefecture. The man tried to slash the floating apparition with his sword, but to no avail. Unscathed by the attack, the fireball discharged a sticky red sap-like substance onto the man's face. [More]

Monster in closet, upstairs at Kitaro Chaya teahouse --
Peepholes in the closet doors upstairs

* * * * *

In addition to the small collection of yōkai art upstairs, the Kitarō Chaya includes a gift shop and a tiny cafe that serves GeGeGe no Kitarō-themed drinks and snacks. The teahouse is located just outside the main entrance to Jindaiji temple, which is a 20-minute bus ride from Chōfu station (bus #34, north side of station, 200 yen).

All-purpose tanuki testicles (prints by Kuniyoshi)

23 Jun 2009

In the mid-1840s, ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) created a number of woodblock prints showing legendary tanuki (raccoon dogs) using their humorously large scrota in creative ways.

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
River fishing

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Shelter from evening showers

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Rokurokubi (long-necked monster) disguise

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Net fishing

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Making dashi (soup stock)

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Catfish mallet

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Coming and going

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Making mochi

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Visiting Konpira, the guardian deity of seafaring

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Boy's festival

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Cause of chronic abdominal pain

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Shichifukujin (the Seven Lucky Gods) disguise

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Fortune-telling tent

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Shop signs

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
River crossing

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --

Tanuki print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi --
Seine fishing

See more of Kuniyoshi's tanuki images at Kuniyoshi Project (1, 2).

Monster mummies of Japan

06 Mar 2009

Lurking in the halls of Buddhist temples and museums across Japan are a host of monster mummies -- the preserved remains of demons, mermaids, kappa, tengu, raijū, and even human monks. Here are a few remarkable specimens for the adventurous and brave at heart.

- Demon mummies

It might seem odd that Buddhist temples in Japan house the occasional stray mummified demon (oni), but then again it probably makes sense to keep them off the streets and under the watchful eye of a priest.

Triple-faced demon mummy --
Three-faced demon head at Zengyōji temple [Photos]

Zengyōji (善行寺) temple in the city of Kanazawa (Ishikawa prefecture) is home to the mummified head of a three-faced demon. Legend has it that a resident priest discovered the mummy in a temple storage chamber in the early 18th century. Imagine his surprise.

Nobody knows where the demon head came from, nor how or why it ended up in storage.

The mummified head has two overlapping faces up front, with another one (resembling that of a kappa) situated in back. The temple puts the head on public display each year around the spring equinox.

Demon mummy -- Another mysterious demon mummy can be found at Daijōin temple in the town of Usa (Oita prefecture).

The mummy is said to have once been the treasured heirloom of a noble family. But after suffering some sort of misfortune, the family was forced to get rid of it.

The demon mummy changed owners several times before ending up in the hands of a Daijōin temple parishioner in 1925. After the parishioner fell extremely ill, the mummy was suspected of being cursed.

The parishioner quickly recovered from his illness after the mummy was placed in the care of the temple. It has remained there ever since. Today the enshrined demon mummy of Daijōin temple is revered as a sacred object.

A much smaller mummy -- said to be that of a baby demon -- was once in the possession of Rakanji Temple at Yabakei (Oita prefecture).

Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire in 1943.

Demon mummy --
Baby demon mummy at Rakanji temple

* * * * *

- Mermaid mummies

In Edo-period Japan -- particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries -- mermaid mummies were a common sight at popular sideshow carnivals called misemono. Over time, the practice of mermaid mummification blossomed into an art form as fishermen perfected techniques for stitching the heads and upper bodies of monkeys onto the bodies of fish.

The mummy pictured below is a prime example of a carnival mermaid. It appears to consists of fish and other animal parts held together with string and paper.

Feejee mermaid gaff --
Mermaid mummy at the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden

The mummified creature was obtained by Jan Cock Blomhoff while serving as director of Dejima, the Dutch trading colony at Nagasaki harbor, from 1817 to 1824. It now resides at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.

Another old mermaid mummy exhibited at a museum in Tokyo several years ago appears to belong to the founder of the Harano Agricultural Museum.

Fiji mermaid gaff --
Mysterious mermaid mummy

The mummy's origin is unknown, but the collector says it was found in a wooden box that contained passages from a Buddhist sutra written in Sanskrit. Also in the box was a photograph of the mermaid and a note claiming it belonged to a man from Wakayama prefecture.

>>> More mermaid mummies

* * * * *

- Kappa mummies

Like the mermaid mummies, many kappa (river imp) mummies are thought to have been crafted by Edo-period artists using parts of animals ranging from monkeys and owls to stingrays.

Kappa mummy --
Kappa mummy at the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden (Netherlands)

This mummified kappa, which now resides in a Dutch museum, appears to consist of various animal parts put together in a seamless whole. It is believed to have been created for the purpose of carnival entertainment in the Edo period.

Another mummified kappa can be found at Zuiryūji temple in Osaka.

Kappa mummy --
Kappa mummy at Zuiryūji Temple, Osaka [Photo]

The 70-centimeter long humanoid purportedly dates back to 1682.

Another notable kappa mummy can be seen in a seemingly unlikely place -- at a sake brewery in the town of Imari (Saga prefecture).

Kappa mummy --
Kappa mummy at Matsuura Brewery

According to a company brochure, the mummified kappa was discovered inside a wooden box that carpenters found hidden in the ceiling when replacing the roof over 50 years ago.

Reckoning the creature was an old curiosity their ancestors had passed down for generations, the company owners built a small altar and enshrined the kappa mummy as a river god.

>>> Read more about the kappa.

* * * * *

- Raijū

With a limited scientific understanding of the sky above, the common person in Edo-period Japan looked upward with great awe and mystery. Supernatural creatures called raijū (雷獣) -- lit. "thunder beast" -- were believed to inhabit rain clouds and occasionally fall to earth during lightning strikes.

The earliest known written records of the raijū date as far back as the late 18th century, though the creature appears to borrow characteristics from the nue -- a cloud-dwelling, illness-inducing chimera first described in The Tale of the Heike, a 12th-century historical epic.

Details about the raijū's appearance vary. Some Edo-period documents claim the raijū resembled a squirrel, cat or weasel, while others describe it as being shaped more like a crab or seahorse.

Raiju Raiju
Raijū depicted in the Kanda-Jihitsu (ca. 1800) // Raijū seen in Tottori, 1791

However, most descriptions agree that the raijū had webbed fingers, sharp claws, and long fangs that, by some accounts, could shoot lightning. The beast also sometimes appeared with six legs and/or three tails, suggesting the ability to shape-shift.

One illustrated document tells of a raijū that fell from the sky during a violent storm on the night of June 15, 1796 in Higo-kuni (present-day Kumamoto prefecture).

Illustration of raijū encountered on June 15, 1796

Here, the raijū is described as a crab-like creature with a coat of black fur measuring about 11 centimeters (4 inches) thick.

Another notorious encounter took place in the Tsukiji area of Edo on August 17, 1823. Two versions of the incident offer different descriptions of the beast.

Raijū encounter, August 17, 1823 - Version 1

One document depicts the raijū as being the size of a cat or weasel, with one big bulging eye and a single long horn, like that of a bull or rhino, projecting forward from the top of its head.

Raijū encounter, August 17, 1823 - Version 2

In the other account, the raijū has a more roundish look and lacks the pointy horn.

In Volume 2 of Kasshi Yawa ("Tales of the Night of the Rat"), a series of essays depicting ordinary life in Edo, author Matsuura Seizan writes that it was not uncommon for cat-like creatures to fall from the sky during thunderstorms. The volume includes the story of a family who boiled and ate one such creature after it crashed down onto their roof.

Given the frequency of raijū sightings, it should come as no surprise that a few mummies have turned up.

In the 1960s, Yūzanji temple in Iwate prefecture received a raijū mummy as a gift from a parishioner. The origin of the mummy, as well as how the parishioner obtained it, is a mystery.

Raijū mummy at Yūzanji temple

The mummy looks like that of a cat at first glance, but the legs are rather long and the skull has no visible eye sockets.

Raijū mummy at Saishōji temple [Photo]

A similar raijū mummy is on display at Saishōji temple in Niigata prefecture.

* * * * *

- Tengu mummy

Another legendary supernatural sky creature is the tengu, a dangerous demon often depicted in art as being part human and part bird. The Hachinohe Museum (Aomori prefecture) in northern Japan is home to a tengu mummy, which is said to have once belonged to Nambu Nobuyori, a Nambu clan leader who ruled the Hachinohe domain in the mid-18th century.

Tengu mummy
Tengu mummy at Hachinohe Museum

The mummy, which appears to have a humanoid head and the feathers and feet of a bird, is believed to have originated in the town of Nobeoka (Miyazaki prefecture) in southern Japan. Theories suggest the tengu mummy made its way north after being passed around between members of Japan's ruling samurai families, some of whom were deeply interested in collecting and trading these curiosities.

* * * * *

- Self-mummified monks

A few Buddhist temples in northern Japan are home to "living mummies" known as sokushinbutsu (即身仏). The preserved bodies are purportedly those of ascetic monks who willingly mummified themselves in the quest for nirvana.

Self-mummified monk
Shinnyokai-Shonin "living mummy" at Dainichibo Temple (Yamagata prefecture)

To become a living mummy, monks had to undergo a long and grueling three-step process.

Step 1: For 1,000 days, the monks would eat a special diet of nuts and seeds, and engage in rigorous physical training to strip the body of fat.

Living monk
Tetsumonkai-Shonin "living mummy" at Churenji temple (Yamagata prefecture)

Step 2: For another 1,000 days, they would eat only bark and roots in gradually diminishing amounts. Toward the end, they would start drinking tea made from the sap of the urushi tree, a poisonous substance normally used to make Japanese lacquer bowls, which caused further loss of bodily fluid. The tea was brewed with water from a sacred spring at Mt. Yudono, which is now known to contain a high level of arsenic. The concoction created a germ-free environment within the body and helped preserve whatever meat was left on the bone.

Living monk
Arisada Hōin, 300-yr-old "living mummy" at Kanshūji temple (Fukushima)

Step 3: Finally, the monks would retreat to a cramped underground chamber connected to the surface by a tiny bamboo air pipe. There, they would meditate until dying, at which point they were sealed in their tomb. After 1,000 days, they were dug up and cleaned. If the body remained well-preserved, the monk was deemed a living mummy.

Unfortunately, most who attempted self-mummification were unsuccessful, but the few who succeeded achieved Buddha status and were enshrined at temples. As many as two dozen of these living mummies are in the care of temples in northern Honshu.

The Japanese government outlawed the practice of self-mummification in the late 19th century.

>>> More background info on living mummies

Monsters in mid-1870s news prints

15 Oct 2008

For a brief period in the mid-1870s, artistic woodblock prints known as "newspaper nishiki-e" were a popular form of mass entertainment in Japan. These colorful prints fed the public's enormous appetite for sensationalism by retelling shocking stories culled from the major newspapers of the day. The Meiji government swiftly cracked down on the publishers of these "unofficial" sources of information, causing them to disappear as quickly as they had appeared, but not before hundreds of issues had been published and circulated around Japan. While newspaper nishiki-e most often retold stories of scandalous or heinous crimes, they occasionally presented accounts of monsters, ghosts and mysterious happenings, such as the ones included here.

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Osaka Nichinichi Shinbunshi, No. 13 (ca. 1875)

This print shows a lecherous monster said to have haunted the home of a master carpenter in the Kanda area of Tokyo. The apparition habitually showed up late at night to perform unspeakable acts on his sleeping wife, until the family enlisted the help of prayer-chanting priests to cleanse their home. In the Meiji era, recurring nightmares about this sort of monster were apparently quite common.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun, No. 445 (1874)

In the early morning hours of August 4, 1873, a man named Umemura Toyotaro was awakened by an earthquake. As he struggled to get back to sleep, his child, who lay nearby, suddenly burst out crying hysterically. The man looked up to find a strange, three-eyed monk standing over them. He watched in disbelief as the mysterious monk grew taller and taller, until his head reached the ceiling. Unrattled, the man grabbed the monk's sleeve and pulled him to the ground. The monk turned out to be an old shape-shifting tanuki.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun, No. 697 (May 25, 1874)

This print depicts a giant alligator inhabiting the Koga inlet of eastern Mie prefecture. The feared sea monster, which was described as being covered in seaweed and oysters, was known to attack ships and devour anyone thrown overboard. One day a ship in the area caught fire. As the crew abandoned the burning vessel, the creature ate them all.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Osaka Nishiki-e Nichinichi Shinbunshi, No. 26 (ca. 1875)

This print shows the ghost of a disgruntled candy store owner who grew ill and died after falling deep in debt to his neighbor, the owner of a successful tempura restaurant. The ghost has returned to settle the score.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun, No. 851 (1874)

In 1874, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy embarked on the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, their first ever overseas deployment. This print depicts the restless spirit of a young Japanese soldier named Saito who died from illness during the mission. Saito's ghost returned home for several days to haunt his brother-in-law, who had grown very depressed after learning of Saito's fate.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Yubin Hochi Shinbun, No. 527 (1875)

This print shows the restless ghost of a woman whose husband neglected her so much that she fell ill and died. Upset at the way he was raising their young child, she returned from the spirit world to complain in his ear while he slept. The baby woke up and began to cry, so she cradled it in her arms and began to nurse it. When the man awoke and screamed at the sight of his undead wife, she vanished.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Osaka Nichinichi Shinbun, No. 8 (ca. 1875)

Despite appearances, this monster means no harm. The helpful creature is attempting to reform a failed Hyogo-area politician named Nakayama, who neglected his responsibilities after falling victim to a widow's charms.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun, No. 917

When a man stepped outside onto his veranda to check on his crying child, he was alarmed to find a gigantic eagle sitting in a cedar tree overhead. The creature, which stood taller than a grown man, was staring hungrily down at the child. In a panic, the man grabbed his gun and shot the menacing bird from its perch. The enormous size of the carcass astounded him.

* * * * *

Monster in nishikie news paper --
Nichinichi Shinbun (ca. 1875)

This print shows a policeman capturing a tanuki, a mythical trickster animal known for its ability to outwit humans. This nishiki-e can be viewed as a reflection of the identity struggle that Japan was experiencing at the time, with the tanuki symbolizing Japan's traditional past and the policeman symbolizing the "enlightened" modern society that rapidly emerged after the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

[Some scans via: Waseda University Library // Further reading: News nishikie]

- 19th-century ghost scrolls
- Edo-period monster paintings by Sawaki Suushi

Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari picture scroll

26 Aug 2008

The Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari, a largely fictional story featured in picture scrolls in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, tells of a young warrior and his encounters with trickster foxes posing as yokai. According to the National Museum of Japanese History, the story takes place in 1624 in Kagoshima, where a group of notorious young warriors have assembled. When a rumor circulates about shape-shifting foxes that have hoodwinked some people in the area and shaved their heads, the men decide to test the courage of one of the young warriors, Ooishi Hyoroku, by sending him on a mission to capture the mischievous creatures.

When the foxes hear about this mission, they transform into eight different yokai to frighten the young warrior:

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --
Mitsume Koen

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --
Hobeni Taro

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Oishi Hyoroku Monogatari --

Hyoroku flees in fear each time he encounters one of the monsters. After he finally catches a pair of foxes, his father suddenly appears and urges him to let them go. Hyoroku then finds that his "father" is actually a fox in disguise -- but only after he is tricked into eating sweet dumplings made of horse droppings.

Later, the foxes appear as Buddhist monks and trick him into shaving his head. In the end, though, Hyoroku successfully captures two more foxes, and his comrades honor his achievement by making him breakfast.

Several versions of the Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari scroll remain in existence today. A scan of an entire scroll, dated 1801 (author/illustrator unknown), is viewable online at Waseda University Library. (An undivided version of this scroll is also available here. -Thanks, Darren!)

Seven mysterious creatures of Japan

27 May 2008

Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman. Tales of unidentified mysterious animals have long intrigued and captured the imagination of people around the world -- and Japan is no exception. Here is a brief introduction to 7 of the island nation's most notorious cryptids, complete with grainy photographs where available. Whether you regard these tales as fact or fiction, their impact on the culture where they were encountered is undeniable.

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- Hibagon

Hibagon --

The Hibagon (a.k.a. Hinagon) is a cryptic hominid, similar to Bigfoot, inhabiting the area around Mt. Hiba in northern Hiroshima prefecture. According to numerous eyewitness accounts from the early 1970s, the Hibagon stands about 1.5 to 1.7 meters (about 5 ft) tall, weighs an estimated 80 to 90 kilograms (about 180 lbs), is covered in a thick coat of black or brown fur (sometimes it is reported as having a spot of white fur on its chest or arms), and has an unusually large triangular head and intelligent human-like eyes. The Hibagon received its name from the local animal control board.

Hibagon -- The first known Hibagon sighting occurred on July 20, 1970 in the area around Mt. Hiba near the border with Tottori prefecture. Three days after the initial sighting, the furry ape-like creature was seen again walking through a rice paddy in the nearby rural town of Saijo. A total of 12 sightings were reported that year, and mysterious footprints were found in the snow that December.

Numerous Hibagon sightings were reported in areas surrounding Mt. Hiba in the summers between 1971 and 1973, as increased human activity during the hunting season forced the creature down from the mountain. On August 15, 1974, the Hibagon was photographed as it hid behind a persimmon tree. Unusual footprints measuring 20 centimeters (9 in) long were found nearby. After this photo was taken, the Hibagon went back into hiding, only to be seen two more times -- once in 1980 and again in 1982 -- before disappearing forever.

Hibagon --

The Hibagon may have disappeared long ago, but the residents of Saijo have not forgotten. The town has adopted the likeness of the creature as its mascot, and souvenir shops sell Hibagon Eggs and other cryptid ape-themed sweets. [More]

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- Tsuchinoko

Tsuchinoko --
Tsuchinoko -- Reality? Myth? Or mistaken identity?

The Tsuchinoko is a snake-like cryptid found throughout Japan, except in Hokkaido and the Okinawan islands. Reports describe the Tsuchinoko as having a thick, stubby body measuring 30 to 80 centimeters (12 to 30 in) in length, often with a distinct neck, gray, brown or black scaly skin, and venomous fangs. Some accounts suggest the Tsuchinoko has a loud, high-pitched squeak and can jump as far as one meter.

Tsuchinoko --

The earliest known written record of the Tsuchinoko dates back to the 7th century, where it appears in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), the oldest surviving book in Japan. In some legends, the Tsuchinoko can speak, has a tendency to tell lies, and enjoys the taste of alcohol.

Tsuchinoko --

Skeptics dismiss Tsuchinoko sightings as simple cases of mistaken identity, suggesting the creatures are nothing more than snakes in the process of digesting large meals, or perhaps even escaped exotic pets such as the blue-tongued lizard.

Tsuchinoko --

Regardless, local tourist boards in rural areas frequently organize Tsuchinoko hunts to attract visitors, promising large sums of money to any participant lucky enough to capture one. The town of Itoigawa in Niigata prefecture, for example, has a hunt scheduled for June 8, 2008 and is offering a 100 million yen (about $1 million) reward to whoever brings one back alive. [More]

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- Kusshii

Kusshii --

Kusshii is a giant lake monster believed to inhabit Hokkaido's Lake Kussharo, a large freshwater lake located in an environment and climate similar to that of the famed Loch Ness. According to eyewitness accounts, Kusshi is 10 to 20 meters (30 to 60 ft) long and has humps on its back, a long neck and a pair of horns on its head. Reports suggest it can swim as fast as a motorboat. Kusshii's most famous appearances include a 1973 sighting by 40-member team of biologists from Hokkaido University, as well as 15 separate reports by tourists in 1974.

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- Isshii

Isshii --

Isshii, another Japanese cryptid lake monster, is believed to inhabit Kagoshima prefecture's 20,000-year-old Lake Ikeda, the largest caldera lake in Kyushu. The creature is similar in appearance to Kusshii, but larger.

Isshii entered the public consciousness in September 1978, after more than 20 people reportedly witnessed a giant creature moving at a blistering speed through the water. Widespread news coverage of the sighting brought a flood of tourists to the lake, and in December of the same year, a photograph was taken showing what some believe is the back of the creature poking through the water surface. Since 1990, a number of home videos have emerged showing mysterious activity just under the water surface, but none of the videos are widely seen as irrefutable proof of Isshii's existence.

Some theories suggest Isshii could be an unidentified descendant of the Plesiosaur, while others believe it to be some sort of giant eel. Other theories suggest the sightings can be explained as rogue waves generated by winds unique to the lake.

Rogue waves cannot, however, explain what happened in 1961, when a large-scale search was conducted for a US military jet believed to have crashed in the lake. Sonar equipment used in the search reportedly revealed a large rock-shaped object moving through the water below, and records indicate that divers on the lake floor were nearly attacked by a large, unidentified creature.

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- Giant Snake of Mt. Tsurugi

Mt. Tsurugi, the second highest peak on the island of Shikoku, is steeped in mystery. According to one local legend, the mountain is actually a giant man-made pyramid, and another legend says that a hoard of King Solomon's secret treasure lies buried within. A giant snake believed to be guarding that treasure has been sighted on many occasions.

Giant snake of Mt. Tsurugi -- In May 1973, a group of 4 forestry workers reportedly encountered a 10 meter (33 ft) long snake as big around as a telephone pole. The creature was described as having shiny black scales, and it reportedly made a loud chirping sound. In the months that followed, local officials organized a large-scale hunt for the snake, enlisting the help of hundreds of volunteers. While the creature was not apprehended, the searchers did find what appeared to be giant snake tracks that measured 40 centimeters (16 in) wide and passed alongside fallen trees.

A local history museum has in its collection a large jawbone measuring 34 centimeters (13 in) across, which many believe belongs to the giant snake. Others speculate it belongs to a shark.

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- Takitaro

Takitarou --

The Takitaro is a type of giant fish measuring up to 3 meters (10 ft) long, which is found in Yamagata prefecture's Lake Otoriike. Located nearly 1,000 meters above sea level, the remote mountain lake was created ages ago when an earthquake triggered a massive landslide that dammed up a mountain stream.

The Takitaro appears in a number of stories throughout the 20th-century. In 1917, for example, a pair of men are said to have captured a 1.5 meter (5 ft) long fish that was large enough to feed 20 floodgate construction workers for 4 days. In 1982, a group of mountain climbers above the lake observed a fish over 2 meters (6.5 ft) long in the clear water below. This sighting grabbed headlines nationwide.

Three years later, in 1985, a team of scientists went to the lake in search of the Takitaro. Sonar equipment revealed the presence of giant fish, and the scientists identified some smaller specimens as relatives of ancient salmon that likely became trapped in the lake when it was formed long ago. The true identity of the giant Takitaro, however, remains a mystery, but some believe it is a mutant descendant of these ancient fish.

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- Kappa

Kappa (river imps) have appeared in countless stories and folk legends for centuries, and they rank among Japan's most well-known cryptids. While most people nowadays regard the amphibious child-sized troublemakers as pure myth, stories of kappa encounters still crop up from time to time, such as the following two reports from Japan's southern island of Kyushu.

Kappa -- Kappa -- Kappa --

Report 1 -- Slimy Footprints at the River's Edge: At around 11 PM on August 1, 1984 in the town of Tsushima in Nagasaki prefecture, a squid fisherman named Ryu Shirozaki was walking home from the local pier after work. As he passed near the Kuta river, he came upon a small group of children playing at the water's edge. While it was not entirely uncommon to encounter people fishing in the river at night, it was rather surprising to see youngsters there.

As Shirozaki approached the children, he was struck by how bizarre they appeared in the moonlight. He could make out swarthy faces, unusually spindly arms and legs, and glistening skin. Suspicious, Shirozaki called out to them as he neared, but they seemed startled and quickly disappeared into the water.

The next morning when he returned to the same spot, Shirozaki discovered a set of moist, teardrop-shaped footprints on the nearby pavement. The prints, which appeared to consist of a slimy substance that had begun to coagulate under the hot morning sun, stretched for about 20 meters. Each footprint measured 22 centimeters (about 10 in) long and 12 centimeters (5 in) wide, and they were spaced about 50 to 60 centimeters (about 2 ft) apart.

Shirozaki and a few curious onlookers immediately suspected the footprints belonged to a kappa. People began to gather around as the news spread quickly through town, and all agreed the prints belonged to a kappa. In the minds of many residents, the footprints confirmed the existence of the river imps they knew through local legends.

When police forensic investigators arrived on the scene, they determined that the slimy footprints consisted of an unknown secretion. They took a sample to the lab for analysis, but the results unfortunately turned out to be inconclusive because the sample was too small. The police eventually dropped their investigation, and the mystery of the slimy footprints was never solved.

Report 2 -- The Unclean Guest: Another recent kappa encounter occurred on June 30, 1991 in the town of Saito in Miyazaki prefecture, when an office worker named Mitsugu Matsumoto and his wife Junko returned home for the evening. Upon opening the front door, the Matsumotos were confronted with a strange smell inside their home. Inside, they found dozens of small, wet footprints around the front door and in the hallway, bathroom, and two tatami rooms. At first they suspected a burglar, but they soon realized nothing had been stolen.

The police briefly surveyed the house, but found nothing except a floor soiled by 30 footprints, each measuring about 7 centimeters long and 6 centimeters wide, and having 4 or 5 toes. To Matsumoto, the footprints did not look human, nor did they appear to belong to any animal he could imagine.

Later that night, as Mrs. Matsumoto was putting laundry away, she discovered an unusual orange stain on some clothing. The next morning, as Matsumoto inspected the house more closely, he discovered a deposit of orange liquid on the portable stereo in the tatami room. He took a sample to the local public health center for analysis, and the results indicated the liquid had an extremely high iron content and a chemical composition resembling spring water.

Troubled by the incident, Matsumoto decided to visit a shaman. After listening to Matsumoto's story, the shaman encouraged him not to worry, explaining that the kappa indigenous to the nearby swamp enjoyed playing the occasional prank on local residents. The kappa were harmless, the shaman told him.

Harmless, perhaps, but Matsumoto found the kappa difficult to clean up after. He tried using detergent, paint thinner and gasoline to remove the footprints and orange stains, but nothing seemed to work.

[Note: This post includes information from Shin-ichiro Namiki's Nippon No Kaiki Hyaku, 2007 (published in Japanese)]