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Appossha

Apposshaあっぽっしゃ

TRANSLATION: from a phrase meaning “give me mochi”
HABITAT: underwater, in the Sea of Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: The appossha is a scary monster which appears in the village of Koshino in Fukui prefecture. It resembles a red oni, with a large head and dark, kelp-like hair. It wears the clothing typical of a workman.

INTERACTIONS: Appossha live in the Sea of Japan off of Fukui prefecture. They appear on land once a year, on Koshōgatsu—a holiday celebrating the first full moon of the lunar new year. On this night, the appossha crawl out of the sea and wander the village streets, banging iron tea kettles and chanting, “Appossha!” The travel from house to house, demanding food and threatening children. They ask each house if there are any ill-mannered children living there that they can take back to the sea with them. Once a household’s children have been thoroughly scared, the parents give a gift of mochi to the appossha and it leaves.

ORIGIN: The appossha tradition is said to come from long ago, when a sailor from a foreign land was shipwrecked and swam ashore in Fukui prefecture. He traveled from door to door begging for food. The name “appossha” is thought to be a heavily accented variation of the foreigner’s words, asking for some mochi to eat: “Appo (mochi) hoshiya (want).”

The appossha is part of a family of oni-like yōkai which are found all over Japan, but especially along the Sea of Japan coast. The namahage of Akita Prefecture are the most famous example. In nearby Ishikawa and Niigata Prefectures, similar yōkai named amamehagi can be found. In Yamagata they are known as amahage. Although the minor details (such as where the yōkai come from) differ, the key parts of each story are the same: these yōkai come from the wilderness around the new year, scare young children, and leave once offered a gift from the villagers.

Appossha are an example of a type of creature called a marebito. In Japanese folk religion, marebito are divine spirits—demons, gods, or otherwise—which come from the world of the dead to visit our world at set times. Some deliver prophecies or bring gifts, others bring disaster. The strange foreign spirit is welcomed as a guest, fed, sheltered, and treated kindly and respectfully. Sometimes they are revered as gods. Their coming is often welcomed in the form of festivals and rituals. Although the marebito folk religion is no longer practiced today, aspects of it are still a visible part of Japanese culture. Yōkai like the appossha and namahage, and festivals like Obon have preserved many of the elements of this ancient folk religion.

Gyokuto

Gyokuto玉兎
ぎょくと

TRANSLATION: jade rabbit
ALTERNATE NAMES: tsuki no usagi, getto (moon rabbit)
HABITAT: the moon
DIET: unknown; presumably mochi

APPEARANCE: The dark spots visible on the full moon are said to resemble a rabbit who lives in the moon.

BEHAVIOR: In Japan, the rabbit is described holding a wooden mallet which he uses to pound mochi (rice cakes) in an usu, or mortar. The mallet and mortar as also visible as dark spots on the moon. In China, the rabbit is believed not to be creating mochi, but is instead mixing the medicine of eternal youth.

ORIGIN: The myth of the rabbit in the moon is very ancient. The earliest written version comes from the Jātaka tales, a 4th century BCE collection of Buddhist legends written in Sanskrit. The legend was brought along with Buddhism from India to China, where it was blended with local folklore. It came to Japan in the 7th century CE from China, where it was again adapted and adjusted to fit local folklore.

The Japanese word for pounding mochi in a mortar like the rabbit is doing—餅搗き (mochitsuki)—and the word for the full moon—望月 (mochitsuki)—are homophones.

LEGENDS: The Japanese version of the Sanskrit tale appears in Konjaku monogatarishū. A fox, a monkey, and a rabbit were traveling in the mountains when they came across a shabby-looking old man lying along the road. The old man had collapsed from exhaustion while trying to cross the mountains. The three animals felt compassion for the old man, and tried to save him. The monkey gathered fruit and nuts from the trees, the fox gathered fish from the river, and they fed the old man. As hard as he tried, the rabbit, however, could not gather anything of value to give to the old man. Lamenting his uselessness, the rabbit asked the fox and monkey for help in building a fire.  When the fire was built, the rabbit leaped into the flames so that his own body could be cooked and eaten by the old man. When the old man saw the rabbit’s act of compassion, he revealed his true form as Taishakuten, one of the lords of Heaven. Taishakuten lifted up the rabbit and placed it the moon, in order that all future generations could be inspired by the rabbit’s compassionate act. The reason it is sometimes difficult to see the rabbit in the moon is because of the smoke which still billows from the rabbits body, masking his form somewhat.