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Oshiroi babā



TRANSLATION: face powder hag
ALTERNATE NAMES: oshiroi bāsan
HABITAT: dark streets at night, particularly near snowy mountains
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Oshiroi babā are ghastly old hags who appear in mountainous areas near the end of the year. They are accompanied by a telltale jara jara sound, as if someone were dragging along a mirror as they hobble through the streets. Their backs are hideously twisted and bent like an old woman’s after a lifetime hard work. They carry a cane in one hand, and a sake bottle in the other, and wear a broken straw hat. Their most defining feature is their wrinkly old face caked with thick, sloppy, white face powder.

INTERACTIONS: Oshiroi babā don’t interact with humans too often. For the most part, their looks alone are awful enough that anyone who sees them quickly runs away. They occasionally accost people, demanding makeup or trying to buy sake. In this way they are somewhat similar to other old hag yōkai who wander the streets at night, such as amazake babā. However, nearly every account of oshiroi babā describes them as hideous and scary, but not dangerous.

ORIGIN: According to some local legends, oshiroi babā are a variation of yuki onna. They descend from mountains into villages on snowy nights. Other legends say that they are more similar to yama uba, who occasionally demand makeup from travelers or appear at the bases of mountains to buy alcohol. According to Toriyama Sekien, oshiroi babā serve as the attendants of Shifun Senjō, the goddess of rouge and makeup.



TRANSLATION: white tiger
HABITAT: the western sky

APPEARANCE: Byakko is a celestial white tiger. His home is in the western sky. He spans seven of the twenty-eight Chinese constellations, taking up one quarter of the entire sky. The constellation which makes up the rear of the tiger is located in Andromeda and Pisces. The constellations which makes up the middle of the tiger are located in Ares and Taurus. The constellations which makes up his front legs and head are located in Orion.

INTERACTIONS: Byakko is one of the shijin, or Four Symbols, which are important mythological figures in Taoism. Byakko is the guardian of the west. He is associated with the Chinese element of metal, the season of autumn, the planet Venus, and the color white. He represents the virtue of righteousness. He controls the wind.

ORIGIN: Byakko and the other shijin were brought to Japan from China in the 7th century CE. They are strongly associated with Taoism, feng shui, astrology, the five element theory, and other forms of Chinese mysticism. Japan’s ancient capitals were built in correspondence to these beliefs, with each of the quadrants of the city dedicated to one of the Four Symbols. Excavations of ancient burial mounds in Nara has revealed paintings of Byakko and the other shijin on the tomb walls.

In later centuries, belief in astrology waned, and worship of the Four Symbols was gradually supplanted by worship of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. Their use as symbols, however, continued.