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.
TRANSLATION: a portmanteau of slug and whale; slugwhale
HABITAT: homes and gardens; as a regular slug
DIET: leaves and plants
APPEARANCE: As its name implies, the namekujira is a very large slug. Its body is described as reddish-brown in color, with a long stripe running down its back. From its head to its neck, it is covered in black spots.
BEHAVIOR: Namekujira live in gardens and behave just like ordinary slugs. It is their size that makes them so strange. They crawl across doors and fences, leaving behind enormous, silvery slime trails up to 100 hiro in length—almost 182 meters.
ORIGIN: Namekujira is described in the Kujirazashi shinagawa baori, a comical Edo-period book featuring different types of pun-based whale yōkai. Its name is a play on words, combining the words namekuji (slug) and kujira (whale). In addition to its name, this yōkai’s description contains one more pun. There is a dish made from whale intestines called kujira no hyakuhiro. The name literally means “whale’s 100 hiro,” which comes from the great length of the whale’s intestines. So the gag is that while kujira no hyakuhiro refers to a delicious meal, namekujira no hyakuhiro is just a 182 meter long slime trail.
TRANSLATION: torso face
ALTERNATE NAMES: akahadaka
APPEARANCE: Dōnotsura’s body appears much like that of a human’s, except that it is missing everything from the neck up. Its extremely large facial features are prominently displayed on its torso, just as its name implies.
ORIGIN: Dōnotsura appears on yōkai picture scrolls, but only his name and illustration appear. Like many picture scroll yōkai, no stories exist explaining what it does or where it comes from. However, its most likely origin is as a play on words. There is an expression in Japanese—”dono tsura sagete“—which is used to scold a person who looks inappropriately calm when they should be ashamed of something they’ve done. The connotation of this idiom is to lower a mask over one’s face, as in, “How dare you come here wearing that face!”; however, taken literally it means to “lower a face,” just as this yōkai’s face has been lowered down to his torso.
TRANSLATION: white floater
APPEARANCE: Shiro ukari is a ghost-like spirit with a very long tail. It is white, with large eyes that stare off into the distance as if lost in thought. It floats about in the air, aimlessly wandering about.
ORIGIN: Shiro ukari appears on a few Edo period scroll paintings, and nowhere else. It was invented by an artist rather than recorded from folklore. Aside from its name, nothing is written about it. Everything about it, including its behavior and its origin, is unknown and unexplained. However, its name may be a clue to its origin.
While it shiro ukari literally means “white floater,” both of these words carry a number of nuances which could refer to this spirit’s true nature. Shiro not only refers to the color white, but to a state of total innocence or naivety. Whereas ao (blue) is used in many yokai to refer to a novice or an apprentice, shiro can refer to a state of total, absolute naivete. It has a negative connotation, akin to a “fool” or a “country bumpkin” in English. The urban socialites of Edo looked down on the “shiro” people who lived in the rural areas outside of the capital. While not specifically stated, the vacant expression on this yōkai’s face could be an allusion to this alternate meaning of shiro.
Ukari comes from the word for floating, which has a number of different implications. The most literal meaning is to float about from place to place. There is also a nuance of absentmindedness or disconnect from others. Tourists who feel out of place in a strange city might be described as floating about in this way. It can also refer to merrymaking, particularly in a way that is disconnected with the real world. This is the same origin as the word ukiyo, which refers to the “floating world”—the urban, pleasure-seeking lifestyle of old Edo. In a spiritual sense, this word can also refer to spirits which have not been able to pass on to the next world due to the weight of their sins. They float about, but never ascend, and are doomed to haunt this world.
Perhaps shiro ukari is a pun describing the uncouth, naive rural bumpkins who Edo urbanites thought had no business being in their city. Their experience in the capital might be something like a wide-eyed ghost floating from place to place. Perhaps it is a yōkai which seeks out the impermanent pleasures of life just as the humans of old Edo did. Or perhaps it is the spirit of someone who is unable to ascend into the next world, and they are forced by the weight of their sins to float about and wander aimlessly for the rest of their existence.
TRANSLATION: ogre spirit, demon ghost
HABITAT: any; usually haunts the area near its body
APPEARANCE: Though some oni can be killed by man-made weapons and others die of natural causes, they do not always peacefully pass on to the next life. Some still have unfinished business or karma left to burn off, while others die such violent or passionate deaths that the soul becomes disjointed at the moment of death and they remain in the human world as a demon ghost. Reiki, written by combining the characters for “spirit” and “demon,” are the ghosts of oni unable to pass on to the afterlife. Reiki appear as they did before death, though they are often accompanied by an aura or an eerie glow. They are semi-transparent like ghosts, and they often gain additional supernatural powers in addition to the magic they knew in life.
BEHAVIOR: Reiki have only one motivation: revenge. They seek to bring suffering to the person or people they feel are responsible for their death, or to those who stood against them in life. They can haunt for centuries, following a target, or else attaching themselves to a particular area – often their own grave site – and assaulting those who come near. These hauntings usually persist until exorcised by a powerful Buddhist priest.
LEGENDS: There are fewer stories about reiki than about oni, but the stories that exist tell of powerful spirits even more fearsome than their living counterparts. One of the most well-known reiki legends takes place at Gangō-ji, a temple in Nara. A mysterious force was haunting the temple’s bell tower and murdering children every night. The force was so powerful that not even the most powerful priests could identify it, let alone exorcise it. In a story reminiscent of the adventures of Hercules, only the son of a god was strong enough to track down and defeat the demon ghost, saving the children of the temple.