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Tenjōname

Tenjouname天井嘗
てんじょうなめ

TRANSLATION: ceiling licker
HABITAT: cold, dark homes with tall ceilings
DIET: dirt, dust, and ceiling grime

APPEARANCE: Tenjōname is a tall yōkai with a very long tongue. It appears in houses with tall ceilings, particularly in the cold months when light cannot reach all the way to ceiling and casts weird shadows into the rafters. It’s body is covered with strips of paper which resemble a matoi—the paper flags carried by Edo period firemen.

BEHAVIOR: Tenjōname is named for its primary activity: licking ceilings. The older a house gets, the more dust and grime collects in hard-to-clean places such as the ceiling. This attracts tenjōname, who lick the dirty ceilings to feed on the filth. The telltale sign that a tenjōname has been licking a ceiling is the appearance of dark stains and splotches on ceilings, walls, and support pillars.

ORIGIN: Tenjōname first appears in Toriyama Sekien’s Hyakki tsurezure bukuro, although its appearance seems to be inspired by older yōkai scrolls. Like many of the entries in that book, it appears to be a pun based on one of the essays in Yoshida Kenkō’s Tsurezure gusa. Essay number fifty five gives advice on building a house, and states that too high a ceiling would make winters feel too cold and lamplight seem to dark. Toriyama Sekien references this essay in his description of tenjōname. Although it is not specifically stated, based on its appearance and the fact that most of the yōkai in Hyakki tsurezure bukuro are tsukumogami, it is likely that tenjōname is a transformed matoi.

LEGENDS: Since tenjōname was created in the 18th century, older folktales about it do not exist. However, since then a number of stories have been invented. One such story claims that a samurai from Tatebayashi Castle (the ruins of which are in present-day Gunma Prefecture) captured a tenjōname and used it to clean all the spiderwebs and grime from the ceilings of the castle. More recent legends claim that the stains left by tenjōname take the form of hideous human faces. Staring too long at these stains—particularly when they appear above your bed—can lead to madness and even death.

Shiro uneri

Setotaishou, Shirouneri白溶裔
しろうねり

TRANSLATION: white undulation

APPEARANCE: Born out of a dish towel or kitchen rag which has seen too many years of use past its prime, the shiro uneri looks like a ferocious, yet tiny cloth dragon.

BEHAVIOR: Shiro uneri flies through the air, chasing cleaning staff and servants, and attacking them by wrapping its slimy, mildewy body around their necks and heads, causing them to pass out from the stench. Occasionally, shiro uneri have killed servants by strangulation, though usually they seem more interested in mischief than murder.

Keukegen

Keukegen毛羽毛現
けうけげん

TRANSLATION: hairy, fluffy sight; alternatively, rare and dubious thing
HABITAT: damp homes, dirty gardens, moldy closets, under floorboards
DIET: mold, dirt, and garbage

APPEARANCE: Keukegen are particularly filthy monsters commonly found in populated areas. They are the size of a small dog, and appear simply as a mass of long, dirty hair. They make their homes in cool, damp, dark places, and are particularly fond of living under floorboards and around run-down homes, where stuffiness, moisture, and lack of human activity create the perfect breeding place for sickness.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their apparent cuteness, keukegen do not make good pets. They are actually a kind of minor spirit of bad luck, disease, and pestilence. They bring sickness and bad health to those whom they live near. Generally they try to avoid human contact, being shy by nature, and are rarely seen. However, their proximity is apparent when members of a household mysteriously begin to contract sickness or bad luck. They are easy to avoid, however, as keep away from clean, kempt houses.

ORIGIN: Keukegen’s name is a pun. It is commonly written with characters that mean “a hairy fluffy sight,” but can also be written with different characters that mean “rare and dubious.” Unsurprisingly, these creatures are rarely seen directly, and those who claim to have seen them are often accused of imagining it. Though while keukegen may be hard to see, the sickening effect of their presence is very obvious.

Akaname

Akaname垢嘗
あかなめ

TRANSLATION: filth licker
HABITAT: dirty baths, filthy toilets, abandoned homes
DIET: slime, mold, scum, hair, human waste, etc.

APPEARANCE: Akaname is a small, goblin-like yokai which inhabits only the dirtiest homes and public baths. It is about the size of a child or a small adult, though it generally appears much smaller due to its hunching posture. It has a mop of greasy, slimy hair on top of its head. Its body is naked, its skin greasy like its hair. Akaname come in many colors and varieties, ranging from a dark mottled green reminiscent of mold, to the ruddy pink color of bedsores. They come in both one-eyed and two-eyed varieties, and can have anywhere from one to five fingers and toes. All akaname have an extremely long, sticky tongue with which they lap up the slime, grease, hair, and other filth found in bath houses and behind toilets.

BEHAVIOR: Like cockroaches, rats, lice, and other pests, akaname detest clean, well-kept homes, and only appear where the owners show a complete lack of sanitary discipline. They are shy and stay clear of humans, scattering in the light like cockroaches. They can spread disease, however, so it is a good idea to keep bathrooms and houses clean enough that akaname do not wish to settle down.

Dorotabō

Dorotabou泥田坊
どろたぼう

TRANSLATION: muddy rice field monk
HABITAT: unused, overgrown fields
DIET: none; survives on vengeance alone

APPEARANCE: Dorotabō are the transformed ghosts of old men who toiled so hard on their rice fields, only to see them lie in waste by a neglectful owner after their death. They appears as one-eyed, three-fingered humanoid figures rising out of the mud at night. It is said that the five fingers of the human hand represent three vices and two virtues: anger, greed, ignorance, wisdom, and compassion. The ghostly dorotabō appears with only the three fingers representing the vices, because he is a spirit of vengeance and rage, angry at the vices which now shame his life’s work.

BEHAVIOR: Dorotabō roam the overgrown fields, calling out in a mournful voice, “Give me back my rice field!” They haunt their fields night after night, preventing sleep and otherwise causing feelings of unease to the new inhabitants of their lands. They continue haunting until the wasteful owners changes their ways or give up and flee, selling the field to someone who will take proper care of it.

ORIGIN: Most of Japan’s land is bound up in inhospitable mountain ranges where farming is impossible, so the land that is usable by humans is extremely valuable. Families can save for a life time just to buy a small plot of precious farmland in hopes to leave it to their offspring after they die. Of course, children do not always follow their parents’ wishes, and a prodigal son who forsakes his father’s hard-earned fields in favor of vices like gambling and drinking is usually the cause of this eerie specter.