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Browsing all posts in: Fukui

Tomokazuki

Tomokazukiトモカヅキ
ともかづき

TRANSLATION: together-diver; diving with
ALTERNATE NAMES: umiama
HABITAT: coastal areas where shellfish are found
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Tomokazuki are aquatic yōkai who are found underwater and appear to ama, the deep-diving women who gather oysters, urchins, and other sea creatures. They appear on cloudy days. They are a kind of diving doppelganger; they take on the appearance of the ama who see them. The only way to tell them apart from actual women is the length of the headbands they wear; tomokazuki have much longer headbands.

INTERACTIONS: Tomokazuki appear to divers deep underwater. They beckon the divers closer to them, offering shellfish and sea urchins as a way to lure them deeper. They continue to lure the divers deeper and farther away from safety. Eventually the divers are either lured too deep or too far from the shore, and they drown.

In order to protect themselves from tomokazuki, superstitious ama will carry magic charms with them while diving; usually in the form of the seiman and dōman symbols on their headbands.

ORIGIN: One popular explanation among believers is that tomokazuki are the ghosts of drowned ama. Since they are only ever seen by ama deep under the water, belief in tomokazuki is not common. Most of the time, tales of tomokazuki encounters are written off as hallucinations or delirium brought on by the stresses of deep diving—high pressure, lack of oxygen, physical exhaustion, and the fear of being swept away.

In one story from Shizuoka, an ama and her husband took a boat out to sea to dive for shellfish. While deep underweater, the ama saw a tomokazuki and quickly surfaced to tell her husband. He mocked her for believing such stupid things, and ordered her to keep working. The ama dove back down as her husband commanded. She was never seen again.

In Fukui Prefecture there is yōkai called an umiama, which is very similar to a tomokazuki. When an ama dives down to the sea floor, the umiama surfaces. Then, when the ama surfaces, the umiama dives down to the sea floor. Because of this, it is very difficult to spot this yōkai. However, those unlucky few who do manage to see it become gravely ill shortly afterwards.

Hitobashira

Hitobashira人柱
ひとばしら

TRANSLATION: human pillar
HABITAT: found in bridges, castles, dams, and other large constructions

APPEARANCE: Hitobashira refers to the gruesome practice of burying a living human being in the foundations of important buildings—bridges, dams, tunnels, and particularly castles. It was a common practice during large construction projects from ancient times through the 16th century. However there is evidence that hitobashira were still being used in some construction projects during the 20th century.

BEHAVIOR: This form of sacrifice was used as a magical ward for the building being constructed. It was believed that the sacrifice of a human soul would appease the nature spirits in an area—particularly the river spirits in areas where flooding was common. They were also used to ward castles against assault, fire, and other disasters both man-made and natural.

ORIGIN: Although hitobashira literally means human pillar, the actual meaning is more complicated. Pillars and Shinto have a long relationship—kami can be enshrined in pillar-like sacred trees, the oldest shrines were built upon pillars, and hashira, in addition to meaning pillar, is also used as the josūshi—Japanese counter word—for kami. The bashira in hitobashira refers not to a literal pillar, but actually to this counter word. The human was enshrined in a manner similar to a kami of the building to which he or she was sacrificed, becoming both a literal pillar and a connection to the gods. Very often, small stone memorials were erected in honor of the hitobashira who were sacrificed to a building. Some still stand today.

LEGENDS: A few famous castles in Japan are connected to legends of hitobashira. Maruoka Castle in Fukui Prefecture (old Echizen Province), one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan, is said to contain a hitobashira in the central pillar of the keep.

While Maruoka Castle was being constructed, its walls kept collapsing no matter how many times they were repaired. It was decided that a person should be sacrificed and made into a hitobashira in order to improve the stability of the castle. A poor, one-eyed woman named Oshizu was selected for the honor of becoming a hitobashira. As a reward for her sacrifice, she was promised that her son would be made a samurai. After she was sacrificed the castle was completed. However, before her son could be made a samurai, the castle’s lord was transferred to another province, and the promise was left unkept.

Every year thereafter, the castle’s moat overflowed when the heavy spring rains came. The people of Maruoka blamed this on Oshizu’s vengeance, and called this rain “tears of Oshizu’s sorrow.” Afterwards, a cenotaph was erected for Oshizu inside the castle grounds to calm her spirit.

Namahage

Namahage

なまはげ

TRANSLATION: from a phrase meaning “peeled blisters”
ALTERNATE NAMES: amahage, amamehagi, namomihagi, appossha
HABITAT: mountainous regions in northern Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Namahage are a frightful demon-like yōkai which live in the mountains along the northern coast of the Sea of Japan. They look like oni, with bright red or blue skin, wild hair and eyes, large mouths full of sharp teeth, and often have horns sprouting from their forehead. They wear straw leggings and raincoats, and carry large blades.

INTERACTIONS: Once a year, during koshōgatsu—the first full moon of the New Year—the namahage descend from the mountains to scare villagers. They go from door to and brandish their knives, saying things like, “Any bad kids here?” They particularly enjoy scaring small children and new brides. Despite their ferocious appearance and behavior, they are actually well-meaning yōkai. They are sent down from the mountain as messengers of the gods to warn and chastise those who have been lazy or wicked.

ORIGIN: The name namahage comes from another taunt the namahage use: “Have your blisters peeled yet?” In the cold winter months, a lazy person who spent all of his or her time in front of the fireplace would get blisters from being too close to the heat for too long. Namomi is a regional name for these heat blisters, and hagu means to peel. The combination of those words became namahage.

Today, the namahage play a major part in New Year’s festivities in Akita Prefecture (old Dewa Province). Villagers dress up in straw raincoats and leggings, don oni masks, and wield large knives. They go from house to house and play the part of namahage. Residents visited by these namahage give presents such as mochi to their “guests,” while the namahage chastise kids and warn them to be good. Newlywed couples are also harassed by these namahage. They are expected to give an account of all of the evil deeds they did during their first year together, as well as serve sake and food to the namahage before sending them off.

While the name namahage is unique to Akita Prefecture, very similar yōkai are known by many different local names in neighboring regions: in Yamagata Prefecture they are known as amahage, in Ishikawa Prefecture they are known as amamehagi, and in Fukui Prefecture they are known as appossha.

Imori

Imori守宮
いもり

TRANSLATION: gecko
HABITAT: castle ruins, ancient battlegrounds
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Imori are the ghosts of dead warriors transformed into geckos. They haunt the forgotten, overgrown ruins where they lost their lives, attacking and harassing trespassers.

This yokai’s name is somewhat confusing — it is written with the kanji for gecko, which is normally pronounced yamori; yet in this case the name is pronounced imori, which means newt. When written it implies that this is a gecko yokai, but when spoken it sounds like a newt yokai — and in actuality it refers to a gecko yokai.

LEGEND: Long ago, in Echizen province, lived a monk named Jingai Shuso. He was a monk of the Soto school, and was living in hermitage out in the mountains. He lived off of wild mountain plants and whatever charity the people from the local village would bring him, although he spent almost all of him time in secluded meditation. One day was reading in his hermitage near the ruins of Yu-no-o castle when suddenly a small man (about 5 or 6 inches tall) wearing a black hat and carrying a cane appeared and started talking to him. Being a good monk, Jingai did not let the stranger interrupt his studies, and just continued reading. This angered the man, who complained that the monk was ignoring him even though he was standing right there. Again, Jingai ignored the tiny man, who then became very angry. He hopped up on to his cane and flew at Jingai, who brushed him away with his fan. The tiny man fell to the ground and swore revenge on Jindai.

Shortly afterwards, 5 women about 5 or 6 inches tall came up to Jingai and complained about how he treated the old man. While they complained, all around them appeared 10,000 more tiny people, with sleeves rolled up and armed with canes. They swarmed upon Jingai and beat him with their canes. It was like an army of tiny, painful ants attacking him. In the distance, he could see their general: a tiny man decked in red and a lacquered samurai helmet. The tiny general called out: “Get out of here and never return, or else we will pop your eyes and slice off your ears and nose!” By now, some tiny men had climbed upon his shoulders, and they began to eat his ears and nose. Jingai brushed them off and ran away.

The monk ran away from the horde to a nearby gatehouse. When he arrived there, there were already thousands of tiny men all over, who knocked him down. The general said to him: “We heard you were rude to our friends. As a punishment, we will cut off your hands and feet!” Thousands of tiny katanas were drawn from their tiny sheathes, and Jingai was surrounded.

Jingai, now terrified, apologized to the little men for not considering their feelings, and asked them to spare him. The general told him that if he was truly sorry, he would let him go, and ordered his men to eject Jingai from the gatehouse. Jingai got the heck out of there.

The next day, reflecting on what had happened, Jingai investigated the direction he came from. He discovered a large hole in the ground that was swarming with geckos. Gathering some local villagers for help, he dug up the hole. It was over 3 meters deep, and full over over 20,000 geckos! Deep inside, he discovered a 12 inch long gecko, which he realized must have been the general.

The eldest villagers explained to Jingai that long ago an ally of Nitta Yoshisada built a castle near there, and it was destroyed in a battle. The the souls of the dead bushi (warriors) and the castle lord haunted the remains of the old castle well. Ever since, they had been causing all kinds of mischief in the area.

Jingai began chanting sutras to give the souls a proper burial, and as he finished chanting, the thousands of geckos were all destroyed. Jingai and the villagers took pity upon the dead beasts. They collected the bodies and burnt them on a funeral pyre, giving them a proper burial, and with the mountain of ashes built a grave for the imori.

Betobetosan

Betobetosanべとべとさん

TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; from the sound of footsteps
ALTERNATE NAMES: bishagatsuku
HABITAT: alleys and narrow, sloped roads; only appears at night
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: Betobetosan is a formless specter, and is only recognizable by the telltale sound it makes – the “beto beto” sound of wooden sandals clacking on the ground.

INTERACTIONS: People who walk the streets alone at night sometimes encounter this harmless but nonetheless disturbing yokai. It synchronizes its pace with walkers and follows them as long as it can, getting closer and closer with each step. For the victims, this can be quite traumatic. The haunting sound of footsteps follows them wherever they go, but every time they turn around to see what is following them, they find nothing.

Though betobetosan can be quite disconcerting, it is not dangerous. Once someone realizes he or she is being followed by a betobetosan, simply stepping to the side of the road and saying, “After you, betobetosan,” is enough to escape from this yokai. The footsteps will carry on ahead and soon vanish from earshot, allowing the walker to continue in peace.

In northern Fukui, a betobetosan which appears during cold winter sleet storms is known as bishagatsuku. Its name comes from the “bisha bisha” sound its phantom feet make in the slush-filled streets.

Nukekubi

Nukekubi抜け首
ぬけくび

TRANSLATION: removable neck
ALTERNATE NAMES: frequently referred to as rokurokubi
HABITAT: occurs in ordinary women
DIET: regular food by day, blood by night

APPEARANCE: This variant type of rokurokubi, known as the nukekubi, is similar in most respects to the first type, except that the head detaches itself completely from the body rather than stretching out on an elongated neck.

BEHAVIOR: Nukekubi are often much more violent than rokurokubi. Because their heads are detached, they can travel farther distances than the rokurokubi’s head can. Additionally they often possess a thirst for blood. The flying head usually sucks the blood of its victims like a vampire, but occasionally brutally bites humans and animals to death.

ORIGIN: Uncured, this curse has the potential to tear a family apart, particularly due to the more violent nature of this variant. A diagnosis reveals that nukekubi suffer from an infliction similar to somnambulism; only instead of walking about at night, the patient’s entire soul and head depart from the body. Treatments for the curse of the rokurokubi and nukekubi have been long sought after, particularly because these women can often pass their curse on to their daughters, who begin to shows signs of it as they mature. Girls afflicted with this curse were usually sold off to live in brothels or human circuses, or else forced submit to an honorable death by suicide to preserve their families’ honor.

LEGENDS: A famous account from Echizen tells of a young woman afflicted with the curse of the nukekubi. Her head flew about the capital city at night, chasing young men through the street and all the way back to their houses. Locked out, the head would scratch and bite their doors and gates during the night, leaving deep gashes in the wood. When the young girl eventually discovered her curse, she was so ashamed that she asked her husband to divorce her. She ritually cut off all of her hair in repentance for her curse, and then committed suicide, believing it was better to die than to live the rest of her life as a monster.

According to lore from Hitachi, a man married to a nukekubi heard from a peddler that the liver of a white-haired dog can remove the curse. He killed his dog and fed its liver to his wife, and sure enough she was cured of the affliction. However, her curse had been passed on to her daughter, whose flying head took to biting white dogs to death. Other accounts claim that by removing the sleeping body to a safe place during the night, the head will not be able return, and will eventually die – however this is not a cure that most families are happy to try.

Koromodako

Koromodako衣蛸
ころもだこ

TRANSLATION: cloth octopus
HABITAT: Sea of Japan; particularly near Kyoto and Fukui
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on both tiny plankton and large ships

APPEARANCE: Koromodako are strange and terrifying octopus-like yokai living in the seas bordering Kyoto and Fukui, particularly in the bays of Ine and Wakasa. Koromodako usually appear similar to ordinary small octopuses. Males only reach a size of a few centimeters long, while females can grow up to five times that length. Being so tiny, they are subject to the tides and waves, and so they float wherever the currents take them. Females live inside of a paper-thin shell, while males have no shell (similar to the family of octopuses called argonauts).

BEHAVIOR: When koromodako are threatened they become incredibly dangerous. They can instantly grow to many times their original size – large enough to engulf fish, fishermen, or any other creature that might try to eat them. Stretching their arms and body out wide, they resemble an enormous piece of cloth, from which they get their name. While in this form a koromodako can engulf nearly anything in the water, even entire ships. It wraps its arms and mantle around the ship, sailors and all, and drags it down into the deep, never to be seen again. After feeding, the koromodako shrinks back down to its tiny size, impossible to trace.