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Sarugami

Sarugami猿神
さるがみ

TRANSLATION: monkey god, monkey spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: enjin
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Sarugami look just like the wild monkeys that are found across the Japanese islands. However, they are bigger, more vicious, and much smarter. They can speak, and sometimes they are seen wearing human clothes as well. They are thought to be the remnants of an ancient monkey worshiping cult. All that is left of this religion today are wicked monkey spirits who have degenerated into yōkai.

BEHAVIOR: Sarugami behave for the most part like wild monkeys. They live in the mountains and tend to stay away from human-inhabited areas. Because they are bigger and smarter than most of the animals around them

INTERACTIONS: When sarugami interact with humans it almost always ends in violence. Most legends follow a similar pattern: a sarugami kidnaps a young woman from a villager, and heroes are called upon to go into the wilderness and exterminate the sarugami. Like oni, giant snakes, and other monsters, sarugami are beasts meant to be slain by brave samurai.

ORIGIN: According to folklorist Yanagita Kunio, sarugami are a prime example of “fallen” gods—spirits once revered as gods, but who have since been forgotten. These beliefs never entirely vanish, though, and such spirits often remain as degenerate versions of their former selves, i.e. yōkai. Long ago, before Buddhism arrived, monkeys were worshiped as gods in parts of Japan. The southern part of Lake Biwa in modern-day Shiga Prefecture was an important center of monkey worship, based at Hiyoshi Taisha. Monkeys were seen as messengers and servants of the sun, in part because they become most active at sunrise and sunset. Because of this, monkey worship was popular among farmers, who also awoke and retired with the sun. Over the centuries, as farming technology improved, people became less reliant on subsistence farming. More and more people took up professions other than farming. As a result, monkey worship began to fade away, and the monkey gods were forgotten. Today, monkeys are viewed as pests by farmers, as they dig up crops, steal food from gardens, and sometimes even attack pets and small children.

Though the early monkey cults have vanished, sarugami worship continued throughout the middle ages in esoteric religions such as Kōshin. Monkeys came to be viewed as servants of the mountain deities, or as mountain deities themselves, acting as intermediaries between the world we live in and the heavens. The famous three wise monkey statues—mizaru, kikazaru, and iwazaru (“see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil”)—come from Kōshin and are a prime example of sarugami worship.

An apocryphal legend says that long ago the Buddha appeared at Hiyoshi Taisha. Just before this occurred, a large gathering of monkeys arrived in the area. The Buddha took the form of a monkey, and foretold the fortunes of the faithful worshipers at Hiyoshi Taisha. Thousands of years earlier, Cang Jie—the legendary inventor of Chinese writing (c. 2650 BCE)—foresaw this appearance of the Buddha. Thus, when he invented the word for god (), he constructed it out of characters meaning indicate () and monkey () to foretell this event. In other words, “monkey indicates god.” Although entertaining, this is a false etymology, and the true origin of the word for gods has nothing to do with monkeys.

LEGENDS: In Mimasaka Provice (present-day Okayama Prefecture) there was a giant monkey who lived in the mountains. Every year this sarugami would demand a sacrifice of a young woman from the villages around the mountain. One year, a hunter happened to be staying at the house of the young woman who was chosen to be that year’s sacrifice. Her family was devastated at the thought of losing their daughter, and the hunter took pity on them. He volunteered to take her place as a sacrifice. The hunter and his dog were loaded into a large chest and taken up into the mountains by some priests to be delivered to the sarugami. After some time, a giant sarugami more than two meters tall emerged from the woods, along with his entourage of over one hundred monkeys. The hunter and his dog leaped from the chest and attacked. One by one, the monkeys fell, until only the sarugami remained. Just then the creature possessed one of the priests and spoke through him. The sarugami asked for forgiveness and promised never to demand another sacrifice. The hunter allowed to sarugami to run away, and the sarugami has never asked for another sacrifice since.

In Ōmi Provice (present-day Shiga Prefecture) there lived an elderly farmer and his young daughter. The farmer toiled in his fields to exhaustion every day, while his daughter waited to be married off. But there were no suitors. One day, the farmer mumbled to himself, “Even a monkey would be ok, if only there was someone I could marry my daughter to so they would come work in my field!” Just then a giant monkey appeared and completed all of the old man’s farm work. The following day, the sarugami returned and demanded the old man’s daughter as payment for his work. When the old man refused, the saru grew angry at him for breaking his word, and he stole the man’s daughter and ran into the mountains. Back in his den, the sarugami kept the daughter tied up in a sack. Meanwhile, the old man begged a local noble to rescue his daughter. One day, while the sarugami was away from his den, the noble snuck in and freed the girl. In her place, he put his dog in the sack. When the sarugami returned to his den later he opened the sack to check on his prisoner. The dog leaped out and killed him.

Hanzaki

Hanzaki鯢魚
はんざき

TRANSLATION: Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus)
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōsanshōuo, hanzake, hazako
HABITAT: rivers and streams
DIET: mainly insects, frogs, and fish

APPEARANCE: Hanzaki are monstrous versions of the Japanese giant salamander. These animals normally grow up to one and a half meters long, however the yōkai versions of this animal can grow much larger. They have rough, mottled, brown and black skin, tiny eyes, and enormous mouths which span the entire width of their heads. They live in rivers and streams far from human-inhabited areas.

INTERACTIONS: Hanzaki and humans rarely come into contact with each other. When they do, it is usually because the hanzaki has grown large enough to eat humans or livestock and is causing trouble to nearby villagers.

ORIGIN: The name hanzaki is a colloquialism for the Japanese giant salamander. They are called hanzaki for their regenerative powers; it was believed that a salamander’s body could be cut (saku) in half (han) and it would still survive. The call of the salamander was said to resemble that of a human baby, and so the word is written with kanji combining fish () and child ().

LEGENDS: There was once a deep pool in which a gigantic hanzaki lived. The hanzaki would grab horses, cows, and even villagers, drag them into the pool, and swallow them in a single gulp. For generations, the villagers lived in fear of the pool and stayed away from it.

During the first year of Bunroku (1593 CE), the villagers called for help, asking if there was anyone brave enough to slay the hanzaki. A young villager named Miura no Hikoshirō volunteered. Hikoshirō grabbed his sword and dove into the pool. He did not come back up; he had been swallowed by the hanzaki in a single gulp! Moments later, Hikoshirō sliced through the hanzaki and tore it in half from the inside out, killing it instantly. The slain creature’s body was 10 meters long, and 5 meters in girth!

The very day the hanzaki was slain, strange things began to happen at the Miura residence. Night after night, something would bang on the door, and something screaming and crying could be heard just outside the door. However, when Hikoshirō opened the door to check, there was nothing there at all.

Not long after that, Hikoshirō and his entire family died suddenly. Strange things began to happen through the village as well. The villagers believed the angry ghost of the dead hanzaki had cursed them. They built a small shrine and enshrined the hanzaki’s spirit as a god, dubbing it Hanzaki Daimyōjin. After that, the hanzaki’s spirit was pacified, and the curse laid to rest.

A gravestone dedicated to Miura no Hikoshirō still stands in Yubara, Okayama Prefecture. The villagers of Yubara still honor Hanzaki Daimyōjin by building giant salamander shrine floats and parading them through town during the annual Hanzaki Festival.

 

Sunekosuri

Sunekosuri

脛擦り
すねこすり

TRANSLATION: shin rubber
ALTERNATE NAMES: sunekkorogashi, sunekkorobashi, sunekajiri
HABITAT: inhabited areas
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Sunekosuri are small, mischievous spirits from Okayama Prefecture. They appear on rainy nights in streets and alleys where people travel. They are most often described as dog-like in appearance, though they are also occasionally said to resemble cats.

INTERACTIONS: Sunekosuri run up behind people walking on dark, rainy nights. They rub against their shins, weave in and out of their legs, nuzzle against the knees, and otherwise make it difficult to walk. They do not intentionally cause any harm to humans, although occasionally their rubbing is strong enough to make a person stumble or even knock them down.

A few local of the local variations are slightly more aggressive than the sunekosuri. The sunekkorogashi and sunekkorobashi both mean “shin toppler.” The sunekajiri means “shin biter.” Although not as violent as other kinds of yōkai, these spirits are blamed for the occasional bruise or bloody nose.

ORIGIN: Sunekosuri is a relatively modern yōkai. It did not appear in writing until the 1935 yokai encyclopedia Genkō Zenkoku Yōkai Jiten, although it is impossible to tell how far back oral traditions go. Despite its relative recentness, it is a fairly well-known and well-loved yokai, most likely due to its cute depictions and manga and film.

Kasha

Kasha火車
かしゃ

TRANSLATION: fire cart
HABITAT: populated areas
DIET: fresh human corpses

APPEARANCE: Kasha are a type of bake-neko, or monster cat. They are large, bipedal felines as large as or larger than a human. They are often accompanied by hellish flames or lightning. They like to appear during rainy or stormy weather, and most often during the night. Their name sometimes causes confusion with other yokai; while their name means “fire cart,” they do not use vehicles of any kind.

INTERACTIONS: Kasha, being bake-neko, often live among humans, disguised as ordinary house cats or strays. However, they reveal their true forms during funeral services, when they leap down from rooftops to snatch corpses out of their coffins. Kasha are occasionally employed as messengers or servants of hell, in which case they are tasked with collecting the corpses of wicked humans spiriting them off to hell for punishment. Other times, they steal corpses for their own uses — either to animate as puppets or to eat.

It is nearly impossible to retrieve a person’s remains after they have been snatched by a kasha. This makes passing on to the next life difficult. The best defense is to be prepared; temples in areas where kasha are said to prowl have devised unique ways of defending against these monster cats. In Yamagata, clever priests have taken to holding two funeral ceremonies for the deceased. The first ceremony is a fake — the casket is filled only with rocks, so if a kasha comes for the body it will end up with nothing. The real ceremony takes place afterwards, when the risk of a kasha encounter is lessened. In Ehime, a head shaving razor may be placed on top of the coffin as against kasha. In Miyazaki, priests chant, “baku ni wa kuwasen” and “kasha ni wa kuwasen” (“don’t be eaten by a baku, don’t be eaten by a kasha”) twice times in front of the funeral procession in order to keeps evil spirits away. In Okayama, the priests play a myōhachi — a type of cymbal used in religious ceremonies — in order to keep the kasha away.

ORIGIN: Kasha were once ordinary house cats. Like other animals, as they age in years and their tails grow longer, cats begin to develop magical powers. Some turn into bake-neko, more powerful cats turn into neko-mata, and beyond that some turn into kasha. Fear of such demonic cats has long existed in Japan, and since ancient times, folk wisdom tells us, “Don’t let cats near dead bodies,” and, “If a cat jumps over the coffin, the corpse inside the coffin will rise.” Fears such as these have given rise to superstitious traditions such as cutting a cat’s tail short in order to prevent it from learning magic.

Sagari

Sagariさがり

TRANSLATION: hanging
HABITAT: hackberry trees
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Sagari is a strange apparition from West Japan and Kyushu, particularly Okayama and Kumamoto prefectures. It takes the form of a grotesque horse’s head, which drops down from hackberry trees to startle travelers on the road.

BEHAVIOR: Sagari don’t do very much other than dropping down right in front of someone’s face and screaming their unholy cry. However, those who hear a sagari’s whinnying and screaming may be stricken with a terrible fever.

ORIGIN: Sagari come from the spirits of horses which die on the road and are discarded and left to rot where they fall. The horses’ souls sometimes get caught in the trees as they rise from the bodies. The ones that stick in the trees cannot pass on to the next word and transform into these yokai.

Ao bōzu

Aobouzu青坊主
あおぼうず

TRANSLATION: blue monk
HABITAT: wheat and barley fields, uninhabited homes, lonely roads
DIET: varies from region to region; commonly children

APPEARANCE: Ao bōzu are generally depicted as large, one-eyed, blue-skinned priests with a strong connection to magic. However, local accounts vary greatly in details such as size, number of eyes, and habitat. In Okayama, they are described as two-eyed giants who take up residence in abandoned or uninhabited homes. In other stories, they appear in wheat fields, or on dark, lonely roads.

INTERACTIONS: In Shizuoka, ao bōzu are said to appear on spring evenings at sunset in the wheat and barley fields. The transition from night to day is a popular theme in the tradition of in-yō sorcery. Further, the still blue-green leaves of the young barley also have powerful connections to in-yō. Children who go running and playing through the fields in the evening might be snatched up and taken away by an ao bōzu. Thus, good children must go straight home after school and not go tramping through the fields!

In Kagawa, ao bōzu appear late at night to young women and ask them, “Would you like to hang by your neck?” If the woman says no, the ao bōzu disappears without a word. However, if she ignores him or says nothing, he attacks her with lightning speed, knocks her out, and hangs her by the neck.

In Yamaguchi, they are considered minor deities. They appear before humans on the road and challenge them to sumo matches. Because Yamaguchi’s ao bōzu are only as big as children, many a person has foolishly accepted the challenge, only to find himself flung to the ground with god-like strength and potentially lethal speed.

ORIGIN: Very little is known about this yokai. Toriyama Sekien was the first to record the ao bōzu, and his illustration came with not a single word of description other than its name. From its name, we can glean a little bit of information; the word ao means blue or green, and can denote immaturity and inexperience. (Another well-known yokai — ao-nyōbō — uses this color in a similar manner.) As the original illustration was black-and-white, it may even be that this yokai was never intended to be colored blue or green, but rather just as a mockery of what Toriyama Sekien saw as a corrupt and unskilled priesthood. Nonetheless, thanks to its name, it is usually depicted in a sickly shade of ao.

The fact that ao bōzu has only one eye and is revered as a minor god in some places draws a strong parallel with another yokai, the hitotsume-kozō. Because of his similarity, there are theories suggesting a connection to the ancient spirit worship of old Japan. In these shamanistic proto-religions, one-eyed monsters often originated as fallen mountain gods and bringers of evil, sent to do the bidding of larger deities. They could be kept at bay with woven baskets, or other objects with many holes, which the monsters would view as hundreds of eyes and avoid, either out of fear or jealousy.

Because there are so many different accounts, and because there are so many different kinds of nasty priest yokai, it’s impossible to tell which, if any, is the real ao bōzu, and which are variations of other kinds of yokai.

Hitotsume kozō

Hitotsumekozou一つ目小僧
ひとつめこぞう

TRANSLATION: one-eyed priest boy
HABITAT: found all throughout Japan; often encounters on dark streets
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Child-like and mischievous, hitotsume kozō are little one-eyed goblins who are well-known in all parts of Japan. They have a single, enormous eye, a long red tongue, and wear shaved heads and robes, like tiny Buddhist monks.

BEHAVIOR: Hitotsume kozō are relatively harmless as far as yokai go; their most alarming trait is appearing suddenly and surprising people on dark streets, which they seem to enjoy doing. Hundreds of encounters have been reported over the years, most of them very similar to each other, and they simply detail a mischievous spirit who likes to spook people late at night.

INTERACTIONS: In East Japan, it is said that every year on the 8th of December, hitotsume kozō travel the land, recording in ledgers the families who have been bad that year in order to decide each family’s fortunes for the next year. They take their reports to the god of pestilence and bad luck, who brings misfortune on those bad families in the coming year. However, they leave their ledgers with the guardian deity of travels for safekeeping until February 8th. In a mid-January ceremony, local villagers burn down and rebuild that deity’s roadside way-shrines in hopes that the fires will also burn the hitotsume kozō’s ledgers before they come to pick them up (thus escaping disaster that year).

ORIGIN: Though similar in name to other one-eyed monsters like hitotsu-me-nyūdō, there is little evidence suggesting a relation between the two. Many believe that hitotsume kozō’s origins are connected in some way with Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Others believe that they were once local mountain deities who over time became corrupted and changed into yokai.

LEGENDS: A man named visited a friend on business. While waiting in the reception room, a young boy of about 10 appeared and began to mischievously roll and unroll the hanging scroll in the room’s alcove. When the man scolded the boy for being mischievous, the boy turned around and squawked, “Be quiet!” However, the boy’s face had only one eye! The man screamed and fainted, and had to be carried back to his own home. He was bed-ridden for 20 days, but made a full recovery.

In an account from Fukushima, a young lady was walking the street at night. A little boy approached her from behind and asked, “Ma’am, would you like some money?” She laughed and sweetly replied yes, and turned to face the boy. He was a hitotsume kozō, and he was grinning staring so intensely at her with his single eye that she fainted in shock on the spot.

A similar tale from Okayama tells of a particular street where an eerie, pale blue glow was seen one night. A man went to investigate and witnessed a ghostly one-eyed boy playing around. The man collapsed, paralyzed with fear, and was unable to move. The apparition approached the helpless man and licked him from head to toe with his long, slobbery tongue.

Nurarihyon

Nurarihyon滑瓢
ぬらりひょん

TRANSLATION: slippery gourd
ALTERNATE NAMES: nūrihyon
HABITAT: expensive villas, living rooms, brothels; possibly marine in origin
DIET: picky; prefers expensive and luxurious food

APPEARANCE: Nurarihyon is a mysterious and powerful yokai encountered all across Japan. Appearances can be deceiving, and nurarihyon is the perfect illustration of that saying. Overall, he is rather benign-looking, his head elongated and gourd-shaped. His face is wizened and wrinkled, resembling a cross between and old man and a catfish. He wears elegant clothing – often a splendid silk kimono or the rich robes of a Buddhist abbot – and carries himself in the quiet manner of a sophisticated gentleman.

BEHAVIOR: The short, comical, elderly nurarihyon is actually the most powerful and elite of all the yokai in the world. He travels in an ornate palanquin carried by human or yokai servants, often visiting red light districts, but occasionally stopping at mountain villas as well. He is known as “the Supreme Commander of All Monsters,” and every yokai listens to his words and pays him respect, treating him as the elder and leader in all yokai meetings. Along with otoroshi and nozuchi, nurarihyon leads the procession known as the night parade of one hundred demons through the streets of Japan on dark, rainy nights. He fits the role of supreme commander every bit as much when he interacts with humans as well.

INTERACTIONS: Nurarihyon shows up on evenings when a household is extremely busy. He arrives at homes unexpectedly in his splendid palanquin and slips into the house, unnoticed by anyone. He helps himself to the family’s tea, tobacco, and other luxuries, acting in all respects as if he were the master of the house. His power is so great that even the real owners of the house, when they finally notice his presence, can do nothing to stop him. In fact, while he is there, the owners actually believe the nurarihyon to actually be the rightful master of the house. Eventually he leaves just as he came, quietly and politely slipping out of the house and into his palanquin, as the owners of the house obsequiously bow and wave him farewell. Only after he has left does anyone become suspicious of the mysterious old man who just visited.

ORIGIN: As to nurarihyon’s origins there is only speculation, for the oldest records of his existence are mere sketches and paintings. His name connotes a slippery evasiveness – which he employs when posing as master of the house. Its name comes from “nurari” (to slip away) and “hyon” (an onomatopoeia describing floating upwards) written with the kanji for gourd (due to the shape of his head).

In Okayama, some evidence exists linking nurarihyon to umi-bōzu. There, nurarihyon are globe-shaped sea creatures, about the size of a man’s head, which float about in the Seto Inland Sea. When fisherman try to catch one, the sphere sinks down into the water just out reach and then bobs back up mockingly. It has been theorized that some of these slippery globes migrate to land, where they gradually gain influence and power, becoming the nurarihyon known throughout the rest of Japan. Whether this theory is the true origin of the Supreme Commander of All Monsters or just one more of his many mysteries is yet to be solved.