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Kenmun

Kenmun水蝹
けんむん

TRANSLATION: water spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: kenmon, kawataro, yamawaro
HABITAT: the Amami islands
DIET: primarily fish and shellfish
CRITICAL WEAKNESS: octopus and giant clams

APPEARANCE: Kenmun are hairy water and tree spirits from the Amami islands in southern Japan. They look like a cross between a kappa and a monkey. They also closely resemble their Okinawan cousins, kijimunā. Their bodies are covered in dark red or black hair, and they have long, thin legs and arms. They are slightly larger in size than a human child. They have pointed mouths, and on top of their heads is a saucer-like depression which holds a small amount of oil or water. Their bodies smell like yams, and their drool smells terrible.

BEHAVIOR: Kenmun make their homes in banyan trees and spend their days playing in the mountains or near the water in their family groups. They particularly enjoy sumo wrestling, at which they are very skilled. As the seasons change, they migrate back and forth from the mountains to the sea.

Kenmun have a number of strange abilities. They are able to change their shapes. They often disguise themselves as people, horses, or cows. They can change into plants and blend in with the surrounding vegetation, or even disappear entirely. Kenmun can also create light. Their drool glows eerily, as do their fingertips. They have the ability to create fire from the tips of their fingers. Sometimes they use this fire to light the oil in their head-dishes. When mysterious lights are seen in the mountains or on the shores of the Amami islands, it is called kenmun machi by locals.

Kenmun like to hunt at night, lighting up their fingertips to search for food in the dark. They primarily feed on fish and small shellfish. They also enjoy slugs and snails, pulling off the shells and rolling them up like rice balls. (It is possible to identify a banyan tree inhabited by a kenmun by the sheer amount of snail shells piled up among its roots.) They absolutely hate octopus and giant clams, and will have nothing to do with them.

INTERACTIONS: Kenmun stay away from inhabited areas and run away when large groups of people are nearby. They will occasionally aid lone woodcutters and people gathering firewood by carrying heavy loads for them. They remember those who treat them kindly or do them favors. A fisherman who saves a kenmun from being attacked by an octopus is sure to earn its eternal gratitude. Some elderly islanders who have befriended kenmun are to call friendly kenmun out from the mountains to show to their grandchildren.

In general, kenmun do not harm people. They do, however, love competition, and cannot resit the chance to challenge a human to a sumo match. When their head-dish is filled, they have supernatural strength and cannot be beaten. However, kenmun like to mimic people, so if a challenger stands on their head or bows very low, their head-dish will empty out and they can be beaten.

While kenmun are not evil, they do enjoy playing pranks on humans from time to time. They may shape shift into animals and try to scare humans, or offer directions to people that get them totally and helplessly lost. They also have no shame about stealing food or even utensils from humans. Kenmun are very sensitive about being insulted, particularly about their body odors. Because of this, if a person talks about bad smells or farting while in the mountains, any kenmun who overhear it will become upset.

Kenmun do occasionally do wicked things to humans. There are stories of children who wandered into the woods and had their souls stolen by kenmun. Afterwards, the children behaved like kenmun, living in banyan trees and leaping from tree to tree when the villagers tried to catch them. Adults can have their souls stolen by kenmun as well. Kenmun like to force feed them snails, or pull them into rivers. These people are often later found unconscious beneath a banyan tree. If a banyan tree in which a kenmun lives is cut, the kenmun will place a curse upon the woodcutter. The kenmun’s curse causes its victims eyes to swell up, and then go blind. Eventually the cursed person will die.

Some families hang pig foot bones or Japanese pittosporum branches from the eaves of their roofs in order to keep kenmun from coming close. To drive away a kenmun, all it takes is to threaten it with an octopus. Merely threatening to throw an octopus at them is enough to send them running. If an octopus is not available to throw at them, they will also run away from a giant clam, or anything else you throw at them as long as you pretend it’s an octopus.

Ichijama

Ichijama生邪魔
いちじゃま

TRANSLATION: living evil spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: ichimabui, ikimaburi
HABITAT: Okinawa and islands in southern Kyūshū

APPEARANCE: Ichijama is a curse from Okinawa. It is a type of ikiryō—a spirit of a still-living person which leaves the body to haunt its victim. The magic which summons this spirit, the person who casts the spell, and the family line of that person are all referred to as ichijama. Not only people, but cows, pigs, horses and other livestock, as well as crops can be cursed by an ichijama.

INTERACTIONS: An ichijama is summoned by praying to a special doll known as an ichijama butokii. The ichijama butokii is boiled in a pot while reciting the name of the body part which is to be cursed. After the ritual is performed, a spirit which looks exactly like the person casting the spell visits the home of the intended victim. It delivers a gift to its target—usually fruit or vegetables such as bananas, garlic, or wild onions. After receiving the gift, the target develops an unidentifiable sickness in whichever body part was chanted during the spell. If untreated, the victim will die.

Omyōdō did not exist in Okinawa, so this curse could only be overcome with the help of Okinawan magic, by shamans known as yuta. This was accomplished by performing yet another curse. The yuta would bind the victim’s thumbs together and hit them with a nail while chanting bad things about the curse victim. Performing this curse would drive out the ichijama from its victim.

ORIGIN: The ability to summon an ichijama is a hereditary secret passed down from mother to daughter. Families with such magical power are said to be very beautiful and have a sharp look in their eyes. The ability to use black magic carries a strong social stigma in Okinawa. Marrying into one of these families should be avoided at all costs. But it is difficult to tell; ichijama clans are often careful about hiding their family secret.

Shīsā

Shiisaaシーサー
しいさあ

TRANSLATION: the Ryukyuan pronunciation of shishi, another name for komainu
HABITAT: shrines, castles, graveyards, villages; found on rooftops in particular
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Shīsā are small, dog-like yokai which are found throughout Okinawa, in close proximity to humans. While they are very similar to Japanese komainu, there are a few notable differences. Shīsā are native to Okinawa, and are thus only found on the Ryukyu archipelago and the southernmost islands of Japan. Shīsā are smaller and more dog-like than their Japanese (medium sized dog-lion hybrids) and Chinese (large and very lion-like) cousins.

INTERACTIONS: Lion-dogs are commonly depicted in East Asian sculpture as guardian deities. Komainu and shishi are nearly always found in pairs, yet it is common to find solitary shīsā perched on the roofs of houses that they guard. Chinese shishi are usually used as imperial guardians, Japanese komainu are usually used as shrine guardians, and Ryukyuan shīsā are usually used as house or village guardians, perched on rooftops, village gates, castles, or gravesites.

Shīsā are also depicted as shrine guardians, with male/female pairs representing the “a” and “un” sounds. This behavior was likely imported from Japan after the Ryukyu islands were conquered. In Okinawan depictions, the right, open-mouthed shīsā is the female, beckoning good luck and fortune, while the left, close-mouthed shīsā is the male, protecting the village from natural disasters and evil spirits.

ORIGIN: Shīsā are very close relatives to komainu, and share the same ancestor: China’s imperial guardian lions. However, while komainu arrived in mainland Japan via Korea, shīsā were imported to the Ryukyu islands directly from China, before Okinawa was part of Japan. In fact, the name shīsā is actually the Ryukyuan pronunciation of their Chinese name, shishi, which is also sometimes used for komainu in Japanese.

Kijimunā

Kijimunaaキジムナー
きじむなあ

TRANSLATION: the name comes from an old Okinawan village, Kijimuka
ALTERNATE NAMES: sēma, bunagaya
HABITAT: banyan trees on the islands of Okinawa
DIET: seafood; prefers fish heads and eyes
CRITICAL WEAKNESS: octopus

APPEARANCE: The southern island chain of Okinawa is home to a number of unique yokai which are not found anywhere else in Japan. One of these is the kijimunā: an elfin creature which makes it home in the banyan trees which grow all over the Ryukyu archipelago. Physically, kijimunā are about the same height as a child, with wild and thick bright red hair, and skin tinted red as well. They wear skirts made of grass, and move about by hopping rather than walking. Kijimunā retain the appearance of child-like youthfulness into their adulthood. Males are noted for their large and prominent testicles.

BEHAVIOR: Kijimunā lifestyle mimics that of humans in many ways. They fish along the shores, live in family units, get married, and raise children in much the same way as the native islanders do. On rare occasions they even have been known to marry into human families. The kijimunā diet consists entirely of seafood. They are excellent fishers, and are particular skilled at diving, which they regularly do to catch a favorite dish: fish heads (specifically double-lined fusilier fish heads). They are especially fond of fish eyes (even preferring the left eye over the right). Okinawans attribute eyeless corpses of fish found on the beach to picky kijimunā.

Kijimunā have a number of peculiar fears and prejudices. They despise chickens and cooking pots. They are extremely put off by people passing gas. However, the thing they hate most, above all else, is the octopus. They avoid octopuses at all costs, despising them and fearing them at the same time.

INTERACTIONS: Kijimunā often help fishermen catch fish, or aid humans in other ways in return for a cooked meal. When they form friendships with humans, they can last for a lifetime; such will often return to their human friends many times, even spending holidays with their adopted family.

Kijimunā attacks on humans are very rare. Cutting down the banyan tree in which a one lives is a sure way to earn its wrath. Kijimunā thus wronged have been known to murder livestock, sabotage boats so they sink while their owners are far out at sea, or magically trap people in hollow trees from which they cannot escape. Sometimes they press down on peoples’ chests while they sleep, or snuff out lights during the night. The enmity of a kijimunā, once earned, can never be satisfied for as long as it lives.