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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.

Kanazuchibō

Kanazuchibou, Okka金槌坊
かなづちぼう

TRANSLATION: hammer priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: daichiuchi (earth striker), ōari (giant ant), yarikechō

APPEARANCE: Kanazuchibō is an odd-looking yōkai which appears in some of the earliest picture scrolls. It is depicted in a number of different ways by different artists, but in most depictions it has long, flowing hair, big, buggy eyes, and a beak-like mouth. Some paintings portray it more bird-like, while others portray it in as a grotesque, misshapen goblin-like creature. It’s most identifying feature is the large mallet it carries. It is usually portrayed holding the mallet over its head, ready to strike another yōkai.

ORIGIN: A mallet-weilding yōkai appears in many of the earliest picture scrolls of the night parade of one hundred demons. In its oldest depictions, kanazuchibō appears with no name or description. Names like kanazuchibō and daichiuchi were added much later, during the Edo period. However no description of its behavior were ever recorded. Many artists and yōkai scholars have made guesses at its true nature.

It has been suggested that kanazuchibō may be a spirit of cowardice.  His posture and his hammer evoke the proverbs “to strike a stone bridge before crossing” (meaning to be excessively careful before doing anything) and “like a hammer in the water” (meaning to always be looking at the ground and watching your step; picture a hammer in a river, with its heavy head sinking below the surface, but its wooden handle floating upright). Perhaps this is a yōkai which haunts cowards, or which turns people into cowards when it haunts them.

Kanazuchibō is also known as ōari, or giant ant. In prehistoric Japan there was a culture which built large earthen burial mounds known as kofun. It has been suggested that in the Kofun people’s religion, ants were revered as divine creatures since they build earthen mounds. As the Kofun religion died out, those creatures formerly worshiped as kami grew resentful and warped into these ant-like yōkai. While it’s an amusing story, there’s no evidence to suggest the Kofun people actually worshipped ants. This explanation was almost certainly made up by modern storytellers.

Toriyama Sekien included a version of this yōkai in his book Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. He re-imagined it as a tsukumogami born from a keyari—a hairy spear used as decoration and in parades. He named it yarikechō, or “spear hair chief.”

Fuguruma yōhi

Fugurimayouhi文車妖妃
ふぐるまようひ

TRANSLATION: strange queen of the book cart
ALTERNATE NAMES: bunshō no kai (essay spirit)
HABITAT: libraries, temples, and noble houses; anywhere with book collections
DIET: none; she is fueled by emotion

APPEARANCE: Fuguruma yōhi is a spirit which resembles and ogreish human woman in tattered clothing. She is a kind of tsukumogami—an artifact spirit—which manifests out of old-fashioned book carts called fuguruma. In particular, it is the emotion and attachment built up in the piles of love letters stored in these carts which gives birth to this yōkai.

ORIGIN: Fuguruma yōhi appears alongside chirizuka kaiō in Toriyama Sekien’s collection of tsukumogami Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. Like chirizuka kaiō, her name is a pun based on essay 72 from the medieval essay collection Tsurezure gusa. The essay discusses the folly of overabundance. Having too many possessions is a bad thing which distracts you from that which is important; however there is no such thing as having too many books on your book cart. The fuguruma yōhi is what Toriyama Sekien imagined might appear if you actually did have too many books on  your book cart. The desire and attachment written in each single love letter may not amount to very much, but if there are enough letters, enough attachments may pile up that a yōkai can be born from them.

Chirizuka kaiō

Chirizukakaiou塵塚怪王
ちりづかかいおう

TRANSLATION: strange king of the dust heap
HABITAT: dirty, cluttered places
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Chirizuka kaiō is a red, hairy demon who resembles a small oni. His clothing is old and tattered. He has wild hair and wears a crown on his head. He is the king of the dust heap, but is also sometimes thought of as the king of the tsukumogami—the animated spirits of trash and discarded objects.

BEHAVIOR: Chirizuka kaiō appears in picture scrolls depicting the night parade of one hundred demons. In these scrolls he is prying open a Chinese-style chest and releasing a horde of tsukumogami—presumably the objects that were stored in the chest and forgotten.

ORIGIN: Chirizuka kaiō’s earliest appearance comes from the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573 CE). In the earliest scrolls he is depicted without name or explanation. His name first appears in the Edo period, where he is depicted in Toriyama Sekien’s tsukumogami encyclopedia Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. This book contains a number of yokai based on puns. Chirizuka kaiō’s name appears to be a pun based on essay 72 from Tsurezure gusa, a popular collection of essays from the 14th century. This essay discusses the folly of having too many things—too much furniture in your home, too many pens at your inkstone, too many Buddhas in a temple, too many rocks and trees in a garden, too many children in your home, and so on. However, there is no such thing as having too many books on your book stand, or too much dust upon your dust heap.

In his description of chirizuka kaiō, Toriyama explains that there is nothing in creation which does not have a leader; the kirin is king of the beasts, the hōō is king of the birds, and so this chirizuka kaiō must be the king of the yama uba. The phrase is actually another pun, and refers to a line from the noh play Yamanba. The line explains that worldly attachments pile up like dust, and if you let them build up into a dust heap then you may turn into a yama uba. Despite this phrasing, chirizuka kaiō has come to be interpreted as the king of tsukumogami rather than yama uba. This is most likely because he appears in Hyakki tsurezure bukuro, which is full of tsukumogami. There is no other connection between chirizuka kaiō and yama uba, as chirizuka kaiō has only ever been depicted releasing yōkai from a chest. Perhaps Toriyama used the word yama uba as an allusion to yōkai born from worldly attachment and ignorance. Yama uba are created when one’s improper attachments pile up like a dust heap. Tsukumogami are born out of forgotten household objects whose owners could not bring themselves to properly dispose of. The same kind of improper attachment is what forms both of these yōkai.

Kaichigo

Kaichigo貝児
かいちご

TRANSLATION: shell boy
HABITAT: decorative shell boxes
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kaichigo is the spirit of a shell box come to life. It takes the form of a small, doll-like boy in a kimono.

BEHAVIOR: Kaichigo haunt the shell boxes used to store beautiful and expensive painted shells. They come out when nobody is around and play with the shells, flipping them over and moving them around into different positions.

ORIGIN: Kaichigo’s origins lie in kaiawase (“shell matching”), a popular Heian period game which uses painted seashells. Beautiful shells of the right size and color were collected and decorated, their insides lined with gold and painted with scenes from popular stories, such as The Tale of Genji. The two halves of the same shell would be painted with the same scene, and players of the game would try to match the two sides. Beautifully decorated shell boxes, or kaioke, were used to store the shells while not in use.

Kaiawase gradually became replaced by other matching games, such as karuta, which use less exquisite playing pieces. The kaioke and shells themselves came to be viewed as precious art objects instead of toys. Because each shell half will perfectly fit its matching half and no other, expensive kaiawase sets came to be used as wedding dowries—symbolizing a perfect and unique match between bride and groom. Some boxes have been passed down from mother to daughter over and over for centuries. Those kaioke which have been around for a very long time and are no longer used as games begin to resent their existence. They grow restless and want to be played with once again, and develop a soul: the kaichigo.