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Himamushi nyūdō

Himamushinyuudou火間蟲入道
ひまむしにゅうどう

TRANSLATION: oven bug monk
HABITAT: houses; specifically under the floorboards
DIET: lamp oil

APPEARANCE: Himamushi nyūdō is a grotesque yōkai which lives under floorboards and crawls out at night time. It vaguely resembles a Buddhist monk, but it has a long neck, sharp claws, a body covered in thick, dark hair, and a very long tongue which it uses to lap up the oil from lamps.

INTERACTIONS: Himamushi nyūdō bothers people who are working hard or studying late at night by jumping out of the darkness and scaring them.  Although it doesn’t directly attack people, its presence is disturbing enough. It blows out the lights suddenly, and it licks up the precious lamp oil, making it difficult to continue working.

ORIGIN: According to Toriyama Sekien’s description of this yōkai in Konjaku hyakki shūi, himamushi nyūdō is born from those who were lazy in life, carelessly wasting time from birth to death.

The word “oven bug” in its name is probably a reference to cockroaches. The hima kanji in this yokai’s name can also be read kama—and likely refers to the kamado, a traditional Japanese oven. Cockroaches have quite a few nicknames in Japanese; among them himushi (“fire bug”) and hitorimushi (“lamp bug”), both of which sound similar to himamushi. Cockroaches and other pests would have fed on the fish oil in Edo period oil lamps; just like this yōkai. Cockroaches live in dark, warm spaces, such as underneath a kamado; just like this yōkai. And they crawl out of the floorboards to scare those working late at night; just like this yōkai.

Himamushi nyūdō’s name contains a number of puns. According to Toriyama Sekien, it was originally called himamushiyo nyūdō (“monks who waste time at night”). Over the years, the pronunciation gradually morphed, and it became associated with hemamusho nyūdō—a popular Edo period word doodle in which a monk is drawn using the characters in its name: ヘマムショ入道. The connection with this cartoon character would probably have amused readers during Sekien’s time.

Ushirogami

Ushirogami後神
うしろがみ

TRANSLATION: behind spirit
HABITAT: haunts cowardly people
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: Ushirogami looks like a ghost with long black hair, and a large single eyeball located on the top of its head. It doesn’t have feet, but instead has a long, twisting body which allows it to leap high into the air.

INTERACTIONS: An ushirogami’s favorite tactic is to scare people by leaping out and appearing right behind them (thus its name). They like to tug on the hairs on the back of a person’s neck and then vanish just as they turn around to see touched them. Other pranks that ushirogami enjoy include placing their icy cold hands or breathing their hot breath onto the necks of their victims. Ushirogami particularly like going after cowardly young women walking the streets at night. They sneak up behind them and untie their hair, causing it to fall all over the place; or they run their hands through the woman’s hair and mess it around, causing it to become tangled. Sometimes they call up strong gusts of wind to blow umbrellas away.

ORIGIN: Ushirogami is thought to be a kind of okubyо̄gami—a spirit that causes cowardice, or that specifically targets cowardly people. Its name comes from the words ushiro (behind) and kami (spirit). However, there is a hidden pun in its name: ushirogami also means the hair on the back of your neck, and the phrase ushirogami wo hikikaeru (to have the hairs on the back of your neck pulled) means to do something with painful reluctance. It describes a person who has to do something that they really don’t want to do. As they search for some way out of it, they turn around and look behind them as if the hairs in the back of their head were being metaphorically pulled. The pun is that the ushirogami (spirit) is pulling on your ushirogami (hair), causing you to become cowardly and not want to do something. You turn around to see who pulled your hair, but there is no one back there. Thus the ushirogami can be explained as both an external entity which causes fear, or as the internal personification of your own cowardice or reluctance.

Kosamebō

Kosamebou小雨坊
こさめぼう

TRANSLATION: light rain monk
HABITAT: mountain roads
DIET: as a human (likely follows a monk’s diet)

APPEARANCE: Kosamebō are yōkai which look like Buddhist monks. They loiter about on empty mountain roads at night. As their name implies, they only appear during nights when light rain is falling.

INTERACTIONS: Kosamebō accost travelers and beg for alms such as spare change or bits of millet to eat. Though frightening—and perhaps a bit annoying—they do not pose any real danger to humans.

ORIGIN: Kosamebō appears in Toriyama Sekien’s yokai encyclopedia Konjaku hyakki shūi. Sekien describes them as appearing on the roads going through Mount Omine and Mount Katsuragi, two holy mountains in Nara Prefecture which have popular pilgrimage trails. They are also part of the local folklore of the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture.

Minobi

Minobi蓑火
みのび

TRANSLATION: raincoat fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: minomushibi, minoboshi, etc.; varies widely from place to place
HABITAT: wet rural areas

APPEARANCE: Minobi is a phenomenon that appears on rainy days in rural areas, particularly during the rainy season. Often it appears near bodies of water such as rivers or lakes, such as Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. Minobi appears as a number of tiny fireballs which glow like fireflies. They float about in the air and tend gather in large numbers.

INTERACTIONS: Minobi gets its name from its tendency to gather around people wearing mino (traditional straw raincoats). It sticks to the raincoat and burns. When someone attempts to brush off or swat out the fire, the minobi instead multiplies, growing larger and larger. Eventually the person is forced to strip off the raincoat and leave it on the road.

ORIGIN: Minobi is found all over Japan, although often by different names and with different explanations. Sometimes this phenomenon is thought to be caused by natural gas escaping from the ground (as with other mysterious fireballs like onibi and kitsunebi). Most often it is said to be the work of a mischievous kitsune, itachi, or tanuki. Because it appears more frequently during the rainy season, sometimes minobi’s true form is believed to be a firefly or other insect, such as the minomushi (bagworm moth).

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.

Gangi kozō

Gangikozou岸涯小僧
がんぎこぞう

TRANSLATION: riverbank priest boy
HABITAT: rivers and riverbanks
DIET: fish

APPEARANCE: Gangi kozō are hairy, monkey-like water spirits which inhabit rivers. They live along the riverbanks, where they hunt fish. Their bodies are covered in hair, and the hair on their head resembles the the bobbed okappa hair style once popular among children in Japan. Their most notable features are their webbed hands and toes, and their long teeth which are sharp and jagged like files. They are close relatives of the much more well-known kappa.

BEHAVIOR: Gangi kozō are not encountered outside of the riverbanks, and there may be a good reason for this; according to one theory, they are a transitional form of kappa. According to many legends, kappa transform from river spirits into hairy mountain spirits when the seasons change. The specific details differ quite a bit from place to place. However, in Yamaguchi prefecture, there is a hairy mountain spirit called a takiwaro which transforms into a water spirit called an enko (a variety of kappa). Some folklorists believe that the gangi kozō is a kind of takiwaro, and thus is merely a transitional form of a kappa. This would explain why so little is known of them.

INTERACTIONS: Gangi kozō normally stay away from people, but occasionally encounter fishermen along the rivers they inhabit. When meeting a gangi kozō, fishermen often leave their largest, cheapest fish on the riverside as an offering.

ORIGIN: Gangi kozō do not appear in any local legends, though stories of very similar-looking yokai do. The first and only written record of them is in Toriyama Sekien’s yokai encyclopedias. It is therefore possible that gangi kozō was made up by Toriyama Sekien based on the numerous legends of transforming kappa.

According to Mizuki Shigeru, the name gangi kozō can be written with another set of kanji, 雁木小僧. These characters can mean “stepped pier” or “gear tooth” depending on the context. This writing reflects both the habitat of the gangi kozō as well as its mouth full of sharp teeth, which resembles a toothed gear.

Ōkaburo

Ookaburo大禿
おおかぶろ

TRANSLATION: big kamuro (an apprentice oiran)
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōkamuro
HABITAT: brothels
DIET: herbs and dew from chrysanthemums

APPEARANCE: Ōkaburo are cross-dressing yōkai found in brothels. They take the appearance of oversized kamuro, little girls employed as a servants in brothels. Only they are much larger than a typical girl of 5.

ORIGIN: The origins of this yōkai are vague. Ōkaburo are best known for their depiction by Toriyama Sekien. His ōkaburo is actually a male yōkai dressed up as a young kamuro, wearing a chrysanthemum-patterned kimono. His description makes an allusion to Peng Zu, a legendary Taoist wizard from China. Peng Zu lived past the age of 700 by having lots of sex with both women and men, and keeping a strict herbal diet which included licking the dew off of chrysanthemums. For this Peng Zu took the nickname Kiku-jidō, or chrysanthemum boy. Sekien likely intended his ōkaburo to be a pun referring to homosexual brothels in which young boys were dressed up as kamuro and offered to male patrons. Aside from the obvious connotations of having a young boy dressed up as a kamuro, the chrysanthemum was used as a secret symbol for homosexuality; the shape of the petals was supposed to represent an anus. The nickname chrysanthemum boy, the chrysanthemums on the kimono, and the image of licking the dew off of “chrysanthemums” leave little to the imagination as to what Sekien was alluding to with this yōkai.

A story of an ōkamuro with very different origins comes from a pleasure house in Hiroshima, where a particularly short-tempered oiran was employed. One day, her ohaguro (a tea-like mixture of hot water and iron filings used to blacken the teeth of courtesans) had been improperly prepared. The color would not stick to her teeth. Enraged, she grabbed the nearest kamuro and poured the entire pot of boiling liquid down the little girl’s throat. The girl, vomiting up her insides, smeared her bloody handprints along the wall as she died in anguish. Ever since, it was said that the voice of that young kamuro could be heard at night, calling out for vengeance against the oiran.

Hiderigami

Hiderigami
ひでりがみ

TRANSLATION: drought spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: batsu, kanbo (“drought mother”), shinchi
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: moisture

APPEARANCE: Hiderigami is a grotesque, hairy humanoid which stands between two and three feet tall. It has a single eye on the top of its head. It only has a single arm and a single leg, although it can run as fast as the wind. All hiderigami are female.

BEHAVIOR: Hiderigami are rarely encountered by humans. They live deep in the mountains and only rarely travel out into human-inhabited lands, but when they do their presence can be strongly felt over a wide area. A hiderigami’s body exerts such a strong heat that everywhere it goes the ground dries up, clouds fail to form, and rain cannot fall. Despite the incredible danger that they pose, it is said that throwing a hiderigami into a toilet will kill it.

ORIGIN: Hiderigami originated in southern China, and come from a goddess. Their origin is recorded in some of the oldest ancient Chinese records. When the legendary Yellow Emperor of China fought the warlord Chi You, he summon a powerful goddess named Batsu to aid him in battle. Batsu contained an supernatural heat inside of her, and when she released her power, the battle was quickly and decisively won in the emperor’s favor; however, she had used so much of her power up that she was unable to return to Heaven or contain her heat. While Batsu was nearby, the waters all dried up and rain would not fall, and so her presence became a terrible problem for the emperor. Unable to kill her or to send her back to heaven, the emperor exiled the goddess to a far-away mountain and forbade her to return. Whether Batsu became the mother of the hiderigami or became corrupted and transformed into this yokai herself is unknown.