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Kokuri babā

Kokuribabaa古庫裏婆
こくりばばあ

TRANSLATION: hag of the old temple living quarters
HABITAT: old, dilapidated temples
DIET: human flesh

APPEARANCE: A kokuri babā is an old hag which inhabits temples deep in the mountains. She hides herself away in the back of the temple and feeds off of human corpses.

BEHAVIOR: A kokuri babā was once a priest’s widow at a remote, rural temple. While her husband lived, she was a dutiful wife, helping run the temple, tending to the needs of the parishioners, cooking, cleaning, washing, and taking care of the temple grounds. However, after her husband’s death, she retreated into the temple’s living quarters and became a shut in. When her food stores ran out, she began to steal the offerings left behind by people visiting the temple. Because of this grave sin, she transformed into a yokai, unable to pass on to the next life. From then on, she developed a taste for human flesh. She survived by carving up meat from the corpses of the recently dead. When there were no fresh corpses available, she would unearth previously buried corpses and peel off chunks of their rotting skin off to gnaw on.

INTERACTIONS: Kokuri babā do not usually interact with people, preferring to stay hidden away in the back rooms of their temples. However, when traveling monks pay a visit to their temple, they do not pass up the chance for some fresh meat. People who encounter a kokuri babā usually realize too late that they are in danger.

ORIGIN: Kokuri babā was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. Although it is written with words that literally mean “hag of the old temple living quarters,” Sekien was well known for using wordplay in his yōkai names, and this yōkai was no exception.

Kokuri is reminiscent of a popular folk phrase “Mukuri kokuri,” which is used as a metaphor for something scary. Indeed, Sekien points out in his description that kokuri babā is even more fearsome than Datsueba, the skin-flaying hag of the underworld. Parents would scold misbehaving children with, “Mukuri kokuri, a demon will come (if you don’t stop misbehaving)!”

Mukuri kokuri has a long history, originating in the the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The Mongols under Kublai Khan had conquered China and Korea, and they had set their sights on Japan. The invaders were viewed by most people as the living embodiment of demons. Japan’s victory against the Mongols—thanks in no small part to two typhoons (believed to be kamikaze, or “divine winds” sent from the gods) which eradicated the two major Mongol invasion fleets—ended Mongol expansion and is had a profound impact on the identity of Japan as a nation. The memory of the invasions remained strong for generations, and became a part of folklore. The fear of invading Mongols was the basis for the phrase “Mōko Kōkuri no oni ga kuru” (“The Mongolian-Korean demons are coming!”), which over the centuries was corrupted down to just mukuri kokuri.

Hōsōshi

Housoushi方相氏
ほうそうし

TRANSLATION: minister of the four directions; one who sees in all directions

APPEARANCE: In ancient times, a hōsōshi was an official government minister and a priest in the imperial court. He wears special robes (the particular outfit varies depending on which shrine the ritual is being performed at), and carries a spear in his right hand and a shield in his left hand. The name also refers to a demon god which this priest would dress up as during yearly purification rituals. This god appears as a four-eyed oni who can see in all directions, and punishes all evil that it sees.

BEHAVIOR: During the early Heian Period, the hōsōshi’s duties included leading coffins during state funeral processions, officiating at burial ceremonies, and driving corpse-stealing yōkai away from burial mounds. By donning the mask and costume, the hōsōshi (priest) became the hōsōshi (god) and was able to scare away evil spirits. The hōsōshi’s most famous duty was a purification ceremony called tsuina.

Tsuina was performed annually on Ōmisoka—the last day of the year—at shrines and government buildings (such as the imperial palace). In this ritual, the hōsōshi and his servant would run around the shrine courtyard (covering “the four directions”), chanting and warding the area against oni and other evil spirits. Meanwhile, a number of attending officials would shoot arrows around the hōsōshi from the shrine or palace buildings, symbolically defending the area against evil spirits. Other observers would play small hand drums with ritualistic cleansing significance.

ORIGINHōsō was a concept related to divination, the four directions, and the magical barriers between the human world and the spirit world. It dealt with creating and maintaining these boundaries and barriers. It including things like planting trees or placing stones in the four corners of an area, or utilizing existing features like rivers and roads, which serve as natural boundaries. By maintaining these natural boundaries, the spiritual boundaries between the worlds could also be maintained, with the ultimate goal of keeping the imperial family and other government officials safe from supernatural harm.

The concept originated in ancient Chinese folk religion, where it is called fangxiang. The fangxiangshi wore a four eyed mask and a bear skin, and acted as a sort of exorcist. Chinese folk religion eventually became mixed with Buddhism and Taoism, and made its way to Japan. The Japanese hōsōshi’s rituals and costume were derived from this folk belief.

Over time, the Japanese version evolved further away from its Chinese roots. The hōsōshi came to be seen not as a god which keeps oni away, but as an oni itself. Rather than exorcising evil spirits, the hōsōshi became an evil spirit, and it was the imperial officials who chased away and exorcised the hōsōshi (thus symbolically chasing all evil spirits away). This may have been due to changing perceptions during the Heian period about the concept of ritual purity. The hōsōshi, who was associated with funerals and dead bodies, came to be viewed as unclean. It would be inappropriate for such a creature to be on the same “side” as the imperial household, so it became the target of the ritual instead of the officiator.

While the governmental position of hōsōshi no longer exists today, some shrines still perform annual tsuina rituals involving the hōsōshi. The celebration of Setsubun, in which beans are thrown at people wearing oni masks, is also derived from this ancient ritual.

 

Jikininki

Jikininki食人鬼
じきにんき

TRANSLATION: human-eating ghost
HABITAT: old temples and ruins
DIET: human corpses

APPEARANCE: Jikininki are ghouls which feast on the bodies of the dead. They appear as ordinary humans for the most part, except their features are more monstrous. They have sharp, pointed teeth which they use to peel the flesh off of the recently deceased.

BEHAVIOR: Jikininki are found near villages, usually in abandoned temples or old ruins. They avoid excessive contact with humans, but remain close to human settlements, as humans are their main source of food. Jikininki gain their sustenance by devouring the flesh and bones of the recently deceased. They do not enjoy their existence and do not find pleasure in eating the dead. It merely temporarily relieves some of the pain of their eternal hunger.

Jikininki exist somewhere between the living and the dead. They exhibit some ghost-like traits; they and their dwellings are often invisible during the day, appearing only to unsuspecting travelers during the night. They usually hunt their prey at night as well, slipping into temples when the dead are lain there for funerary prayers.

ORIGINS: Jikininki are closely related to gaki—hungry ghosts of Buddhist cosmology who are constantly starving but unable to eat anything. A jikininki is born when a person performs evil deeds, corrupting his soul. Some jikiniki were corrupt priests who could not properly pass on after their deaths. Others were once humans who, for some reason or another, developed a taste for human flesh. As time went on and they continued eating people, they gradually transformed into these monsters.

LEGENDS: Long ago, a monk named Musō Soseki was traveling on a pilgrimage when he became lost deep in the mountains. As day began to fade, he came across a dilapidated old hermitage, where an elderly monk gave him directions to a village not far away. Soseki traveled on, and just as night fell he arrived in the village.

The son of the village chief welcomed Soseki and invited him to stay in his house as a guest. “However,” he said, “my father passed away earlier today. In our village, we have a custom. When one of us dies, we all must spend the night away from the village. If we do not do this, we will be cursed. But you are tired from your journey, and seeing as you are a priest, and also not a member of this village, I see no reason why you too must leave. Please feel free to stay in my house this night while the rest of us leave the village.” Soseki gratefully accepted. The villagers all left the village, and Soseki was alone.

That night, the monk recited funerary prayers over the body of the village chief. All of a sudden, he felt a presence nearby. Soseki felt his body freeze up, and he was unable to move. Then, a dark, hazy shape crept through the house and up to the body. The creature devoured the remains of the village chief, and then slipped away as quietly as it had arrived.

The following morning, when the villagers returned, Soseki told them what he had seen during the night. The village chief’s son told him that this was just as the local legends say. Soseki was surprsied, and asked why the monk living in the hermitage did not perform the funeral prayers for the village. The village chief’s son seemed confused. “There is no hermitage nearby. What’s more, there haven’t been any monks in this region for many generations…”

Soseki traced his steps through the mountains to the old hermitage he had seen the night before. The old monk welcomed him into the hovel and told him, “I apologize for showing you such a sight last night. The monster you saw in the village chief’s house was me. Long, long ago I was a priest. I lived in that village, and I performed many funeral services for the dead. However, all I could think of was the payment for my services, and not the souls of the deceased. Because of my lack of conviction, when I died I was reborn as a jikininki. Now, I am forced to feed off the bodies of the dead. Please, save my soul and release me from my torment!”

In that instant, the elderly monk and the dilapidated old hermitage both disappeared. Soseki was sitting on the dirt, surrounded by tall grass. The only feature nearby was an ancient, moss-covered gravestone.

Gagoze

Gagoze元興寺
がごぜ

TRANSLATION: none; named for the temple which he haunted
ALTERNATE NAMES: gangōji no oni, gagoji, guwagoze, gangō, gango
DIET: children

APPEARANCE: Gagoze is a reiki, or demon ghost, who haunted the temple Gangō-ji many centuries ago. He appears as a hideous demon dressed in monks robes, crawling about on all fours. His legend is preserved at Gangō-ji, which was founded in 593 by Soga no Umako.

LEGENDS: Long ago in Owari Province, during the time of Emperor Bidatsu, a thunder god fell out of the sky in bolt of lightning. A peasant investigated the spot where the bolt struck, and discovered the thunder god in the form of a young boy. The peasant raised his cane with the intention to kill the creature, but the god pleaded to spare his life. The thunder god promised to give the peasant and his wife a young boy as strong as a god if the peasant would help him. The peasant agreed, and helped the thunder god to build a boat which allowed him to return to heaven.

Shortly after, the peasant and his wife had a child. Just as promised the child was as strong as a thunder god. As the boy grew, he became renowned far and wide for his superhuman strength. By the time he turned 10, he had grown so powerful and boastful that he challenged a prince to a contest of strength and won. This attracted attention of the imperial court, and the boy was apprenticed to Gangō-ji.

Shortly after he joined Gangō-ji, the temple’s young apprentices began dying strange deaths one by one. Every morning, the fresh corpse of one of the boys would be found by the temple’s bell tower. The monks decided that an evil spirit was infiltrating the temple at night and committing the murders. The peasant’s son resolved to solve the mystery. He volunteered to catch whatever was killing the boys.

That night, the boy placed covered lanterns in the four corners of the bell tower. He instructed an older monk to wait by the lanterns and uncover them once he grabbed the evil spirit. The boy waited by the bell tower. At midnight a hunched creature came crawling towards the tower. It saw the boy, however, and ran away.

A few hours later, hunger got the better of the creature and it slinked back. The boy sprang and caught it by the hair, but the monk was too scared to uncover the lanterns. Summoning his superhuman strength, the boy dragged the creature to each corner of the tower and uncovered the lights. In the lamplight, he could see that the creature was a reiki—the ghost of an oni.

The reiki pulled back so hard that it ripped off its own scalp. Once free, it scampered away into the darkness, leaving its hair in the boy’s hand. When morning came, the priests followed the bloody trail left by the creature. They found the grave of a lazy, wicked servant formerly employed by the temple. The servant’s spirit had transformed into the demon ghost that was responsible for the murders.

After that, the reiki never returned to the temple again. The monster’s scalp became one of the holy treasures of Gangō-ji. The boy became famous far and wide. He used his superhuman strength to irrigate the temple’s fields, and eventually took the name Dōjō and became a splendid priest. After he died, he was enshrined as one of the gods of Gangō-ji.

Shōgorō

Shougorou鉦五郎
しょうごろう

TRANSLATION: “Gong-goro,” or ghost gong, depending on the reading

APPEARANCE: A shōgorō is a kind of tsukumogami, a spirit which inhabits a household item. In this case, it is an animated shōgo (鉦吾) — a small, bowl-shaped gong that is struck with a mallet and used in Buddhist services. A shōgo gets a lot of use, being used multiple times every service. It is made of metal, and so can last a long time before breaking. A gong which has long worn out and stopped playing its note pleasantly, and gets put into storage until it is forgotten (or perhaps one is the witness to some horrible crime) is an ideal candidate for awakening into a yokai.

BEHAVIOR: Like nay tsukumogami, shōgorō are not dangerous. At most, they are startling, as they wander around at night like some kind of metal turtle, striking their bodies and ringing their notes out into the night. It is enough perhaps to cause loss of sleep, but not much else.

ORIGIN: The name shogorō is a pun. It is a combination of shōgo, the gong, and gorō, a very common part of a boy’s name. The word can also be read as a combination of shōgo and goryō (御霊), the ghost of a noble or an aristocrat from ages past. Goryō are a grade of ghost above yūrei, and play a large part in many Japanese ghost stories.

LEGENDS: In the early 18th century, there was a wealthy merchant family called Yodoya living in Osaka. For many generations, the Yodoya were the kings of the rice trade, raking in unbelievable amounts of cash. The 5th generation boss, Yodoya Tatsugorō, had so much money and lived a life of such extreme opulence that he attracted the attention of the bakufu (regional shogunate officials, something like military police).

The bakufu decided that the Yodoya family had accumulated too much wealth. They were only a merchant family, and it was improper for a lower class to hold so much wealth. Their economic power was above their station in life, and so the bakufu stripped Yodoya Tatsugorō of everything he had: his rice, his business, his house, his every last possession. The Yodoya family fell into ruin, and Tatsugorō became destitute. Even his favorite possession, an unbelievably rich and indescribably splendid golden chicken called kogane no niwatori (金の鶏, literally “golden chicken”), was taken from him. The loss of his precious golden chicken caused Tatsugorō so much grief that he died, and because of the unhappy circumstances of his death, his ghost was unable to pass on.

Normally, when a ghost lingers like this, it attaches itself to the object of its desire, be it a person, a place, or (in this case) a thing. Tatsugorō’s soul meant to attach itself to his precious kogane no niwatori. In Japanese, the words for “gong” and “golden” can both be read “kane.” Poor Tatsugorō’s ghost must have gotten confused and attached itself to a nearby shōgo instead of his chicken, and the instrument turn into a tsukumogami.