TRANSLATION: based on the Chinese name for the same creature; literally “evergreen lord”
APPEARANCE: The hōkō is a nature spirit which inhabits 1000-year old trees. It resembles a black dog with no tail and a human-like face.
BEHAVIOR: Being a tree spirit, the hōkō is said to be similar to a kodama or a yamabiko, although Toriyama Sekien goes out of his way to specifically mention that despite the similar appearance it is a separate yōkai from the yamabiko.
INTERACTIONS: Most hōkō encounters are accidental. They usually involve an old woodcutter chopping into a camphor tree with an axe, and blood comes out from the tree—because a hōkō was living inside. Nevertheless there are a number of records of hōkō appearing in Japanese and Chinese chronicles. Hōkō are recorded as being edible; the ancient Chinese records that mention them include accounts of them being stewed and eaten. Apparently they taste sweet and sour, and similar to dog meat.
ORIGIN: Hōkō is the Japanese pronunciation of this spirit’s Chinese name: penghou. Because of gradual changes in the writing systems of China and Japan, the characters used to write hōkō do not translate perfectly in Japanese. Legends generally refer to the hōkō being found inside of camphor trees. However, the first characters in its name can refer to a different kind of evergreen in Japanese: the sakaki (Cleyera japonica), which is an important sacred tree in Shinto. The second character in its name was used as a title for feudal lords. It’s not really clear that these were the intended meanings in the original Chinese though. According to legend, its name was recorded in the yōkai encyclopedia Hakutaku zu—the last surviving copy of which was lost thousands of years ago—so its true meaning is difficult to decipher.