the online database of Japanese ghosts and monsters

Jakotsu babā

By on February 14, 2018, in China, Konjaku hyakki shūi, magic, old, Patreon, snake, Toriyama Sekien, woman, yōkai

蛇骨婆
じゃこつばばあ

TRANSLATION: snake bones hag
HABITAT: Bukan, a mythical country far to the west
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: Jakotsu babā is a scary old hag and a shaman with the power to control snakes. She is described as carrying a blue snake in her right hand and a red snake in her left hand.

BEHAVIOR: Very little is recorded about jakotsu babā’s history or life, so her behavior is the subject of speculation by storytellers. Generally, she supposedly lives near a place called “the snake mound.” She scares those who stay too close to her home by attacking them with her snakes.

ORIGIN: It’s not quite clear where this yōkai originally comes from. She was recorded in 1780 by Toriyama Sekien in his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. Because she carries two snakes, Sekien speculated that Jakotsu babā originally came from the mythical country of Bukan (also called Fukan; known as Wuxian in Chinese). Bukan is recorded in the Shan hai jing, which Toriyama Sekien uses as his source for this record. It was supposedly located far to the west, past China on the Asian continent. The race of people who lived in Bukan were shamans, and they used snakes prominently in their divinations.

According to Sekien, long ago there was an important man in Bukan named Jagoemon who lived in a place known as “the snake mound.” His wife was known as Jagobā (i.e. “Jago’s wife”). Over time, her name was corrupted into jakotsu babā. Jagoemon is not a famous historical or mythical figure, so Sekien’s reference may have just been invented for fun. Prior to Konjaku hyakki shūi, the name jakotsu babā appears in various pulp fiction and kabuki plays of the 1760’s and 1770’s—although it was just used as a vulgar slang word for an old woman, rather than a yōkai or a shaman. Some scholars believe that Sekien may just have taken a popular buzzword of his time, transformed it into a yōkai and attached a simple backstory to it.