Translation: from a phrase meaning “give me mochi”
Habitat: underwater, in the Sea of Japan
Appearance: The appossha is a scary monster which appears in the village of Koshino in Fukui prefecture. It resembles a red oni, with a large head and dark, kelp-like hair. It wears the clothing typical of a workman.
Interactions: Appossha live in the Sea of Japan off of Fukui prefecture. They appear on land once a year, on Koshōgatsu—a holiday celebrating the first full moon of the lunar new year. On this night, the appossha crawl out of the sea and wander the village streets, banging iron tea kettles and chanting, “Appossha!” The travel from house to house, demanding food and threatening children. They ask each house if there are any ill-mannered children living there that they can take back to the sea with them. Once a household’s children have been thoroughly scared, the parents give a gift of mochi to the appossha and it leaves.
Origin: The appossha tradition is said to come from long ago, when a sailor from a foreign land was shipwrecked and swam ashore in Fukui prefecture. He traveled from door to door begging for food. The name “appossha” is thought to be a heavily accented variation of the foreigner’s words, asking for some mochi to eat: “Appo (mochi) hoshiya (want).”
The appossha is part of a family of oni-like yōkai which are found all over Japan, but especially along the Sea of Japan coast. The namahage of Akita Prefecture are the most famous example. In nearby Ishikawa and Niigata Prefectures, similar yōkai named amamehagi can be found. In Yamagata they are known as amahage. Although the minor details (such as where the yōkai come from) differ, the key parts of each story are the same: these yōkai come from the wilderness around the new year, scare young children, and leave once offered a gift from the villagers.
Appossha are an example of a type of creature called a marebito. In Japanese folk religion, marebito are divine spirits—demons, gods, or otherwise—which come from the world of the dead to visit our world at set times. Some deliver prophecies or bring gifts, others bring disaster. The strange foreign spirit is welcomed as a guest, fed, sheltered, and treated kindly and respectfully. Sometimes they are revered as gods. Their coming is often welcomed in the form of festivals and rituals. Although the marebito folk religion is no longer practiced today, aspects of it are still a visible part of Japanese culture. Yōkai like the appossha and namahage, and festivals like Obon have preserved many of the elements of this ancient folk religion.