the online database of Japanese folkore

Hashika dōji

はしか童子
はしかどうじ

Translation: measles boy
Habitat: areas infected with measles

Appearance: Hashika dōji is a personification of measles who appears in Japanese prints. He looks like a large, ugly, muscular boy with red pox marks all over his body.

Origin: Measles has been endemic to Japan since ancient times. There where thirteen major epidemics recorded during the Edo Period. It was considered to be a right of passage that everyone would have to go through at some point in their life. Numerous folk remedies were devised for measles over the centuries. Many of them were similar to the traditions that grew up in response to other infectious diseases like smallpox. Small shrine to the gods of the disease were built to appease them into sparing the life of the infected. Images believed to have special warding powers were hung as talismans in homes where measles appeared. These images are called hashika e.

Hashika e became popular towards the end of the Edo Period, when new ideas about medicine were beginning to arrive in Japan. They were produced in large quantities and distributed around infected areas during outbreaks. They served a dual purpose–not only were the images used for good luck and to keep the evil spirits who cause measles at bay, but they were also informative. They contained detailed instructions on disease prevention, including lists of things to abstain from and medicinal foods to eat. Some important things to avoid during infection were sex, fish and shellfish, poultry, alcohol, oily foods, and pickled vegetables. Foods that were supposed to be helpful against measles included azuki beans, winter melon, lily, kanpyō, miso, sweet potato, black soybeans, barley, and zenmai. Some hashika e even contained information on the history of measles in Japan, and tips and techniques to treat the infected.

Hashika dōji was a common figure depicted in hashika e. He was usually depicted being tied up and beaten by small, anthropomorphic figures. These figures represent the industries which suffered due to loss of business during outbreaks. People with kegs for heads represented sake breweries, while tub-headed people represented bath houses. Entertainment industries were represented by prostitutes and people with pleasure boats for heads. These figures all teamed up to defeat the gigantic disease boy and save their industries. These images were also satirical; figures representing doctors and medicine peddlers–industries which profited during epidemics–were shown defending Hashika dōji and trying to calm the angry mob.

Alphabetical list of yōkai