the online database of Japanese folkore

Suzuhiko hime


Translation: bell princess
Habitat: Shintō shrines
Diet: none

Appearance: Suzuhiko hime are tsukumogami which possess kagurasuzu—the bells used in Shintō rituals. They look like young women wearing the robes of an ancient princess or a shrine maiden. They are decked with bells, and have a larger bell for a head.

Behavior: Suzuhiko hime do not cause harm to humans. They merely dance about in wild and ritualistic movements like the dances in which they were once used as holy instruments.

Origin: Bells have been used since ancient times in Shintō rituals to calm the human soul as well as repel evil spirits. Most importantly, they are meant to attract the attention of the gods and call forth their presence. Although it is not specifically stated, it is possible that suzuhiko hime, like other tsukumogami, are born out of old tools that are no longer in service, animating themselves from the desire to be useful once again.

Suzuhiko hime is a creation of Toriyama Sekien, and first appears in his book Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. Everything about this yōkai, from the meaning of its name, to what Sekien intended for it to do, can only be inferred from his brief description of it.

Sekien’s description of suzuhiko hime refers to a famous scene from Japanese mythology. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, had a violent quarrel with her brother Suzano’o, the god of storms, and hid herself from the other gods in the cave Ama no Iwato. Without the sun, everything became cold and dark. The gods gathered outside of the cave and begged Amaterasu to come out, but she refused. Eventually, Ame no Uzume, the goddess of dawn and revelry, came up with a plan. She stood upon an upturned tub and performed a wild, erotic dance, stripping naked and baring herself to the other gods. Their loud, uproarious cheering could be heard by Amaterasu deep inside the cave. Eventually her curiosity got the better of her, and she left the cave to see what the commotion was about. The other gods quickly blocked the cave entrance so she could not go back inside, and light was returned to the heavens and the earth.

Ame no Uzume’s performance is said to be the origin of kagura, the sacred music and dance of Shintō rituals. And kagura in turn indirectly serves as the origin of this yōkai.

Alphabetical list of yōkai