We continue are our look into Mythical Creatures. Today's feature is brought to us by Peta Crake. Thanks, Peta!
|Ukiyo-e print of Yokai by Kawanabe Kyosai|
Thanks to the mixture of imported monsters that came with Buddhism and Chinese culture and the locally grown variety, which originated in Shinto and animistic traditions, Japan has an unbelievable number of supernatural creatures. As a group they are categorized as Yokai or Obakemono.
Unlike many Western cultures where there is a long history of tales of people changing into beasts, Japan has a lot of creature who shape shift into human form. After living in Japan for almost a decade, some of these mythical creatures seemed as normal to me as a regular dog or cat. In particular, the racoon dogs (the real animals are as cute as their mythical versions) and foxes whose statues could be seen scattered through the cities and countryside. Japanese shape-shifting animals are some of my favourite mythical creatures.
|Pottery statue of a tanuki|
Kitsune (foxes) are another animal that can gain magical abilities. Once they reach the age of one hundred they are able to assume human form and with each century which passes they gain an extra tail. The more tails a kitsune has the more powerful it becomes, with the oldest and wisest having nine tails. The most common stories involve kitsune transforming themselves into beautiful women for devious purposes or for love. In medieval Japan, lone young women encountered at dusk were usually feared to be kitsune. Only their shadows, which can reveal their tails or true form could betray what they really were. They are like the slender, serious older sibling of the Tanuki.
Prince Hanzoku terrorized by a nine-tailed fox.
Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi,, 19th century
|North American box art for the|
Okami video game
North American DVD cover of
The main character Natsuki Sasahara
is half-human, half-nekomata.
Jorogumo (spiders) also known as the Prositute Spider or Entwining Bride can change its appearance into a seductive woman. They have the nasty habit of luring men to them, wrapping them up in silk threads and devouring them. Stories about them often involve them invading people’s dreams.
|Jorogumo by Toriyama Sekien|
With shape-shifting creatures and large rogue feet hopping around the countryside, it is no wonder the Japanese people have a special ceremony each February to remove evil spirits from their houses. Called Setsubun, the festival involves people throwing roasted soybeans around their house and calling for good fortune to enter and evil spirits/demons to leave.
I am not sure I want to come across a shape-shifting spider but the idea of an Akaname taking up residence in my bathroom to keep it clean sounds good to me. What do you think?
Experiencing Japanese Culture, KEK International Exchange and Communication Circle, 1989
The Mythical Creatures Bible, Brenda Rosen, 2008