Big in Japan: Crazy, crazy creatures from old Japan

Old Japan, at least the one in the stories, must have been a wild place…

The word y?kai (?????) refers to a broad class of demons, spirits and monsters that appear in traditional Japanese folklore. Possessing great supernatural and spiritual powers, y?kai are famous for their mischievous dealings with humans.

While modern Japan is justifiably famous for its weird, wacky and often bizarre anime and manga, it’s not too difficult to figure out where the inspiration for these creations came from. Indeed, y?kai are truly the stuff of legends, which why today’s post is all about these crazy, crazy creatures from old Japan.

Bakez?ri (????????, transforming straw sandals) There is an entire class of y?kai known as tsukumogami (???????, artifact spirits), which are ordinary household items that come to life on their one-hundredth birthday. Bakez?ri are traditional straw sandals that suddenly spring to life, and start running through the house screaming at the top of their lungs.

Tanuki (???, ?????????) Anyone who remembers the video game Super Mario Bros. 3 knows that the tanuki suit was pretty awesome, especially since you could change into a statue and avoid those pesky koopa troopas. Tanuki are actually a living raccoon-like animal found in mountains and forests. In old Japan however, they were mischievous tricksters that were easily identifiable by their massively swollen testicles, which they could swing over their shoulders and carry around like a duffel bag!

Intrigued? There are lots more (^_^)

Abura-sumashi (油すまし, oil presser) This legendary potato-shaped goblin has an unquenchable thirst for oil. Since oil was used to heat houses in the days before electricity, the Japanese believed that anyone who stole this valuable commodity would be reincarnated as an abura-sumashi. Considering that oil prices might soon reach US$200 a barrel, perhaps this bitter old goblin is the perfect mascot for the campaign against global warming.

Futakuchi-onna (二口女, two-mouthed woman) This one is bit creepy. Futakuchi-onna are distinguished by their second mouth, which appears when the back of a woman’s head splits open, revealing lips, teeth and a tongue. The second mouth is foul-tempered, screeches loudly and talks ill about the men folk. It can also control a woman’s hair like tentacles, allowing itself to feed at its own will, or strangle any ill-fated men that just happen to be around during one of its mood swings!

Kappa (河童, river child) The inspiration for the previously mentioned koopa troopas, kappa are river sprites with thick shells, scaly skin and monstrous faces that are a cross between an ape and a duck. Their head contains several water-filled depressions, which allows them to survive temporarily on land. Of course, in true Japanese fashion, kappa are extremely polite, and cannot help but return a deep bow, even if it means spilling their vital fluids and losing their strength.

Even today, Japanese children in the countryside are still jokingly taught to return the bows of kappa as a protection from yōkai. Perhaps the truth really is out there…

** All images are courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project. **