Tsukumogami: Inanimate Ghouls of Japan

Come one, come all, come out if you dare, the night parade of demons begins! One hundred yokai to horrify and amaze clamor down the streets of your town; a pandemonium that can’t be ignored!

Rokurokubi, Kuchisake, Futakuchi, and a host of others make their appearance. Afraid to be killed, maimed, or worse? You should be – there are no friends in this gallery of grotesque foes. But among them, yes, there comes a procession of strange and unusual creatures, unlike anything seen in any other part of the world: the tsukumogami arrive, the artifacts of 99 years, the haunted items of disrepair. Broken, forgotten, misused, lost, the tsukumogami are the inanimate ghouls of our own creation. Man-made. Peculiar. Uncanny. Fifteen in all, this night, meander, cackling and stomping, shattering the silence.

Come, come, take a peek as they pass – they are not like the others. Most are not dangerous. Most will not kill. You are safe! So come, come and see some of the great ghouls of Japan:

Umbrella Monster: Karakasa
Karakasa is an umbrella spirit with a long tongue that hops around on one leg. It tends to lick its victims, like Burabura. It is the oldest of this type of yokai, dating back to the Edo period.
Wall Monster: Nurikabe
Nurikabe is an old lacquered (plaster) wall come to life. These kinds of walls require a great deal of maintenance, but it’s hard to keep up on places as big as fortresses and castles! Nurikabe loves to misdirect and block one’s path to their destination.
Stirrup Monster: Abumi-Guchi
Abumi-Guchi is a lost stirrup of a commander’s riding gear. Left in the mud for over one hundred years, the stirrup became possessed, and haunts the area, hoping to one day see its master again.
Shoji Monster: Mokumokuren
Shoji doors, the paper sliding doors often present in traditional homes in Japan, can be easily damaged, and children delight in poking their fingers through the paper. However, if the shoji doors are not repaired quickly enough, those holes soon become eyes, and the mokumokuren is born!
Gong Monster: Shogoro
Shogoro, like Waniguchi, is a temple item possessed. Where Waniguchi is a bell, Shogoro is a gong shaped like a turtle, tugging its mallet along behind it, making a raucous din throughout the night.
Shamisen Monster: Shamichoro
Shamichoro is one of the three famous music monsters. This yokai’s name is a pun meaning “shamisen master” but also “one can not go from novice to master in a night”… This yokai is often depicted as sad as he wishes to be played again.
Sandal Monster: Bakezori
Bazezori is the possessed sandal spirit. He comes from forgotten or discarded sandals. His common activity is to run around households at night chanting “Kararin, kororin, kankororin! Two eyes, three eyes and two teeth!”
Metal Grater Monster: Yamaoroshi
Yamaoroshi is a metal grater used so much that it has become dull and useless. Discarded and uncared for, it is an easy target for yokai transformation.
Lantern Monster: Burabura
Burabura is a yokai of an old, torn lantern. This lantern shape is still in use today in Japan, and Burabura is one of the most popular ghosts in Japan.
Koto Monster: Koto Furunushi
Koto Furunushi is one of the three famous music monsters. He is possessed of koto that have been in storage too long, and will remember every song every played on him.
Jar Monster: Kameosa
Kameosa is one of the few beneficial yokai – you may even want one in your house! Jugs and jars possessed of this spirit will never run out of the liquid that was inside them when they were enchanted… and endless supply of water or sake is never a bad thing!
Cotton Monster: Ittanmomen
Ittanmomen is a regional yokai known to strangle people by wrapping its length around people’s faces. If you have fabric in your house that you haven’t used in a really long time, it might be a good idea to get rid of it!
Broom Monster: Hahakigami
Brooms in Japan have way more uses than you might thing. Traditionally, they were used as more of a charm, sweeping out evil, speeding up childbirth, and ‘sweeping’ unwanted guests out of your house, as well. But it, too, is prone to becoming a spirit, and hahakigami can often be found flitting around one’s property, sweeping mindlessly.
Biwa Monster: Biwabokuboku
Biwabokuboku is a relatively harmless monster, and is one of the three famous music monsters. He typically walks through households where he has become enchanted, and plays music.
The bells rung at temples for prayer are not safe from the 99-year curse. Unless they are properly maintained and purified, they too can become a yokai! Waniguchi (so named because it looks like an alligator's mouth) is a possessed temple bell.
The bells rung at temples for prayer are not safe from the 99-year curse. Unless they are properly maintained and purified, they too can become a yokai! Waniguchi (so named because it looks like an alligator’s mouth) is a possessed temple bell.

Did they scare you? Did they make you laugh? The tsukumogami’s plight is a long one in the making. Do not subject your things to this curse of years – fix what is broken, clean what is dirty, and before it turns one hundred, take it to a monk for cremation!

Now, quickly, quickly…. the procession continues. We should all get back inside before Odokuro (the Giant Skeleton) arrives.

Odokuro


This post would not have been possible without the fantastic resources at Yokai.com and YokaiWIKI.

Yokai-19

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24 Comments

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    1. It was Diana’s idea to talk about them! Now that I’ve been given permission to repost them on my blog, I may do so and expand on it with male and non-gendered monsters. 🙂

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  1. Oh my goodness. We Australians are good at scaring people with our tales of deadly wildlife but these monsters are seriously impressive.
    Sadly, I must confess that a reincarnated version of Bazezori the possessed sandal spirit.has moved in my house and follows my kids with obsessive persistence. However, in my daughter’s case it would need to be re-named the lost dance shoe spirit and for my son, the lost jogger spirit. No wonder I’ve been going crazy! I must forward this to their Scout leader. This spirit loves kids on a camp! xx Rowena

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    1. Hahah, that’s an excellent story to go with these. Maybe it’ll make them be more careful about taking care of the shoes… Me? I need to throw out my old sandals I came to Japan with. I’m being stubborn because I’ve loved them so much, but enough is enough, and if I don’t do something quick, I’m going to have to call a priest!

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    1. It’s actually interesting for me, the snake bit. Especially since there really aren’t that many snakes in Japan, compared to the rest of the world. Maybe foreigners brought in bigger ones. As far as cyclops, that is amusing, isn’t it? 😀

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  2. Wow what a fun post. I am currently in house cleaning mode and this is great to go on and do a proper clean, not forget the hidden closet…
    These monsters definitely made me smile. I have been a lot too the Musse Guimet (which has a great collection of Asian art) but never noticed these, but then there are so many exhibits, I’ll have to keep my eyes open next time.

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    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, Solveig! The monsters are really interesting, and you can find a lot of different materials on them. More likely than not, if you see a flyer for Edo Period paintings or ink drawings, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of traditional drawings. 🙂 Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah! Yes, these monsters are favorites over here in Japan…. There’s also a sort of monster “boom” recently, since a new show has unthroned Pokémon as the most popular TV animation: Yokai (Ghost) Watch.

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    1. Definitely a great lesson. 🙂 I really like the illustrations from Yokai.com. You should check out the site, as I’ve only included a handful here! (Sadly, can’t seem to find a low-cost version of the book on Amazon these days.)

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    1. A major compliment! Thank you so much, Bruce! 😀 The broom spirits are pretty cool. I’m sorta partial to the wall spirit myself. He seems like a cool “excuse” to have when you don’t want to go out. 😉

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  3. Although I have no Japanese heritage, these ghouls and your sentence: “Do not subject your things to this curse of years – fix what is broken, clean what is dirty, and before it turns one hundred, take it to a monk for cremation!” make me think my spirit must be part Japanese. I love this!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised, Trista. 🙂 You and I seem very similar from what I’ve gotten to know about you this year, and many people over here tell me all the time that my heart “is more Japanese than a Japanese person’s”… which is sort of silly, but a compliment (I think!) to be proud of. 🙂

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    1. Yeah, I love how all of the ghosts and ghoulies and gods all have their own names and domains. It’s really fun in a place like Kyoto, especially. 🙂

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    1. I had to google that. Wow! You’re right. His surrealism really does fit the motif. 🙂 Thanks for that, Noelle!

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  4. Reblogged this on Alex Hurst and commented:

    October is all about the monsters, and this month, I have three posts planned at Part-Time Monster. First up, check out the Tsukumogami (九十九髪), the haunted artifacts of ninety-nine years. These uncanny monsters are some of the more amusing creatures to come out of Edo Period!

    Liked by 2 people

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