We're getting closer and closer to the end of Japanese Ghost Story Week. I hope you've been enjoying it!
土 means earth. Not the planet Earth, but physical earth, like soil, mud, and dirt.
So what is today's creature? Is it a yōkai? A ghost? Or perhaps... a ZOMBIE?!
Dorotabō, "Rice Paddy Man" or "Muddy Man".
There was an old man who lived in the countryside. He didn't have much, and had scraped all of his savings together to buy a small piece of land. To provide as best he could for his family, he decided he should become a farmer, a job which could be quite lucrative. Unfortunately, most rice paddies at the time were owned by a system of class, where the wealthy lord would buy all the land, and the farmers and their families would live in their own annexes on the compound. With no benefactor, and all the good land bought up by wealthy families, the farmer was left with a small strip of inhospitable land.
Regardless, for the sake of his family, he worked very hard to turn it into a rice paddy, and yield some crop. He was able to keep motivated by thinking of how good he would make the land, a continuous source of income for his son, and an asset for his future grandchildren. With this, he was able to create, out of the infertile land, a fine and functioning rice paddy.
Until the end of his days, the old man would go out and till the field, never taking a break when he felt ill and feeble. He was happy that he had made his humble family self-sufficient in these times. When he died, he left behind a productive rice field. Not only that, but he had just finished harvesting the last of the crop and flooded the paddy, leaving it ready for a brand new planting to begin, and more work and money to be made.
Unfortunately, his son had grown up seeing the old man work himself so hard, that the boy had no interest in following in those footsteps. He sold the rice paddy and went to Yoshiwara, the red light district, and spent all of the money on sake and prostitutes there.
He made his way home after a day or two, when his head was clear, and there he found an angry neighbour waiting at his door.
"Oh, there you are. You look like hell! How drunk are you?"
The boy waved her away, trying to get by into his house.
"I don't approve of your lifestyle, but I won't tell you how to live it!" his neighbour lady shouted. "What I will tell you is that we could hear you singing and screaming and who knows what else, at all hours of the night!"
"Crazy old woman!" the boy groaned, his head still throbbing "I wasn't home last night."
"Well! Someone certainly was here, making a great row at a time when no person should be awake, and keeping me awake, keeping everyone else awake too!"
The boy shut his door on the old lady and fell asleep right when he hit his bed.
That night, he was awoken by a strange noise. It sounded faraway at first, but gradually became louder and more unruly. It was like a cat yowling, or someone crying... the boy yelled outside "Very funny! Be quiet, I want to sleep!"
The moaning reached an ear-splitting pitch, and the boy's blood ran cold. That voice... so monstrous, yet so familiar, a haunting, ghostly groan that seemed to be coming from just outside his window.
"Noooo, boooooy... doooon't sleeeeep... get up and till the fieeellldddssssss..."
The boy let out a scream, and hid. Still, the watery voice continued.
"Give me back my laaaaand! Give me back my laaaaand!"
Over and over again, this horrible cry. It wouldn't stop. The boy knew he could never sleep. He went outside to look at the rice paddy, with its disgusting muddy smell and wet land full of bugs and other disgusting creatures. It was here that he saw the most disgusting creature of all.
It was rising, connected, out of the muddy rice field. It looked to be in the shape of a man, crawling in a grotesque way. Seeds and bugs and mud and dirt beaded off of the figure like sweat, oozing. The thing's hands, however, were long like claws, and only had three fingers. And it turned, looking at the boy, and all he could see was that ghastly face.
It looked inhuman. Sticky mud flowed over the face, whose mouth was open in a scream, and the eye boring into him. Just one eye, located in the middle of this face. The mouth opened and closed a few times, and screamed again, "Give me back my laaaand!"
The voice, the face... it was his father. Not only was the rice paddy filled with mud and frogs and other crawly things, but it also was full of the blood, sweat, and tears of the old man who worked his whole life to create something out of where once there was nothing. The mud creature, the remains of his father, crawled throughout the field, lamenting over his beloved land.
The boy ran from the house, and did not return.
It is said that if you buy land with an old rice paddy on the property, make sure that you spend the night before the purchase, to see if the old man is there. He will appear night after night, and you'll never be able to sleep as long as you stay.
The Dorotabō's origin can be traced to Sekien's work.
I've mentioned that Toriyama Sekien catalogued many yōkai, and released books with 100 or so monsters with art and verse, to be enjoyed and told around 100 Ghost Story Night. Many of the yōkai, however, were of his own creation, and they tended to be born, not out of strange legends, but clever puns he had come up with. The monsters are often a play on words or a literal representation of a popular phrase.
Dorotabō is a dirty yōkai, and not only because he is made of mud. His origin story is rather filthy by all accounts.
At this time, many old people had their hearts broken to see their youth piss away all time and money in the pleasure districts of the New Yoshiwara. They would beg their children not to go to Yoshiwara, and instead to stay at home and till the fields, and not cause any more shame and embarrassment on the family.
It was then that a lot of the young men decided to till the fields in earnest. Not at home, but in Yoshiwara. This stems from the popular slang at the time.
Which is dorota wo bō de utsu, informally shortened to 泥田棒, dorota bō, which literally means "Putting the rod in the rice paddy", ie, having sex. So Dorotabō, using the kanji for rice paddy and man, instead of rice paddy and rod, was created.
It gets a bit worse... but I won't go into it here. Suffice to say, I had my work cut out for me while selecting this week's stories. Many Japanese folk tales are extremely sexual and wrong by Western standards (which is why you'll see a ton of English translated work which says "I won't go into detail here" or put from the Japanese into Latin, because Victorian sentiment thought that the Japanese idea of sex as something publicly acceptable for entertainment and to be talked about jokingly was simply ghastly).
I won't go into detail here...
I'll let you try to figure out the rest of the horrible allusions in this story on your own. Depending on your level of depravity, you may get them all!
But let's just say the nicest joke about the Dorotabō is that he has only one eye in the middle of his head. Like a penis.
Though Mizuki Shigeru, in his excellent yōkai anatomy book, Yōkai Daizukai, tells us that Dorotabō actually does have two eyes, one is just hidden under skin.
And here's more of his Dorotabō in GeGeGe no Kitaro.
As well as on his Mizuki Road.
And finally, here's Dorotabō taking part in a festival.
That should do it for today. Now I'm off to till the fields!