Ah, it's been a while, hasn't it? Well here, have seven new entries.
Really. You'll recall last year at this time, the week leading up to Halloween, I posted an entry a day detailing Japanese ghost stories and folk tales. Well, I'm ready to do it again! But instead of ghost stories, this year I'd like to tell you about seven yōkai.
you may recall that yōkai aren't necessarily a "scary" thing in Japan.
Of course, I think some of the yōkai I will cover this week will be
quite scary, but some yōkai are just troublemakers, and some are even
helpful. But we won't talk about those since it's near Halloween. I'll
stick to ones that are generally frightening or, barring that, at least
manage to cause death and destruction. Even though the word "yōkai" is
often translated into English as "monster," in Japan they run the gamut
from the horrifically demonic, to helpful house-keepers. Mostly they
leave humans alone and want to be left alone, and only strike out with
anger if they are disturbed, or wronged, or bored. Mostly, yōkai are
just creatures, things, unique to Japan, part of the odd and wonderful
nature of things that dwell within our country. We fear them, we
respect them, we put up with them. Many yōkai scholars describe yōkai
as the embodiment of strange or unexplainable phenomena. "What is that
strange sound outside of my house?" "Oh, it must be one of those types of yōkai that makes sounds like that." "Why do I have an ache in my ear?" "Oh, it must be one of these
yōkai that like to mess with humans' ears." Many such yōkai came about
this way. But then, what about the particularly well-known and
disturbing ones whose stories seem to have spread throughout the country
on their own? Thousands of people across Japan don't just happen to come up with the same stories and ideas about the appearance and habits of yōkai simultaneously.
Well, it's because they're real, of course.
true, they're not seen so often as they were back in the days of Old
Edo, but it's not because of new scientific understanding or loss of
interest. Yōkai are still everywhere in Japan, people just forget how
to see them, because they don't know what they're looking for. But
yōkai should never be forgotten. They are essential in the preservation
of Japanese folk culture, and an important and fascinating element of
So, let's do a series of yōkai corresponding to the elements!
I have to have a theme, right? There are far, far
too many yōkai to just choose at random. So let's start out in order
of the gogyou (五行), the five elements in accordance with Chinese
philosophy. First up is wood, 木.
You may recall last year that I did a semi-yōkai legend, that of the Jinmenju. But you can't believe that Japan is the type of country to have just one frightening monster tree. In fact, we have several. Today, let's learn about the Jubokko,(樹木子).
you've ever seen a samurai movie, you know that Japan has a long and
bloody history of war and executions. In some of your campier films,
you'll see more blood thrown around than clever wordplay, and Japan is a
country that loves its wordplay. Dying a particularly violent or
unjust death makes weird, bad things happen, as the numerous vengeful
onryō ghosts and yōkai roaming around have shown us. But what about all
of that spilled blood? It has to go somewhere, too.
execution sites are wrought with misfortune, and the large amounts of
angry blood seeping into the ground causes a particularly vicious breed
Trees on these sites, roots innocently searching for
nutrients, were fed large amounts of blood, and it spread up through the
tree like it was running through human veins. As the blood gave so
much more nourishment than mere water, the Jubokko trees found
themselves addicted to it. Soon, the trees had turned themselves into
vampiric demons, only able to feed off of human blood.
course, eventually the wars ended and execution sites were closed down
or moved. However, the vampiric trees remained. Standing in the
now-empty fields, they shift their leaves and branches, not toward the
sun, but toward the pathways. When humans walk by, the branches lash
out and envelop the person, striking at him and sucking his blood into
their abnormal veins. It is said that the Jubokko prefer to feed from
children, as a child's blood keeps the tree looking unnaturally fresh
the death of their children and loved ones by vampire tree was
something the people of Japan wished to prevent. Taking axes to the
Jubokko, they found the trees much stronger than normal trees, and when
cut open, would bleed just as a human would.
is unknown how to tell if a tree is a Jubokko other than cutting into
it or staying wary of particularly fresh-looking trees standing
ominously in weird old battlegrounds. Some stories say they're also
able to communicate with one another into shifting position and
disorienting the traveller so that he becomes lost and encircled by the
Jubokko horde, which then feeds on his blood. I guess the best advice I
can give to you is... well... if you're wandering around in Japan,
don't stand too close to the trees.
Jubokko as they appear in Devil Summoner.
don't be too afraid! You should always try to enjoy nature in Japan.
Recently, a group of yōkai experts held an academic conference and
thoroughly discussed the history of the Jubokko. The group decided that
they were unable to find any hard evidence detailing the origins or
sightings of the Jubokko prior to its appearance in the Yōkai
Encyclopædia of yōkai master Mizuki Shigeru, determined that it must
have been invented by him, though Mizuki never reveals which yōkai are
real and which are the product of his own imagination.
A Jubokko in Mizuki's famous work, GeGeGe no Kitarō.
I wish I could have been at that yōkai conference.