Sunday, October 28, 2012

Umi-bōzu, Monster Monks from the Sea

Our next element is water, 水.  I did a water ghost before, and in fact, the Funa-Yūrei have a bit in common with today's yōkai, but they are vastly different in appearance, location, lore, and whatnot.  They are, however, sometimes considered to be partners-in-crime, if for no other reason than because a lot of really freaky things exist in the ocean.

This is not a yōkai.  This thing is definitely swimming around in the water right now.  Tastes damn good, though.

So you're drifting about at sea, perhaps it's stormy weather and you brought a crew along, after having rudely ignored my warnings of the Funa-Yūrei.  But you've managed not to go out during O-bon, and you're far enough away from the shore to worry about ghostly ships haunting the ports.  You think you're safe.  The yōkai and I laugh diabolically at your folly.  There's nowhere to go, you should know that by now.  At least five yōkai, three ghosts, and even a couple of kami can inhabit your bathroom toilet alone.

Suddenly, you see a mass of blackness gathering just under the water.  It looks almost like a bloom of jellyfish rising to the surface.  And it looks just like a jellyfish coming out of the water.  An enormous jellyfish.  Several stories tall.  With eerily glowing eyes that watch you.  And it's entirely made of a black, ghostly shadow.

This is the Umi-bōzu, (海坊主), or "Sea Monk," so-named because the orb-like head resembles that of a Buddhist monk's shaven head.

Umi-bōzu aren't particularly monklike, though.  They have been known to appear in various sizes, from that of a tiny Umi-bōzu the size of your palm, to an enormous, towering mass of blackness that blocks out the stars.  Medium-sized Umi-bōzu like to capsize ships.

Unfortunately for you, I don't know of any foolproof way to stop them.  Some are said to be weak to tobacco smoke, and I heard of one story where a notable man of noble lineage was able to confuse it with a pun of some sort and make his way back to land in the Umi-bōzu's confusion, but noble people are always making puns and getting themselves even more killed for it, so I seriously wouldn't recommend it.

The larger Umi-bōzu seem to just... hover there.  The nature of the yōkai is such that I wonder why the sea water the Umi-bōzu composes itself of becomes so black and ominous-looking.  Probably they commit even more terrifyingly nefarious deeds than I can even imagine and go on to describe here.

A happy Umi-bōzu can't possibly be good news for you.

Umi-bōzu aren't just the stuff of Edo-era fisherman's tales, though.  Several Umi-bōzu have popped up in relatively recent popular culture.

Don't be caught off-guard by his adorable visage on the Mizuki Road.

An octopus-like Umi-bōzu appears in the video game Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

With this model kit, you can build your very own Robo-Umi-bōzu, complete with shooting laser-beam nose.  Your guess is as good as mine.

It's interesting that Umi-bōzu seem to be depicted in modern times as funny and cute, because I remember being deathly afraid of them as a child.  Just the thought that this monstrous creature had access to the whole of the ocean's water at his disposal with which to make his creepy black nebulous body gave me nightmares.

They scare me much more than the Funa-Yūrei.  I'm not sure why I've been so freely admitting my fear of certain yōkai to you in these past few entries.

The Umi-bōzu's card in the famous Obake Karuta deck.

And I'll end it with the picture that terrified me as a child, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi:

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