Todomeki – The Hundreds-of-Eyes Demon

Shigeru_Mizuki_Todomeki

Translated from Konjaku Hyakki Shui, Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara, and Japanese Wikipedia

A young girl covered entirely in a tattered robe creeps up to you on a darkly lit street. A poor beggar girl, she thrusts out a hand for alms, hoping that you will take sympathy on her plight. But just as you go to reach for your wallet to drop a few coins in her hand, the lamplight flickers exactly so and you see a site that will terrify you for as long as you live. For on that outstretched arm glitter hundreds of eyeballs, blinking in the reflected lamplight.

What Does Todomeki Mean?

A tricky question! Looking straight at the kanji, todomeki means “hundreds-of-eyes demon.” That is 百々 (todo; hundreds) + 目 (me; eye) + 鬼 (ki; demon). But if you listen to the word instead of reading the kanji, then you hear some of those homophones Japanese is famous for and you realize that the name “todomeki” is a pun—at least a pun understood by those in the Edo period.

There is another reading for todome, which is鳥目, meaning “bird’s eye” (鳥 todo; bird) + (目 me; eye). This doesn’t refer to an actual bird’s eye, but more to its shape. In old Japan, coins had a round whole hole stamped through them so they could be strung together and carried on a string. Some modern Japanese coins still retain this feature, mainly 5 and 50 yen pieces. This round hole reminded people of the perfectly round shape of a bird’s eye, so “todome” became a slang term for money. Furthermore, when a person has a “bird’s eye,” it mean that they were night blind—they couldn’t see at all in the dark.

As you will see by the story, the yōkai todomeki plays off of both of these puns.

The Story of Todomeki

Sekien Dodomeki

Todomeki appears only in Toriyama Sekien’s Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hakki (今昔画図続百鬼; The Illustrated One Hundred Demons from Past and Present). He tells her story thusly:

“The unofficial history of Hakkoseki tells of a young girl was born with unusually long arms. She took advantage of her natural attributes to become a thief, constantly stealing money. But the spirit of money took its own revenge, and marked her body with hundreds of bird’s eyes, one for every coin she stole. She transformed into the todomeki, a hundreds-of-eyes demon. Tales of the todomeki are told in the unofficial histories of several places. She possibly originates from Toto.”

That’s it! That’s the sum total of the legend of the todomeki!

Like Kyokotsu, Todomeki is one of Toriyama’s “pun yōkai.” Toriyama had several volumes of his popular “Illustrated One Hundred Demons” series to fill, and not nearly enough yōkai to fill them. He often invented his own yōkai, based off of half-heard legends or mélanges of Chinese folktales or just completely made up. And sometimes he just took odd turns of phrases and made puns out of them.

It’s the equivalent of creating a monster book filled with creatures like “Bird Brain” and “Slow Poke” with the creatures treated literally—in other words, like names of Pokémon characters.

This means that Todomeki has no true history or backstory. Toriyama just thought of a visual pun and then wrote a quick story to go with it.

But there is another story of a yōkai with a similar name. A much more interesting story …

The Domeki – The Hundred-Eyed Oni

While Toriyama upped the ante by giving his todomeki “hundreds of eyes” instead of a standard-issue hundred, there are other yōkai in Japanese folklore known by the name domeki, or hundred-eye demon (or oni). These stories generally follow a set pattern of a monster doing battle with a warrior, and that monster then seeking refuge in a temple where it mends its ways and finds Buddhism. That peculiar little twist marks the stories as coming from around the Heian period, when stories of the supernatural were almost always accompanied by some tacked-on Buddhist moral that allowed them to slip by the official censors.

One of these legends comes from Tochigi prefecture. Many researchers believe that Toriyama had at least casually heard of this legend, and that accounts for the line “She possibly originates from Toto” in Toriyama’s book.

This story comes from the middle Heian period, and is set in in Hitachi province (modern day Ibaraki prefecture) and Shimosa province (modern day Chiba prefecture). Here, there was a feudal lord named Taira no Masakado who tried to set himself up as an independent emperor in what came to be known as the Masakado Rebellion. Needless to say, the current emperor and his imperial court weren’t pleased with Masakado’s behaviou, and dispatched the law enforcement officer Fujiwara no Hidesato to administer a death warrant.

Hidesato tracked Masakado across the provinces; crossing swords with him many times. However, he was unable to succeed in his mission.

At a loss, Hidesato returned to his home in Shimosa province and pleaded with the kami spirits, holding a prayer for his victory. Hidesato was granted the use of a sacred sword from the shrine, and headed off hunting again. At last he took Masakado prisoner and brought him before the imperial court for justice. For this service Hidesato was then appointed Chinjufu-shogun (Defender of the North) and awarded the governorship of Shimotsuke Province.

Now elevated in status, Fujiwara no Hidesato built a great mansion at Utsunomiya, Tochigi. One day he was hunting along the Tagen Kaido road when he passed a small village called Ouso. An old man hailed him and so Hidesato road over to hear what his subject had to say.

The old man told Hidesato that to the northwest of the village, in a town called Umasuteba, near Uta, there is an oni with a hundred eyes ravaging the land. The people of that village lived in fear, and the old man begged Hidesato to rid them of the monster.

Accepting the challenge, Hidesato road to Umasuteba (another pun of sorts; “umesuteba” translates into English as the “Horse Throwing-away Place”) where he hid and laid in wait for the oni. Around midnight, the clear sky became covered with clouds and a great monster appeared. Standing 10 shaku tall, it’s hair was sharp like knives and it had a hundred blazing eyes. The monster saw Hidesato’s horse and leapt on it instantly, killing it and feasting on its flesh. Hidesato took about his bow and took aim at the distracted monster, targeting the single eye that was shining the brightest. He let loose an arrow. The arrow pierced the oni’s eye and entered into his vital organs.

Such was the power of Hidesato’s arrow that the oni was knocked backwards and flipped in a somersault, raging in pain. The demon ran away all the way to Myojin mountain where he collapsed and died. He waited till the following day to view the oni’s body, but found nothing but scorched earth and ash. Hidesato figured that molten fire must have poured from the monster’s wounds burning the corpse and surrounding area.

But the story does not end …

About 400 years passed. The Ashikaga clan took power and started the Muromachi shogunate. On the north side of Myojin mountain, in the village of Hanawada, a temple had been built called Hongan-ji. The chief abbot of that temple was the holy man Chitoku.

At that time, there was a young woman who lived at Hongan-ji. She was said to be truly virtuous and close to a living saint—she did everything right and lived the true path of Buddhism. She fooled almost everyone; except for Chitoku.

In truth, this virtuous woman was the domeki, that self-same hundred eyed oni who was thought to have died on that spot 400 years ago. The domeki hid its shape in disguise while recuperating from its wounds. And it drank blood—oceans of human blood—over those 400 years, biding its time until it was fully healed and could return to its malicious behavior.

Chitoku saw through the domeki’s illusion and revealed its true shape. Its plot uncovered, the domeki attacked the abbot and they were locked in a fierce battle. The oni’s flaming blood spurt everywhere, reducing the temple to ash. And while Chitoku engaged the oni, thrashing at it with his holy staff, he preached the truth of the Dharma. The domeki, finally hearing the words of Chitoku, dropped to its knees and begged that sutras be read for its soul. The domeki changed its ways and never caused trouble again.

The fame of this story spread, and the area became known for its carved hundred-eyed domeki masks and wooden toys.The path to Myojin mountain is stilled called the Domeki-dori(百目鬼通り).

Domeki_Dori

Picture from this blog

Translator’s Note:

 

Another article for reader Dominique Lamssiesk. I expected to do a quick translation of todomeki as requested—easy because there is really so little to tell—and then I stumbled into the very cool tale of the Domeki. That should probably get its own entry, but I couldn’t find any pictures to go along with it, so it is getting lumped in with Todomeki. But it is still a cool story!

There is another hundred-eye yōkai, the Hyakume. That is an original creation of Shigeru Mizuki, and I might do an entry on it someday.

Suppon no Yurei – The Turtle Ghost

Mizuki_Shigeru_Suppon_no_Yurei

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

The big cities in the Edo period were full of shops that specialized in the soft shell turtle dishes called suppon. If the truth be told, this was because people at the time believed that suppon was an effective remedy for hemorrhoids. But this isn’t that kind of story.

There were three guys in Nagoya city who loved suppon. Every chance they got, they would go out drinking and wind up at a suppon restaurant. It wasn’t that they had hemorrhoids or anything—they just loved the taste— true gourmets for all things turtle. Or more than that. These guys just couldn’t get enough; they had a kind of suppon mania.

One day they decided to try a new suppon restaurant, but when they went in they felt like something was wrong. They couldn’t help but notice that the proprietor of the restaurant’s face looked very much like the turtles he was serving. The rest of his body had a greenish tint, and his flesh was scaly. But it wasn’t until he rose up on his impossibly long legs that they realized they were dealing with a suppon yurei, a turtle ghost.

The three men ran from the shop as fast as their legs could carry them. When they got back to their house, they hid under their blankets and shivered with fright for two, then three days until they were brave enough to show their faces to the world. None of the men ever ate suppon again.

Translator’ s Note:

Another yokai tale of overeating for Thanksgiving. The original to this story comes from the Edo period kaidan-shu Kaidan Tabi-no-Akebono (怪談旅之曙; Weird Tales of Voyages by Daybreak), where it was titled Suppon no Bakemono. Mizuki Shigeru changed the title to Suppon no Yurei, which is an interesting choice seeing as yurei is a word generally reserved for the spirits of humans. But it is not always so, as you can see.

Suppon_no_Bakemono

Suppon no Yurei s is one of the rare tales of yokai turtles. Turtles play an odd place in Japanese folklore. On the one hand they were treated as serene gods and spiritual animals, on the other hand they were considered quite capable of bloody revenge. Their ability to bite and hang on indefinitely gives them their reputation. Tales of yokai turtles always call out the turtle’s nature as ”shunenbukai” (執念深い) , meaning tenacious , spiteful, or vindictive.

The particular tale is considered to be a variation of Takenyudo (Tall Priest) legends. These legends are similar to the Nopperabo legends (see Shirime – Eyeball Butt) where an ordinary encounter suddenly turns extraordinary when someone you thought to be human exhibits supernatural characteristics. In the case of the Nopperabo, this is a lack of face. In the case of Takenyudo—and the Suppon no Yurei—it is suddenly stretching to an inhuman size.

Suppon no Yurei is ambiguous on how the turtles managed to manifest a semi-human appearance for their yokai. Are these the ghosts of the dead turtles? Or is this a classic henge shape-shifting turtle out to protect his brethren from winding up in the pot? No one really knows, and the guys in the story don’t stick around to find out. Mizuki tries to clear up this ambiguity by re-naming the story “Suppon no Yurei,” implying a spirit of a dead turtle. Based on my knowledge of Japanese folklore, I would vote for a long-lived turtle who transformed into a yokai and gained supernatural powers. But then, turtles are already long-lived so this one would have had to have been around for a long, long time.

Mizuki Shigeru does make a note that it is perfectly OK to enjoy a meal of suppon—he personally loves suppon—just don’t eat too much of it. Moderation is key if you want to enjoy your food without invoking the wrathful spirits of animals.

Further Reading:

For more Thanksgiving yokai of overeating and other turtle tales, check out:

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

The Sprit Turtle

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

Kitsune no Yomeiri – The Fox Wedding

Mizuki_Shigeru_Kitsune_no_Yomeiri

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, Showa: A History of Japan, Tales of Old Japan, Kaii Yokai Densho Database, and Other Sources

On a day when the sun shines bright and the rain falls, wise parents advise their children to play indoors. It isn’t that they are worried about them catching a cold. No, it is something more mysterious. For on such days the kitsune, the magical foxes of Japan, hold their wedding processions.

From Sakurai city in Ibaraki prefecture to Kashihara city in Nara prefecture, tales of Kitsune no Yomeiri appear all over Japan— with the sole exception of the northern island of Hokkaido. Most stories follow similar patterns with only slight variations. There are two phenomena referred to as Kitsune no Yomeiri—the bizarre weather called sunshowers where rain falls in broad daylight; and the procession of foxfire, called kitsune-bi (狐火), winding through the mountains late at night.

What does Kitsune no Yomeiri mean?

Kitsune no Yomeiri combines the kanji狐の (kitsune no; Fox’s) with嫁入り (Yomeiri; Wedding). In a literal translation, yomeiri means to “receive a bride,” as the custom is for the groom’s family to receive the bride on the wedding day as a proper member of their family. Until the middle-Showa period, Kitsune no Yomeiri Gyoretsu (狐の嫁入り行列; The Fox Wedding Bridal Procession) was more commonly used. But most drop Gyoretsu in the modern age. Just getting lazy, I suppose.

While Kitsune no Yomeiri is the most common term, there are regional versions of the same phenomenon. In Saitama and Ishikawa prefectures it is known as Kitsune no Yomitori (狐の嫁取り; The Taking of a Fox Bride). In Shizuoka it is called Kitsune no Shugen (狐の祝言; The Fox Wedding Celebration).

In Tokushima, the Kitsune no Yomeiri is a less happy occasion. It was called the Kitsune no Soshiki (狐の葬儀; Fox Funeral) and seeing one is considered an omen of death.

The Foxfire Lantern Procession

Fox Wedding Painting

The Kitsune no Yomeiri has long been a part of Japanese folklore, although with the rise of the Inari Fox-cult during the Edo period it gained a greater significance and cultural permeation. A description of Kitsune no Yomeiri comes from the book Echigo Naruse (越後名寄; Encyclopedia of Echigo) published during the Horeki period (1751-1764).

“On dark and quiet nights, in secret places, strings of lanterns or torches can be seen stretching out single file in an unbroken chain more than two miles long. It is a rare site, but an unmistakable one. It can be seen most often in Kanbara county, and it is said that on such night young foxes claim their mates.”

The procession of lights became associated with weddings as it mirrored Japanese wedding ceremonies at the time. Based on traditions established during the Muromachi period (1392–1573), weddings were held at night and the bride was escorted over to her new home by a lamplight parade. This type of ceremony—called the Konrei Gyoretsu (婚礼行列; Wedding Procession) —lasted until the mid-Showa period when Western wedding ceremonies replaced traditional Japanese ceremonies.

Legends of the Kitsune no Yomeiri merged with existing stories of kitsune magic and bewitchment. People who tried to follow these foxfire lantern processions would find that they disappeared as soon as they got close—although on rare occasions traces of the ceremony were found. Shunjitsu Shrine in Saitama prefecture was said to be a popular place for fox weddings. Whenever a Kitsune no Yomeiri lit up the night, the mountain road leading to the shrine was covered with fox poop the following day.

Fox Wedding Kimono

Stories of Kitsune no Yomeiri continued well into the Edo period. In Toshima village (modern day Kita-ku, Tokyo) Kitsune no Yomeiri was seen on several consecutive nights, eventually becoming one of the Seven Mysteries of Toshima. Mt. Kirin in Niigata prefecture is full of foxes, and Kitsune no Yomeiri was said to be a common occurrence. In both Niigata and Nara prefectures, Kitsune no Yomeiri was thought to be a good omen for the harvest, with the more lanterns being seen the more fruitful the harvest. A year with no fox weddings made people dread the upcoming famine.

The foxes of Gifu prefecture didn’t just content themselves with lanterns. The foxfire procession was accompanied by the sound of cracking and blazing bamboo, although when examined the following day the forests appeared untouched.

Scientific Explanation for Kitsune-bi

The procession of lamplights is not only a widespread phenomenon in Japan; it is worldwide. Japanese kitsune-bi is different from foxfire in Western legends, which comes from a phosphorescent fungus. It is more akin to the Will-o’-the-wisp, also known as ignis fatuus or “Fool’s Fire.”

The most common explanation is that these fires are the oxidation of the chemical phosphine caused by decaying organic matter, such as can be found in forests. Other suggestions are that they are a mere optical illusion caused by the setting sun. But there is no scientific evidence for either of these theories.

The foxfire procession kind of Kitsune no Yomeiri are rarely seen today. This is most likely due to the 1950s deforestation of Japan’s native forests and replanting with fast-growing industrial cedar. Whatever magic of the forests that produced the foxfire lights, it is now gone, sacrificed to industry.

Sunshowers and Fox Weddings

Hokusai_Kitsune-no-yomeiri

The Meiji period Tanka poet Masaoka Shiki wrote:

“When rain falls from a blue sky, in the Hour of the Horse, the Great Fox King takes his bride.”

Another strange natural phenomenon goes by the name of Kitsune no Yomeiri, and in the modern era is much better known. On days when the sun shines and it still rains—a weather condition called tenkiame (天気雨) in Japanese or sunshowers in English—foxes are once again thought to hold their wedding ceremonies.

How sunshowers became associated with fox weddings is vague. Some say that it has to do with mountains where foxes are mostly found. There are times when mountains are covered in rain, while the town below is clear. People said that the foxes summoned the rain with their magic to hide their wedding ceremony. Others just think that because sunshowers are a mysterious occurrence, going against the natural pattern of clouds and rain, that people assumed a supernatural origin and associated it with foxes.

Although most pre-Meiji period accounts are of the foxfire processions, Katsushika Hokusai captured the sunshower-type in his painting Kitsune no Yomeiri-zu (狐の嫁入図; Picture of a Fox Wedding). The sunshower fox wedding was also mentioned in a 1732 Bunkraku puppet play Dan no Ura Kabuto Chronicles (壇浦兜軍記; The Chronicles of a Helmet of Dan no Ura).

As always, there are regional variations. In agricultural regions the sunshower version of Kitsune no Yomeiri was a good omen, promising rain for the crops and many children for the any new brides lucky enough to be married on such a day. In Tokushima, sunshowers are known as Kitsuneame (狐雨; fox rain) and not associated with weddings. In Kumamoto prefecture fox weddings are associated with rainbows, and in Aichi prefecture they are associated with hail.

How to See a Kitsune no Yomeiri

Fox Wedding Ink Painting

While most people go out of their way to avoid seeing strange phenomena (getting wrapped up in kitsune magic is rarely healthy in Japanese folklore) there are a few rituals for the brave and the curious.

In the Fukushima Prefecture, a bizarre ritual exists of wearing a suribachi mortar on your head and sticking the wooden pestle in your belt, then standing under a date tree. Of course, this only works on the 10th day of the 10th month of the Lunar calendar.

Aichi prefecture has a much easier method—just spit in a well and weave your fingers together. You are said to be able to view the Kitsune no Yomeiri though the gaps in your fingers.

But most stories advise against seeing a fox wedding—foxes are powerful in Japanese folklore, but dangerous. A wise person keeps well away.

Kitsune no Yomeiri in Literature

During the Edo period, numerous writers and kaidan-shu collections included first-hand accounts of Kitsune no Yomeiri, including those of people wandering into the middle of them and participating. The Kanei period (1624-1645) Konjyaku Kaidanshu (今昔妖談集; Kaidan Collection of Times Past), the Kansei period (1789-1801) Kaidanro no Tsue (怪談老の杖; A Cane for Old Kaidan Folk), and the Bunsei period (1818-1830) Edo Chirihiroi (江戸塵拾; Picked up Dust from the Edo Period) all contained first-hand accounts of encounters with Kitsune no Yomeiri.

Kitsune no Yomeiri Ukiyoe

Some of the stories can be grim. A tale set in the Warring States period (1467-1568) tells of a young bride who suddenly fell sick and died. The night of her burial, a foxfire procession passed over her gravesite. Some are more uplifting, like the tale of an old couple who cared for a wounded fox pup, and many years later were honored guests at the fox’s wedding procession. Most stories, however, are of the voyeur nature—just a glimpse caught by a frightened soul hiding behind a tree when the wedding train passes by.

Mizuki Shigeru remembers being warned as a young boy against going outside during sunshowers. He writes about his memories of Kitsune no Yomeiri in his comics NonNonBa and Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. Kurosawa Akira featured the sunshower-type Kitsune no Yomeiri in his film Dreams

From Algernon Freeman-Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan, 1910

Algernon Freeman-Mitford describes the sunshower type of Kitsune no Yomeiri from the foxes’ point of view in his 1910 book Tales of Old Japan: Folklore, Fairy Tales, Ghost Stories and Legends of the Samurai:

“Once upon a time there was a young white fox, whose name was Fukuyemon. When he had reached the fitting age, he shaved off his forelock and began to think of taking to himself a beautiful bride. The old fox, his father, resolved to give up his inheritance to his son, and retired into private life; so the young fox, in gratitude for this, laboured hard and earnestly to increase his patrimony.

Fox_Wedding_Woodblock_Print

Now it happened that in a famous old family of foxes there was a beautiful young lady-fox, with such lovely fur that the fame of her jewel-like charms was spread far and wide. The young white fox, who had heard of this, was bent on making her his wife, and a meeting was arranged between them. There was not a fault to be found on either side; so the preliminaries were settled, and the wedding presents sent from the bridegroom to the bride’s house, with congratulatory speeches from the messenger, which were duly acknowledged by the person deputed to receive the gifts; the bearers, of course, received the customary fee in copper cash.

When the ceremonies had been concluded, an auspicious day was chosen for the bride to go to her husband’s house, and she was carried off in solemn procession during a shower of rain, the sun shining all the while. After the ceremonies of drinking wine had been gone through, the bride changed her dress, and the wedding was concluded, without let or hindrance, amid singing and dancing and merry-making.

The bride and bridegroom lived lovingly together, and a litter of little foxes were born to them, to the great joy of the old grandsire, who treated the little cubs as tenderly as if they had been butterflies or flowers. “They’re the very image of their old grandfather,” said he, as proud as possible. “As for medicine, bless them, they’re so healthy that they’ll never need a copper coin’s worth!”

As soon as they were old enough, they were carried off to the temple of Inari Sama, the patron saint of foxes, and the old grand-parents prayed that they might be delivered from dogs and all the other ills to which fox flesh is heir.

In this way the white fox by degrees waxed old and prosperous, and his children, year by year, became more and more numerous around him; so that, happy in his family and his business, every recurring spring brought him fresh cause for joy. “

Kitsune no Yomeiri Matsuri – Fox Wedding Festivals

Fox Wedding Parade

Kitsune no Yomeiri remains a popular aspect of Japanese culture and folklore. Many towns hold Kitsune no Yomeiri festivals re-creating the famous processions. Most of these festivals are modern—coming from the 1950s to as recently as the 1990s—and were started as tourist attractions to draw people into town. Local politicians and businesses participate in the festival, and sometimes the fox bride and groom are selected as a sort of “beauty pageant.”

Not all are modern tourist traps, however. The Yokaichi city, Mie prefecture Kitsune no Yomeiri procession to Suzakiha Mamiyashimei Shrine dates back to the Edo period, and is a ritual to drive out evil spirits and ask for blessings for the harvest. The festival in Kudamatsu city, Yamaguchi prefecture, has also been held since ancient times, although it bears little relationship to popular images of the Kitsune no Yomeiri. It involves asking the blessing of a pair of white fox deities whose wedding ceremony is re-enacted every year.

Translator’s Note:

The latest entry in my series on yokai who appear in Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. In the story, a young Mizuki Shigeru is told about foxes and Kitsune no Yomeiri by his friend and mentor, the local wise woman NonNonBa. Mizuki does not believe her until, later that night, he hears foxes barking from the mountain that NonNonBa talked about. It is at that moment he realizes all of NonNonBa’s stories—and the yokai themselves—are real.

Further Reading:

For more yokai from Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa: A History of Japan check out:

Hidarugami – The Hunger Gods
Sazae Oni – The Turban Shell Demon
Nezumi Otoko – Rat Man

For more kitsune stories, check out:

Tsukimono – The Possessing Thing

Aoandon – The Blue Lantern Ghost

Translated and Sourced from Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

In the 100 candles game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, when the last story is told and the last light extinguished, something is said to appear from the darkness. For some in the Edo Period, that “something” had a name—Aoandon, the Blue Lantern Ghost.

Who is the Aoandon?

Toriyama Seiken originated the legend of the Aoandon in his kaidan-shu Konjaku Hyakki Shui (今昔百鬼拾遺; Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past). According to Toriyama, the Aoandon is a female spirit with long black hair, two horns poking out of her head, black, sharp teeth, and dressed in a white kimono. She is a sort of merger of the Aoi Nyobo (Blue Wife) and Hannya (Devil Woman) of traditional Japanese folklore.

The name Aoandon (青行燈) means very simply “Blue Lantern,” and is a reference to the blue-tinged lanterns that became popular as the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai game evolved.

Toriyaam Seiken’s Aoandon

Written on Toriyama Seiken’s Aoandon picture:

“When the final lantern is doused, and the shadows hang heavy, the Aoandon appears. In modern games of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, the lanterns are covered in blue paper giving an eerie light. People gather on dark nights to trade stories of evil things. But to talk about evil things is to summon them.”

Blue Lanterns and Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

The game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai started out very simple; a hundred lit candles were placed in a room, and as ghost stories and weird tales were told in order, a single candle would be extinguished. With each story the room got progressively darker. When the final candle was expunged, some supernatural creature was said to be summoned.

Exactly what was summoned was never made clear. In one of the earliest recordings of a Hyakumonogatari Game, in the kaidan-shu Tonoigusa (宿直草), the game was played in a cave by a group of samurai. When the last candle was being put out, a giant hand appeared to come down from the ceiling. A quick slash of a the sword showed that the hand was nothing more than a spider, whose enormous shadow cast by the last candle had appeared as a giant hand.

As the game left the warrior caste and moved into the realm of the townsfolk, it evolved. In order to create a spookier atmosphere, candles were replaced by specially prepared blue lanterns to give the gathering a more mysterious feel—an early form of mood lighting. These lanterns, called andon, consisted of paper panels in bamboo frames set over candles or oil lanterns. Normally the paper was white, but for Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai gatherings the white paper was replaced with blue. (Andon can still be seen all over the world nowadays, although most of them are electric instead of burning actual candles or oil.)

The game got even more sophisticated over the centuries, and even a little bit more lazy. Instead of lighting a hundred lanterns, sometimes oil lamps were prepared with specially made wicks that counted down from one hundred. Which each story, part of the wicks was cut, bringing the light down until the final cut. Some games would place the lantern in a room away from the main gathering place, next to a mirror. After each story, the storyteller would have to walk alone into the room, cut their wick and then stare into the mirror.

Many gatherings actually cut their event short after the 99th tale, with no one being brave enough to walk into the room for the final story.

Speak of the Devil, and the Devil Appears

It has long been a tradition in Japan that talking about ghosts and monsters attracts ghosts and monsters. They need the right atmosphere to appear, and the 100 candles Hyakumonogatari Game was all about setting the right atmosphere. If you talk about it, it will come.

But until Toriyama Seiken wrote about the Aoandon in his Konjaku Hyakki Shu, there was no consensus on what appeared. Toriyama did what he often did when inventing new yokai; he took a common phrase or word and imagined a spirit to go along with it. In the case of the Aoandon, he imagined the extinguishing of a blue lantern, and the ghost woman that might be waiting in the dark, or looking back at you from a mirror.

Like many of Toriyama’s creations, there were attempts to craft a story onto the Aoandon. Artists Kondo Misaki imagined a woman consumed by jealousy who transformed into a yokai and was cursed to haunt these blue lanterns, waiting for her chance to appear. When the mirror aspect of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai was invoked, she served as Japan’s version of Bloody Mary, a test of courage and the tricks your mind can play on you when you are alone with a mirror in a darkened room.

Translator’s Note:

The Aoandon is not exactly the most exciting yokai—pretty much a name and a picture—but since this is officially my 100th post on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (and my blog finally lived up to its name) I thought it was time for the Aoandon to appear. I am nothing if not a traditionalist.

However, this particular game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is far from over. I have lots more yokai to do and many more Japanese ghost and monster stories to translate for you. Thanks for reading!!

Shudan Borei – A Group of Ghosts

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

On July 28th, Showa 30th (1955), in a heartbreaking incident 36 junior high school girls drowned on a beach in Mie prefecture. Of the nine girls who survived the incident, five had the same story to tell.

The girls were all playing and swimming in the calm waters, enjoying the gentle lapping of the waves. Without warning, the water seemed to gather together, and a dark mass rose from the surface of the ocean. The mass took the shape of people in WWII air-raid hoods, dark in color, soaking wet and pouring water from every surface. As the mass rose, the figures become more defined, dressed in old-fashioned women’s work pants. There were hundreds of them.

The girls tried to get away, but the water seemed to be sucked up towards the dark figures, dragging the girls towards them. One of the girls who survived said she felt a hand grab her leg and try and pull her under the water. She was able to break the hands grasp and make her way to the shore, but her friends were not so lucky.

Afterwards, students who were on the beach and not in the water confirmed the story and all of its details. They saw the ghosts rising and dragging the girls under the water.

After investigating the incident, it was discovered that exactly ten years before the incident, U.S. aircraft had firebombed that area, killing around 250 people. The bodies were not cremated, but were piled without ceremony into a mass grave on that beach. In this way one tragedy became two tragedies, as the ghosts of the war dead rose up again.

Translator Note:

The kanji for this is集団 (shudan, meaning “group” or “gathering”) and亡霊 (borei, which is a somewhat Gothic term for “ghost”).

This story is based on a actual event, called the Kyohaku Junior High School Drowning Incident (橋北中学校水難事件) in Japanese. The school had gone to the beach as their annual excursion, and as swimming practice for the girls. At the time, swimming had been added to the official school curriculum, but as the school had no pool swimming practice was held in the nearby, usually calm ocean.

The school principle and teachers were arrested and charged with negligence—the school was short-handed and had not brought along the required number of adult observers, and parents claimed their children were not yet strong enough swimmers to be unsupervised in the ocean. Ultimately, they were found not-guilty and cleared of charges. The girls’ deaths were ruled a mysterious, unfortunate accident. A pool was quickly built for the school, and the students no longer practice swimming in the ocean.

Observers reported a sudden swelling of the waves and a rise in the water level that drowned the girls. Of the nine surviving girls, five reported a sensation of pulling on their legs, as if the sand was sucking down on their feet, holding them down while the water rose. Several also reported seeing the dark shape of women in air-raid hoods rising from the water.

In 1956, the Ise Newspaper reported on the story of the war dead buried on the beach, noting that most of the dead had been refugees and were thus buried without name or ceremony. In 1963, one of the girls published an article in a Joshi Jishin magazine (Women’s Own Stories) called “How I survived an Encounter with a Ghost” that further spread the supernatural origin of the drowning.

Several scientific explanations have been offered for the sudden swelling of the water based on the geographical features of the beach, along the supernatural one. It is clear Mizuki Shigeru prefers the supernatural explanation.

The beach remains off-limits for swimmers. A year after the incident, a shrine was raised on the location, and a statue called the Goddess of Protecting Swimmers in the Ocean was placed on the beach as a memorial.

Further Reading:

For more tales of haunted oceans, read:

Umi Bozu – The Sea Monk

Funa Yurei – The Boat Ghosts

Nure Onnago – The Soaked Woman

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