Kurobozu – The Black Monk

Kurobuzu

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

If you wake up after a restless night, with reeking breath and gasping for air—beware! You might have had a visit from the breath-stealing Kurobozu; the Black Monk.

What Does Kurobozu Mean?

It doesn’t get less complicated than this! 黒 (Kuro; Black) + 坊主 (Bozu; Monk). As with many yokai, the “monk” part does not have any particular religious meaning. Many yokai have this as part of their name, which could just as easily mean “stranger.” Kurobozu is also used as an alternate name for other yokai like the umibōzu and takabozu.

During the Edo period, classes and traveling were high restricted. Most were not permitted to leave their home town, and posted waypoints on the road rigorously checked passports to make sure everyone stayed put. Itinerant monks were one of the few classes allowed free travel, so they were often the only unfamiliar faces who ever wandered into town.

That and the bald heads. Almost every yokai with “bozu” in its name is inevitably bald.

What Does a Kurobozu Look Like?

Aside from the bald head, the Kurobozu is depicted as vaguely human-like, although shrouded in a pitch black monk’s robe. It is like a living shadow. Its head is featureless, except for the vague appearance of two eyes that sometimes reflect the light. The lack of face leads some to consider the Kurobozu to be a type of Nopperabo.

Based on the two types of Kurobuzo stories, the images are often merged into a bear-like monster wrapped in a monk’s robes.

The Kurobozu of Tokyo

During the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), sensationalist newspapers ran illustrated stories of crime, yokai, and other supernatural happenings. These stories were often very short; a bit of text accompanied by an eye-catching illustration. This is how the Kurobozu entered the yokai pantheon, in the 663rd issue of the Yubinhouchi Shinbun (郵便報知新聞; Postal Intelligence Newspaper).

A family living in the Kimata area of Tokyo reported a strange disturbance. Each night while they were sleeping a strange presence would appear in their bedrooms. The presence hovered over the wife, leaning close to her. It slobbered over her face, and sucked her sleeping breath from her mouth. In the morning, the wife’s breath and face would stink of rotting flesh. She fell ill. Unable to tolerate it any longer, the wife went to stay at a relative’s house. The mysterious Kurobozu did not follow her there, and she was able to recover her health. After some time, she returned home and has reported no further disturbance. The Kurobozu has disappeared.

The Kurobozu of Kumano

There is another legend of a creature called a Kurobozu that comes from the Edo period, and is recorded as a local legend of Kumano in the kidan-shu Sankawa Kidan (三州奇談; Romantic Tales of Three Rivers).

The story tells of a hunter who encounters a large, black monster out in the woods, looking something like a black bear. When the hunter shot it with his rifle, the monster grew in size until it was several meters tall. Terrified the hunter fired again, and the monster fled, moving over the difficult terrain at an incredible pace, almost as if it was flying.

Translator’s Note:

I am writing up some yokai to be used in the Pathfinder roleplaying game bestiary. The Kurobozu is one of these! (Expect more to come!)

The Kurobozu is one of many yokai about which little is known other than these two stories. It is very similar in appearance and actions to the yokai called yamachichi (山地乳), a monkey-like monster that also sneaks in at night to suck up a sleeper’s breath.

There are obvious explanations for both these yokai—either a cat snuggling up on a sleeper’s chest appearing monstrous when seen through the eyes of someone still half in dream, or the well-known phenomenon of sleep paralysis.

But no matter the real-world explanation, the Kurobozu still makes a pretty cool monster. So if you are a fan of pen-and-paper roleplaying games, go dive into the world of Pathfinder and do battle with some yokai.

Shigeru Mizuki’s Pre-War Notes: An Age of Buried Humanity

Mizuki_Shigeru_Portrait

Translated from Asahi News

93-year old Shigeru Mizuki—famous artist of manga such as Gegege no Kitaro—recently discovered notes he wrote 73 years earlier before he was shipped off to fight in WWII. The notes are written on 38 pages of Japanese paper. In it, the 20-year old Mizuki writes of his fear of death. He attempts to overcome his fear with philosophy and religion, and to make some sense of his impending death.

Mizuki_Shigerus_Prewar_Diary

Mizuki wrote:

“In order to understand who you are, you must be free of egotism, to see yourself as you truly are. You can be of no use to others when you, yourself, are corrupt. That is one of Nietzsche’s great lessons. Whenever I read that I am filled with admiration. I owe him greatly. My purpose is that if I read these words over and over again, eventually I will internalize them and become the type of person they embody.”

And:

“50-100,000 men are dying in this war every day. Of what point are the arts? Of what point is religion? We aren’t even permitted to contemplate these things. To be a painter or a philosopher or a scholar of letters; all that is needed are laborers. This is an age painted with the earth tones of graveyards. An age of buried humanity, where people are just lumps under the earth. I sometimes think being alive at this time is the only thing worse than death. Everything of worth has been discarded. What remains is violence; political authority; that’s what kills us. I have no more capacity for tears. My only relief is to lose myself in music, in painting. I turn pale at the thought of war, but that’s how I win.” (October 6th, 1942)

And

“I learn morality through philosophy, through art, and religion like Buddhism and Christianity. But nothing strengthens me to face my own death. The philosophy is too wide.”

Shigeru Mizuki and Father

The booklet was found by Mizuki’s eldest daughter Haraguchi Naoko when she was going through some of her father’s old papers in his office in Chofu, Tokyo. She said “Reading it was like reading my father’s mind, as he screamed against his fate. I could understand his feelings perfectly. I was overwhelmed.”

The essays have no titles. The dates are inconsistent and not always labeled. Examining the document, it looks like they were written in 1942, between October-November over the period of a month. At the time Mizuki attended school at night. He was drafted into the army the following spring. Mizuki endured fierce fighting on the island of Rabaul in Papa New Guinea, where he lost his arm in a bombing raid.

Translator’s Note:

The discovery of this note has a beautiful serendipity to it, considering I have just finished putting the final touches on my translation of the final volume in Shigeru Mizuki’s epic autobiography/history Showa: A History of Japan. It reminds me of one of the final pages in the 4th volume, where a desperate Mizuki turns towards the reader and pleads across the years:

“Never forget it was real! This actually happened to us!”

As years pass and people die—like my own grandparents, long since gone—it is easy to see stories like this as just stories. For many, WWII has no more reality than the 300 Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae. They both make for great movies, but little else. Living links like Mizuki forestall this passage of history into legend, all the more so because he is an artist able to record and transmit his personal testament across the years. Like Will Eisner and his comic Last Days in Vietnam, Mizuki forces people to confront some of the humanity of war they might rather not think about—like having to poop on a faraway island where going outside makes you a target for enemy attack.

This note puts another human face on Mizuki’s trials. Peeking inside his head across 70 years you see a different person than the lazy layabout he portrays in his comic. I can’t imagine the darkness of being 20 years old, a soul full of art, and seeing nothing before you but a grave. Well, maybe I can imagine it a little bit—that’s the power of Mizuki’s creation. He lets us in.

I am again thankful that Showa: A History of Japan was translated into English while Mizuki is still alive. We have a tendency to wait until people are dead to honor them. Not only translated, but every volume of Showa has been nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award. I’m hoping the final volume keeps up the tradition (and maybe even wins).

The West has been the last to discover Mizuki—he wrote this comic 20 years ago and it was long ago translated into Spanish, French, Italian, and Chinese … pretty much every major language but English. I’m not sure what that says about us, if it says anything at all. Tastes are different; times are different. Translating Showa has been a personal project for me, something that truly changed my life. It’s amazing how much has happened since I wrote Drawn and Quarterly that blind email so many years ago. I am actually thankful that no one else took on the task over the past twenty years.

I sometimes feel Mizuki was waiting for me to come along …

And if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend you check out Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa: A History of Japan. It’s a great comic.

Showa 1926-1939 A History of Japan

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan

Showa 1939-1944 A History of Japan

Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan

Showa 1944-1953 A History of Japan

Showa 1944-1953: A History of Japan

Showa 1953-1989 A History of Japan

Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan

Cruel Attack at a Inari Shrine—Four Statues Broken at Kego Shrine in Tenjin, Fukuoka

Broken Inari Statue

Translated from: http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/nnp/photo/show/102187

April 25, 2015 (Updated April 26, 2015)

At about 1 AM on the morning of the 25th, in 2Chome, Tenjin ward, Fukuoka City, four stone fox statues were found broken on the grounds of Kego Shrine. The police station made a check for other property damage. The statues were pushed off their bases and their heads broken off. So far, no tools or implements have been found that may have been used in the crime. There are no suspects.

According to a patrolman, the four statues were located at the main shrine at the south entrance of the temple grounds. This deity of the shine is the “Goddess Inari of Profits and Gains” The statues were approximately 1.2 – 1.5 meters in height. It is thought the heads were broken off before they were pushed off their bases. They were discovered by a temple volunteer walking the perimeter.

Headless Inari Statue

According to the police, temples and shrines in Nara and Kyoto have been desecrated by someone splashing an oil-like substance on the shrines. It is not known if the two attacks are related.

The statues were carved by Kunihiro Seiho (76) and his father. They dedicated the statues in thanks of a long and healthy life of good work. Seiho was enraged, saying “I would visit the statues once a month. They mattered. Why would anyone do something like this? I can’t understand at all.”

Translator’s Note:

I’ve never put up a newspaper article here before, but there seemed to be a lot of interest in this so I thought I would! A terrible act of vandalism.

Ashinonai Yūrei (足のない幽霊) – The Footless Yūrei

Female Ghost by Kunisada (1852)

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

The gentle drops of falling rain. A lonely willow tree standing near a graveyard. And a Japanese ghost, called a yūrei, waiting below. This is our image of a yūrei, and when we imagine this picture of the yūrei, it has no feet. But why?

When yūrei are compared to the ghosts of neighboring countries like China and Korea, it is the ashinonai, or footless, aspect that is considered uniquely Japanese. Chinese ghosts wear a similar burial costume, but they saunter about on ghostly feet rather than float above nothingness like their Japanese cousins.

…and yet, it cannot be said that all yūrei are footless. You can often hear the sounds of ghostly footsteps in older kaidan stories. In the popular kaidan Botan Doro the arrival of the yūrei Otsuyu is announced by the karan, koron of her wooden geta sandles. And in Noh theater, many of the ghostly characters sport magnificent footware. Ashinonai Yūrei did not appear until later.

The origin of the ashinonai yūrei image is usually attributed to The Ghost of Oyuki, however the earliest known depiction appeared sixty years before Maruyama Ōkyo’s birth.

Quarrel_between_the_Empresses_of_Retired_Emperor_Kazan

An unknown artist drew a footless yūrei in the picture-book of the puppet play Kasannoin Kisakiarasou (1673; Quarrel Between the Empresses of Retired Emperor Kazan). The picture is just a small sketch in the upper-left corner of the page, but it clearly shows the vengeance-seeking yūrei Fujitsubo as a footless apparition. Another book from the same era, called Shiryō Gedatsu Monogatari (1690; The Story of the Salvation of a Ghost) also features a small image of a footless yūrei. It is not known whether Ōkyo would have seen either of these works.

Speculation on the reason behind footless yūrei falls into a few main camps. One school of thought is that clouds were considered traditional vehicles of transportation for deities and ascended beings in Japan. It was said that these yūrei were being whisked around by clouds, but with the clouds not completely drawn in and only covering the feet. Another, more grim speculation is that the artists were influenced by a Chinese holy text called Juuou-e that says souls judged to be carrying sin in the afterlife will have their legs hacked off by demons and must crawl on stumps through the afterlife.

Other, more romantic ideas have been proposed. In his book Nihon no Yūrei, Keio University professor Ikeda Yasaburo suggested that Maruyama Ōkyo was inspired by the haze of incense smoke rising into the sky, and drew his yūrei as if they were half composed of this smoke. Others say that Ōkyo painted The Ghost of Oyuki from memory, and that the image represents his lover sneaking off to the bathroom at night, her bottom half hidden in the dim candlelight. Yet another unrelated theory says that ashinonai yūrei originate from Bunraku puppet theater, where long robes hide the feet of female puppets and the hands of puppeteers.

It is most likely that a combination of these explanations is true. Whatever the reason, while the white face and wild hair of Edo period yūrei are still very apparent today, this absence of feet has not survived into the modern age. Only a few films, such as the 1995 Picture Bride, are still careful to retain this detail. For the most part the ashinonai yūrei is a creature of the past.

Picture_Bride_Movie

Translator’s Note:

One of the cold hard truths of publishing a book is page count. More pages = more costs, and sometimes you just have to trim! That means that several sidebars that were planned to go into Yurei: The Japanese Ghost had to get cut. But that’s OK! Because I can still share them here!

I am happy to report that Yurei: The Japanese Ghost is officially at the printers. We should be getting a proof copy soon, and if all goes well then the book will be ready to be printed and delivered!

Thanks again to everyone for your support and patience!

Goshiki Fudo – The Five Fudo Temples of Tokyo

Sourced from Japanese Wikipedia, OnMarkProductions, Hamadayori.com, and Other Sources

Goshiki Fudo Statue

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Five temples stand guard at strategic stations around the city of Tokyo, each at different points on a pentagram. Inside these five temples are five statues of the god Fudo; each statue has eyes of a different color, completing a magical circle of protection that guards the city from harm and ensures its prosperity. This mystical circuit is called the Goshiki Fudo—the Five Fudo Temples—and still protects Tokyo to this day.

Or is it all a lie?

What Does Goshiki Fudo Mean?

The kanji for Goshiki Fudo (五色不動) is simple—it translates as Five-Colored Fudo. The number five itself is significant. It comes from Buddhist traditions, where sequences of five are considered sacred, such as the Five Buddhas (五佛; gobutsu) or the Five Wisdoms (五知; gochi). These in turn are based on the idea of the Five Senses (五識; goshiki) and the theory of the Five Elements (五行; gogyō).

(Most of this section is sourced from the brilliant OnMarkProductions. Check out his site for a much more in-depth look at the number five in Buddhism—and everything else.)

The five colors (五色; goshiki) are associated with the five elements and the five directions. There are different combinations of colors depending on what sect of Buddhism you belong to (and maybe even a secret sixth color if you are a mystical type).

One of the most common sets is:

  1. Blue = East, Green (compound color), Spring, Wood, Meditation
  2. Red = South, Scarlet (compound color), Summer, Fire, Zeal
  3. White = West, Crimson (compound color), Autumn, Wind, Faith
  4. Black = North, Purple (compound color), Winter, Water, Wisdom
  5. Yellow = Center, Brown (compound color), Earth, Memory

These five colors were used for all sorts of magical items, such as the Five-Colored Cords (五色の糸; goshiki no ito) used for rituals in the Heian period, or the Five-Colored Water (五色水; goshiki sui) ceremony held in some temples to commemorate the historical Buddha’s birthday.

There are more examples, but the gist is this—put those five colors together and you are talking some serious magic.

For the remaining kanji, you have the god Fudo (不動), whose name translates literally as “unmovable.” He is a particularly cool god. Fudo looks like an oni with his fierce visage, proudly upheld sword, and flaming throne. There’s really too much to be said about Fudo to go into it here, but suffice it to say if you were going to pick a god to defend your city in a magical circle of protection, Fudo is a good god to gamble on.

Blue Fudo

The Legend

According to legend, in the early 17th century the new shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu asked the abbot Tenkai to establish a mystical circle of protection for Edo, the new capital of Japan. To complete his task, Tenkai drew a symbol of the onmyōji—a 5-pointed star—around the city. He consecrated each point of the star with a temple. Inside each temple was a statue the god of Fudo, each with a different eye color. The statues combined to bind the power of the five sacred colors and provide the desired mystical protection.

The Facts

The facts are far less fun.

The Goshiki Fudo does not exist. If you look at a map, the designated the temples don’t make a pentagram, except in the most imaginative sense. There aren’t even five temples. And on top of that all the Goshiki Fudo temples are conveniently located along the central Yamanote train line that circles Tokyo.

Meguro Station

Meguro Train Station from this site.

That’s right; the legend is a tourist trap, with little historical basis.

The oldest known mentions of the Goshiki Fudo comes from the Meiji period. Apparently there is some connection to a mystery novel that was popular at the time. The story used the idea of the five-temple circle of protection as a plot device. The details are tenuous and I wasn’t able to track down the actual name of the novel, but most sources agree that this is where the legend began (or perhaps this mysterious book is a legend itself?). The legend grew from the popularity of the book, and people just assumed that the locations were real.

Goshiki Fudo Map

Map of the Goshiki Fudo from this site.

Just as every year tourists flood London seeking 221B Baker Street in a quest for Sherlock Holmes’s apartment, and Platform 2 ¾ to catch the train to Hogwarts, during the Meiji period people heard of these magical five temples and went in search of them. As we will see below, the Black Eye and White Eye temples were easy enough to find, but the other ones were a little bit harder—due to the fact that they didn’t exist. With all those tourist dollars up for grabs, it didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to turn these fictional locations into reality.

Enterprising priests were quick to take advantage of the legend-seekers and started to declare themselves the home of the missing three Fudo. They painted the eyes of their statues to match the legends and try to draw in the crowds.

The end result is that you get multiple locations, all vying for authenticity. Finally, these settled into the six temples known today, with at least two temples claiming to be the authentic “Yellow Eye.” In reality, with the exception of the Black and White Eyes, all of the statues can be traced to around the 1880s.

The Five (I mean Six!) Temples of Fudo

The Goshiki Fudo Statues

Image of the six Fudo statues from this site.

At least two Goshiki Fudo locations appear to be genuine: Ryosen-ji and Konjyo-in, known also as Meguro (目黒; black eye) and Mejiro (目白; white eye).

The temple Ryosen-ji dates back to the 9th century, and has an ancient black-eyed statue of Fudo known by the name Meguro Fudo (Black-eyed Fudo). This is the only authentic Fudo statue in the set. The Yamanote line train stop for this area of Tokyo is also called Meguro, and is a name most Tokyoites are familiar with.

Meguro Temple

Another train stop down the line is called Mejiro. While this is read as White Eye (目白), the area is named after a type of bird—the zosterops japonicus AKA Japanese White-Eye—and not a Fudo statue. However there is a nearby temple, Konjyo-in, that dates back to the 16th century. Like many temples, Konjyo-in has a Fudo statue. Over the years, people noticed the Black Eye/White Eye dichotomy and their imagination made a connection.

During the Edo period, there was some vague mention of the “Three Fudos,” of which the Black- and White-Eye Fudos may be connected. The Meaka (Red Eye) is usually considered as the third candidate for the triumvirate, but there are several thousand Fudo statues in temples around Tokyo and nobody really knows for sure. There is also mentions of statues of the Four Deva Kings (known as the Shitennō in Japanese) positioned to protect Edo. Along with the mystery story, these have probably morphed into the modern Goshiki Fudo legend.

Goshiki Fudo Blue Eyes

The Red-Eyed Fudo from this site, which has more pictures

The current declared temples are:

  • Meguro (目黒;Black Eye) – Ryosen-ji (Spring Waterfall Temple) – Dating from 808 AD
  • Mejiro (目白;White Eye) – Konjyo-in (Parliament of the Power of Money) – Dating from 1594
  • Meaka (目赤;Red Eye) – Nankoku-ji (South Valley Temple) – Dating from 1616. – Claims to be associated with Red-Eyed Fudo from 1788. Fudo statue and temple burned in WWII. Reconstructed in 1985. Relocated in 2011, with old temple grounds turned into a parking lot.
  • Meao (目青;Blue Eye) – Saisho-ji (Great Victory Temple) – Dating from 1882, built over the top of a previously ruined temple. Blue-Eyed Fudo statue installed as part of construction.
  • Meki (目黄;Yellow Eye) – Eikyu-ji (Eternity Temple) – Dating from 1880, Constructed with Yellow-Eyed Fudo installed as part of construction. The book Kanto no Fudosan to Shinko identifies this as the true Meki.
  • Meki (目黄;Yellow Eye) – Saisho-ji (Great Victory Temple) – Same name as Meao, but unrelated. Dating to 860. Moved to Hirai ward in 1912. Exact date of association with Goshiki Fudo unknown.

There are still others that claim to be authentic. Ryugan-ji, for example, claimed to be the real Meki in 1930, but no one is really buying it and it rarely makes it on the tourist maps. There are others as well, but none of note.

The SkyTree Building

Tokyo SkyTree

Image from the Tokyo Times site

Real or not, many still believe in the power of the Goshiki Fudo. Like other mythical locations of dubious heritage, the legend has become the fact—enough to where some in Tokyo actually worry about disrupting the magical circle. Most notably in the case of the SkyTree Building.

Built in 2010 and completed in 2012, the building’s official name is Tokyo SkyTree, which was chosen as part of a naming contest. When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, people went looking for answers and some laid the blame (perhaps egged on by the slightly mad governor of Tokyo, Ishihara Shintaro) on SkyTree breaking the power of the Goshiki Fudo.

According to legend, the Goshiki Fudo was established to protect Edo against the north. In geomancy, the northern direction is called the Gimon or Demon Gate and is considered unlucky. Tokyo SkyTree was built in the North, which was rare for sizable Japanese buildings. Some Feng Shui practitioners say its shape resembles a Poison Needle, drawing the unlucky power of the North down into the soil of Tokyo. Some modern spiritualists further say that the Tokyo SkyTree building is constructed over a Ley Line, disrupting its flow of power into Tokyo.

To the contrary, the building’s designers claim the Tokyo SkyTree is a Gorin-to—a 5-Story Pagoda—and thus adds extra protection against the unlucky northern direction.

Neither advocates nor distractors can quite explain how the Goshiki Fudo failed to protect against neither the 1923 Great Kano Earthquake nor the WWII firebombing of Tokyo long before the building of the disruptive SkyTree.

Translator’s Note

This started out as a simple research question for Wayward, but ended up in a deep exploration of the true nature of the Goshiki Fudo. It was a trail that lead to a somewhat disappointing end, mainly because I prefer to believe in the magical and mystical. However, the tourist trap nature of the Goshiki Fudo was inescapable. But then I wondered if that even mattered. After all, it is often the belief that creates the reality, not the reality that creates the belief.

The fact that it was originally devised as a tourist trap doesn’t stop people from believing in its power. The symbolism and story is more important than history. Thousands visit the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto every year, even though it was only built in 1955 and finished in 1987. They pay homage to the graves of the 47 Ronin, even though that is a tourist trap as well. The sites serve more as a focus of belief and cultural heritage–a way to reinforce what it means to be “Japanese”—than as some record of history.

It is no different from Christians going on pilgrimages to see holy icons. They aren’t “real.” Any amount of research reveals that they were tourist traps, from the Shroud of Turin to pieces of the True Cross. But that doesn’t affect the honest emotions they summon up for believers.

Or for that matter American pilgrims going to see the Liberty Bell. The fact that it could not possibly have been rung on July 4th, 1776 (as the legend goes) does not mean that the story isn’t good, or prevent it from being a powerful symbol of the country. Every country has similar venerated forgeries. The Wallace Sword on display in Scotland mostly likely did not actually belong to William Wallace.

And when I was in London, I went to 221 Baker Street to see the home of Sherlock Holmes. I knew it was pure fiction, but that didn’t dampen the feeling that I was standing in the home of the Great Detective.

After all, as a wise man once said “When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.”

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