Neko Musume – Cat Daughter

Neko_Musume_Old_and_New

Translated and Sourced From Ansei Zakki, Gegege no Kitaro DVD Magazine, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

Part Cat / Part Human, the Neko Musume are interesting and unique creatures in Japan’s pantheon. A different animal altogether from the shape-changing bakeneko, Neko Musume are mixed-race children that show both traits of their parentage.

What Does Neko Musume Mean?

The kanji for Neko Musume is (almost) completely straight forward. 猫 (neko; cat) + 娘 (musume; daughter). Right there in the name you can see that Neko Musume are the daughters of cats.

The only twist is that the term “musume” can just as easily refer to young girls as daughters. Like many familiar titles in Japanese, they distinguish both age and blood ties. This usage is not as common in modern Japanese, but was much more common during the Edo period from whence the Neko Musume sprang.

Misemono Neko Musume

Misemono Bear Daughter

No photos exist of the original Neko Musume, but this is a similarly exhibited girl known as the Bear Daughter, from this site

Of all of Japan’s yokai, the Neko Musume might have the oddest beginning. The term can be traced back to a particular exhibit at a particular Misemono Show in Asakusa during the 1700s.

Misemono Shows (Seeing Things) were popular from the Horyoku to the Meiwa era (1751-1771). Simply put, they were a combination of American freak shows and “Believe it or Not” exhibitions. Skilled crafters presented yokai artifacts like kappa mummies and oni skulls, along with historical relics and strange artifacts. The original “Fiji Mermaid” exhibited by P.T. Barnum was a product of these shows. There were also sideshow performers like jugglers, acrobats, and fire eaters. And then there were the human “misemono,” often people born with birth defects who were exhibited under outrageous names and with fictional backstories.

One of these was the Neko Musume, exhibited in Asakusa during this time. Reaching a height of popularity around 1769, nothing is known about the true identity of this original Neko Musume. There are no known pictures. Accounts state that her appearance was remarkable—she looked exactly like the human/cat hybrid she claimed to be. Whether this was simply an uncanny appearance, the result of birth defects, clever prosthetics and make-up, or some combination of them all is not known. But the Neko Musume was a popular and startling attraction at her booth in Asakusa.

Misemono Bear Daughter Front

Another photo of the Bear Daughter from this site

With the fading of the Misemono Shows in the 1780s, the Neko Musume disappeared from history—at least for a while.

Edo Period Neko Musume

Shungyosai_Name-onna_Neko Musume

Neko Musume appeared a few short decades later, in 1800 when the kaidan collection Ehon Sayoshigure (絵本小夜時雨; Picture Book of a Gentle Rain on a Late Autumn Evening) was published. One of the stories in the collection was called Ashu no Kijo (阿州の奇女; The Strange Woman of Ashu). It told the tale of the household of a rich merchant, who had a daughter with a strange habit of licking things. Her tongue was rough like a cats. Rumors arose as to the nature of her parentage, and she was given the nickname of Neko Musume. The same story was told later in 1830 in the satirical Kyoka Hyakki Yakyo (狂歌百鬼夜興; Poems of the Night Parade of 100 Demons) but instead of Neko Musume the girl with the strange habit was called Name Onna (舐め女; Licking Girl).

Another Edo period publication called Ansei Zakki (安政雑記; Miscellaneous Notes on Ansei) has a story of a Neko Musume. This one is particularly noteworthy, as the Ansei Zakki was not a kaidan collection but a diary collecting interesting political and historical facts of the time. The following is presented as a true story.

The Story of the Cat Daughter (From Miscellaneous Notes on Ansei)

In the 3rd year of Kae (1850) in the Ushigome district of Yokotera machi (modern day Shinjuku, Tokyo) there lived a mentally disabled girl named Matsu. Ever since she was a child, she had the strange habit of dragging the discarded heads and guts of fish from the garbage and eating them. She was exceedingly nimble, and would scurry along the hedges and walkways like a cat, trapping mice and eating them.

Because of her cat-like nature, she gathered nicknames like Neko Kozo (猫小僧; Cat Kid) and Neko Bozu (猫坊主; Cat Priest). Many speculated on her nature, wondering if she was suffering for some deeds in her past life, or if the essence of a cat had mingled with her own life essence as a baby resulting in this remarkable girl.

Her mother worried about her eccentric behavior and summoned doctors and prayed to gods to help her daughter. None could find the cause or cure. At her wits end, she tried to beat the cat out of her daughter, but to no avail. All hope lost, her mother shaved her daughters head and sent her to be a nun, hoping to expunge whatever past sin had made her a monster. But this didn’t help a bit. The cat daughter still sucked the organs of fish and continued her eccentric behavior. She was expelled from the nunnery and sent back home.

Matsu was relentlessly bullied by the other children in her neighborhood. The children chased after her, but because she was nimble as a cat she would escape by flying over the rooftops. No one could touch her. And she was popular amongst the adults for clearing out any rat infestations and keeping the neighborhood clean. Eventually, her mother saw the value in her strange daughter and started renting her out as a rat catcher to her neighbors. For a sen, the cat daughter would crawl under their houses or into their garbage piles and feast on all of the rats.

Showa Period Neko Musume

Kamishibai Neko Musume

In 1936, Neko Musume was revived by Shigeo Urata, one of the pioneers of kamishibai (paper theater) storytelling. Kamishibai was a popular pre-war entertainment, where itinerant storytellers wandered from town to town delivering chapters of the latest adventures of popular characters. Urata’s version of the Neko Musume took the form of a Buddhist morality story—a tale of karmic cause-and-effect. In his story, there is a father whose occupation is making cat-skin shamisen. His soul bears the weight of all the cats that he has killed, and his daughter is born as a strange cat/human hybrid. Her eyes are bright and sharp and her ears are pointed and stand up on her head. Like the other Neko Musume, she chases and eats mice, scampers across the roof like a cat, and even speaks in a cat’s voice.

The Neko Musume story was popular enough to spawn imitators like the Tokage Musume (トカゲ娘; Lizard Daughter) and the Hebi Musume (蛇娘; Snake Daughter). With these later characters the Buddhist moral lesson was lost, and they became just cheap entertainment. In 1937, the police began to censor kamishibai performers under the Public Morals law. The popular Neko Musume character was targeted as the origin of these girl/animal hybrid stories.

Manga Neko Musume

Neko_Musume_Suhiji_Koku

Shigeru Mizuki started his career working as an illustrator and writer for kamishibai, and worked on several of these original series including Neko Musume and the early incarnation of Hakaba Kitaro. In the post-war period, kamishibai struggled to survive as an art form and eventually gave way to mass-market printing and the emerging manga industry. When Mizuki moved from kamishibai to creating his own series for the fledgling kashihon (rental manga) market, he brought several characters with him.

His 1958 kashihon version of Neko Musume followed the kamishibai tales, portraying Neko Musume as a horror character in the series Kaiki Neko Musume (怪奇猫娘; Bizarre Tales of the Cat Daughter). The half human / half cat girl named Midori was cursed. Her father had killed a giant black cat, and the cat’s curse fell upon the man’s daughter causing her to be born as a monster. Like Kitaro himself, this version of Neko Musume crawled out of her mother’s tomb, as her mother had died while pregnant.

Kaiki Neko Musume Shigeru Mizuki

In the early 1960s Mizuki started to have some success with his version of Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro). He introduced a prototype of Neko Musume—a cute girl named Neko (寝子; Sleeping Child) that Kitaro met at a singing completion. Her cat-like, half-yokai nature is revealed later. This was her only appearance in that series.

In the mid-1960s, Mizuki was hired by Shonen Magazine to produce a more child-friendly version of his horror comic Hakaba Kitaro. In the first series of his re-branded Gegege no Kitaro, Mizuki introduced Neko Musume into the series. She was not a main character from the start; she first appeared in a story called Nezumi Otoko vs. Neko Musume (猫娘とねずみ男). Kitaro brings her in for the sole reason of antagonizing the rat-like Nezumi Otoko and revealing his schemes.

Nezumi_Otoko_Neko_Musume_Attack

When Gegege no Kitaro moved to Weekly Shonen Sunday in the 1970s, Neko Musume joined the regular cast in the role of Kitaro’s girlfriend. He name was changed again, this time to Nekoko (猫子; Cat Girl) and she was given a more yokai-like appearance than her previous incarnations. As an interesting contrast, this version wasf not a yokai, but a human with a strange disease that transformed her into a cat whenever she saw fish or mice.

Anime Neko Musume

Neko Musume History Gegege no Kitaro

Image from this site

Neko Musume appeared sporadically in the original Kitaro animated series, and didn’t become a regular character until the second series. She was called Neko Musume, instead of the Nekoko of the comics. Her personality was quite different, however. She even joined Nezumi Otoko on his money-making schemes.

It wasn’t until the 1980s Gegege no Kitaro anime that the modern version of Neko Musume was born. This animation took all the different versions of Neko Musume and made her into a single character, the half-yokai / half- human cat girl. Again was in the role as Kitaro’s sometimes girlfriend, her appearance was also mostly fixed at this time. She appeared in the familiar white blouse, red dress, and red hair ribbon. That is the Neko Musume that most of the world knows today.

Neko Musume Mizuki Shigeru RoadNeko Musume character from Mizuki Shigeru Road

Translator’s Note:

This was a fun journey, because everyone loves Neko Musume even if they don’t know much about her. Few people realize that she has roots beyond Mizuki Shigeru and his beloved comic Gegege no Kitaro, and that the Neko Musume is a legitimate yokai in her own right and not some version of the bakeneko.

I have often been asked why the Kitaro comics translated into English don’t have Neko Musume, and the truth is that she just doesn’t appear in the comics all that often. It often works that animation has different needs from comics, and just as Bluto is only a minor character in the original Popeye comics, Neko Musume is a minor character in Gegege no Kitaro. Her popularity in the cartoon eventually broadened her role in the comic, but she was never a main character like Nezumi Otoko or Medama Oyaji.

And of course, Jim Zub and Steve Cummings created their own modern, updated version of the Neko Musume in the yokai comic Wayward Volume 1: String Theory, that I write the back-up essays and Yokai Files for.

I’ve been waiting for Ayane’s true nature to be revealed in issue #8 before posting this history of the Neko Musume. Personally, I think the girl from Ansei Zakk and Ayane would have gotten along just fine.

Neko Musume Ayane Wayward

Jakotsu Baba – The Old Snake-Bone Woman

Jakotsu_Baba_Shigeru_Mizuki

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

If you are wandering through the woods at night and stumble upon something that looks like a carved stone stamped with the symbol of a snake—run! Maybe it’s nothing. Or maybe you have stumbled across the hidden grave of the long-dead Jako Emon. And that means that you are seconds away from an encounter with his wife, The Old Snake-Bone Woman called Jakotsu Baba.

What is the Jakotsu Baba?

With definitely one of the coolest names of all the yōkai, the Old Snake-Bone Woman’s kanji reads exactly that. 蛇 (ja; snake) + 骨 (kotsu; bone) +婆 (baba; old woman.) Depending on the region and dialect, she might also be known as Jagoba, the Five-Snake Woman: 蛇 ( ja; snake) + 五 (go; Five) + 婆 (baba; old woman).
The Jakotsu Baba originally appeared in Toriyama Sekien’s Konjaku Hyakki Shui (今昔百鬼拾遺; Supplement to the Hundred Demons from the Present and Past). In the illustration she is drawn as an old woman with her body wrapped in snakes.

Toriyama wrote:

“There is an old woman from in northern Funkan-koku, China. In her right hand she holds a large blue snake, and in her left hand a red one. The people of this country call her the Jakotsu Baba—The Old Snake-Bone Woman. They say she is the wife of Jakoemon (Five-Snake Emon), and that she holds vigil over the family tombs. She is sometimes called the Jagoba—the Five-Snake Woman—depending on the dialect of the region.”

The Origin of the Jakotsu Baba

Sekien Jakotsu baba

Little is known about the Jakotsu Baba apart from what Toriyama wrote in his Konjaku Hyakki Shui. It is not known if he invented the character, or if he collected the legend from somewhere or someone. Jakotsu Baba does not appear in any prior collections, either in Japan or China. The other names mentioned by Toriyama—the Snake Family (云蛇塚) and the Old Snake-Bone Woman’s husband Jako Emon—have never been found in any other text, Japanese or Chinese. Nor has the snake-marked tomb been discovered. However, all of these peculiar and particular details give more flavor to the story than a typical Toriyama creation.

It is also interesting that this yōkai lives in China. The setting of the story—Funkan-koku—is mentioned in the Chinese geographic encyclopedia Shan-hai Ching (山海経; Classic of Mountains and Seas). Supposedly, Funkan-koku is a region particularly touched by the supernatural, and renowned for its mediums and fortune tellers. It is possible Toriyama set his story here just to give her a more mysterious air.

Yokai books from the Showa period expanded on the Jakotsu Baba and moved her mysterious grave to Japan. Showa period writers said that Jako Emon was a human, but when he died the sign of a snake was stamped onto his gravestone. To stand guard over his grave, his wife transformed into a yōkai, with a blue snake slithering into her right hand and a red snake into her left. She would attack anyone who came too close to her husband’s grave.

Blue Snake, Red Snake

Another unknown is the significance of the color of the two snakes, other than just to be freaky. The only colored snakes in Japanese folklore are white snakes, such as in the story The Tanuki and the White Snake. White snakes are considered sacred, and bring illness and death when accidentally killed.

The Snake-Repelling Stylish Emon

A yōkai figure with a similar name can be found in Minakata Kumagusu’s book Jyunishiko (十二支考; Twelve Signs of the Zodiac). Jyunishiko tells the how local farmers use charms and incantations and invoke the name of Jajai Emon (蛇除伊右衛門; Snake-Repelling Stylish Emon) as a ward when bitten by poisonous snakes. The book doesn’t go into much detail, but the “Snake-Repelling” part of Emon’s name is obvious. The fact that he is “Stylish” (伊) is just a cool addition.

Minakata says there are a few similar legends in Japan, which might account for a possible origin for the Jakotsu Baba and her Snake Family. However, this is just speculation.

The name Jakotsu Baba has been used a few times, such as in a kabuki play by Konto Mizuki and in a few Edo period short stories. However, there is usually little attachment to the yōkai described by Toriyama Sekein. His Jakotsu Baba is both too vague and too specific, and thus does not appear often in Japanese folklore.

Translator’s Note:

This was a request by reader Dominique Lamssiesk. I had a short window in my busy schedule, and fortunately as a Toriyama Sekien yōkai there wasn’t too much to tell about the Jakotsu Baba.

This is also a yōkai I didn’t know much about myself before researching it. I like the Voodoo vibe of these characters, especially Snake-Repelling Stylish Emon who I picture in a top hat looking something like a Japanese Baron Samedi. And of course the Old Snake-Bone Woman herself is a cool visual, keeping eternal watch over her husband’s grave. But for what reason and protecting him from whom? The stories never say—but I am sure an imaginative writer could fill in the details.

Further Reading:

For more yokai snake tales, check out:

Two Tales From the Konjaku Monogatari

Konjaku Monogatari

Translated and Adapted from Konjaku Monogatari – Tales of Times Now Past

How Tosuke Ki’s Meeting with a Ghost-Woman in Mino Province Ended in His Death

Tosuke Ki was traveling to his estate in Mino province. While crossing the Seta Bridge, he encountered a woman in a kimono, who asked him to deliver a small box to a lady who sat at the bridge in Kara-village.

Tosuke agreed, and was warned not to open the box. On his trip, Tosuke forgot about the box, and instead brought it home to Mino and placed it in his storeroom.

His wife, jealous in nature, thought it was a gift from a lover, and opened the box secretly. The box was full of gouged-out eyes and penises. Tosuke, being alerted by his wife to the nature of the box, immediately went to Kara-village to deliver it.

When he met the Lady on the bridge, she was outraged that the box had been looked into, and Tosuke died as soon as he got home

So they say.

How a Man’s Wife Became a Vengeful Spirit and How Her Malignity was diverted by a Master of Divination

A man had abandoned his wife of many years for no particular reason. Perhaps he had simply gotten bored of her. In any case, he left his house to go adventuring, leaving the poor woman to waste away and die in their former home.

In death, however, the stubborn woman refused to leave, and her bones stayed together, and her long black hair only grew longer. At night, strange lights and sounds would come from the house, prompting neighbors to summon a Master of Divination, to help them. The Master told the villagers that she was waiting for her husband’s return, and that he must come and break her will.

As soon as possible, the husband was brought back to the village, and during the day, the husband entered the house and sits astride his wife’s body like a horse, and held onto her hair like reigns. At nightfall, the body came to life, and tried to buck the man off, but he held on tightly and they flew out the window and roughshod over the entire countryside. When dawn finally came, the husband still clung tightly, and the wife’s will was overthrown, and her bones disintegrated to dust, leaving the husband undamaged.

So they say.

Translator’s Note:

A couple of new stories for everyone. As you noticed, I haven’t posted anything new since my snow yōkai series of December. The reason for that is I have my edited manuscript for my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost back from my publisher, and I have been busy getting those edits made and doing final adjustments to the book. If all goes well, I will be able to announce a publication date soon! And don’t forget, you can still get copies of my limited edition chapbook The Ghost of Oyuki.

I am also busy making final edits to the next volume of Shigeru Mizuki’s  Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan. Drawn and Quarterly posted a preview recently, so take a look!

Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan

In the meantime, here are a couple of tales from the Konjaku Monogatari to tide you over. I’m especially fond of the first one, as it showed up in an issue of Mike Mignola’s brilliant Hellboy comic, which all lovers of the folklore and weird tales should have in their library!

So they say.

7 Types of Yokai – Japan’s Snow Monsters

Mizuki Shigeru Snow Monsters of Japan

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

In the frozen north of the Japan, the snow piles deep and high and brings monsters. Whether riding on the avalanche, or coming in the guise of a beautiful young woman or a little lost boy, or hoping on one leg, Japan’s snow yokai are as varied and miraculous as any in folklore. Some are dangerous. Some are famous. Some are sad. Some are spectacular.

Japan’s snow monsters are like the snow itself; they bring comfort, solace, and beauty, but only for awhile. For spring comes, and snow melts, and all things must pass—good or bad.

Click Each Title to Read the Full Story of Each Yokai.

7. Yuki Jiji – The Old Man of the Snow

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Jiji

An old man who rides the avalanche, or an ancient God of Snow? The Yuki Jiji is a mysterious, powerful figure in Japanese folklore.

6. Yuki Onba and Yukinko – The Snow Mother and the Snow Child

Suuhi_Yuki-onna

Anytime a solitary woman approaches you and asks you to hold her baby for a few seconds, you are in trouble. This wintery variation on the Ubume legend delivers its own chills.

5. Yuki Warashi / Yukinbo – The Snow Babies

Mizuki Shigeru Yukinbo

One is cute and sweet—the answer to a childless couples prayers—and the other is a bizarre creature out of your nightmares.

4. Yukinba/Yukifuriba – The Snow Hags

Bakemono_Yuki-baba

Nothing ambiguous here. The Yukinba and Yukifuriba are terrifying creatures out for blood. The most horrifying of Japan’s snow yokai.

3. Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman

Mizuki_Shigeru_Tsurara_Onnna

Does she come to love you, or eat you? The Tsurara Onna goes both ways, and you are never sure just which one is going to come to your door.

2. Oshiroi Baba – The Face Powder Hag

Mizuki_Shigeru_Oshiroibaba

Another oddity of Japanese folklore—is the Oshiroi Baba a dangerous snow hag, or some long-forgotten Goddess of Cosmetics?

1. Yuki Onna – The Snow Woman

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Onna

By far the most famous of Japan’s snow monsters, the Yuki Onna is an enigma. There are thousands of stories about her, with thousands of variations. Which one is true?

Yuki Jiji – The Old Man of the Snow

Mizuki_Shigeru_Yuki_Jiji

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Kaii Yokai Densho Database, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

In the village of Hishiyama in Nigata prefecture, there is at least one avalanche every year. The snow always comes tumbling down at night, and with it comes the Yuki Jiji—the Old Man of the Snow.

What Does Yuki Jiji Mean?

No mysteries here. His name uses the kanji 雪 (yuki; snow) + 爺 (jiji; old man).

Yuki Jiji and the Avalanche

This story comes from Hishiyama in Nigata prefecture.

Every year in March, the snow comes tumbling down from the mountains in an avalanche. They only come at night, and they always herald the arrival of the Yuki Jiji. He is said to be an old man as white as the snow; white skin, white hair, dressed in a white kimono and bearing a white hei—a staff with plaited paper streamers used in Shinto ceremonies. The Yuki Jiji rides the avalanche, comfortably seated on it as it tumbles down the mountain slopes. Depending on how far the avalanche travels, the Yuki Jiji brings either a good harvest or a poor one.

Yuki Jiji of the Mountains

Yoshitoshi_The_Skulls

There hints of other stories about the Yuki Jiji, that he is a male component of the Yuki Onna—an old man who haunts the snow-covered forests and attacks travelers, or causes them to be lost. Some of these legends paint the Yuki Jiji as a person who froze to death in the mountains, and was reborn as a yokai. These legends are rare, however.

Translator’s Note:

The last of my snow monster series for December, and my last post of the year as I enjoy the Holidays! The Yuki Jiji is one of those yokai with only a single legend—the opposite of his sister the Yuki Onna!

Yuki no Kami

The Yuki Jiji is thought to be an ancient mountain god, properly termed a kami. The presence of his hei, a magical staff used in Shinto rituals, marks him as sacred—as does his connection to the harvest. But whatever cult worshiped him long, long ago he is now a member of the yokai pantheon.

This was a fun and interesting series to work on. I hit almost all the snow monsters, with the sole exception of the Yuki Nyudo (雪入道), a one-legged hopper that is identical to the Yukinbo except an old man instead of a young boy. Sadly, there isn’t much else to say about the Yuki Nyodo. So there is his entry!

Further Reading:

For more snow yokai, check out:

Yuki Onna – The Snow Woman

Yuki Onba and Yukinko – The Snow Mother and Snow Child

Yuki Warashi / Yukinbo – The Snow Babies

Yukinba / Oyukifuriba – The Snow Hags

Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman

Oshiroi Baba – The White Face Powder Hag

Previous Older Entries

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