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

Yukinba/Yukifuriba – The Snow Hags

Bakemono_Yuki-baba

Translated and Sourced from Bakemono Emaki, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

Hopping on one foot and eternally hunting for children to eat, the Yukinba is one of Japan’s most horrible snow monsters. While most snow monsters, like the Tsurara Onna and the Oshiroi Baba, bring some measure of cold comfort, the Yukinba is all bad. Yukifuriba may have a prettier name, but she is equally dangerous.

What Does Yukinba Mean?

Like most of Japan’s snow yokai, Yukinba’s name is straight forward. It combines the kanji雪 (yuki; snow) + 婆 (ba; hag). There are a few regional variations. In Yamagata prefecture she is known as the Yukinbanba (雪ばんば) with “banba” being a regional dialect for “hag.”

The related yokai, the Yukifuriba, has a much more poetic name. 雪降り(yukifuri; falling snow) + 婆 (ba; hag, old woman) makes for The Old Woman of the Falling Snow.

Names aside, the main difference is of appearance. The Yukinba looks like a nightmare; a giant, old woman’s head hopping on one leg, with sharp, biting teeth and grasping hands. The Yukifuriba looks like a regular old woman with pale, white skin and wrapped in a thin, white kimono. In fact, the Yukifuriba looks like an elderly version of the young and beautiful Yuki Onna. The Yukifuriba’s most distinguishing characteristic is the red rope she carries.

The Story of the Yukinba

Yukinba is a relatively obscure yokai, coming from town of Hirano in Ehime prefecture. She appears only in a single scroll, the Meiji period Bakemono Emaki by an unknown artist.

The story goes like this:

A man was talking a walk through the mountain where the pine trees grow, enjoying a fresh February snowfall. He heard the voice of a kindly old woman calling for help, and he dashed off to find her. Instead of an old woman, however, he saw a monstrosity hopping on one leg. That man ran away as fast as his feet could carry him

Old Lady Child Eaters

Both the Yukinba and the Yukifuriba are notorious child eaters. They hide in the mountains and call out to children in an old woman’s voice, preying on the trusting nature of children. They lure they children in close them capture and eat them. Parents in the frozen countries, and especially Echigo province (modern day Nigata prefecture), are warned not to let their children outside to play on nights when the Yukinba and Yukifuriba are hunting.

Child eating is a trait they share in common with the Yamauba mountain witch. In fact, the Yukifuriba is considered to be a “snow version” of the Yamauba in the same way that the yeti can be considered a snow version of sasquatch.

Why One Foot?

The Yukinba belongs to a wide class of one-footed yokai grouped under the general name of Ippon Datara. Most of these are snow monsters, like the Yuki Nyudo and the Yukibo. The legend comes from an uneven patter of snow melting. When snow melts in pockets, it looks like something with a single, large leg has been hopping around the forest. In the case of the Yukibo, this happens in tree wells. Ancient Japanese people saw these markings, and imagined a one-legged snow monster to account for them.

Why a Red Rope?

The exact reason behind the red rope of the Yukifuriba is lost to time. But there are two compelling reasons. The first, and most simple, is that she uses it to tie children up and eat them. The second, and most compelling, is that in ancient Japanese funerals corpses were bound up before being buried. This job was usually done by an outcast of some sort, as handling corpses was considered taboo and unclean. Old women with no other means of support sometimes took on these kind of jobs to survive. So the image of the Yukifuriba carrying her red rope might be an image of a poor old woman coming to bind up a corpse—certainly a frightening thing to think about.

Translator’s Notes:

Another snow monster for December! These ones are actual monsters, although rather obscure ones. Accounts of the Yukinba are rare, and there is only this single historical picture that I was able to find. I couldn’t find any pictures of the Yukifuriba. They didn’t even rate an entry in Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, at least not in volumes I have. It is possible they appears in later volumes.

I wasn’t quite sure how to handle Yukinba and Yukifuriba, but finally decided to combine them into a single entry. They are similar enough, except for appearance. And I only had the one picture …

Further Reading:

For more snow yokai from Japan, check out:

Tsurara Onna – The Icicle Woman

Oshiroi Baba – The White Face Powder Hag

Hidarugami – The Hunger Gods

Hidarugami Mizuki Shigeru

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

If you are walking through a mountain trail, and find yourself overcome with a sudden hunger—a soul-killing hunger that drives you to your knees like true starvation—you might need to do more than reach into your backpack for an energy bar. You might be under attack by the Hidarugami, the Hunger Gods.

What Does Hidarugami Mean?

Hidarugami is written with the katakanaヒダル (hidaru) + the kanji 神 (kami; god). Things written in katakana have no inherent meaning. However, the word “hidaru” is most likely connected with饑い (hidarui), meaning hunger. Hidarui is a colloquial term, used mainly in Gifu prefecture. Hidarugami is also sometimes writtenひだる神 using the hiragana for “hidaru,” also with no inherent meaning.

The fact that the kanji “kami” is used places the hidarugami on a higher level than most yokai, alongside such devastating deities like the Binbogami (貧乏神; God of Poverty) and Shinigami (死神; God of Death). This elevated status is due in part to arising from human spirits, from reikon.

There are other names for the Hidarutami. In Kitakyushu, it is known as the Darashi (ダラシ), in Mie and Wakayama prefectures it is sometimes called the Dari (ダリ), while in Nara and Tokushima prefectures it is called Daru (ダル). All of these use katakana for the names.

The Hunger Strike of the Hidarugami

Hidarugami Road

Hidarugami are said to be the spirits of those who starved to death wandering the mountains. Because they died alone, with no marker for their grave or any ceremony, their spirits become evil and seek to share their death agonies.

They are found almost exclusively on mountain trails and passes. Hikers and travelers in the presence of the Hidarugami are suddenly overcome with acute hunger, fatigue, and numbness of the limbs. The feeling is said to be that of actual starvation. The victim is unable to move and often collapse. This attack is a form of possession. The Hidarugami enters your body. If no action is taken, the Hidarugami can cause death—actual death by starvation in a healthy body.

If you are killed, you join the Hidarugami group. In this way, Hidarugamai groups slowly enlarge to contain many souls.

Expelling the Hidarugami is easy, so long as you are prepared. Just a small mouthful of a staple food, such as rice or grain, staves off the attack and the starvation leaves as quickly as it arose. That is why—even today—hikers are advised against going into the mountains without a few riceballs or a bento to eat. Even then, they never eat the entire meal, always leaving a few grains behind in case of emergency.

Old Japanese kaidanshu and traveler’s guides are full of stories of the Hidarugami. In a story coming from 1736 a man named Senkichi was found exhausted and unconscious on a mountain trail. Unable even to speak, he was loaded into a cart and carried back to town where he was fed and recovered. Senkichi related an account of an attack by Hidarugami. Another typical story tells of a merchant crossing the Noborio Pass towards Onohara. Only a few hours after finishing his lunch he became ravenously hungry, struggling to make his way to a nearby temple. A traveler’s guide from 1861 warned of the dangers of going into the mountains without a few riceballs for protection.

Are the Hidarugami Yokai or Yurei?

Obake_Karuta_Hidarugami

Hidarugami defy simple classification, and show the complicated nature of Japanese folklore. Are they yurei? Are they yokai? Are they Gods? Yes to all three questions. (And yes, it is a trick question as all yurei are yokai. Smart catch there!)

Because Hidarugami enter the body and possess it, they are considered a type of the Tsukimono yokai – A Possessing Thing. While most tsukimono are magical animals, anything that possess can fall into this category.

Higarugami are most definitely yurei—they are referred to as either akuryo (悪霊; Evil Spirit) or onryo (怨霊; Vengeful Spirits). But they are not typical yurei. Like Funa Yurei and oddities like the Shichinin Dōgyō – The Seven Pilgrims, the Hidarugami act as a group and actively make new members. Because they are bound to their location, they would be considered a type of jibakurei (地縛霊; Earth-bound Spirit).

Hidarugami are also muenbotoke (無縁仏). This refers to the unworshiped dead, those who die without burial or ceremony. Special rites are often held on Obon, the Festival of the Dead, specifically for muenbotoke to try and get their spirits to pass one. One passage says that the Hidarugami’s grip on the world is not particularly strong—that they are a weak god—and they should be banished by a simple muenbotoke ceremony.

Gaki Hungry Ghosts

They are also associated with Gaki ( 餓鬼), the Preta or Hungry Ghost of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist mythology. The association is vague and only based on the dual obsession with hunger. Gaki are those whose sins of gluttony condemn them to be reborn as foul creatures with a rapacious hunger for disgusting things such as corpses or feces. Gaki are not native to Japanese folklore, and at sometime after their importation from China a link was made between the Gaki and the Hidarugami.

Hidarugami Across Japan

Like all widespread folklore, the Hidarugami have regional variations and associations. In Wakayama prefecture, —along the ancient pilgrimage route of Kumano Kodo—there is a deep hole called the Gaki Ana, or the Gaki’s Pit. The exact location of the pit is unknown, but it is said to be someone near Mt. Okumotori and Mt. Shokumotori in Wakayama prefecture. Wherever it is, staring into the Gaki Ana is said to summon the Hidarugami.

In Shiga prefecture, possession by a Hidarugami is much more dreadful. The possessed person’s stomach suddenly swells like a starvation victim, and they begs for a bowl of rice with tea. If someone answers that they had food, but have eaten it, the possessed victim will attack with a fury, ripping open their stomachs in search of undigested bits of rice to eat.

In Mie prefecture, Hidarugami are said to attack not only humans but also cattle being moved across mountain trails.

In Kochi, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima prefectures, there are small shrines set up along mountain roads and mountain passes enshrining the kami Shibaorigami (柴折様). Making a small offering at these shrines, even something so small as laying down a few token branches of wood, is said to provide protection against the Hidarugami.

Translator’s Note:

This is the next in my series of yokai who appear in Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa: A History of Japan. A young Mizuki Shigeru encountered the Hidarugami once walking through a mountain road. He survived the attack due to finding a few stray grains of rice. It was only much later in his life while reading a book that he learned to put a name to the strange phenomenon he had encountered.

Further Reading:

To read more about Tsukimono and other sundry ghosts, check out:

Tsukimono – The Possessing Thing

Shichinin Dōgyō – The Seven Pilgrims

Funa Yurei

Shichinin Dōgyō – The Seven Pilgrims

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

This is a legend from Kagawa prefecture, and is one of several legends about someone out for a walk who runs into a mysterious band on the road, and dies as a result.

The Seven Pilgrims cannot be seen under normal circumstances. According to legend, only those with the ability to wiggle their ears can see them unaided. Everyone else has to look beneath the legs of a cow in order to make the invisible visible. Cows in particular are said to be sensitive to the presence of the Seven Pilgrims. If a farmer is out walking with his cows, and they come to a sudden stop at a crossroads, the wise farmer bends down and peeks from between his cows’ legs until he is sure the coast is clear. But, if he sees seven dark pilgrims walking single file … then his time has come.

Along with the Seven Pilgrims, Kagawa prefecture also has the legend of the Seven Boys. This is essentially the same story as the Seven Pilgrims, substituting a group of wandering young boys. The Seven Boys are also encountered on crossroads, and because of this the Nakatado District of Kagawa is spotted with long-abandoned crossroads where no human dares to walk.

The Seven Pilgrims and the Seven Children are most likely the same entity. Whether they look like weary travelers or small children, in truth, no one knows. No one has ever survived an encounter.

In Kochi prefecture, there is a similar legend of the Seven Miseki . They say that people who drown in the ocean are chained together in gangs of seven. The number is always seven, and there is a hierarchy. In order to gain their freedom and go on to the afterlife, the Seven Miseki need a new member in the form of a drowning victim. Then, the ghost in the front gets to heaven, while the rest of the members move up a rank. And the Seven Miseki feel no need to wait for an accidental drowning. They will kill if they can, to gain new members and free themselves from their torment.

So powerful is this bond that not even invoking the Nembutsu (prayer to the Ahmida Buddha) can help the Seven Miseki. Far better to save your prayers for yourself, and hope that they don’t come to you one night, looking for someone to step into the back row.

Translator’s Note

As I have said before, Japanese folklore runs the gambit from funny, to strange, to terrifying. After doing Eyeball Butt, I was in the mood for a monster that was honestly scary. Well, except for looking between a cow’s legs … that’s just weird.

One of the interesting things about the Seven Pilgrims is they show the fine line between yurei and yokai in Japanese folklore. The pilgrims are referred to either as “shiryo” (dead spirits) or “borei” (departed spirits), but they don’t follow the normal rules and tropes of Japanese ghosts. Generally, Japanese ghosts require some purpose or reason to manifest, whereas the Seven Pilgrims act as if they are under a curse. Unless their reason is more mysterious than we know.

The kanji used for the Seven Pilgrims is七人同行, which translates literally as “Seven Fellow Travelers,” although in this case “travelers” implies “walkers of the path” which is a reference to Buddhist pilgrims. Their alternate form, the Seven Boys is 七人童子, or Shichinen Doshi. Based on that term, they don’t necessarily have to be boys—you could say the Seven Little Kids—but that is the most common usage.

The terrifying Seven Miseki uses katakana for the name (七人ミサキ) which implies that “miseki” has no further meaning other than being a name. But I will need to look into that further. They are pretty cool and are worth their own article some day.

Further Reading:

For most ghostly tales on hyakumonogatari.com, check out:

Shōrōkaze – The Ghost Wind

The Gratitude-Expressing Yurei

How Do You Say Ghost in Japanese?

The Yurei Child

Ki no Kami – The God in the Tree

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

From ancient times in Japan, certain types of trees were thought to be abodes for kami, the spiritual deities of Japan’s native animistic religion. Specific trees such as the Chinese bunyan tree or the Indian laurel were said to be favored by these kami. The importance of these tree-dwelling kami was established in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), where the legend is told of the founding sibling gods of Japan Izanagi and Izanami. The two gave birth to hundreds of thousands of godling children, but their second-born was the kami of the trees.

All around Japan you can see trees that resemble humans in some uncanny way. Legends say this comes from the kami spirits who dwell inside. Called Jiyushin (), shinboku (神木), or kodama (古多万), these sacred trees are often found on the grounds of Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples. The spirits that dwell in the trees are said to offer protection to worshipers and watch over homes in the vicinity.

At the same time, these trees offer protection to the kami themselves, giving them a physical space to inhabit. It is sometimes said that the kami come down to earth from heaven, but they cannot remain in their natural state. The holy trees act as a medium, giving the spiritual essence of the kami somewhere to exist while they are in the human realm. They resonate with trees of a certain shape—it is said spiritual energy of the kami can be felt the most strongly in trees that have double, or even triple, trunks.

There are still shrines throughout Japan that venerate local tree-dwelling kami. Many of these are found in the mountains, where the trees are said to be inhabited by various mountain kami or even ancestor spirits. But no matter the origin, when they kami take up residence in a tree they are called ki no kami, the gods in the trees.

Translator’s Note

This is another magical tree legend, with a different take than the previously translated moidon. The fundamental concept is different, in that the moidon are themselves gods (kami) while the ki no kami are more like dryads in the European tradition (Notice I said “more like.” Obviously they are not exactly alike). The trees are just the shells the spirits inhabit while on earth. And kami can be fickle things. All over Japan you can see several abandoned shrines that look as though the kami has left them.

For more magical tree stories, see:

Moidon – The Lord of the Forest

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapan Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Enju no Jashin – The Evil God of the Pagoda Tree

Jinmenju – The Human-Faced Tree

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