Zashiki Warashi

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Yokai Daihyakka

Zashiki warashi are a yokai from the Tohoku region of Japan.  They live in the rafters of ceilings or in old storehouses.  One of the mysteries of zashiki warashi is that they always take the appearance of small children, and never of adults.

In Iwate prefecture, zashiki warashi are said to appear in many of the local Elementary schools, and play with the children.  At nine o’ clock, dressed in a white kimono, the zashiki warashi slip through cracks in the door and play around between the desks and chairs, having a great time.  Of course, only the children can see the zashiki warashi as they romp around the classroom.

Also, about a hundred years ago in Tokyo, zashiki warashi were said to live in the storehouse of a man named Umehara Sotoku.  Whenever any human went into the storehouse they would suddenly be overcome by the need to urinate and would have to flee running from the storehouse.  It was said that this was due to the presence of the zashiki warashi.    Also, sometimes at night the sound of something striking a metal pole could be heard.

One year, there was a fire near that house and the flames rapidly spread.   The family was busy bringing the furniture out of the house when a child that no one knew was seen running out of the storehouse and helped carry the furniture into the cellar for safekeeping.   Even though they tried, no one got a good look at his face.  When all of the goods and people were safely in the cellar, the door was shut tight but the small boy was no were to be seen.

That old storehouse was nothing special, the kind that could be found anywhere.  But high up on the shelf that was used to store charcoal there was a box about 15 by 16 centimeters that no one ever touched.  Most likely that was the home of the zashiki warashi.

The old storehouse did eventually burn down in a fire in the middle of the Meiji period, and from then on the zashiki warashi was never seen or heard from again.  I wonder where it went?

Further Reading:

Read more about Zashiki Warashi on hyakumonogatari.com

On Zashiki Warashi

 

On Zashiki-Warashi

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Tono Monogatari

There is what is called the Three Great Stories of Tono.  Of these, the legend of the zashiki-warashi is by far the most famous.  Let’s touch on these legends a bit.

Zashiki-warashi (“zashiki” meaning the tatami room of traditional Japanese houses, and “warashi” meaning a kid or small child) are often seen as a kind of omen in the houses of once-great families on the verge of decline.  The disappearance of the zashiki-warashi from the house was a sign that the family’s fortunes had waned.  Looking into this, you can find many families who have used zashiki-warashi to account for the withering away of their wealth and status.   The disappearance of zashiki-warashi was also an easy way to explain away a neighbor’s misfortunes to children who were too young to understand.   Many a parent has relied on this convenient excuse to circumvent uncomfortable questions.

But there are other thoughts on the zashiki-warashi.  In the 42nd year of Meiji, Yanagita wrote in his diary that on the journey from Hanamaki to Tono he saw only three places that showed any sign of human habitation.  On these rough plateaus between the surrounding mountains it was said there were a hardscrabble people making their living off the land called Yamabito.  These people of the mountains were said to be of substantial build and were described as having eyes differently colored from normal Japanese.  The villages of the Tono area were terrified of Yamabito, who were said to sometimes raid the villages and either ravage or kidnap the local women.   Due to this fear of outsiders, as well as due to the special geographical features of the mountain basin in which they lived, the people of Tono were solitary and exclusionary.   Their houses held many secrets.  Old families of rank and reputation sometimes found their daughters ravaged and impregnated by these Yamabito attacks, and any child born of such a union was hidden away in the depths of the family mansion and never allowed to see the daylight.  Other families of lesser fortunes sometimes gave birth to more children than they could afford, so it was said that some children were culled, their bodies buried under the dirt floors or under the kitchen instead of a proper grave.   An eyewitness to both of these ancient customs sites these practices as the origin of the zashiki-warashi legends.

There are of course other origins that have nothing to do with bad parents hiding or killing their own children. Some say that zashiki-warashi are merely spirits of the house, no different than any other kami.

Regardless of their origins, they are a vivid and ancient legend.  One official account, published in 1910 (the 43rd year of Meiji), tells of an elementary school in Tsuchibuchi where a first grade student claimed to see a zashiki-warashi right in front of him, although his teachers and classmates were unable to see the spirit.

Further Reading:

Read more Zashiki Warashi tales on hyakumonogatari.com

Zashiki Warashi

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