Kappa to Shirikodama – Kappa and the Small Anus Ball

Translated and adapted from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara and other sources

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

You have a magical ball in your butt, and kappa want it.

At least that is how the story goes. Although modern kappa are often portrayed as cute and mostly harmless, during the Edo period they were monsters who had a particularly vicious method of killing their victims. In probably one of the strangest bits of Japanese folklore, it is said that human beings have something in their body called a shirikodama (尻子玉), which translates literally as “small anus ball.” The ball is nestled either immediately inside the anus, or deeper inside the intestines or the stomach. The kappa have a preferred method of extraction.

Folklorist/manga artist Mizuki Shigeru wrote:

“Ever since I was a child I heard that I had to be careful in the water because the kappa would try and take my shirikodama. It was said that in the water, a kappa would come from below, extend an arm upwards and stick a hand up your anus to extract the ball.”

In some stories, the kappa don’t reach up with their hands but instead actually suck the shirikodama from the body. However it was taken, the person whose shirikodama was extracted from was almost always killed in the process. Usually the kappa would hold them underwater to drown them first, before taking the ball.

What is a Shirikodama?

No one really agrees on what the shirikodama is. Some say that it is the human soul, hardened into physical form. Some say that the shirikodama in pictures resembles the Buddhist Hojo, or wish-granting jewel. The hojo was onion-shaped, with a round body and a tapered top. The usual depiction of the shirikodama does indeed resemble this shape.

Many associate the shirikodama with the liver. Kappa were known to love human livers, and some say that the shirikodama was the liver, or that the ball was blocking access to the liver with the liver being the actual target for the kappa.

Why Do They Want It?

Again, no one really knows for sure. The most basic explanation is that kappa consider the shirikodama to be a delicious delicacy and that they eat it as soon as it is removed. This explanations is contradicted by some Edo era depictions such as the one by Jippensha Ikku that shows a kappa with a freshly extracted shirikodama holding it far away from his face and clearly disgusted with the item. The shirikodama was said to smell as bad as the anus it was removed from.

In one story, it was said that the kappa paid the shirikodama as a sort of tribute and tax to the Dragon King who lived under the sea and was the lord of all things under the water. What the Dragon King would want with such an item no one has dared to guess.

But they did want it. A humorous print by Hokusai Katsushika called “How to Fish for Kappa” (Onajiku kappa-wo tsuru no hō ; 同河童を釣るの法) shows a man using his own backside as bait to lure a kappa in to be caught with a net.

The Origin of the Shirikodama

The most commonly accepted origin is that drowning victims often have an open or extended anus, looking as if something was taken out of it. Bodies that had drowned in the river or ocean and then washed up on shore might have looked as if something had been forcibly extracted from the anus.

With kappa moving further and further way from their role as monsters in Japan, the legend of the shirikodama is on its way to being forgotten. Kappa have been recast in Japan as being friendly mascots of various companies or harmless characters on children’s cartoons. In movies like the popular “My Summer Vacation with Coo the Kappa,” the cute little kappa Coo never once sneaks up on its human friend Koichi to forcibly remove a magical ball from his anus.

Further Reading:

Check out other kappa tales from hyakumonogatari.com:

The Appearance of a Kappa

Do Kappa Really Exist?

The Kappa of Mikawa-cho

The One-Armed Kappa

Enju no Jashin – The Evil God in the Pagoda Tree

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara

Long ago in Koshu (Modern day Yamanashi prefecture), on the base of Mt. Minobu, there was a dark forest where great trees lined up in a row. Inside the forest was an ancient Japanese Pagoda Tree. The tree was worshiped as a spirit, and a shrine had been built near the tree. However, anyone who passed by that tree after sundown had to leave an offering of silver and gold, or fine clothing, or anything of monetary value. Those who ignored this custom would suffer a terrifying curse. Now, I say that the tree was a spirit, but those in the town called it the mori no jyashin, the Evil God of the Forest.

At one time, a poor but hardworking farmer heard that his mother was dreadfully ill. He fled back home to see her, but the quickest path to her house took him right in front of the tree, and he had nothing to leave as an offering. There was nothing to be done, and as the famer rushed by the tree he prayed to the evil god, making a promise that he would come back later with an appeasement. But from the tree an empty suit of armor appeared and followed the man. The farmer dropped to the ground, bowing his head against the ground and begging the evil god for forgiveness. Appearing to accept the promise, the armor disappeared.

The following day, because the farmer terribly poor, he could only muster 500 mon in coins for an offering. Apparently this amount did not please the evil god, who cast the farmer into a giant pot and set him to fire preparing to make a dinner of him. The farmer prayed most solemnly for his life, and his prayers were heard. The son of the diety Fudo Myo appeared, and dispensed with the evil god. Not only that, all of the money and goods that had been paid to the evil god by the village was returned.

Although the villagers called the entity in the tree a spirit, I think it is more likely that some kind of yokai had settled down there.

Translator’s Note:

The name of this story is Enju no Jashin (槐の邪神). The enjyu tree is a species called Sophora japonica, and is known in English as either the Japanese Pagoda Tree or the Chinese Scholar.

Further Reading:

Check out other magical tree tales from hyakumonogatari.com:

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Tsugaru no Taiko – The Taiko of Tsugaru

Translated and adapted from Japanese Wikipedia and other sources

This is a story from the Edo period.

In Honjo, in Hirosagi-han fiefdom, a Daimyo of the house of Tsugaru had his mansion. Daimyo’s have two mansions, the kami-yashiki, where they live during their year of residence in Edo, and their shimo-yashiki in their native land. This mansion we are speaking of was the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki.

At this Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, there was a tall observation tower that was used for fire-spotting. Fire was the bitter enemy of Edo period Japan, and these towers were a common site. You are probably familiar with them from the roll of a fire tower in the tale of the 47 Ronin. Aside from being high enough to spot any sign of smoke or fire, they were equipped with a large shaped piece of wood, called a bangi, suspended by ropes from the roof. Whenever a fire was seen, the bangi would be loudly struck as an alarm to summon the fire brigade.

The mystery of the Tsugaru tower was that, when the alarm was raised, instead of the usual clack of a bangi the deep booming of a taiko drum would come from the tower.

The townsfolk’s explanation of the mystery varied. Some said that the tower had a bangi like all the others, but that when struck the bangi sounded exactly like a taiko drum. They said that the bangi had come from a tree that was used to make a taiko, or that the bangi itself had once been part of a taiko, but this was just idle talk.

There are some who say that the Taiko of Tsugaru was even less mysterious. They say that, instead of a bangi, the tower of Tsugaru simply had a large taiko drum. The reason for the drum, they said, was that because the fire tower was on a Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, the Daimyo’s didn’t want to use a bangi like everyone else. He just had to be different.

Like all of the Seven Wonders of Honjo, the Taiko of Tsugaru was incorporated into Rakugo performances. However, due to the story’s lack of true mystery, it is the wonder most often omitted.

Translator’s Note:
The Taiko of Tsugaru,  Tsugaru no Taiko (津軽の太鼓), is one of the Honjo Nana Fushigi (本所七不思議) meaning one of the Seven Wonders of Honjo.

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Translated and adapted from Japanese Wikipedia and other sources

This is a story from the Edo period.

In Honjo, in the Hiradoshinden-han fiefdom, in the house of Matsura, there stood a Daimyo’s mansion. More than a simple mansion, this was the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, where the Daimyo lived during his year in residence in Edo by edict of the Shogun. The Daimyo’s shimo-yashiki was in his native land, but the Daimyo currently resided in Edo.

This kami-yashiki was bordered by a large wall, which ran parallel along the banks of what was then called the Great River, but what we now call the Sumida River of Tokyo. Planted in the Daimyo’s garden was a prodigious chinkapin tree whose leaves hung over the wall. The leaves from this tree never fell.

Now, chinkapin trees are evergreen, not deciduous, but even then at least a few of their leaves fall with the seasons. But not the tree in the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki. No one had ever seen so much as a single leaf fall from its branches.

The Daimyo’s gardener was a diligent fellow, but not even he could clean up every leaf that ever fell. This particular chikapin tree was truly a wonder. And what was the origin of this chikapin tree’s fantastic abilities? Well that is a mystery still to this day.

The Daimyo was unsettled by the tree—perhaps fearing some unknown fox power or mysterious spirits—and used his kami-yashiki as little as possible. But the fame of the tree spread until the mansion was no longer known as the Matsura house, but was locally called the Chinkapin Tree Mansion. The tree hanging over the wall near the banks of the Great River was considered an elegant scene and was popular for strolls.

When the stories of the Seven Wonders of Honjo became popular in Rakugo storytelling, the Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves was included in the ranks.

Neither the Daimyo’s mansion nor the famous chinkapin tree survive to the modern world. During the Meiji era, the territory was purchased by the Yasuda zaibatsu financial conglomerate who created a private garden called Yasuda Park. In the fifteenth year of Taisho, the Yasuda zaibatsu donated the garden as a public park. The park is now located in the Sumida ward, in the Honjo district. Like all of the Seven Wonders of Honjo, the old location of the Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves is marked with a sign and stone monument.

Translator’s Note:
The print is by Kobayashi Kiyochika and shows the Ochiba Naki Shii (落葉なき椎), one of the Honjo Nana Fushigi (本所七不思議) meaning one of the Seven Wonders of Honjo.

The Seven Wonders of Honjo

During the Edo period, the area known as Honjo (modern day Sumida ward in Tokyo) was a meloncholy and shadow-haunted place that drew legends about it like a cloak. Vast fields spread about Honjo, with only a few houses scattered here and there, and many a night-traveler would walk far to avoid a trip though those fields at night.

Several of the ghost legends of Honjo were collected together and called the Honjo Nanafushigi (本所七不思議), the Seven Wonders of Honjo. The number seven is purely nominal; as in many places in the world, the number seven carries mystical significance and when you are telling ghost stories the “seven wonders” sounds scarier than the “nine wonders” or “eight wonders.”

Many local places had their own collection of “seven wonders.” They form a typical model of urban legend, passed down through word of mouth, told and retold over kitchen fireplaces, then transitioning from local legend to stage performance.

The Seven Wonders of Honjo moved from the streets of Edo into the halls of Rakugo performers, who took the seven wonders on tour. In the late 1880s Utagawa Kuniteru (歌川国輝) made a series of prints called the “Honjo Nanafushigi.” In 1937, Shinko Kimura filmed “Honjo Nanafushigi” (本所七不思議), which was remade in 1957, as “Ghost Stories of Wanderer at Honjo” (怪談本所七不思議; Kaidan Honjo Nanafushigi) by Katano Goro. The films featured yokai stories and did not really focus on the authentic Seven Wonders.

Today of course, the Seven Wonders of Honjo are largely remembered as tourist attractions.  You can buy special sweets in the shape of the seven wonders, and take walking tours of Sumida where you read all about the seven wonders on helpful tourist maps and plaques.

The Seven Wonders are:

• The “Leave it Behind” Straggler–  置行堀(Oite Kebori)
The Sending-Off Lantern 送り提灯(Okuri Chochin)
The “Following Wooden Clappers” 送り拍子木(Okuri Hyoshigi)
The Unlit Soba Shop  燈無蕎麦 (Akarinashi Soba)
The Foot Washing Mansion 足洗邸 (Ashiarai Yashiki)
The One-sided Reed 片葉の葦 (Kataba no Ashi)
The Chinkapin of Unfallen Leaves 落葉なき椎 (Ochiba Naki Shii)
The Procession of the Tanuki 狸囃子(Tanuki Bayashi)
The Taiko of Tsugaru 津軽の太鼓 (Tsugaru no Taiko)

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