Jinmenju – The Human Face Tree

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara

This tree is found in mountain valleys. The fruit of the tree looks like a human head. It doesn’t say a word, but it is constantly laughing. It is said that if the fruit laughs too heartily, it falls from the tree.

According to the Edo period Hyakka Jiten encyclopedia Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才図会; A Collection of Pictures of Heaven, Earth, and Man from China and Japan), the Jinmenju trees are found in the south, and the fruit of the tree is called the jinmenshi, or human-faced child. They ripen in the fall, and if you eat the fruit they have a sweet/sour taste. It is said that the Jinmenju seed also has a human face, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. It is possible that the trees were all eaten and it is why we don’t see them today.

In the past however, it was said that people planted great orchards of the laughing Jinmenju. That must have been a beautiful sight.

The legend of the Jinmenju comes from China, and was passed onto Japan where it was considered to be a yokai due to its peculiar nature. There are also stories of trees bearing human-faced fruit from India and Persia, usually with the faces of beautiful girls. Even now, when you walk through the forest you can see trees whose roots bear a resemblance to human and yokai faces. I have five pictures of trees like this in my photo albums. I wonder if this is some new species of Jinmenju?

Translator’s Note

Most people think of yokai as some kind of monster, but the Jinmenju is a type of yokai called choshizen, or super-nature, which includes mysterious plants and animals. Toriyama Sekien included the Jinmenju in his collection Konjyaku Hyakki Shui (今昔百鬼拾遺; Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past). All Jinmenju stories have their origin in a Chinese book Sansai Zue(三才図会; A Collection of Pictures of Heaven, Earth, and Man).

This entry was translated for Dan Tsukasa, who is developing a Japanese folklore video game called Kodama. (Which you all should all check out!) I am helping Dan out with some yokai info for the game, part of which takes place in a magic forest. So look forward to some more choshizen offerings.

Further reading:

Read more yokai magical tree tales on hyakumonogatari.com:

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Enju no Jashin – The Evil God in the Pagoda Tree

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