Sazae Oni – The Turban Shell Demon

Mizuki_Shigeru_Sazae_Oni

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

The Sazae Oni may not look like much—just a giant shellfish with an odd set of arms. But then you read the legends, and discover that this bizarre creature is a testicle thief that has more in common with the classical succubus of the Malleus Maleficarum than traditional Japanese yokai … and it starts to get more interesting. And scarier.

What Does Sazae Oni Mean?

Sazae are a popular menu item in Japan, although almost unknown in the West. They are called Turbo cornutus, which literally means horned turban. But, they are more often called Turban Shells or Turban Snails in English, or just by the Japanese word Sazae.

The Sazae Oni’s name uses the kanji 栄螺 (Sazae; turban shell) + 鬼(Oni; Demon, Ogre). Like the Onikuma (Demon Bear), the term “oni” is used in a general sense of “demon” instead of the sense of the Japanese yokai, Oni.

What is a Sazae Oni?

The origins of the Sazae Oni are obscure, and come in two distinct different flavors. According to one legend, the Sazae Oni is a typical animal yokai, one that has lived a long time—in the case of the Sazae Oni, 30 years—and been transformed by the magic of long life into a supernatural creature. Like many of these creatures, the Sazae Oni grows to unusual size, and becomes a blend of human and animal features, gaining two powerful arms and eyes on its shell.

Toriyama Sekien Sazae-oni

Artist Toriyama Sekein used the Sazae Oni as a metaphor for the mysterious universe that we live in, a realm where all things are possible. Toriyama included the Sazae Oni in his yokai collection Gazu Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro (画図百器徒然袋; The Illustrated Bag of One Hundred Random Demons), where he wrote:

“If a sparrow becomes a clam upon entering the sea, and a field-rat can transform into a quail, then in this unfathomable universe it is no impossible thing that a turban shell might become a demon. I have seen this in something like a dream.”

Toriyama is making a reference to a Chinese proverb, that comes from the Liji (礼記; Book of Rites). It says that a sparrow may become a clam in the sea, and a field-rat may become a quail. The proverb means that even impossible things can happen in the mysterious world we live in.

These Sazae Oni are harmless creatures, who do nothing more than rise to the surface of the ocean on moonlit nights to dance on the waves. There is even some mixing with the sea dragons that rule the land beneath the waves.

And then there is the other, less esoteric origin.

Sazae Oni – The Succubus of the Sea, and the Testicle Thief

In Kishu province (modern day Wakayama and Mie prefectures), there is a legend that Sazae Oni are born from lustful women who are thrown into the ocean as punishment for their wanton ways.

Sazae Oni

In one story, a ship of pirates hugging the coast heard the cries of a woman drowning in the waves. Seeing that the woman was beautiful, the pirates decided to rescue her. Once on board, the pirates planned to rape her but found instead that the woman was willing. Over the course of the night, she had sex with every member of the crew.

The woman had her own agenda—she kept a souvenir from each of her conquests, the man’s testicles that she supposedly bit off when she was finished. Discovering that they had been robbed of the precious possessions, the men charged at the woman who revealed herself as a Sazae Oni. She offered to sell the pirates back their testicles in exchange for their plundered treasure.

In this way the Sazae Oni traded “gold” for gold, as the Japanese word for testicles is kintama (golden balls).

This story of the Sazae Oni draws a further, and interesting, correlation with the succubus. In the 1486 Witchhunter’s manual, the Malleus Maleficarum, it is said that succubus gather semen from their male lovers in order to breed. In a similar way, the Sazae Oni collects testicles, and some legends have sprang up saying that the Sazae Oni also uses the semen from the testicles in order to breed new Sazae Oni. This is a completely modern theory, however, and does not appear in old folklore studies.

There is a further legend of Sazae Oni, from the Boso peninsula in Chiba prefecture. In a story almost entirely unrelated to other instances, the Sazae Oni is said to take the form of a woman who wanders at night, staying at inns and making a meal of the innkeepers.

Translator’s Note:

This is another in my series of yokai that appear (however briefly) in my translation of Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. The Sazae Oni appears when Nonnonba buys Mizuki Shigeru an exceptionally large sazae to heat, and speculates that it might be a Sazae Oni. This plays on the young Shigeru’s imagination, as he searches for eyes on the massive shell.

Further Reading:

For other ocean-based yokai, check out:

Umibozu – The Sea Monk

Bakekujira – The Skeleton Whale

Nure Onago – The Soaked Woman

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Nezumi Otoko – Rat Man

Nezumi Otoko

Translated and sourced from Kitaro’s Daihyaka, Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, and various Gegege no Kitaro comics

Half yokai. Half human. All scoundrel. Nezumi Otoko is the trickster character in Mizuki Shigeru’s seminal yokai comic Gegege no Kitaro. Filthy, greedy, and conniving, Nezumi Otoko sides with whoever looks like they will come out on top, and yet he always manages to be back with Kitaro for the next adventure. Even though his constant schemes and betrayals earn the ire of everyone around him, Mizuki Shigeru has long said that Nezumi Otoko is his favorite character and that without Nezumi Otoko Gegege no Kitaro could not exist.

What Does Nezumi Otoko Mean?

Almost all sources (including this article) give Nezumi Otoko’s name as “Rat Man” in English, but this is not technically correct. This translation is based on a pun in Japanese and his appearance rather than his actual name. The truth is more complicated.

Written in Japanese, his name is ねずみ男 (Nezumi Otoko). Sharp-eyed readers will notice that while he uses the kanji for “man” (男; otoko), he doesn’t use the kanji for “rat” (鼠; nezumi). Because “nezumi” is written in hiragana, there is no inherent meaning. One those rare occasions where kanji is used, Nezumi Otoko’s name is given as 根頭見 (根; ne – root,) + (頭; zu – head) + (見; mi – look). So, a transliteration of would be “Guy With the Root-Shaped Head.” If you look at him, that fits pretty well. But it’s more of a mouthful than “Rat Man.”

Nezumi Otoko Kitaro Mizuki Shigeru

Even then, Nezumi Otoko is only a nickname. In one adventure where the Kitaro gang journeyed to Nezumi Otoko’s homeland, his true name was revealed as Nezumi Pekepeke (根頭見ペケペケ). This was an inside joke Mizuki Shigeru made to himself, as “pekepeke” is the word for “shit” in the language of the Tolai people of New Guinea where Mizuki once lived. Nezumi Pekepeke is one of those “secret facts” that show up on yokai quizzes. For all intents and purposes, his name is Nezumi Otoko.

Nezumi Otoko has one more nickname, Bibibi no Nezumi Otoko (ビビビのねずみ男). This is a play-off of Kitaro’s own nickname Gegege no Kitaro, and refers to the onomonopiac sound of slapping someone in the face (which Nezumi Otoko does often). He is also known to use the pseudonym Nagai Futen in his schemes, and has a passport and documentation in that name.

The Origin of Nezumi Otoko

Nezumi Otoko is a half-yokai, what Mizuki Shigeru calls a hanyokai and what Takashi Rumiko calls a hanyo. But even though he is half-yokai / half-human, the accounts of his birth vary and the human half is never explained.

In the most official version, the one used for his profile in Kitaro’s Daihyaka (鬼太郎大百科), Nezumi Otoko was mysteriously born as a human baby on an island populated only by rats. That’s it. End of story.

Baby_Nezumi_Otoko_Large

In another story, Kitaro’s Hell Compilation (鬼太郎地獄編), Nezumi Otoko comes from a land on the boarder of the world of the living and the world of the dead. This world is populated by people like himself, and “Nezumi Otoko” is a general term for the species. Nezumi Otoko’s mother appears in this story, looking like female version of the rat man himself. But she is later revealed to be Sasori Onna in disguise as part of a revenge plot by Nurarihyon. However, Nezumi Otoko’s world and people are never referenced again outside of Kitaro’s Hell Compilation.

About Nezumi Otoko

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Whatever his origins, Nezumi Otoko is a true yokai. He is over 360 years old, and likes to claim that he has never taken a bath in all that time (which is untrue, like almost everything Nezumi Otoko claims). His body is repulsive, covered in ringworm and scabies, and is home to unique diseases that evolved to live only in Nezumi Otoko. He can eat anything, no matter how rotten or unpalatable.

Nezumi_Otoko_Ringworm_Large

His most powerful weapon is his own filth. Nezumi Otoko’s breath is so foul it can knock people out cold, and he can fart with the power of a rocket blast. In some stories, he is even able to fly by spreading out his cloak and farting, using the hot air to take off. His cloak is as dirty as he is, and can also be used as a weapon based on its stink alone.

He has other random weapons in his arsenal—his rat-like teeth are sharp enough to bite through things, and his long whiskers have been shown to be as strong as iron. He is quick with a slap, earning his nickname Bibibi no Nezumi Otoko. Mizuki Shigeru has a tendency to make things up as he goes along, so Nezumi Otoko might unveil some special power for one story, never to be mentioned again.

Even though he isn’t officially “Rat Man,” his rat-like nature is enough to excite the appetite of the cat girl Neko Musume and other cat yokai. Cats are Nezumi Otoko’s natural enemies, and he is terrified of them.

Nezumi_Otoko_Neko_Musume_Attack

Nezumi Otoko – For Love or Money

Money is Nezumi Otoko’s main motivation, and he is constantly scheming to acquire it even though it always slips through his fingers.

Whenever possible, he secretly charges people for Kitaro’s help or even sells humans to monsters if the price is right. As part of his schemes, Nezumi Otoko claims to be a degreed professor from the prestigious Yokai University and deeply knowledgeable about all things yokai. This isn’t a complete lie, and it is often speculated that Kitaro and Nezumi Otoko met as co-students at Yokai University. (Although Nezumi Otoko’s graduation is dubious).

Nezumi_Otoko_in_Love

The other thing that drives Nezumi Otoko is his quest for love. In many stories, he has attempted to romance some unsuspecting woman, usually though devious schemes and hiding his true nature. But, as is the case with all of his plans, the truth eventually outs and all ends in tears.

Brief Publication History of Nezumi Otoko

Like Medama Oyaji and Neko Musume, Nezumi Otoko is an original yokai creation from Mizuki Shigeru. He first appeared in the story “The Lodging House” (下宿屋) in the rental manga Hakuba no Kitaro (墓場の鬼太郎; Graveyard Kitaro). In that story, Nezumi Otoko was an unnamed servant of Dracula the 4th, and was in charge of securing lodgings and victims for his master. He disappeared halfway through the story when Kitaro and Medama Oyaji met the true menace.

Nezumi_Otoko_First_Appearance_Large

He appeared again, this time officially as Nezumi Otoko, in the story “The Strange Fellow” (おかしな奴) . He presented himself to Kitaro and Medama Oyaji as a famous Yokai Professor, offering his services to them—for a modest fee, of course. Another introduction happened in the Gegege no Kitaro novel from Kodansha. Nezumi Otoko shows up out of nowhere and steals a fish dinner out from under Neko Musume. Hijinks ensue, and Nezumi Otoko is soon part of the regular group.

Nezumi Otoko’s first animated appearance was in “Yasha” (夜叉), the second episode of the first season of the animated Gegege no Kitaro. He has appeared in every series of the cartoon ever since, as well as several live-action TV shows and movies.

Nezumi Otoko Anime History

Nezumi Otoko has appeared in every possible medium, and on every possible product. He even has his own train. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Japan who didn’t know Nezumi Otoko, and he is one of the most well-known and popular characters in Japan.

Nezumi Otoko Statue

Mizuki Shigeru on Nezumi Otoko

In any interview, whenever he is asked about his favorite yokai, Mizuki Shigeru is quick to answer “Nezumi Otoko.” He likes the rest of the Kitaro family about the same, but Nezumi Otoko is his favorite child. Mizuki explains “Kitaro is actually kind of dumb. He’s like Superman, giving everything he has to random strangers without hope of reward or happiness. That’s boring. If I don’t put Nezumi Otoko in there to mess things up a bit, I don’t have a story. “

Mizuki further says that his original goal with Kitaro was social commentary and satire. It was at the publisher’s request that he change his stories to focus on Kitaro as a Hero, using his supernatural powers to defeat monsters. Nezumi Otoko is the only character that embodies Mizuki’s original intentions for the comic.

Nezumi Otoko Kitaro Comic

Mizuki says his own life philosophy is much closer to Nezumi Otoko’s—he values money, luxury, and happiness and would never give it away for free like Kitaro does. Sometimes he uses Nezumi Otoko to voice his own opinions in a way he can’t with Kitaro. Life was exceptionally hard for Mizuki until he found his success as a comic artist, and those feelings of hunger, of failure, of grasping for success that continually eludes you, are embodied in Nezumi Otoko.

When Mizuki Shigeru wrote his own autobiography and history comic, Showa: A History of Japan, he used Nezumi Otoko as his narrator and mouthpiece.

Nezumi Otoko Showa

Nezumi Otoko’s Model

Along with himself, Mizuki Shigeru based Nezumi Otoko on his friend Umeda Etaro (梅田栄太郎). Umeda worked in the rental manga market along with Mizuki Shigeru, and he was always thinking up get-rich-quick schemes to try and squeeze a little bit more money out of kids. And like Nezumi Otoko, his schemes always failed.

In the 2010 drama Gegege no Nyobo, Uragi Yoshino (浦木克夫), was also named as an influence on Nezumi Otoko.

Translator’s Note

This is my first piece in a series on yokai who appear in my translation of Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan from Drawn & Quarterly.

In doing my translation on Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan and my work on Kitaro (also from Drawn & Quarterly) I gained a new appreciation of Nezumi Otoko. Just like Donald Duck and Wimpy from Popeye, Nezumi Otoko plays an important role in Gegege no Kitaro, and it is easy to see why he is Mizuki Shigeru’s favorite.

Just like Walt Disney soon learned that Mickey Mouse—while popular—was too bland of a character to carry on a story by himself, Mizuki needs Nezumi Otoko to be greedy, to betray, to do the wrong thing; all of which pushes the story forward.

Further Reading:

For more on Mizuki Shigeru and his yokai, check out:

Mizuki Shigeru in Rabaul

What are Hanyo?

Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan

The Ghost of Oyuki

Maruyama_Okyo_The_Ghost_of_Oyuki

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

Maruyama Ōkyo opened his eyes from a fitful sleep and saw a dead woman. She was young. Beautiful. And pale. Unnaturally drained of color, her bloodless skin peeked from her loose, bone-white burial kimono. Her bleached appearance was contrasted only by the thin slits of her black eyes, and by the long, black hair that hung disheveled across her shoulders. She had no feet.

What is The Ghost of Oyuki?

The Ghost of Oyuki is without a doubt the most famous and influential Japanese ghost painting.  It is the template for the entire country’s idea of “what a ghost looks like.” The white-faced, black-haired girl in the white kimono has roots in tradition, but this image–particularly the lack of feet–comes from the brush of Maruyama Ōkyo.

Although the English title is The Ghost of Oyuki, the actual Japanese title is Yūreizu: Oyuki no Maboroshi (幽霊図(お雪の幻), which translates as Portrait of a Yurei: The Vision of Oyuki. According to a note on the scroll box, put there sometime by a former owner named Shimizu, the young artist had a mistress called Oyuki who worked as a geisha at the Tominaga geisha house in Ōtsu city in the province of Ōmi, modern-day Shiga prefecture.  Oyuki had died young, how or when the note does not say; and Ōkyo mourned her deeply.  Perhaps too deeply.

One night Maruyama awoke  and saw Oyuki hovering at the foot of his bed. She stayed there for a moment and disappeared. When she was gone, Maruyama sprang from his bed and painted Oyuki exactly has she had appeared before him.

Maruyama had a reputation as the ultimate naturalist painter—if he painted something, you could trust that he had seen it.  Because of his reputation, when Maruyama appeared with his painting and his story, the people of Japan had no doubt that this was what a yurei actually looked like. And they have been honoring that image ever since.

The Ghost of Oyuki Yomihon

The Ghost of Oyuki Chapbook

(Sorry! The Ghost of Oyuki is now sold out!!!)

The story of Maruyama Okyo and the Ghost of Oyuki is told in my yomihon chapbook from Chin Music Press. The Ghost of Oyuki is not an actual book, but a piece of “book art” commissioned from Mercuria Press in Portland, OR to support my upcoming book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost. The Ghost of Oyuki is letterpress printed and handbound in the style of an Edo period yomihon, and was produced in a limited edition of 100.

(Sorry! The Ghost of Oyuki is now sold out!!!)

Further Reading:

For more Yurei-zu, check out:

Ubume-zu – Portrait of an Ubume

Yurei-zu: A Portrait of a Yurei, a Japanese Ghost

Hokusai’s Manga Yurei

More Hokusai Manga Yurei

Ijuu – The Strange Beast

Mizuki Shigeru Ijuu Strange Beast

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

If you are wandering through the forests of Japan and happen across a beast that looks like a strange blend of monkey and bear, don’t be scared. Just offer to split your lunch with it and the creature will most likely repay you by carrying your heavy load. At least that’s the story of the Ijuu, the strange beast.

What Does Ijuu Mean?

Whoever named the Ijuu wasn’t feeling particularly imaginative. Ijuu has two kanji making up its name, 異 (I; strange, mysterious) + 獣 (Juu; beast, creature). The name translates literally as “strange beast.”

The Tale of the Ijuu

There is only one story of the Ijuu, and it comes from Suzuki Bokushi’s Edo period book Hokuetsuseppu (北越雪譜; Snow Stories of North Etsu Province, 1837).

Suzuki Bokushi Iju Strange Beast

Long ago, in Echigo province (modern day Niigata prefecture), a porter named Takesuke was engaged in hauling a heavy load over a mountain pass to a faraway town. He had gone about 7 shaku (28 kilometers), when he became exhausted and hungry. Takesuke leaned his backpack against a tree, then sat down and rested against that same tree, unpacking his lunch and preparing to tuck in.

Before Takesuke could get a bite into his mouth, the thick bamboo of the forest was pushed aside, and an incredible monster stepped into sight. It was larger than a human, and looked like some mix between a monkey and a bear. It had long tufts of hair on its head, and fur covering its entire body.

Instead of panicking, the porter calmly looked at the strange beast. It looked hungry, Takesuke decided. He then casually split his lunch, offering the animal half. The creature was delighted, and accepted the food and ate it with vigor.

With the meal done, the strange beast leapt to its feel and shouldered Takesuke’s burden as if it weighted nothing at all. The porter walked ahead down the mountain trail, while the creature happily ambled along behind. When they got within sight of the porter’s definition, the creature took off the heavy backpack, set it down carefully, and scampered back into the forest.

It was never seen again.

Sakaiminato_Mizuki_Shigeru_Road_Ijyu_Statue_1

Translator’s Note:

Ijyuu is another one-shot yokai with only one appearance, and another translation for reader Michael Goldstein of Yokai Composed.

For as obscure and limited the Ijyuu is, it still got one of the coveted spots as a bronze statue on Mizuki Shigeru Road in Sakaiminato, Tottori prefecture.

Further Reading:

For more mysterious monsters, check out:

Shirime – Eyeball Butt

Onikuma – The Demon Bear

The Kappa of Mikawa-cho

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