Chikaramochi Yurei – The Strong Japanese Ghost

Chikaramochi Yurei Mizuki Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

Long ago in the Empou period (1670 – 1683), an unusual farmer’s wife lived in a small village called Mikoharabara, which was nestled in a remote mountain valley in the province of Noshu (modern day Ishikawa prefecture).

She was unusual for several reasons. For one, she had fish scales growing under her armpits where she should have had skin. Second, her nipples were so long that she could throw them over her shoulder and feed her baby while it was still nestled on her back. Last, she was incredibly strong—it was said this farmer’s wife could do the world of 4-5 grown men, all by herself.

However, even the strongest person is not invulnerable. One winter the farmer’s wife got sick and died.

The 17th day after her death, she came back as a yurei and haunted her husband to death. No one really knew what he did to deserve her curse, but there it was. Even then, she still wasn’t satisfied. From time to time the woman’s yurei would appear in the village and frighten people and cause mischief.

Eventually, a man named Sakuzou was traveling through the mountains on business when he stopped by the village. After hearing the villagers’ stories, he wondered if there might not be a hole in her grave. This, he thought, would account for her restless spirit still haunting the village even after she had killed her husband. The villagers went to check, and sure enough there was a deep hole burrowed into her grave. Working together, the filled the hole and covered it with a large stone.

This wasn’t the solution they were hoping for though, although it did have a strange effect. The woman’s grudge transferred to Sakuzou and almost immediately she began to torment him as much as she had her husband. Under siege, Sakuzou made a pilgrimage to a nearby shrine that he knew, and borrowed a famous sword kept there. The sword was known to be a talisman against yurei with ghost-quelling powers. Sakuzou kept the sword by his side constantly, and was no longer troubled by the woman’s vengeful spirit. Satisfied that he had broken the curse, he returned the sword to the shrine

His business finished at last, Sakuzou began his journey home along the steep mountain pass. He had not walked long when he felt some strange presence coming up behind him. He had no time to react before he was lifted bodily off the grown, and thrown 10 meters over the edge of the road and into the mountain valley below. The impact rendered him unconscious, and Sakuzou lay bleeding, looking as though he had died. The farmer’s wife was apparently satisfied thinking she had killed Sakuzou, and with that her yurei vanished, never to be seen again.

Translator’s Note:

Another in my Japanese ghost series for Halloween, this story comes from the Edo-period Kaidanshu Yotsu Fugoroku (四不語録; Four Recordings of Silence). The story appeared under the generic title of Onna no Yurei (女の幽霊; Female Yurei) until Mizuki Shigeru collected it and included it in his Mujyara series, where he renamed it Chikaramochi Yurei (力持ち幽霊; The Strong Ghost).

Mizuki Shigeru also adds a note saying you should be careful of women with fish scales under their armpits. They are probably already yokai to begin with.

Further Reading:

For more Yurei tales, check out:

The Ghost of Oyuki

Shudan Borei – A Group of Ghosts

Shichinin Dogyo – The Seven Pilgrims

The Gratitude-Expressing Yurei

Hokusai’s Manga Yurei

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Kejoro – The Hair Hooker

Mizuki_Shigeru_Kejoro

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

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

From the sashay of those hips and the long, cascading raven-black hair, you know that you have found a rare beauty. You have only seen her from behind, but you must have her. So you rush to grab her and spin her around only to be confronted by something out of your nightmares—no face. No nose, no eyes, no lips. Just a mass of that same raven-black hair pouring out at you. Only then do you know that this was no sensuous lady of the evening, but an encounter with the Kejoro – The Hair Hooker.

What Does Kejoro Mean?

Another yokai with a (somewhat) straight-forward name, the Kejoro combines the kanji毛 (ke; hair) +倡妓 (Joro; hooker). I say somewhat straight-forward, because the kanji倡妓 is extremely obscure, so obscure that I wasn’t able to find any use of it EXCEPT for the Kejoro.

There is an alternate kanji usage, 毛女郎, which uses a more common 女郎 (Joro) with the same reading. However, while女郎 might be a more common kanji, most instances of the Kejoro use the more obscure 毛倡妓.

What is a Kejoro?

Kejoro Hyakumonogatari 1968Publicity Card from the 1968 Film Yokai Hyakumonogatari

Kejoro is the living embodiment of the “pretty from the back, ugly from the front” phenomenon that almost everyone has encountered at least once in their life. You get drawn in by a spectacle of callipygian splendor and really nice hair, then you run around to see the face that must accompany that body only to see a horror show. Male or female, this has to have happened to all of us. But only Japan made a monster about it.

There have been disagreements over the years exactly what a Kejoro is—a woman with a lot of hair that cascades over her body, or a strange creature made entirely of hair with no body underneath? She has been depicted both ways, largely at the personal preference of the artist.

The Origin of Kejoro

SekienKejoro

Kejoro made her first appearance in Toriyama Sekien’s kaidan-shu Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki (今昔画図続百鬼; The Illustrated One Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past). The story given by Sekein is almost exactly as described in the opening:

“A man is venturing into the Yoshiwara red light district one evening, when he sees a prostitute walking down the street. From the rear, he recognizes her as one of his favorites, and so rushes up to claim her. When she turns around, she reveals her entire body is made up of hair, with no skin visible. “

Toriyama may have been influenced by a similar monster from Chinese mythology, called the Hair Woman (毛女). The Hair Woman is also made up entirely of hair, although she does not have the same connection to the red light district and prostitution. She comes from an old Chinese book投轄録 (Tou Xia Lu-Yu Zhao Xin Zhi; A Grand View of Literary Sketchbooks in the Past Dynasties) and it is not know if Toriayama was familiar with her or not when creating the Kejoro.

More likely Toriyama was making some sort of commentary on the red light district, or playing word games with popular slang of the time. On the adjacent page to the Kejoro of the Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki is another prostitute-turned-yokai, the Aonyobu (青女房; Blue Wife). “Blue Wife” was a derogatory term for a woman who had contracted the kidney disease jinkyo (腎虚; renal ischemia), and it is possible that “Kejoro” was a similar insult that Toriyama made a monster of.

Making yokai from popular slang terms was a common practice of Toriyama, as also seen in the Kyokotsu – Crazy Bones.

Kejoro and the Yellow Books

Like many of Toriyama’s creations, the Kejoro took on a life beyond her initial creation and was a popular character in the Edo-period kiboshi (黄表紙; Yellow Books) such as Sakuragawa Jiginari’s Bakemono Haruasobi (変化物春遊 Bakemono’s Spring Play). Kiboshi were lurid, cheap tales that were some of Japan’s first mass-market literature.

An entire genre of kibosh was dedicated to the Yoshiwara pleasure districts, and the Kejoro fit easily into this “Please District Literature.” Supernatural prostitutes were a popular theme, such as the Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo.

The Meaning of Kejoro

Whether her creation is just Toriyama indulging in some word play or whether the Kejoro has some deeper meaning has been a debate between yokai scholars over the years.

Many feel the Kejoro falls under the Nopperabo category (See Shirime), a “startling yokai” that appears to be one thing that is actually another. There are many variations on the Nopperabo story in Japan, all based on expectations and the shock of something ordinary turning out to be something extraordinary

Researcher Tada Katsumi sees the Kejoro as a satire and commentary on Edo-period “Pleasure District Literature” that were popular at the time. There were many cautionary tales of prostitutes that turned out to be something horrific, and Tada shows the linking of the words化粧 (kesho; make-up, cosmetics) with お化け (obake; monster). Both share the kanji化 meaning “to change,” and the yokai prostitute tales comment on women’s ability to alter their appearance and hide their true face.

However, my personal favorite explanation of the Kejoro—because it is by far the scariest—relates to the ceremony of心中立 ( Shinjutate; Standing Your True Heart).

In the Edo-period prostitutes were bought and sold like property, and their only real hope was that a client would fall in love with them and buy them out of their contract and take them home as a wife. There were some happy endings, but just as often something got in the way—the man already had a wife, or couldn’t afford to purchase the woman entirely. In these cases 心中 (Shinju; Double Suicide) was often the only way out.

But sometimes the love was one-sided, a prostitute who fell so deeply in love with her client that she refused other customers. In these cases, there were rituals—known collectively as心中立 ( Shinjutate; Standing Your True Heart)—that she could perform to make herself unattractive to new customers.

One of the Shinjutate was to shave off all of your hair, and tattoo the clients name prominently on your body. This self-marked a prostitute, making her useless to her owner. But not all of these gestures were faithfully rewarded. Some (perhaps many) women performed the Shinjutate for men whose affections were not so faithful.

Some yokai researchers and storytellers imagined this hair, shorn off as symbol of love that was betrayed, taking on a life of its own to become the Kejoro.

Kejoro in Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan

kejoro Nura Clan Yokai

The Kejoro is a character in Nura: Rise of the Yokai clan, where she is decidedly more sexy and bears little resemblance to her folklore counterpart. Unlike Toriyama’s Kejoro, any patron of the Yoshiwara would probably be thrilled to spin a woman around from behind and see the Kejoro of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.

Translator’s Note:

I was in the mood for a legitimately scary yokai after the recent round of magical beasts and yokai from my translation of Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. The Kejoro fit the bill, and going into October and Halloween I think I’m going to focus on yurei and some of the more frightening monsters in Japan’s folkloric menagerie.

Further Reading:

For more dangerous ladies, check out:

The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo

Takaonna – The Tall Woman

Nure Onago – The Soaked Woman

Hashihime – The Bridge Princess

Tenjoname – The Ceiling Licker

Tenjoname_Mizuki_Shigeru

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

Some yokai are scary, some are funny, and some are just … weird. The tenjoname—that bizarre, late-night licker of ceilings—is one of the few yokai that fits all three categories at once.

What Does Tenjoname Mean?

You can’t get much more straightforward than tenjoname. Its name combines 天井 (tenjo; ceiling) + 嘗 (name; lick) to make天井嘗—tenjoname, the ceiling licker.

What Does a Tenjoname Do?

Again, you can’t get much more straightforward than tenjoname—the ceiling licker licks ceilings. That’s pretty much it. It comes out of the darkness on cold, winter nights, and laps away at any accumulated frost or dirt or spider webs clinging to the rafters. You know the next day if you have had a visit from the tenjoname by the dark streaks it leaves behind, evidence of its long, red tongue being drug along the ceiling.

Oh, and there is the small consequence that if you catch sight of a tenjoname while it is doing its business, you die.

Of course, that minor detail doesn’t appear in every legend. But if you are tucked away in bed at night and hear something crawling along the ceiling—or maybe the sound of a long, slurping tongue—it’s probably for the best not to sneak a peek and risk death. Keep your eyes shut tight.

The Origin of the Tenjoname

SekienTenjoname

Like many yokai, the tenjoname is the invention of artist and yokai-maker Toriyama Sekien. Tenjoname first appeared in Toriyama’s yokai encyclopedia Gazu Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro (画図百器徒然袋; The Illustrated Bag of One Hundred Random Demons).

Toriyama wrote on his illustration:

“The heights of the ceiling devour the lamplight when the winter in cold. This is not by design. You will shiver in fear if you catch a glimpse of the this strange apparition, and know that it is no dream.”

The Gazu Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro is famous for its literary allusions, and connection to things in everyday life. For the tenjoname, Toriyama was inspired by a poem from the book Tsurezuregusa (徒然草; Essays in Idleness). The poem comes from the 55th verse of the book, and says:

“In the cold of winter, tall ceilings swallow the lantern light.”

Like many Japanese poems, these lines are meant to evoke an image and emotional response from readers at the time. It deals with a subject most Japanese people would be familiar with. Japanese houses from the period were built with tall, towering ceilings. This was useful in the summer, and helped open up the house to dissipate the fierce tropical heat and humidity of the Japanese summer.

What was a blessing in summer was a curse in winter. The charcoal hibachi and fish oil lanterns were not powerful enough to reach the high ceilings, and so in the winter they became a mysterious domain of frost and shadows.

Yokai in the Boundaries

Ceilings are also boundaries, and in Japanese folklore yokai are known to haunt boundaries. Like fairylore of many countries, yokai exist in the in-between places—in the twilight between light and darkness, on the surface of the ocean that breaks the water world and the dry, or even in the ceiling that separates the inside from the outside.

From ancient times the ceiling was a gathering place for magical creatures, and many kaidan tell of a menagerie of yurei and yokai dangling from the rafters and hiding in the high corners of houses. Toriyama read the poem in Tsurezuregusa, thought of old stories of monsters on the ceilings, and imagined a yokai that scuttled around in the darkness of cold, winter nights.

The Design of the Tenjoname

Tenjoname_Night_Parade_of_100_Demons

For his visual interpretation of the tenjoname, Toriyama looked to the famous Muromachi period picture scroll the Hyakki Yagyo Emaki (百鬼夜行絵巻; Night Parade of 100 Demons Picture Scroll). At the time the scroll—and others like it—were designed, the yokai depicted had no name or story. Most of them were just interesting visual designs on the part of the artists, who thought no more of their individual traits than Hieronymus Bosch thought of his demons in his hell portraits. They were just weird designs.

Toriyama took a particular yokai running around with its tongue out staring and the ceiling and decided that was his tenjoname. Strangely enough that particular yokai inspired other yokai as well. A different version of the Hyakki Yagyo Emaki has the word “Isogashi” (meaning “busy” or “frantic” in Japanese) written next to it, and so the Isogashi became another yokai that was constantly running around knocking things over. An almost identical yokai to the tenjoname, called the tenjosagari or “ceiling descender,” comes down from the ceiling and licks the sleepers below instead of the ceiling.

Tenjoname in Showa and Beyond

Just as Toriyama built off of the Tsurezuregusa, many other writers added to the legend of the tenjoname over the years. Fujisawa Morihiko’s 1929 book Yokai Gadan Zenshu
(妖怪画談全集; Complete Discussions of Yokai) added the detail of stains being left behind on the ceiling as evidence of the tenjoname’s visit.

Yamamura Shizuka and Yamada Norio’s 1974 book Yokai Majin Shorei no Sekai (妖怪魔神精霊の世界; The Worlds of Ghosts, Evil Monsters, and Yokai) tells the story of a tenjoname haunting a castle in Tatebayashi Castle, part of the Tatebayashi Domain (Modern day Gunma prefecture) The cobwebs of the castle would be mysteriously licked clean, with the tell-tale slime trail of the tenjoname’s tongue being left behind. The source of this story is unknown, however, and first appears in Yamamura and Yamada’s book.

During the Showa period, the story of the tenjoname leveled-up, adding the terrifying component that seeing the face of the tenjoname would kill you. That has been come an important part of the modern mythos, and has scared many a young Japanese child into into not looking up at their ceilings at night for fear of seeing its frightful face.

Translator’s Note:

This is another yokai that appears in my translation of Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. As a young boy, Nonnonba shows Mizuki Shigeru the frost that has accumulated on the ceiling and warns him of the tenjoname that will come at night to lick it off.

Additional Reading:

For more yokai from Showa: A History of Japan, check out:

Nezumi Otoko – Rat Man

Hidarugami – The Hungry Gods

Sazae Oni – The Turban Shell Demon

Kitsune on Yomeiri – The Fox Wedding

Betobeto San – The Footsteps Yokai

Betobeto-San – The Footsteps Yokai

Mizuki Shigeru Betobeto San

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

When you are walking down a lonely mountain road at night, and you hear footsteps behind you, don’t be alarmed. You have probably attracted the attention of that amiable yokai Betobeto-san. If you aren’t in the mood for yokai company, just step to one side of the road and say “Oh please, Betobeto-san—you first.” With that said, Betobeto-san will walk on by.

What Does Betobeto-San Mean?

The word “beto beto” (べとべと) has a few different meanings in Japanese. Japanese loves homophones, and we usually have the kanji to give us a clue as to the meaning. Not here though—beto beto is written in hiragana so we have to do a little deductive reasoning.

One of the meanings of beto beto—and the most common—is “sticky.” This is what you will find in most dictionaries, and has lead to some mistranslations of Betobeto-san as “Mr. Sticky.”

However, another meaning refers to an onomatopoeia of the sound of footsteps (Beto beto beto … ). This makes more sense given the nature of Betobeto-san, and a more accurate translation would be “Mr. Footsteps.”

(Although even the “Mr.” part is up in the air. The Japanese honorific “–san” (さん) has no gender bias, so Betobeto-san could easily be “Ms. Footsteps” or something gender-neutral like “The Honorable Footsteps.” None of those makes for a good translation though so I stick with Betobeto-san.)

What is Betobeto-san?

Betobeto San Station

For most of its existence, Betobeto-san was a purely aural yokai. It embodied as the sound of someone following you down a dark street at night. The sound beto beto beto … brings to mind wooden clogs on hard streets, although Betobeto-san can be found wandering both city and country roads. Legends of Betobeto-san come mostly from Uda gun in Nara prefecture, and from Shizuoka prefecture, where Betobeto-san only travels mountain roads.

There are similar legends across all of Japan, usually with some slight variation. In Sakai gun, Fukui prefecture the yokai is called the “Bisha ga Tsuku” (びしゃがつく; The Following Bisha). The main difference is that the Bisha ga Tsuku only comes out in winter, where you can hear the sounds “bisha bisha” as someone walks behind you, crunching on the snow.

In any case, and whatever the name, Betobeto-san is not a dangerous yokai, and means no harm to anyone. If you hear the sound behind you, you step to the side of the road and invite it to pass by you. If you are in Nara prefecture, the phrase is “Betobeto-san, Osakini Okoshi” (お先にお越し; “Please Betobeto-san, you go first.”) In Shizuoka prefecture the more casual “Osakini Dozo” (お先にどうぞ; “Go right ahead.”) works just as well. With that formality observed, Betobeto-san will accept the invitation and walk by, looking for someone new to follow behind.

The Refusing Betobeto-San

There is one story of Betobeto-san not accepting the invitation. A man carrying a lantern was walking down a dark street when he heard the unmistakable sounds of Betobeto-san behind him. Knowing his yokai lore, he stepped aside and said “After you, Betobeto-san.” To his surprise, he heard an answer from behind: “I can’t go ahead. It’s too dark.” The man then offered Betobeto-san his lantern, and was even more surprised to hear a “Thank you” in reply, and to watch his lantern go bobbing down the street in front of him, held by invisible hands.

The man made it back to his house in the dark, and found his lantern returned the following morning.

Mizuki Shigeru and Betobeto-san

Betobeto-san is one of the yokai Mizuki Shigeru encountered as a young boy. His caretaker and friend Nonnonba taught him the chant that lets the Betobeto-san walk by.

SH350002

When he was older, Mizuki Shigeru included Betobeto-san in his comics, and he was the first one to give the yokai a physical appearance. In all prior accounts, Betobeto-san was nothing more than the sound of footsteps. Mizuki imagined with the footsteps might be attached to, and the round yokai with the large friendly smile is what he came up with.

Before Mizuki Shigeru’s comics, Betobeto-san was an obscure, unknown yokai not included in any of the major yokai encyclopedias or collections. Now, the Honorable Footsteps is one of Japan’s most popular yokai and ranked in 5th place in a “What’s Your Favorite Yokai?” survey held across Japan. In Sakaiminato city (Mizuki Shigeru’s birthplace) there is a train station named “Betobeto-san,” and Betobeto-san was one of the few yokai to show up in the popular TV drama Gegege no Nyobo that told the story of Mizuki Shigeru’s wife.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Much of Betobeto-san’s fame and popularity is attributed to Mizuki’s design. The large, friendly smiling mouth made the yokai an instant favorite of children. Tourists to Sakaiminato like to pose next to the Betobeto-san statue and try and imitate its mouth, and leave coins in its mouth for good luck. It just goes to show that, even in the case of yokai, a good character design can be more memorable than a good story.

Translator’s Note:

Betobeto-san is another yokai that makes an appearance in my translation of Mizuki Shigeru’s Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, as well as in another Mizuki Shigeru comic published in English, NonNonBa.

Further Reading:

For more yokai from Showa: A History of Japan, check out:

Nezumi Otoko – Rat Man

Kitsune no Yomeiri – The Fox Wedding

Sazae Oni – The Sazae Demon

Hidarugami – The Hunger Gods

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