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?
Publicity 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
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
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.
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.
For more dangerous ladies, check out:
The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo
Takaonna – The Tall Woman
Nure Onago – The Soaked Woman
Hashihime – The Bridge Princess