Nebutori – The Sleeping Fatty

Mizuki_Shigeru_Nebutori

Translated and adapted from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Ehon Hyakumonogatari, and Japanese Wikipedia

A tale as old as time; in a drunken night of revelry, you climb in bed with a beautiful girl but wake up the next day sleeping besides a giant fat woman. What happened? That hot, sexy gal must have been infected by that insidious yokai disease nebutori – the Sleeping Fatty.

What Does Nebutori Mean?

Nebutori can be written a few ways, all of which are disgusting. The most common is寝肥 which combines 寝 (ne; Sleep) + 肥 (butori; dung, night soil … you know; poop). The term is a play on words, rhyming with 寝太 , meaning寝 (ne; Sleep) + 太 (futori; to gain weight, fat).

Nebutori is a yokai disease. It only infects women, and makes them fat while they sleep–either suddenly or gradually. It is considered an infectious disease, like a bacteria. Women infected with nebutori don’t necessesarily eat more—they just get fat while they sleep. (And yes, it is just women. I have never seen a nebutori tale involving men. Sorry.)

The term has spread into modern Japanese, where it is sometimes used in context to sudden or inexplicable weight gain. Nebutori is also used to describe weight gain in elderly women, especially those on a high-calorie / low-exorcize diet.

Sad Stories of Nebutori

Nebutori originates from the Edo period Ehon Monogatari (絵本百物語; Picture Book of 100 Strange Stories). The story is short and sweet.

A man goes out for a night on the town. After a marathon drinking sessions, he meets and beds a beautiful young girl. They fall asleep next to each other, but in the middle of the night, the man is awoken by a thunderous snore—louder than a passing carriage. He opens his eyes and is shocked to find that—instead of the beautiful girl he went to bed with—he is sleeping next to an enormous mass of quivering flesh.

I found a different story while researching, but I am not sure of its literary origin. It comes from Okushu (modern day Aomori and Iwate prefectures). It doesn’t really seem to describe a case of nebutori—just a woman slowly gaining weight over time—but that is how the tale is listed.

A man and his wife lived together. When they married the wife was slim and beautiful, but she caught nebutori and ballooned in size. The couple owned ten futons, and seven were spread out for the wife to sleep on. Eventually the man became disgusted with this gigantic wife and divorced her. That’s why wives in Okushu are warned to be on the lookout for catching nebutori.

Nebutori and Tanuki Possession

This is an additional tale that is sometimes called nebutori, although in truth it is a case of tanukitsukai—tanuki possession. This story, coming from the 1828 book Shichuso (視聴草; Tales of Looking and Listening).

An elderly woman named Yachi lay on her death bed, breathing her last. To the stunned surprise of her assembled family, Yachi suddenly sprang up and declared herself healthy, but starving. The family brought forth food they had prepared for the funeral service, and the old woman ate it all. But Yachi was still ravenous. While waiting for more food to be prepared, she drank sake and sang boisterous songs. The family was pleased to have Yachi so energetic again, but perplexed. They summoned a doctor to examine her.

The doctor could find nothing wrong with Yachi. Meanwhile, her body was swelling to enormous proportions and she soon outgrew her clothes. The family dug out the winter clothes to try and drape around her, and as they took away her light summer kimono they noticed something strange—the inside was covered in the hair of some kind of beast. The family grew suspicious, and placed a paper and pen next to Yachi asking her to write down her next menu request. With this promptly done, the family knew something was wrong—Yachi could neither read nor write.

That night, the family secretly moved an image of the Amidha Buddha into Yachi’s room. With that done, they saw a shocked tanuki crawl from Yachi’s mouth and flee into the night, leaving behind the dead body it had occupied for awhile.

Translator’s Note:

Is anyone feeling like they caught a case of nebutori after Thanksgiving? Although nebutori isn’t really from overeating—it is more like the yokai equivalent of beer goggles. A drunken guy goes to bed with a hotty and wakes up with a notty. It couldn’t have been a drunken mistake, right? Best to blame it on a yokai disease!

ShunsenNebutori

Nebutori is another example that shows just how wide the definition of “yokai” can be. There is no creature here, no monster. Just a “yokai disease” that infects ordinary people.

Further Reading:

For more Thanksgiving-inspired tales of overeating yokai, check out:

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

Suppon no Onryo – The Vengeful Ghosts of the Turtles

Suppon no Yurei – The Turtle Ghost

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

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Konnyaku no Yurei – The Konnyaku Ghost of Tenri

Mizuki_Shigeru_Konyaku_Yurei

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

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Legends of Tenri, and Other Sources

This peculiar story comes from Tenri city, in Nara prefecture. In the span separating Kabata ward from Inaba ward, there is a stone bridge nicknamed the Konnyaku Bridge. This is why.

Long ago, a rice dealer named Magobei was making his way across the city at night when he went to cross the stone bridge. Before he could cross, a female yurei appeared on the center of the bridge, with a large piece of konnyaku hanging from her mouth. Terrified, Magobei dropped to his knees and began chanting the name of the Amida Buddha over and over again. When he reached the 99th repetition of the Buddha’s name, the bizarre konnyaku yurei disappeared. With the way cleared, Magobei ran home as fast as his legs could carry him.

He later heard that there had been a married couple in town who had quarreled over a piece of konnyaku, and that somehow lead to the wife’s death. The details were unclear, nor did anyone know exactly what the woman wanted. It is said that she appeared from time to time on that bridge, always with the same chunk of konnyaku dangling from her mouth. And that stone bridge has been known as the Konnyaku Bridge ever since.

Translator’s Note:

Another short and sweet yurei tale for Halloween! This one is a local legend that Mizuki Shigeru collected, from the town of Tenri in Nara prefecture. I lived in Nara for several years, but unfortunately didn’t know this story at the time. I would have gone in search of the Konnyaku Bridge!

There are actually several Konnyaku Bridges across Japan. Some have legends attached to them, like the Konnyaku Ghost of Tenri, but most likely these legends came long after the name. Traditionally, Konnyaku Bridges were low water wooden crossing bridges that tended to wobble and shake like the eponymous konnyaku. The sturdy stone bridge in Tenri being called a “Konnyaku Bridge” is odd enough for someone to create a ghost story about.

They are fairly unsafe, and most of these have been replaced by modern bridges although they retain their names. Like many vanished parts of Japan, those wobbly Konnyaku Bridges are nostalgic enough for a sappy pop song to be written about them.

Konyaku Bashi

Here’s a picture of a Konnyaku Bridge in Hyogo, from this blog

If you aren’t familiar with it, konnyaku is a unique Japanese food that is almost impossible to describe. The dictionary calls it “solidified jelly made from the rhizome of Devil’s Tongue.” It usually comes in a squishy block of …. yeah, OK. “Solidified jelly” is about the best term there is. So a block of “solidified jelly” that is sliced and added to salads, or boiled and added to soups like nabe and oden, or put on a stick and grilled. I made konnyaku once, and it is a process as bizarre as the food sounds. It makes you wonder who on Earth saw the nasty, starchy root called Devil’s Tongue and figured that it you pounded it and boiled it enough you could render it into something edible.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Needless to say, konnyaku is an acquired taste. I like it myself, mainly grilled and slathered with hot karashi mustard, but I know far more people that loathe it than love it. At least amongst the non-Japanese. In Japan it is just standard fare.

Oh …. And although it doesn’t relate to this story, konnyaku is known to be a killer. Because of its solidified jelly status it can literally be hard to swallow. Konnyaku has been known to get stuck in the throats and suffocate those whose throat muscles aren’t strong enough to move it down—mainly small children and the elderly. With the konnyaku hanging out of this yurei’s mouth, it makes you wonder if her husband didn’t kill her by shoving a piece down her throat. Not a pleasant way to die.

There is another story from Wakayama prefecture called the Konnyaku Yurei, but instead of the ghost of a woman it is about an old piece of konnyaku that somehow became a yokai. A story for another time.

Further Reading:

Bridges are a popular haunting spot for Japanese ghosts and monsters. Check out:

Gatagata Bashi – The Rattling Bridge

Hashihime – The Bridge Princess

The Tale of the Hashihime of Uji

The Kappa of Mikawa-cho

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

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

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

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