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Yokai in Folklore and Art

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Yokai is an umbrella term for the supernatural creatures of Japan. I find them endlessly fascinating and have decided to dedicate a separate post to links and information that may be of interest to those wanting to learn more about yokai.

Hikeshi Baba

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Hikeshi baba is a yokai appearing as a scary looking old woman with white hair. She wanders from house to house at night blowing out lanterns. Hikeshi baba translates as 'fire extinguishing old woman' and her goal seems to be to rid the night of any cheerful lights. While she is not dangerous herself, she creates dark and gloomy conditions which are then suitable for other yokai to get up to all sorts of mischief.

Yanari

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So you think you've got noisy or annoying neighbours? Well, be grateful that you don't have yanari in your house. These tiny oni (demons) appear in houses after dark carrying mini tools, such as mallets or iron clubs and using them to make as much noise as possible , banging walls and floors.

Hermes

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In Greek mythology, Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia and was the god of speech, eloquence, trade and travel. He was known as a trickster god and is the patron deity of thieves. This is no doubt because in the myths, he stole his brother Apollo's prized cattle when he was only a day old. Apollo was furious but Hermes soon invented the lyre using the shell of a tortoise and gifted it to his brother, whereupon he was promptly forgiven. 

Kappa

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In Japanese folklore kappa are a type of water goblin that resemble a small reptilian creatures about the size of a small child. They live in lakes and rivers waiting to attack unsuspecting passers-by and can be very dangerous.   If you encounter a kappa it will either tear out your insides in search of a mystic jewel, drag you to a watery death, or both. Be sure to have some cucumbers ready if you happen to meet one as it's their favourite treat and can often distract them long enough to allow you to escape.

Hyakki Yagyo - Night Parade of 100 Demons

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One of the spookiest things in Japanese folklore is the hyakki yagyo, or night parade of one hundred demons. On inauspicious nights, all the yokai, ghosts and other supernatural creatures parade through the streets of Japan, singing and dancing wildly.

Futakuchi Onna

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In Japanese folklore, Futakuchi onna is a yokai who appears as a regular woman, however she has a second mouth hidden on the back of her head beneath her hair. This mouth is voraciously hungry and uses strands of hair as tentacles to gather food and stuff it into her extra mouth.  Some people believe this yokai is actually a yama uba (mountain witch) disguising herself as a young woman. There are also suggestions that futakuchi onna are cursed women, resulting from not caring well enough for children, especially step children. Another possibility is that they are the result of frustrated women who have repressed their true feelings over many years and not spoken out.

Shippeitaro

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In the Japanese fokltale Shippeitaro, a warrior is travelling through a magical forest one day when he comes across a shrine and decides to sleep there for the night. At around midnight he is woken by the yowling of cats who he saw were dancing around and saying 'be careful not to tell Shippeitaro.' Unsure what to make of this, he continued on through the forest the next day until he reached a small village. Somewhere he could hear a female crying. He was told that the village was under the powerful curse of a bakeneko (yokai cat) who demanded that a young girl be sacrificed to her each year, and this year it was the turn of the poor wailing girl. She had been put in a box sometimes a cage and left at the shrine for the bakeneko. 

Freyja

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In Norse mythology, Freyja is the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, war and death. She owned the magical necklace Brisingamen and a cloak of falcon feathers that gave its wearers the gift of flight. She is accompanied by the golden boar Hildisvini and rides in a chariot pulled by two cats. 

Kaibyo - Yokai Cats

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Cats are enormously popular in Japan but when it comes to folklore, there are a collection of  supernatural cats that are quite terrifying. Bakeneko Bakeneko are changing cats, a type of yokai that is able to take human shape and blend in with society. It is believed that once cats have lived their full lifespan, they are able to transform from regular cats into yokai. In some versions of the folklore it is believed that a bakeneko can transform sooner if they drink the blood of murder victims.

Kotobuki

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In Japanese folklore, the kotobuki is a chimera made up of different body parts of all twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. In Edo times, it was believed that just possessing an image of kotobuki would protect you from sickness and disease. Consequently, woodblock prints of this auspicious magical creature were commonly given as gifts and used as charms to attract good fortune. 

Ashiarai Yashiki

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In Japanese folklore there was a strange phenomenon known as ashiarai yashiki, which translates as 'foot washing manor'. It was reported that a giant, hairy, bloody, disembodied foot crashed through the roof of a manor house one evening demanding in a loud booming voice to be washed. The terrified residents within quickly obeyed, grabbing buckets and water and washing the food clean. At this point it lifted up up through the manor's roof and disappeared.

Trees in Japanese Folklore

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Trees play an important role in both Japanese folklore and culture. The concept of shinrin yoko, or forest bathing, has become well known outside of Japan at a time when there is an increased awareness of the benefits of spending time in nature. In Shinto, there is a belief that all things contain a spirit. This is why shrines are often found in forests, and ancient trees are particularly revered. Trees are marked with shimenawa (special straw ropes) that are used in sacred places in Japan.