Yokai of the Week (part two)

So, I know we already did a “Yokai of the Week” post this week, but we miss Lauren and we thought we’d do a tribute post in her absence.

The Moore

The Moore has a love for wings and corn dogs in the context of podcast meetings, and is known for improving the overall morale with off-topic discussion. I’ve never personally seen Lauren sumo wrestle, but anything is possible. She’s more likely to challenge you to a game of basketball though, and you will lose. I know for a fact that she doesn’t have any water in a bowl on her head, so you can’t trick her into bowing as a weakness. However, if you bring an offering of a white chocolate mocha, she will give you her first born son(Featured below) and will probably be your friend.


All in all, the Moore is fantastic and we can’t wait to regroup Monday! Some of us will meet Sunday to discuss music, a little bit of discussion restructuring, and Monday we’ll finish up recording and creating our presentation.

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!!

Victoria Cummings

Am I Pretty?

The kuchisake-onna is the product of a country trying to return to its roots during a period of rapid modernization. She is a bridge between the mystical yokai of the past and the horrors that fit a new age; a new type of yokai that fit themselves into the concrete and lights and traffic of a large city.

The kuchisake-onna’s tale spread throughout Japan in less than a year, and like any other story, it has many different versions. At its base level, the story is always about a woman with a surgical mask that hides horrible cuts on her face. She approaches her victim in the dark and asks, “Am I pretty?” If the victim says no, they are killed. If the victim says yes, she rips off her mask to reveal her disfigurement and asks again, “Am I pretty?” The victim can at this point choose to say no, leading to death, or yes, which prompts the kuchisake-onna to attack and cut her victim’s mouth like her own.

The different versions of the story add bits of pre-existing motifs from other yokai or insert other cultural anxieties into her tale. She can seem very real because of her appearance. She’s human, and the fact that she wears a surgical mask only allows her to camouflage herself easily. People in many parts of the world but in East Asia in particular often wear these masks to filter pollution or as a precautionary measure against illness. Her setting is a lonely street or subway, and her story is just familiar enough to be believable, though her origin story changes depending on who tells it and in which prefecture. This example from Nomura Jun’ichi shows a combination of the most common origins of the kuchisake-onna:
There are three sisters. The oldest had cosmetic surgery and, mistakenly, her mouth was slit open. The second sister was in a traffic accident and her mouth was slit open. Because of that, the youngest sister went insane, slit open her own mouth and was put into a mental hospital. She escaped and has appeared in town. Her hair is long; she always wears a mask and holds a scythe in one hand. If you give her candy [bekko-ame], she won’t chase after you. Or if you say “pomade,” you can run away. (qtd. in Foster 2009, 186)

In a society dominated by men, the kuchisake-onna was both a cautionary tale against cosmetic surgery and a commentary on the pressures women endure to change themselves and be beautiful per society’s standards. Michael Dylan Foster also suggested that the story of the kuchisake-onna served several purposes. She reflects some of the conflict with the shifting role of women in Japanese society and the changing gender norms that came with it. On one hand, his discussion touches on how the kuchisake-onna is a symbol of the pressure women face to be beautiful. On the other hand, he says the kuchisake-onna was seen as a symbol of beauty as a weapon. He mentions one of the 1970s Japanese women’s magazines that he researched, and how an article about kuchisake-onna was placed right next to an advertisement for plastic surgery. The dangers of these operations were made to seem as if they were much less compared to an over-exaggeration of a cosmetic surgery horror story. (Foster 2007, 712-713)

Though the story of this yokai was first documented in the Gifu prefecture in 1978, connections were drawn through tale to other women yokai that existed earlier (Foster 2009, 184). This happened to quickly validate her existence in the yokai pantheon. During the time her story first arose, Japan was going through an identity crisis. The rapid industrialization and urbanization of Japan led to programs being created that focused solely on the country’s past. Tours of the countryside were created in order to bring people back to the roots of their traditions, and the popularity of yokai soared. It wasn’t the popularity they had before the Meiji era, however. This was a popularity brought about by the commercialization of the myths many people had grown up with, so while the majority of citizens knew about yokai, these tales didn’t hold the same power over people that they once did. The nostalgia for the mysteries of the yokai did not have a place in an urban environment, and it makes sense that a new horror would be born in a turbulent and nostalgic time. As Foster aptly summarized it, “Just as migrants to urban centers had transformed their lifestyles to accommodate the spaces of city and suburb, so too the mysteries of the past could refashion themselves to be compatible with anonymous streets and concrete apartment buildings.” (Foster 2009, 187)

I mentioned previously that the kuchisake-onna was tied with other yokai that experienced a comeback in popularity. The yamanba and the ubume are two mountain crone yokai that have ties to children, and since the kuchisake-onna preyed exclusively on children in many versions of the story, she was seen as the same. The yamanba is either described as an elderly old woman, or as a young beautiful woman fitting the description of the kuchisake-onna. She was said to nurse children lost for three days, but she was also known for eating children. Because of her appearance and the fixation on children, the kuchisake-onna is suggested to be a yamanba displaced from her mountain (Foster 2009). The yamanba inspired a fashion trend in the 90s that was motivated, similar to the kuchisake-onna, by a desire to break free and protest against the pressure of beauty standards.

The kuchisake-onna is now in horror movies around the world, but it began as nostalgia for the mysticism of the yokai in pre-war Japan. The rapid growth of the country into the modern age brought about radical changes to many aspects of society, and since yokai grew and evolved with the culture up until this point, it only made sense that modern yokai would be radically different from how they were before. However, like Japanese culture today, the yokai still have their roots in the past. The kuchisake-onna may have been inspired by the turmoil of urbanization, but her stories are still reminiscent of the yokai before her.

Works Cited
Foster, Michael Dylan. Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai. Berkeley: U of California, 2009. Print.
Foster, Michael Dylan. “The Question of the Slit‐Mouthed Woman: Contemporary Legend, the Beauty Industry, and Women’s Weekly Magazines in Japan.” Signs, vol. 32, no. 3, 2007, pp. 699–726. www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/510542.
Foster, Michael Dylan, and Kijin Shinonome. The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. Oakland, CA: U of California, 2015. Print.
Nomura, Jun’ichi. Nihon No Sekenbanashi. Tokyo: Tokyo Shoseki, 1995. Print.

First picture is from here: https://scarina.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/kids.jpg
Second is from here: https://scarina.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/chalkpicture.jpg
Third: http://www.strangerdimensions.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Kuchisake-onna.jpg

Last Minute Research and Discoveries with Group Heian

Good evening everyone!

We are in the final stretch of Centre Term and Group Heian is putting the finishing touches on our podcast. While we have mostly completed our research, we are still finding some really cool historical context surrounding our topic. I have been particularly interested in discovering as much as I can regarding the manifestation of the subdued role of women in Japanese Yokai and folklore.

As many of you know from past posts, the Yokai, the Yamamba and Ubume, have both proved excellent case studies for Confucianism’s influence on the role of women in Heian, Kamakura, and Muromachi Japan.

This week, as I was conducting in depth research for my long essay, I found a great article, Transformation of the Oni: From the Frightening and Diabolical to the Cute and Sexy, which presents a lot of fantastic information about depictions of the Yamamba in Muromachi Japan, a time period spanning from the mid 1300s to the late 1500s AD. During this time, an artist by the name of Zeami produced a play entitled the “Noh Play” (Reider, 146). The play portrayed the Yamamba as a protagonist in contradiction to the popular depiction, which illustrates her as villainous and bizarre. Zeami created a character that was lonely, invisible and strived to assist humans with chores. This portrayal contested the Confucian values that were present in the original folklore interpretation of the Yamamba. This is great for our group because it proves that these values were present and being debated in Japanese culture during the Muromachi period.

Since we found this information late in the term, we may not include it in our final script and production. However, we are definitely considering it. We will just have to see what the editing process looks like this weekend.

In other news, we have begun planning for our final presentation on Monday or Tuesday of next week and look forward to finalizing that over the weekend.

See everyone in the morning,


Works Cited

Reider, Nokito. “Transformation of the Oni: From the Frightening and Diabolical to the Cute and Sexy.” Asian Folklore Studies 62, no. 1 (2003): 133-157. Accessed January 17, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1179083?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=noh&searchText=play&searchText=reider&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3Fso%3Drel%26fc%3Doff%26hp%3D25%26Query%3Dnoh%2Bplay%2Breider%2B%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26amp%3D%26wc%3Doff%26prq%3D%2528noh%2Bplay%2529%26acc%3Don&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Don’t Go Into the Mountains Alone… Without Rice


It is a dark night. The moon is full, shining bright among the stars. A campfire is set in the middle of a dark wood with the History 435 class all huddled close together sharing spooky tales from Japan and China. Suddenly, a cloud covers the moon and a shadowy figure emerges from the woods and takes a seat among the students and begins to tell a tale from the mountains….

Many moons ago, long before your time, there were tales of people who used to die in the woods. They would go out and explore the trails of the mountains, hiking up, far away from civilization or just passing through a pass to get to a village on the other side. Some were smart and brought enough food, but others didn’t plan properly. These foolish people would soon run out of food and begin to starve. Those unlucky enough to not make it down the mountain would die and their bodies were never recovered even though their families searched for them. Unmarked and unmourned, these souls rose up and began finding each other. Soon, in their hunger, they travelled around the woods and trails of the mountains, finding any traveller in their path and making them feel the pain of starvation. Many a traveller were unlucky and died during this encounter, joining the ranks of the Hidarugami, hunting to spread their hunger. And it could be anytime before they come across a small campfire, in the middle of the woods… (que the clouds to cover the moon completely, the shadowy figure fades away, screams can be heard in the distance, frightened students running everywhere, dropping their s’mores)

While this isn’t necessarily a super scary story, you probably didn’t drop your s’mores, and there would be no way for me to post this blog from the woods 😉 I will just have to tell you of this interesting tale/creature that brings up both the topics of ghosts, which we have been going over in class, as well as yokai, which is what Group 6 is heavily focusing on.


The hidarugami are a type of ghost that can be found in the mountains of Japan. They are the souls of those, like my super scary story said, who died from starvation while being up in the mountains. They are not properly buried and so this can cause unrest among the spirits, allowing them to leave their bodies and haunt the mountains on which they died. Hidarugami will be near trails and mountain passes, making hikers suffer the same hunger pains that they suffered before death. If a hiker dies during this encounter, they join the ranks of the hidarugami, haunting the mountains forever.


So how does one defend themselves while traveling alone in the mountains?? Well first off, try not to travel alone, but lets not state the obvious. There is a simple way for preventing and/or surviving an attack from the hidarugami. All one must do is carry around a staple crop, a mouthful of rice or other grain. (They can also carry a bento or a couple of rice balls). When the hunger strikes, the prepared traveller will eat a bit of rice or part of their bento and the hunger will fade. However, exercise control and don’t eat all of the rice in one sitting. You never know when you might need more (que the ominous music).

The hidarugami occupies a special place in Japanese horror/warning tales because of the debate on what type of creature the hidarugami actually is. The way hidarugami is written uses both the katakana ヒダル (hidaru; most likely tied to the word 饑い hidarui which means hunger) and the kanji 神 (kami; god). This makes the word “hunger-god.” It is also fascinating to note that other “evil” gods are referred to in a similar way, namely the Binbogami (貧乏神; God of Poverty) and Shinigami (死神; God of Death). But is the hidarugami a god or a vengeful spirit? Is it a yokai or a yurei (ghost)??

Careful not to think too hard, your head might explode… It’s a trick question!! The answer, in this case, is always yes!


As a yokai, it is a type of Tsukimono, or a yokai that possesses the ability to possess people (pun intended). As a yurei, the hidarugami can be called either an evil spirit (akuryo 悪霊) or a vengeful spirit (onryo 怨霊). But they aren’t typical yurei since they actively pursue and create new members and are bound to a single location, the mountains in which they died. They can also be considered as muenbotoke (無縁仏). These are the unworshiped dead and there are special feasts held in order to let the spirits pass on and the hidarugami can usually be taken care of with one ceremony since it is not vey strong. And finally, they can be tied to Buddhism and the Gaki ( 餓鬼), the ghost of hunger from Chinese and Tibetan mythology. These spirits are created from gluttons who are forced to come back as fowl starving creatures that feed on gross things like dead bodies and poop.

Another cool fact is that the Japanese have a different yokai for those who die abandoned on a mountain and others who die in a battle or from a famine and remain unburied. The gashadokuro is a giant skeleton yokai that is born from the fallen soldiers of a battle who are buried in mass graves and/or the victims of famine who also receive poor, if any, funeral rites. They too are born as hungry spirits, driven by pain and hate, turning into a grudge against the living and manifesting in the giant skeleton which is powerful and impossible to kill!

So the moral of these stories are:

  1. Never hike alone
  2. Always carry rice balls/bentos with you
  3. Please remember to properly bury your dead

Heed all of these things and you just might make it out of the woods and home in time for dinner.

Thank you for reading!!


Pictures- Google images


Hidarugami – The Hunger Gods


Tanabata, Death, and Oni


While Group Death has bloodied itself carving through the core of Tanabata intricacies, we have also found other interesting bits to mention that doesn’t fit cleanly into our podcast.

Tanabata is not the only festival in August or July. Another festival called the Obon festival is often mixed up with this holiday. A while back I mentioned how the reading to the kanji for Tanabata should be ‘shichiseki’ but it ended up being called Tanabata to reference a purity tradition. Up until the Edo period many people would put shelves in their houses to perform ancestor worship. However nowadays most people do not perform these rituals, but instead show ancestor worship through the festival of Obon.


藤谷良秀. “Floating Lanterns”,21 August 2011.

The festival lasts around three days. Families visit the places of their ancestors and clean their gravesites. Then, at last, they send candle-lit lanterns down a river. This is similar to tanabata in that strips of paper with wishes written on them are sent down a river. Apparently the original tanabata festival and the Obon festival were like a beginning and end for this sort of festival. Tanabata was a way to say hello to your ancestors, and Obon was a way to say goodbye. Therefore, many people believe the origins of the Obon festival started with the tanabata rituals.

But what does tanabata have to do with youkai?

Good question!

It doesn’t! In the Japanese version of the Star Weaver and the Cowherder there is already a milkyway. However, the main part of the story of Qixi is that a goddess created the milkyway to divide the two. In the Japanese version, the two are just forced to separate on either side of the milkyway. Which begs the question: Where did the Milkyway come from?

There is not much concern for how the milkyway came about and the story of the creation of the milkyway is unpopular and fairly rare. According to You Seihou the Milkyway was created by an oni who, improperly, cut open a melon and its juices flooded the sky, creating the Milkway. There is not much information behind this story, but it is a bit interesting. It brings up many questions, specifically, why does a youkai create a beautiful river of stars in the sky? It’s a mystery that would require a trip to archives in Japan, not something any of us have time for.

Tanabata is a not-so-creepy love story that has a little bit of associations with death, thus it fits nicely into Group Death’s interests.

See you all nice time with other gory details about our podcast!


Works Cited

You Seihou 楊 静芳.中日七夕伝説における天の川の生成に関する比較研究. “A comparison of the creation of the Milky Way in the Chinese and Japanese Tanabata Legend.” Tokyo Gakugei University Repository, 2012.

上江洲, 規子. “実は七夕はお盆と関連が深かった?日本古来の七夕の意外な事実.” 住まいの「本当」と「今」を伝える情報サイト【HOME’S PRESS】. May 23, 2015. Accessed January 17, 2017. http://www.homes.co.jp/cont/press/reform/reform_00215/.

The Rise of a Leader

The Night Parade

There are many different types of Yokai that roam around the Japanese archipelago, from the mighty Oni to the slippery Kappa. With such variety of creatures one can only imagine if there is a leader among the madness. And what a leader it is.

From humble, uncertain beginnings, the Nurarihyon grew to be a prominent figure in the modern day understanding of yokai in Japan. Nurarihyon has an interesting role in both the media as well as social structures. In modern times, nurarihyon is seen as the supreme commander of the yokai and is a prominent figure in manga and anime. In the past, nurarihyon was an obscure figure that was eventually used to depict the social hierarchy of Edo Japan. In this post, I am going to go into his unknown origins, how he “evolved” into the yokai no oyadama, or “leader of Yokai,” and how this image has been shaped by media and politics throughout his history.

But before all that, let me set the stage by delving into the meaning(s) of his name. Michael Dylan Foster, author of The Book of Yokai mentions that “in a standard Japanese dictionary, the word nurarihyon ぬらりひょん is described as being synonymous with nurarikurari, which refers to something (or somebody) with no place to grab onto” (218). For me, this description is interesting both based on the type of yokai Nurarihyon is and the fact that his origin is grasping and mysterious, not really having a set place. The characters of his name are also interesting. They mean “slippery” 滑 “gourd” 瓢 (Nurarihyon). This depiction in characters may be based on his image, which depicts him with a long, bald cranium as well as his behavior which is slippery and hard to pin down. Foster also mentions a Japanese proverb about trying to catch a cat fish, which is often how Nurarihyon is physically compared to as looking like, with a gourd (Foster 218).

The origin stories of Nurarihyon vary and there is no set version. There is another yokai by the name nurarihyon, a spherical object that lives in the ocean and was once thought to be a type of Umi Bozu, an ocean yokai that is said to appear in calm waters and is a sign of a storm or danger to a ship(Davisson). This version of nurarihyon is said to bob in the waves and disappear whenever sailors would reach out to touch it, only to appear again further out of reach. Many people think that this could have been our modern day nurarihyon’s beginnings, evolving into the monk-like figure we have today. And in a way, they’ve got it right.

Some of the first written records and depictions of this yokai begin with Sawaki Sushi’s Hyakkai-zukan in 1737. While there is no record or mention of Nurarihyon’s nature, he is depicted as an old, monk-like figure with an elongated head (Foster 218).

A Folklorist, Fujisawa Morihiko, in 1929 “labeled an image of nurarihyon with the caption “leader of the yokai” (yokai no oyadama) (Foster 218). However, there is no reasoning as to why he gave nurarihyon that title.

By the 1970s, the modern concept of nurarihyon began to finalize with the addition of the Ichiban Kuwashi Nihon Yokai Zukan (Most Detailed Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan’s Yokai). The title given to nurarihyon was that of Yokai Sodaisho, the Supreme Commander of Yokai (Davisson).

Mizuki Shigeru, a modern day manga author and anthropologist, has a comic that includes this yokai. Nurarihyon is said to not only be the leader of the yokai but also will sneak into your house and drink your tea and eat your food before disappearing (Foster 218).

One of the most common stories involving nurarihyon is as follows:

One hectic days when the household is running around with barely a second to think, Nurarihyon slips casually into the house and sits down to a cup of tea acting as if he were the Lord of the Manor. People who see him and the casual ease with which he takes authority assume that he must indeed be the Lord. They fall upon themselves serving him, and don’t realize how they have been deceived until he is gone (Davisson).

Now in modern media,  popular anime and manga series, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan and Nurarihyon no Mago, portrays nurarihyon as the supreme commander of the yokai and the series follows the grandchild of nurarihyon and his yokai and human adventures.

With this history of nurarihyon established, we can now delve deeper into the mystery, both in origin and social implications, behind this yokai. As a potential water yokainurarihyon has had a constant tie to the water, whether through his origins or  through his description as catfish-like. In the Ukiyoe-zushi kosniki Haidokubara there is only one sentence describing nurarihyon: “Nurarihyon looks like a catfish, without eyes or a mouth. It is a spirit of deception” (Davisson). While this image has not stayed with us, the term “catfish-like” and the deceptive nature has stuck with nurarihyon.

There is also some debate in his origin. In Murakami Kenji’s Yokai Dictionary, there is talk about how the modern-day image of nurarihyon is just the fabrication of Toriyama Seiken to match his drawing (Davisson).

It is also this drawing (to the right) in particular that sparks an interesting line of questioning with nurarihyon. The Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedia of Toriyama Sekein is a collection of Sekein’s four works along with modern commentary. This image from the encyclopedia depicts nurarihyon stepping off of a palanquin into a house wearing fancy robes and carrying a single sword. It is these characteristics that suggest the nature of this cartoon as a political one. The palanquin and fancy robes are symbols of wealth or prestige while the single sword defines this figure to be a wealthy townsperson instead of a samurai, in which case he would’ve carried two swords (Sekein).

Historical context of Toriyama Sekein’s drawing is set in the middle of the Edo Period (1615-1868). At this time, there were divisions of classes/people in the sense of honor and function. Samurai were the highest rank, followed by farmers, then artisans and merchants, which were often just thrown into the same category of chonin or “townsmen”. Merchants, however, were looked especially down upon since they themselves made none of the products they sold and their wealth came at the expense of others (Jansen 2000). It is this view of merchants that might have lead to nurarihyon being depicted as one. Jansen describes merchants being thought of as “parasitical, self-interested people” (Jansen 2000). Nurarihyon can be viewed as parasitical, as he takes advantage of a home.  The Japandemonium Illustrated also goes into another source, the Seji Kenbonroku or Things I have Seen and Heard from 1812, that discusses the merchants rising status. “They rise above their status and look down on samurai…” (Sekein). Merchants also get described as loan sharks and more of that imagery can be seen in the picture (above) by the book that is in the house. This concept shows the established social orders were being challenged at the time the image was drawn, around the early 1800s. Merchants made up the lower levels of this social hierarchy, however, it is clear that they tried to rise above this and work to occur more wealth and status (Sekein).


Nurarihyon is not the only example of politics and Yokai being mixed during the Edo Period. After an earthquake in 1855, depictions of a namazu-e, or giant, earthquake causing catfish, began circulating, eventually taking on a life of their own to speak on or against troubles in the political systems (Smits 2006). In his article, Smits focuses on “the political consciousness among Edo commoners in 1855, and argues that they used the namazu-e to express an emerging consciousness of Japanese national identity” (Smits 2006).

Nurarihyon has had an interesting history and political significance through his claim to fame. From a humble beginning as an ocean yokai to an old, monk-like figure with no real purpose to a trickster with a taste for fancy tea and leadership, Nurarihyon has finally found a place to hold onto as a prominent yokai in modern day culture.


Works Cited

Davisson, Zack. 2014. Nurarihyon – The Slippery Gourd. 百物語怪談会 Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. Accessed January 13, 2017

Foster, Michael Dylan. 2015. The Book of Yokai. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Jansen, Marius B. 2000. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Nurarihyon. 2016. Yokai.com. Accessed January 13, 2017

Sekien, Toriyama. Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedia of Toriyama Sekein. Courier Dover Publications: 64.

Smits, Gregory. 2006. Shaking Up Japan: Edo Society and the 1855 Catfish Picture Prints. Journal of Social History: 1045–1078.

All images from Google Images

Group 3: A Look at Ubume

Happy Friday!

As Jacob described in his presentation this afternoon, Group 3 is discussing social interaction and responsibility in Japanese society based on the Confucian tradition and expectations. We will be discussing topics like filial piety and responsibility, lust, and the subdued role of women in the final draft of our podcast. The section relating to the subdued role of women has inspired my fellow group members and I to research various female Yokai and how they reflect Confucianism’s influence on the expectations of women in Japanese society. Earlier this week, we took a closer look at the Yamamba, or Mountain witch. This afternoon, I found another female Yokai, known as Ubume, in Michael Dylan Foster’s The Book of Yokai. 

The picture above depicts a ghostly woman with gray hair holding her newborn child. She is usually thought to be the spirit of a woman who painfully died during childbirth. Typically, an individual, most of the time a male, will meet her at a fork in the road or before crossing a bridge. Covered in blood and crying while cradling her infant, she asks the man to hold the child before disappearing. The baby becomes heavier and heavier in the man’s arms until he can’t move from fear of dropping it. In some legends, the man is rewarded for his dedication and effort with amazing physical strength and capabilities.

Death during childbirth was extremely common prior to the modern period, providing a potential explanation and origin for the conception of this Yokai. One legend or tale related to the Ubume details the story of a shopkeeper who is repeatedly visited by a strange woman. One night, the store owner follows the strange woman after she leaves to discover her disappearing into a graveyard before hearing the sound of a crying baby. As he ventures into the graveyard, the shopkeeper finds the corpse of the woman in a dug up grave with a healthy, live infant beside her. The child, in some legends, grows up to be a successful monk.

Within the context of Confucianism’s influence on the subdued role of women, I think the Ubume is an excellent example of the value placed on Japanese women limiting themselves to the responsibilities of the household rather than pursuing more impactful roles in society or government. A woman dying in childbirth meant the child’s primary nurturer and caregiver would be absent; this was surely seen as a tragedy, depriving the son or daughter of a vital foundation established during childhood that ensured success later on in life. Therefore, we see this mother searching for the proper environment for her child while crying over her inability to be there for him or her.

While we have not incorporated this Yokai into the script, like we have with the Yamamba, I think it is definitely something to investigate further and see where this takes us. There is great potential for us to further expand the dialogue surrounding the subdued role of women and develop and build upon what we have already established with our secondary sources and the information on the Yamamba.

Stay tuned for more information! Have a great weekend!


Dylan Foster, Michael. The Book of Yokai. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2015.

1/12/17 Group Heian Update

Happy Thursday!

Group Heian is moving along in terms of our preparation for the podcast. As Maddy mentioned in the blog yesterday, we have decided to use the Yamauba as our Japanese Yokai of choice in our podcast. We are also working on our scripts and will have our first draft done by tomorrow. We have had great success in accessing some extremely helpful secondary sources, and have found several useful books on Coufucian Ideology in the library. Jacob’s presentation should give more information on our sources, and if any group hears of a source they would find useful for their podcast, feel free to ask to use it! One challenge we have all found while writing content for the podcast is making our script sound like more of a conversation than a book reading. We are hoping this will be resolved when we all start recording together. Any tips on this subject would be appreciated!

Have a great evening!


Yokai of the Week


Here we have the next installation of Group Shudan Borei’s “Yokai of the Week”: bake kujiraBake kujira translates literally to “ghost-whale”, this ghostly skeletal whale haunts fishing villages in the waters of Japan’s bays. Following is a story describing a village’s encounter with the bake kujira:

One rainy night long ago, some fishers living on the Shimane peninsula witnessed an enormous white shape off the coast in the Sea of Japan. Squinting their eyes, it appeared to them to be a whale swimming offshore. Excited for the catch, they rallied the townspeople, who grabbed their spears and harpoons and took to their boats to hunt down and catch their quarry.

They soon reached the whale, but no matter how many times they hurled their weapons, not one of them struck true. When they looked closer, through the dark, rain-spattered water’s surface, they realized why: what they thought was a white whale was actually a humongous skeleton swimming in the sea, not a single bit of flesh on its entire body.

At that very moment, the sea became alive with a host strange fish that nobody had ever seen before, and the sky swarmed full of eerie birds which nobody could recognize and the likes of which had never been seen before. The ghost whale then turned sharply out to sea, and swiftly vanished into the current, taking all the strange fish and birds with it, never to be seen again.

The terrified villagers returned home, realizing that the skeletal whale must have been a bakekujira – the ghost of a whale turned into a vengeful ghost. While the ghost whale was never seen again, other villages in Shimane felt the whale’s curse, being consumed by conflagrations and plagued by infectious diseases following whale beachings.” (http://yokai.com/bakekujira/)

Whaling has been a significant feature of Japan’s culture for centuries. Despite regulations and protecting whales from commercial fishing, and promises to cut down on whale quotas, Japan went on to hunt and kill 333 of a single species of whale (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160325-Japan-whaling-minke-whales-Antarctica/). The story of the bake kujira may give us insight into why the whaling industry has continued to grow, it is an important aspect of the inhabitants of whaling village’s heritage and culture. Yes, they hunt and kill numerous whales, but in this story is a sense of reverence. The spirits of whales are part of the religious/spiritual cosmos, and in that acknowledgement I see respect. The curse of the ghost whale may be the result of a subconscious guilt or regret for the exploitation of noble creatures, but of course the need for the resources a whale could provide outweighs this.


Group Shudan Borei has completed our podcast outline, which means we have finalized our topic and the direction we are going to take! We will introduce four Yokai, the onikappa, nurarihyon, and kuchisake-onna. We will tell a relevant tale for each Yokai, and in turn discuss the origins, cultural significance, evolution of, practical uses, etc. We have decided to employ a host in a round table discussion format. We have also completed our proof of concept recording and it is ready to be sent in.

Eli Rue