Yokai (IV): Japanese Supernatural Creatures
In Japanese, Yokai is a broad and vague term that covers almost all monsters, supernatural beings, ghosts, gods, possessed spirits, urban legends, and other strange phenomena. It encompasses a broad range: from animal-like Yokai to human-like Yokai, from creatures to spirits, from malicious to benevolent. In history, published books and artworks about Yokai have fixed the public impression of each Yokai and spread throughout Japan. Here are some of the most common Yokai.
Kitsune is a shape-shifting Yokai with the ability to take human form. Their appearance and personality are similar to foxes: they are cunning, intelligent, and mischievous creatures with pretty oval faces and eyes set slightly on the slant. Kitsune have two variants: messengers of the Kami (Shintoism gods) and liars.
Kitsune are associated with the Inari (the Shinto god of rice cultivation) because they eat rodents that steal and destroy rice. As messengers of the Kami, they protect humans, provide good luck, and ward off evil spirits. Inari shrines are often associated with family, rice, and prosperity. They make up more than a third of all shrines in Japan. In the Inari shrine, statues and images of Kitsune are everywhere. Deep-fried tofu is Kitsune’s favorite food and is often used as a tribute to Kitsune.
In folklore, Kitsune are mischievous and evil creatures. They will deceive humans (usually males) and possess humans (usually females). Evil Kitsune will seduce human beings, steal food, and cause hallucinations. Moreover, they are vindictive. They will humiliate proud people and retaliate for despisal. Despite this evil nature, there are also stories about Kitsune who keep their promises and repay the kindness. In the stories, Kitsune are often depicted as lovers. When a young man saves the Kitsune, the fox transforms into a beautiful female to repay the male. The fox proves to be a faithful wife.
Tanuki are raccoons with powerful magical powers. They are cute in appearance and are known for mischief and naughty. They are very similar to Kitsune, with shape-shifting abilities and mischievous personalities. They often carry a bottle of sake and wear a straw hat.
Tanuki is a very popular Yokai in Japan. Their statues are often found outside restaurants and bars to attract good luck. The most famous attribute of Tanuki is their huge and magical testicles, which can be adapted to any need. Their testicles can be used as weapons, drums, fans fishing nets, and even palanquins. That is why so many stores have Tanuki statues in front of their doors - they believe the magical power of Tanuki can help humans and bring good luck.
Although Tanuki are not considered to be malicious, they are not completely harmless. Some Tanuki are good at imitating humans, so some will pick up human vices: stealing, gambling, drinking, and scamming. There are also some terrible Tanuki that use their shape-shifting abilities to intimidate or lure humans. They may do so for fun, or for driving humans away.
Nurarihyon is an unwanted house guest. He looks like a shriveled old man with an elongated gourd-shaped bald head. He wears elegant and expensive clothes. Although he looks like a sophisticated gentleman, he is actually a mysterious and powerful Yokai. He is the supreme commander of all Yokai. Every Yokai respects him, follows him, and treats him as a venerable leader in Yokai meetings.
He enjoys expensive, extravagant things. In the evening, Nurarihyon might drive a magnificent palanquin to a human’s house without being noticed by anyone. He would act as if he were the host of the family and enjoy the luxuries of home recklessly, such as food and drink. His power was so mighty that the real owner of the house would believe that Nurarihyon was the rightful owner of the house. If he visited, he would not leave until he was satisfied. Finally, he would quietly and politely slip out of the house and into his palanquin while the owner of the house respectfully bowed and waved goodbye to him. It was not until after he left that others would become suspicious of the mysterious old man who had just visited.