Tsukumogami – When Japanese Folklore Meets Poltergeist
This post is dedicated to all our friends at Anime Festival Wichita! Here’s to 10 years of fun and success, and 10 more even better! 🙂
We began our 100 Days of Halloween countdown with a description of house spirits, a classification of monsters and ghoulies that we are quite fond of. Japan’s legends are full of house spirits as well.
Perhaps tsukumogami are not so much house spirits as they are the embodiment of Japan’s folkloric animism, but they do share similarities with many other culture’s house spirits, e.g., they are helpful if you are a kind and decent person, but if you’re a jerk they will go all Poltergeist on your heinie.
That, and they are mostly unique to actually being inside a house. (Mostly, because only Sith deal in absolutes.)
Tsukumogami are household items that come to life or gain sentience after one hundred years of existing, as often things do in Japan, and take on human and animal features.
Sometimes cute, sometimes horrifying, always bizarre.
Most of the time, however, tsukumogami were discovered after a person had cleaned house, throwing out old hand-me-downs and other items that had been in the household for a long period of time. These items, having served the family for so long, would gain sentience after being thrown in the trash. Feeling disrespected they would come back to life, grow sharp teeth and bulging eyes, with impish little arms and legs. These creatures would then mak their way back into the house to cause a panic.
Harmless in most cases, such as the adorable bake-zori (Japanese sandals), who are known for chewing on people’s feet with pointy teeth. Painful, maybe, but ultimately just annoying. Other than that, the bake-zori and chochin-obake generally just run around and scream at the top of their lungs. Like we said earlier, Poltergeist.
Because of how bizarre the list gets (and the fact that there are thousands of these creatures in legend and lore), we’ll leave you with a few of our favorites:
Bake-zori: The aforementioned crazy sandal monsters.
Chochin-obake: Paper lamp-headed monsters, when if ripped or torn, come to life with the rips and tears becoming eyes and a mouth.
Ittan-momen: Possibly a scroll or a strip of cotton (like a long, narrow bed sheet), and one of the few who are actually dangerous and will try to strangle its victims.
Karakasa (to the tune of Purple People Eater): One-eyed, one-legged, toothy umbrella hopper…one-eyed, one-legged, toothy umbrella hopper!
Nyoijizai: A monk’s staff whose name is based off of a pun. This tsukumogami is a monk’s staff who exists solely to scratch that place in your back that you can’t reach…one of the nice ones!
Shogoro: A temple gong that has decided to become an alligator. With a name like Goro’s…
Koto-furunushi: A koto-headed….thing…. (A koto is the horizontal-laying, stringed instrument regularly regarded in Asian cultures.)
Boroboroton: A futon…that comes to life at night. Could you imagine how terrifying (and potentially hilarious) this could be? They are murderous, sadly. Instead of killing their sleepers, they could instead make a decent living with a Youtube prank channel posing as hotel mattresses. Haha! (…sorry…)
Hahaki-gami: A broom used in old cleansing rituals and kept as a charm for certain uses like preventing guests from staying beyond their welcome—and no, not by beating them over the head with it. The hahaki-gami was friendly, but we love it because of how happy it looks flying around sweeping up dirt and leaves.
(Colored photo/illustration credits go to Matthew Meyer, one of our favorite artists who has a real talent for capturing Japanese yōkai and folklore. Please visit him at MatthewMeyer.net. Used by permission.)
In consideration…be kind this Halloween and if you should meet tsukumogami around your house, you’ll be in for a treat. Be a jerk and, well, you may just get the trick you deserve!
Happy Halloween 2014!