I have written about yamababa and demon hags before, but this post by Wild in Japan provides a terrific backstory to the pregnant potbellied demon hag.

Wild in Japan

Hi blog.

The weather continues to be erratic, with the minimum temperature one day being higher than the maximum temperature the next, alternating rain and clear skies, but the claws of winter are here.

Taking another break from wildlife, I’ve decided to do a brief write-up on something I’ve had sitting on the backburner for a couple of years.  The roots of this post, however, go back a couple of decades.

My host family in Obihiro had a large collection of ukiyoe books, and one image that struck me was one depicting a young, pregnant-bellied woman hung by her ankles from the rafters and an old hag sharpening a knife, wooden basin at the ready.  I didn’t know the story behind the art – a lot of ukiyoe art presents old stories as its subject – and so I was kept guessing for over two decades.

All that changed when…

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Wolf at the door

A marvelously informative and visual on wolves and related myths and legends from Wild in Japan…

Wild in Japan

Hi blog.

This post has been a long time coming.  The idea goes back several years, but it took a bit of luck and planning to bring it together.

There is a lot of disagreement and confusion when it comes to the Honshu wolf, one of two (or possibly more) wolves endemic to – and now extinct in – Japan.  Scientists can’t agree whether it was a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax) or a separate species (Canis hodophilax).  No-one seems able to point to a single cause for their extinction (I can – I call it “the usual reasons”*).  The locals couldn’t even agree on a single name.

What we do know is that the last confirmed wolf was killed in Nara in 1905.  Apparently, there had been one kept in Ueno Zoo just over a decade before, but no photographs survive.  (And, alas, neither…

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Autumn demons, dragons and the Togakushi mountains

This post is informative, and adds to our knowledge and understanding of the connection between dragons, rain/water sources and ritual, and demon folklore and the cultural demon expulsion practices seen in many local festivals and folk legends


With autumn in full swing in the Togakushi mountains these days, here’s a few words on the connection between autumn, demons (oni 鬼) and dragons (ryuu 龍) at Togakushi.

As I described in a previous post,  the first deity encountered at Togakushi (recounted in a thirteenth century account) was the dragon, Kuzuryu 九頭龍 (literally, “nine-headed-dragon”).  Kuzuryu appeared at the mountain when the first ascetic to arrive in the region, Gakumon (9th c.), threw a ritual scepter in its direction.

Taira Koremochi unmoved by the demon-turned-beauty (or dare I say, “femme-fatale”?), Momiji.  1890.

From ancient times, Kuzuryu was believed to provide water/rain (a common belief at mountains across the Japanese archipelago and sites across Asia) but also feared in the common imagination as a mountain demon.  In one ritual for Kuzuryu dating back to the fifteenth century, participants offered up autumn Japanese maple leaves (momiji 紅葉) to…

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Tengu on a white fox

Seen on Mt Takao

Seen on Mt Takao

There is more than one version of the story behind the TENGU depicted riding a white fox (probably linked to Dakiniten-Benzaiten) One version is that the tengu is Dōryō Daigongen 道了大権現. Dōryō was a mountain ascetic before becoming a Soto Zen monk. He was eventually appointed as head cook and administrator at Daiyūzan Temple 大雄山 (Kanagawa Prefecture). After his death in 1411 AD, legend says he metamorphosed into a TENGU goblin and became the monastery guardian. According to scholar Duncan Williams in The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan (published 2005, ISBN 0-691-11928-7): “[Upon his death] his body was engulfed in flames as he appeared transformed and stood on a white fox to promise a life free from illness and full of riches for those who sincerely worshipped him.”

The other version is that the tengu is Akiba Daigongon Tengu Akihabara, Akibasan Sanshakubō 秋葉山三尺坊, Akiba Gongen, Sanshaku Gongen, Sanjakubō

In the 17th century, Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed to SHOGUN. He brought Akiba Daigongen shrine from his hometown over here. People called this place Akihabara since this event. Akiba Daigongen is a deity who resembles a raven-like Tengu and who rides on fox. He is in charge of fire prevention. During the Edo period in Japan, fire often brought tragedy, because traditionally wooden buildings are many. So, after the Shogun brought Akiba Daigongen from his hometown Akiba Daigongen continued to be venerated by successive Shoguns.

Source: Onmark Productions’ Tengu pages

Bake-Kujira AKA Ghost Whale

Bake-Kujira / Tales of the Ghost Whale that scares fishermen out of their wits

Demons and Folklore of Ancient Japan

The Bake-Kujira (化鯨) is a mysterious sea creature that appears out of the fog to bring bad luck.

We all know about Japan’s obsession with whaling. As it turns out, before Moby Dick, there was the Bake-Kujira – a huge, ghostly whale skeleton that is accompanied by a host of strange birds and alien fish. Considered an omen, it drifts along the Japanese coastline, scaring fishermen out of their wits and delivering misfortune to anyone who spots it.


Is anybody else having Free Willy flashbacks?

One folktale describes a fisherman who, upon sighting the whale, throws his harpoon in an attempt to spear it. This tactic fails, however – the weapon simply passes through the empty space between its bones and the whale, presumably dejected that somebody tried to kill it for a second time, floats off into the night.


A distant relative, perhaps?

Perhaps the whale is the vengeful…

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Hokki Shrine: For a goddess who turned into a bird

Throughout Eurasia, many deities, royals and heroes turn into birds, according to folktales and myths, likely a tradition, a euphemistic way of saying someone had passed on, and in part, due to the millennia-long shamanic beliefs that the soul is transported to the Other World by a bird spirit (alternatively horses, dragons and dragon-horses) …

San'in Monogatari

Although the tale of Kaka-no-Kukedo, the birthplace of the primary deity of Sada Shrine, is a more riveting tale, I included another Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki legend in this story. The Fudoki (like 8th century encyclopedias of Japan) in part set out to determine names for all the major geographical features of the country, which included assigning fortuitous kanji (Chinese written characters) for them. Quite often, the names they chose required some mythological background.

This is case, a village derived its name from a little bird.

Read about this bird’s role in Japanese culture here.

The Cettia diphone, clumsily translated as the Japanese Bush Warbler or Japanese nightingale, is simpler to refer to as the known here as uguisu (鶯). In ancient times, it used to be called a houki-dori, a Houki bird (法吉鳥). The legend states that Umugi-hime (sometimes known as Umuka-hime while her sister Kisagai-hime is…

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