Monsters are near and dear to my heart. And Japanese monsters? Well, this is the fourth time I’ve used toys as an excuse to talk about Yokai – you can find parts One, Correction for One, Two, and Three here. And this fourth one is a little scattered, with toys coming from all over… but hey, you’re finally going to get to see that umbrella!
RED ONI & BLUE ONI
I’ve talked a ton about Oni, and about how red and blue Oni tend to be seen as personality types, but there’s more – there’s a famous old story where a kindly red and blue Oni lived near a village. The red Oni loved children, but they were too afraid of him to come near. One day, his friend the blue Oni pretended to be a monstrous ogre, scaring the children so that the red Oni would save them. Because of this, the children befriended the red Oni… but the blue one had to leave forever. Bittersweet, isn’t it?
I got these figures in a lot with Medicom Museum toys.. or maybe X-Plus, it’s hard to tell. They are a solid, almost metallic resin.
This is just a Tengu figure that emphasizes his crow nature – it’s from Battle Break, which I believe is some sort of game.
Finally. It’s been long enough. Kasa-Obake, easily the most famous of all Tsukumogami (antiques that come to life), is an umbrella with a mind of its own. Its handle turns into a leg, it grows an eye and mouth, and it hops everywhere, licking everyone and everything. This figure, I believe is from GeGeGe no Kitaro. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that antique umbrellas will lick you. Despite being amazingly well-known, there are no real stories attached to the Kasa-Obake, and it sort of drifts around in art and pop culture without being tied to any specific myths. Compare and contrast this with the next one.
Aka “The Skull Staring Contest,” Mekurabe is rooted in history – this figure is another netsuke, by the way, though it functions better as a little cell phone attachment (loop string through the loop on the back of one skull, plug into phone). There have been a few new series of thse figures and I am still discovering them. But it goes back to Taiya no Kiyomori (1118-1181), one of Japan’s most important military leaders. Kiyomori was able to manipulate politics in a heretofore unknown way, and rose up enough through the ranks that he was even able to marry his daughter off to the emperor! Kiyomori established the first samurai-dominant system of government in Japan, which would last through all the shoguns.
But… he was a bloodthirsty, violent schemer and conqueror. Legend has it that towards the end of his life, he fell ill with fever, and saw the ghosts of his victims, demons from hell (not the same as the Christian hell, but close enough), and other apparitions taunting and jeering him at all times. The ghosts especially couldn’t wait to get their hands on him. Mekurabe came from one of those visions, when Kiyomori walked out into his garden and found the ground covered with skulls! As he watched, the skuls rolled together in a pile and stared at him. he soon realized that these were the skulls of his victims… but he just stared back, and kept it up until the skulls gave up and left. That’s just how tough Taira no Kiyomori was.
Yes, we have seen the Nue before, but this version comes from Shin Megami Tensei. The figure was actually a lottery prize, and it is insanely hefty! You could throw it at someone, and that person would die.
This Mujina figure comes from Dreamblade, a discontinued miniatures game by Wizards of the Coast. The Mujina is very similar to the Tanuki, except that it is a badger, not a raccoon dog. Actually, sometimes a Mujina is a raccoon dog, too. They play the role of tricksters, and often appear as faceless humans. There was even a Mujina sighting in 1959, in Hawaii – crazy, huh? Well, maybe it’s not so crazy when you think of all the Bigfoot hunters running around.
Oh, Inugami, how horrible you are! Because dogs are loyal, we often think of them as great companions. But Inugami is something different. Created through a ritual involving the torture and mutilation of an innocent dog, Inugami is a master of black magic, and an evil schemer. Inugami are often used to commit crimes, or even to possess humans and murder. However, if you aren’t careful, the Inugami just might turn on you!
Strictly speaking, Hakutaku is a holy beast, not a Yokai, though it often gets lumped in with them. It is also Chinese, as well, and more commonly known as Bai Ze. In the Chinese version of the story, Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, captured Bai Ze, and made it tell him about eleven thousand varieties of supernatural creature. In Japan, the Hakutaku appeared and predicted terrible calamity and disease, but helped people overcome it. Thus, it is worshipped. It seems to be pretty helpful in the long run.
See this? That’s a prototype from the Doom Gotter line. Bake-Kujira is a massive skeletal whale, which brings curses and misfortune wherever it goes. Legend has it that a fisherman tried to spear it once, but… come on, man. Bones. Fun fact, “Godzilla” was originally “Gojira,” i.e. “Gorilla Kujira.” Think about that one for a while.
Not a traditional Yokai, either. In fact, it’s not one at all… until you realize that there are plenty of modern Yokai (the split-faced woman and the Alien chestburster come to mind), and Western zombies have invaded Japanese popluar culture. So while this guy is a young ‘un, he gets to be part of the ranks. Sometimes. It’s a Yu Gi Oh figure, and I am not ashamed about that.
We are creeping out of Yokai territory, and into Yurei, though sometimes those lines blur. Yurei are ghosts. Spirits. Remember The Ring? Well, hold onto that thought, we’ll get back to it later. Yuki-Onna, literally “Snow Woman,” is an ethereal spirit of the snow (or perhaps the ghost of a woman who froze to death). She is beautiful, graceful… and deadly. Sometimes she levaes men to die of exposure, other times she freezes them, or grick them, and once in a while, she simply wants companionship, but freezes to death anyone she kisses. Portrayals vary from evil to sympathetic, but Yuki-Onna always leaves a trail of frozen corpses in her wake. This figure is one of those dioramas I mentioned in a previous installment. It’s quite rubbery.
Remember The Ring? Or maybe The Grudge? Onryo is a Yurei, a ghost of a woman or girl who died angry, betrayed, hurt, or jilted. Her anger and hatred sustain her spirit, and she is liable to lash out at any of the living in her attempt for vengeance. Onryo are terrifying, unpredictable, and deadly. This figure is actually a Walking Dead zombie from Funko, but it looks so much like the classical depiction of Onryo that it shall forever sub as such.
Yet another Yurei, Kosenjobi aren’t floating skulls – but see that blue fire? They are the spirits of dead warriors, manifesting as balls of light floating over a battlefield. Kosenjobi did not reach the afterlife, and they are to be pitied. The reason for the skull is simple – it’s a warrior’s skull, signifying the type of ghost this is. This is another of those Netsuke figures, but with a twist – the string threads the whole way through the toy, connecting to its jaw. It is actually quite articulated, as you can reposition the helmet and jaw to your heart’s content!
Again, not a Yokai, except when people count it as one. Tsuchinoko is a Cryptid, an allegedly true zoological animal… though possibly a myth. it is a snake that is very fat, and… that’s it. If you see a serpent that has just eaten, it might be a Tsuchinoko. This creature has become surpriisngly prominent, though, with sightings all over Japan, and even in pop culture – I lost track of the number of Tsuchinoko I have seen in video games. Both figures are made by X-Plus, and are rather fragile.
And finally, remember Tsuchigumo? I’m sure you do – it’s one of the many spider-Yokai out there, and it has been covered already. This particular figure is somewhat catlike, and shares Kosenjobi’s gimmick – those skulls re separate, but the string ties into them. Compare this Tsuchigumo’s cat face to the wolf or oxen-faced versions also floating around. It’s oddly different, and yet it somehow fits.
This wraps up today’s li’l Yokai study but seeing as how there are new toys, and the list always eems to be expanding… it ain’t done yet. Japan as a culture has an incredible, non-Western mentality, and their ghosts and monsters give a surprisingly clear window into this thought process. It may not make sense to a westerner to get licked by an umbrella, but I guarantee that we believe weird things, too. So, until next time!