Yuki-onna is a spirit in Japanese folklore. Some legends say she is the spirit of someone who perished in the snow. She is ruthless in killing mortals. She is vampiric,draining her victims’ blood or “life force.” She occasionally takes on a succubus-like manner #FairyTaleTuesday
In Japan, the crane is a national treasure. It is the symbol of longevity and good luck because it was thought to have a life span of a thousand years. Tsuru are also monogamous, therefore, often used for wedding decor. An example of this is seen on formal wedding kimonos, and the uchikake, a decorative kimono that goes over the actual kimono, where beautiful images of tsuru are often embroidered.
The crane is often produced in Japanese origami and artwork. Large colourful necklaces of cranes are also commonly seen outside of Japanese temples.
Another example of the crane used in Japanese culture is the 1,000 origami cranes called senba zuru. As the story goes, during WWII, Sadako Sasaki, a young victim of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, was diagnosed with leukemia from exposure to radiation. There are many versions of her story; one says she decided to fold 1,000 paper cranes as a symbol of peace and hope but was only able to fold 644 before she died of her injuries. Another says her friend folded the cranes for her in hopes of her recovery. Regardless of who folded the cranes, today people of Japanese ancestry as well as many others, carry on the tradition of folding 1,000 cranes in hopes of health, happiness, and peace. There is a memorial statue of Sadako at theHiroshima Peace Memorial Park with her holding a single crane.
The craneis a majestic bird that is a favorite subject in many Asian paintings. Although there are many species of cranes, in Asia it’s usually the red crown crane that is depicted. The long white neck and torso, contrasting black legs and head is topped with a red crown. Their physical beauty is undeniable.
There is a Japanese idiom that says, “tsuru no hito koe“, 鶴の一声 or つるのひとこえ, which literally translates as, “one word from the crane’, meaning the “voice of authority”, the one who has the final word that isn’t challenged.
Koi means Carp in Japanese, and this fish is a symbol of perseverance due to the fish’s tendency to swim upstream and resist the flow of water. Koi Carp also symbolise faithfulness and marriage in Japan. A design of carp swimming against rapids symbolises the Children’s Day Festival on May 5th. This is to inspire children to work hard in order to succeed.
Koi are a colorful, ornamental versions of the common carp. Though carp domestication is believed to have begun in China as far back as the 4th century, modern Japanese koi are believed to date back to early 19th-century Japan where wild, colorful carp were caught, kept and bred by rice farmers. There are now dozens of different color varieties of koi.
Koi varieties are distinguished by coloration, patterning, and scalation. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, yellow, blue, and cream. Although the possible colors are virtually limitless, breeders have identified and named a number of specific categories. The most notable category is Gosanke, which is made up of the Kohaku, Taisho Sanshoku, and Showa Sanshoku varieties.
Kōhaku (紅白) is a white-skinned koi, with large red markings on the top. The name means “red and white”; kohaku was the first ornamental variety to be established in Japan (late 19th century).
Taishō Sanshoku (or Taishō Sanke) (大正三色) is very similar to the kohaku, except for the addition of small black markings called sumi (墨). This variety was first exhibited in 1914 by the koi breeder Gonzo Hiroi, during the reign of the Taishō Emperor. In the United States, the name is often abbreviated to just “Sanke”. The kanji, 三色, may be read as either sanshoku or as sanke (from its earlier name 三毛).
Shōwa Sanshoku (or Showa Sanke) (昭和三色) is a black koi with red (hi 緋) and white (shiroji 白地) markings. The first Showa Sanke was exhibited in 1927, during the reign of the Shōwa Emperor. In America, the name is often abbreviated to just “Showa”. The amount of shiroji on Showa Sanke has increased in modern times (Kindai Showa 近代昭和), to the point that it can be difficult to distinguish from Taisho Sanke. The kanji, 三色, may be read as either sanshoku or as sanke.
The Japanese word for turtle is kame, and the Japanese believe that the turtle is a symbol for wisdom, luck, protection, and longevity; longevity due to their long lifespan and slow movements. The turtle is magic and unites heaven and earth, with its shell representing heaven and its square underside representing earth.
Images of kame are quite popular. In Japanese mythology kame is a symbol of power and immortality. Kame supports the World Mountain, a refuge of the immortals. One such image is found in the monument to Tokugawa Ieyasu in Ryogoku, Tokyo. Kame have often been pictured by Japanese artists, including one of the most famous artists of Edo era, Hokusai Katsushika.
Among popular Japanese spiritual symbols are frogs. There are many species of frogs in Japan as a result of flooding rice fields in Japanese agriculture. These creatures are often used in poetry and art, and are sometimes carried by travellers to make sure they return home safely from their journeys. The word ‘frog’ in Japanese means ‘return’, which is why the frog is considered a Japanese lucky animal and seen as good fortune in things returning.
Japan is home to 40 species of frogs in five families. The most common is the tiny Japanese tree frog, which is usually green but can change its color to match its background, and the Japanese rain frog.
There are Japanese folk stories of giant toads, two to three meters in height, that found high up on mountain streams. According to legend they can breath out great rainbows and use the rainbows to slide prey into their mouth and are able to walk on their hind legs. They are said to be particularly numerous around in the mountains of the Suo region of Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Japan perceives the butterfly to be a ‘soul of the living and the dead’, as a result of the popular belief that spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly when on their journey to the other world and eternal life.
The butterfly is also often used as a symbol for young girls as they spread their wings and emerge into womanhood, as well as it being believed to symbolise joy and longevity. Additionally, if a symbol contains two butterflies dancing around each other, it’s a symbol of marital happiness.
Eternity —> The meaning of eternity which represented by the butterfly is due to the belief that spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly on their journey to the other world and eternal life. Or spirits of the dead are guided by butterflies to the afterlife.
Womanhood —> The cycle of transformations through which a butterfly passes in its life is often associated with the transformations through which a girl passes on her way of becoming a young woman. In Japanese culture, the butterfly is associated with femininity, also, because of its grace and beauty.
Love —> In Japanese symbolism, the butterfly is a sign of good luck in love and finding your soul mate. It is a symbol of a happy marriage, and is used as a decorative element for weddings. An old Chinese legend, adopted by most East Asian countries, tells the story of two lovers who turn into butterflies after committing suicide together. This story has been compared as the Romeo and Juliet of Asia, and expresses the eternal love of those two.
Butterfly Motif —> The motif of butterfly is common on Japanese clothing. The motif of a butterfly on yukatas and kimonos is very common because of its meanings, especially on those worn by girls and young women. Also there is the butterfly knot used to tie the women’s obi (long, broad sash tied about the waist over a Japanese kimono).
The Butterfly in the Arts —> Throughout history, the butterfly was a common motif in paintings, paper panels, fans and more. In the Edo period, the butterflies were a very popular subject among ukiyo-e artists, being painted by artists like Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige, Kudo Shunman, Yanagawa Shiganobu, Totoya Hokkei, Utagawa Toyokuni, Yanagawa Shigenobu, Kitao Masayoshi, and Shirabe Fujie. One of the most famous ukiyo-e paintings belongs Katsushika Hokusai, “Peonies and Butterflies”, whose fan was even Claude Monet.
Samurai Mon (紋) —> The butterfly was often used as a symbol for the mon (emblems used to decorate and identify an individual) of the samurai clans. One of the first clans who used butterfly was Taira clan, one of the most powerful clans in the Heian period.
Origami —> The butterfly is the first form of origami that was ever made, and it was inspired by a poem by Ihara Saikaku in 1680, in which he describes a dream about paper butterflies. Ihara describes two butterflies called Ocho and Mecho. Now there is a tradition in which two paper butterflies are placed on sake bottles used at weddings.
Manga & Anime —> In the modern culture of Japan, anime and manga plays an important role, and the butterfly is present in both. In the anime series Bleach, butterflies are present as the traditional form of guides for the spirits of the dead. In Sailor Moon, the butterfly is the symbol of Princess Kakyuu. In the manga Little Butterfly, it is a symbol of freedom and hope for the two young lovers who want to escape to be together.
Translation: mountain geezer Alternatenames: yamanji, yamachichi (“mountain father”) Habitat: deep in the mountains of Shikoku Diet: omnivorous
A: Yamajijii look like eldery men about 3-4 feet tall, with only one leg and one eye. In actuality, they have two eyes, but one of them is so huge and the other so tiny that they appear to have only one eye. Their bodies are covered in fine gray hair, and they can be found wearing old clothes, tattered rags, or nothing at all. Their teeth are sharp and very powerful — a yamajijii’s bite is said to be strong enough to crush the bones of wild boars or monkeys.
Behavior: Yamajijii live in the mountains far from human settlements. They rarely appear before humans, but their tracks are easily recognizable. They leave deep, sunken footprints about 12 inches long every 6 to 7 feet (from their hopping about on one leg). Because their bite is so strong, hunters would sometimes tame yamajijii and use them to drive away wolves. They also have the uncanny ability to read peoples’ thoughts as they think of them. They are most well known, however, for their powerful voices. The cry of a yamajijii is so powerful it blows the leaves off of branches, splits trees and moves rocks, reverberates through the mountains, and shakes the heavens and the earth. They enjoy shouting contests, and will occasionally allow a human to challenge them; however, humans who are close to a yamajijii when it shouts sometimes have their eardrums burst, or even die.
Legends: A legend from Shikoku tells of a brave hunter who challenged a yamajijii to a shouting contest. On the hunter’s turn, he fired his rifle when he shouted, winning the contest. Later, the yamajijii realized he had been tricked, shape-shifted into a spider, and sneaked into the hunter’s bed to attack him in his sleep. In some versions of the tale, the clever hunter prepares for the shouting contest by praying to the gods of Ise and crafting a special holy bullet inscribed with their names. This bullet had a very special power: when fired it would never miss its target. Because of its magic, whenever the hunter carried it with him it would invariably attract the attention of yokai; however, any time a yamajijii came near enough to threaten him, the hunter would display the bullet, and the yamajijii would flee in terror.
A tale from Tokushima tells of a group of woodcutters warming themselves by a fire in a cabin when yamajijii suddenly appeared to them. The woodcutters were terrified and all thought of the same idea: kill the yokai! The yamajijii read each one of their minds one by one and learned of their thoughts, when suddenly one of the logs in the fire split with a loud snap! The yamajijii thought that there must be a mind he could not read among the hunters, and he quickly fled the cabin in terror.
A story from Kochi tells of a kind yamajijii who gave a sorghum seed to a poor farmer as a gift. The farmer sowed the seed and that year was blessed with an incredible harvest. That winter, the yamajijii returned and asked for some mochi to eat. The grateful farmer gladly gave the yamajijii as much mochi as it could eat. The next year another great harvest followed, and again the yamajijii came back in the winter to ask for mochi. Each year, the yamajijii was able to eat more and more mochi, until it was able to eat 3 huge barrels-full. The farmer became afraid of losing his fortune, and gave the yamajijii a pile of burned stones, passing them off as yaki-mochi. The yamajijii ate them, but soon began to feel sick and hot. The farmer offered a cup of hot oil, passing it off as tea, but the yamajijii realized the farmer’s trick. Surprised and hurt, it fled into the woods, but died before it could get back to its home. Afterwards, the farmer’s family fell into ruin and was never rich again.
Appearance: The yama oroshi is a metal grater which has been improperly cared for and has grown too dull to grate anything. It sprouts a body, and the dull slicers on the grater stick out like wild spines from its head.
Origin: Yama oroshi’s name contains a double pun. First, the Japanese word for grater is oroshi, which is found in this tsukumogami’s name. Second, its name sounds like yamaarashi, the Japanese word for porcupine. This yōkai resembles a porcupine with its spines.
Translation: little tofu boy Habitat: urban areas Diet: omnivorous; loves tofu
Appearance: Tōfu kozō are small yokai who closely resemble human children except for their large heads and clawed fingers and toes. They wear little boys’ kimonos and wide-brimmed hats — the typical outfit of a tōfu-selling young boy of the Edo period. They are usually depicted with two eyes, but in some illustrations they appear as having only one eye. They are usually found in urban areas in close proximity to people.
Behavior: Tōfu kozō are timid and weak yokai, and are not known to be aggressive towards humans. On rare occasions, a tōfu kozō may follow a human home on a rainy night, but for the most part they shy away from any confrontation.
Interactions: Tōfu kozō are first and foremost servant yokai. Even among other yokai, they are often bullied and teased for their lack of strength. They get no respect from those above them; at most, they act as menial servants to more powerful yokai.
Origin: Prior to the Edo period there are no known stories about tōfu kozō, and so their origin is a mystery. Some say that they are just one of many forms taken by an itachi, a shape-shifting weasel yokai. Others say that they are the offspring of a mikoshi-nyūdō and a rokuro-kubi. Another possibility is that they are an invention of a creative artist looking to sell illustrated storybooks. Stories of tōfu kozō first appeared in the penny-novels and pulp fiction of Edo in the 1770’s, and became incredibly popular among the Edo upper class. These silly stories helped to spawn the explosion of yokai-related fiction that appeared in the later half of the 18th century.
Tōfu kozō bears a very strong resemblance to another yokai called hitotsume kozō — the chief difference being that hitotsume kozō has only one eye and a very large tongue, while tōfu kozō has two eyes and carries a plate of tofu. Both of these yokai are somewhat weak, child-like creatures who act as messengers to more powerful monsters. In some literature the two yokai are used interchangeably for each other, therefore it has been suggested that tōfu kozō may be closely related to, or may even have been copied from hitotsume kozō. However, there is not enough evidence either way to say where this yokai comes from.
Appearance: Shōki (also known by the Chinese rendering of his name, Zhong Kui) is a legendary hero and deity from ancient China. He is ugly, with a large, hulking body, a long, flowing beard, and fearsome, piercing eyes. He is usually shown carrying a sword and wearing a court official’s cap. Shōki is known as “the demon queller” for his ability to vanquish, exorcise, and even control oni and other demons. He is so feared by oni that even his image is said to scare them away. The demons he defeats sometimes become his servants. It is said that he commands 80,000 demons.
Origin: Shōki originated in ancient China during the 700’s. His story reached Japan by the late Heian period, and his popularity reached its height during the Edo period. Paintings and statues of him are still used as a good luck charms. His image appears on flags, folding screens, and hanging scrolls. Small statues of him can sometimes be seen on the roofs of older houses in Kyoto as well. Shōki is strongly associated with Boys’ Day, a holiday in May. He is revered as a god of protection from demons and sickness (particularly smallpox, which was believed to be spread by evil spirits), and also as a god of scholarship.
Legends: Shōki lived in Shanxi Province in China during the Tang dynasty. His life’s goal was to become a physician in the court of Emperor Xuanzong. Shōki was a smart and diligent student. He trained hard and passed all of the exams to become a physician. He placed first out of all of the applicants and should have easily received the position. However, Shōki was a very ugly man. When the emperor saw his face, he immediately rejected Shōki’s application even though he was the most qualified for the job.
Shōki was devastated. His dreams shattered, he committed suicide on the steps of the imperial palace. The emperor was moved by Shōki’s dedication. He felt great regret for denying the application of such a talented and brilliant man on account of his looks. The emperor ordered that Shōki should receive a state burial of the highest rank—usually only reserved for royalty—and posthumously awarded him the title “Doctor of Zhongnanshan.”
Years later, the emperor became gravely ill. Delirious with fever, he dreamed that he saw two oni. The larger one was wearing the clothing of a court official. It grabbed the smaller oni, killed it, and ate it. Then, it turned to the emperor and introduced itself as Shōki. He vowed to protect the emperor from evil. When the emperor woke up, his fever was gone.
Xuanzong commissioned the court painter to make an painting of Shōki based on his dream. Shōki became a popular deity across China (and later, Japan). He was revered as a god of scholarship for his great devotion to his studies, and as a protector against disease and evil spirits.