It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with れ (re) and we looked at Rebun-to (礼文島). This week we are looking at things beginning with ろ (ro). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:
zoomingjapan suggested rotenburo (露天風呂 / outdoor hot spring baths), and Rokko-san (六甲山 / Mt. Rokko in Kobe); Japan Australia suggested ronin (浪人 / a samurai without a master), ropeway (ロープウェイ / Japanese for cable car), and rotenburo; ThroughTheLookingGlassAndDownTheRabbitHole suggested Roppongi (六本木 / an area of Tokyo); and Paul suggested rokurokubi (轆轤首 / a yokai (monster) with a very long neck).
As some of you will know, I have a bit of a soft spot for yokai (Japanese monsters and ghosts), so I have decided to write about…
Yokai (妖怪), monsters and ghosts from Japanese folklore, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Not all of them are evil, some are just mischievous. Being only a couple of days past Halloween, today seemed like a good day to take a closer look at one particular yokai – rokurokubi.
Legend has it, rokurokubi look like normal humans (usually women) during the day, but at night they are able to stretch their necks so that they become really long and change their faces into terrifying demons to scare people.
In their daytime human forms, rokurokubi often live undetected and may even take mortal spouses. Many rokurokubi become so accustomed to such a life that they take great pains to keep their demonic forms secret. They are tricksters by nature, however, and the urge to frighten and spy on human beings is hard to resist. Some rokurokubi thus resort to revealing themselves only to drunkards, fools, the sleeping, or the blind in order to satisfy these urges. Other rokurokubi have no such compunctions and go about frightening mortals with abandon. A few, it is said, are not even aware of their true nature and consider themselves normal humans. This last group stretch their necks out while asleep in an involuntary action; upon waking up in the morning, they find they have weird dreams regarding seeing their surroundings in unnatural angles.
There are many different tales involving rokurokubi, and some say that they were once normal human beings who were transformed because of breaking some of the rules of Buddhism. Sometimes these rokurokubi are even depicted as being blood-drinking, people-eating monsters.
According to The Obakemono Project, “the rokurokubi’s condition is sometimes brought about by a curse, and sometimes as a supernatural manifestation of the person’s desires. The neck-stretching almost always happens at night, often while the rokurokubi sleeps, and the freed head may wander through the house perpetrating such obake-esque mischief as sucking the life energy out of people and animals, and licking up the oil of andon lamps.”
As with all yokai, you’ll find that they crop up regularly in art, anime and manga. In face, if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan you might recall a scene in the film Pom Poko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽ) in which rokurokubi appear. In the scene, the tanuki are staging a parade of yokai in order to inspire belief and fear among humans. Two men are drinking in an outdoor bar, talking about how silly these childhood beliefs in ghosts are, and behind them the parade passes by. One of the types of yokai to appear behind the two men is a rokurokubi – well, three of them in fact!
Japanese monsters and ghosts really do fascinate me, so you can expect more posts on this topic in the future! What’s your favourite yokai?
Next week will be the LAST in the series, and we’ll start with わ (wa). Please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with わ. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese words.
I look forward to hearing your suggestions, and I hope lots of you can join in for the last week! (*^_^)v