Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s “Hyakki Yagyō”
For today's Folklore Friday, we'll be talking about some more lighthearted yōkai: Zashiki Warashi and Tanuki! Both of these yōkai are known for their mischievous nature and cute demeanors. In fact, Zashiki Warashi are a yōkai you would want to have in your home!
Art by Matthew Meyer
Zashiki Warashi (座敷童子) appear as young children with rosy complexions and short, bobbed hair. The "Zashiki" part of their name comes from the fact that they can be found in zashiki (a kind of Japanese sitting room covered in tatami mats). They can be boys or girls and wear traditional clothing like kimonos.
Zashiki Warashi could be compared to the Scottish Brownie in that they are wanted houseguests. They bring good luck and fortune to any home, and the people living in it. They love mischief, but their pranks are often limited to leaving footprints or making phantom noises.
They love other children and will often teach the children of the house different songs and games. They also love to keep older couples company, somewhat like stand-in children.
You should leave food out for the Zashiki Warashi if you attract one. If you anger or upset the Zashiki Warashi and it leaves, all your fortune and luck will leave with it. In some cases, families even fall ill or die upon its leaving.
To attract a Zashiki Warashi, some couples will lay coins in the foundation of the house they build. Other methods include leaving out candy and keeping your house very well-maintained.
Picture of Tanuki found here
Tanuki (狸) are one of the most famous yōkai as there are dozens of folktales about them. The name essentially describes a raccoon dog--which is how they appear. They can be found in mountains and forests throughout Japan, and are best known for their love of alcohol and mischief.
Like Kitsune yōkai, Tanuki have the ability to shape-shift and perform other magic. Included in this shapeshifting ability are their magical testicles. Yup. You heard that right. Tanuki possess large, magical testicles, which they can adapt to any need. They can be turned into weapons, drums, even umbrellas--anything they might need.
Though some Tanuki have evil hearts, most of them are jovial spirits that delight in the company of humans. And with their shape-shifting powers, it's easy for them to blend in. There are many tales of Tanuki that disguise themselves as humans and essentially become the town drunkards and gamblers.
Over the years, Tanuki have become popular statues (see photo above) to have in a home or storefront, due to their eight traits that bring good fortune:
a hat to be ready to protect against trouble or bad weather
big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions
a sake bottle that represents virtue
a big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved
an oversized scrotum that symbolizes financial luck
a promissory note that represents trust or confidence
a big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decisiveness
a friendly smile
There are also real life Tanuki you can find in Japan:
Photo by Stanislav Duben /Shutterstock
Tune back in next week for more Folklore Friday: Yōkai Edition!