October Mythology Special: Jorogumo/Tsuchigumo and Indigenous History

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Japan Powered recounts one story about a curious thing that happened to a logger out in the forest: “One day a logger was going about his work. Since logging is an exhausting business, seeing as how this was Edo period Japan and the chainsaw hadn’t been invented yet, the man decides to take a short break. He hears the crash of a waterfall nearby, and decides that sitting on the stream bank and watching the waterfall would be a pleasant way to spend his lunch break. However, no sooner has the man settled himself and unpacked his food than a strange something attaches itself to his foot! Puzzled, the man pulls the sticky substance off. He sees that it is something like spider silk. He sticks the stuff to a nearby log. A moment later, the log goes zipping across the stream bank, only to disappear beneath the churning waters of the waterfall. Not a little spooked, our logger decides it’s best to take his lunch break elsewhere and he beats a hasty retreat back into the woods.” Continue reading

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October Mythology Special: Homunculi and Alchemy

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The creation of artificial human life has long been connected to alchemy and can be traced back to the first recorded recipe for creating a Homunculus in an Arabic work titled The Book of the Cow. So what does an aspiring alchemist need in order to create artificial life? Well, according to this book you’ll need: magician semen, a sunstone, a cow or ewe, sulfur, a magnet, green tutia, and a large glass or lead vessel. Robert Lamb from How Stuff Works goes on to lay out the step-by-step instructions, and you can read those for yourself, but it says that after the cow or ewe is inseminated and fed exclusively on the blood of another animal it will give birth to some “unknown substance”. After being transferred to the large vessel with the before mentioned chemicals, it will start to form human skin and develop slowly into a small human.

At which point, alchemists thought these tiny creatures could be used in a variety of ways, some of which were: “The first type of Homunculus may be used to make the full moon appear on the last day of the month, allow a person to take the form of a cow, a sheep or even  an ape, allow one to walk on water and know things that are happening far away. The second type of Homunculus can be used to enable a person to see demons and spirits, as well as to converse with them, whilst the last type of Homunculus can be used to summon rain at unseasonable times and produce extremely poisonous snakes.” Continue reading

October Mythology Special: Zashiki Warashi

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“About 600 years ago, a warrior was fleeing forces from the south when he discovered and befriended two six-year-old brothers. The oldest brother came down with a deadly illness, and succumbed after swearing to protect his home – the land of Ryokufuso Inn. When the owners and visitors of Ryokufuso Inn began noticing strange occurrences such as the sound of child’s laughter and footsteps, objects moving on their own accord, and almost nightly incidents of sleep paralysis, they believed the spirit of the boy had settled as a zashiki warashi. In order to please the zashiki warashi, the owners collected toys and placed them in the front parlour tatami room. As well as toys suddenly springing to life, ghostly orbs are often captured on film.”

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The story above is about a real inn in Iwate that seems to be blessed with the spirit of a zashiki-warashi. I say blessed because these kinds of youkai are often seen as a sort of good luck charm to the families that they haunt, with the disappearance of a zashiki warashi from the home as a sign of bad luck. The zashiki warashi is a kind of house youkai, with zashiki referring roughly to the tatami room of a traditional Japanese house and warashi meaning small child. This youkai always appear as small children, and never adults, often between the ages of 3 to 15 years old. They are mainly known for the mischief that they cause rather than their appearance, but when you do see them, they often appear in kimonos if they’re girls and more patterned or striped outfits if they’re boys. They are also often depicted with short straight hair in a bob-cut.

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The origins of the zashiki warashi may come from the need to come up with an explanation to small children why their family’s fortunes have waned, but there are few other more historical origins it may be pulling from as well. The Book of Yokai by Michael Foster mentions that the basis of these legends might stem from the practice of infanticide in Japan that happened through at least the eighteenth century. A dead infant may not be necessarily memorialized like a more grown child would be, so they were often buried under the floors of houses and though to become a sort of guardian spirit because of it. Hyakumonogatari points to a similar yet more specific origin: the history of the relationship between the people of the Tono region and Yamabito. It is said that the men of Yamabito would often raid the villages of Tono, either raping or kidnapping local women. Any children born of these raids would either be hidden away in the depth of the house or killed if they became too much of a burden. The hiding away of these children and subsequent infanticide seems like a logical basis to the zashiki warashi legends.

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There are quite a few zashiki warashi characters in anime and manga, but as I haven’t seen all of these shows, I’m going to point to three that I have noticed in the past couple months of reading manga and watching anime. One of the more recognizable characters in recent anime seasons would be Ougon-douji from Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits. Ougon-douji is the owner of the two different inns featured in the anime, Tenjin-ya and Orio-ya, and she maintains a role as innkeeper and mistress mostly at Orio-ya. She is very clearly a zashiki warashi and is named as such in the show by the characters. Her appearance is similar as well with one key difference: her hair is blond instead of black. But she is pictured a lot wearing a traditional kimono, short hair in a bob cut, fairly young looking, and carrying a child’s toy. Ougon-douji also has the ability to bless certain places with good luck, which Aoi find out when she gets a huge influx of customers to Moonflower after she shows up.

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My next example is a little less clear, but still referred to as a zashiki warashi in the story itself. I’m talking about the Zashiki Warashi in XXXHolic. She’s a little less clear because when we first meet her, she doesn’t really look like a typical depiction of this youkai. For one, she’s on the high age range, looking to be around 15 years old maybe. She’s also wearing non-traditional clothes with a more Western looking winter outfit. Her hair is also longer, but it is straight and black so that fits fairly well. There’s no real reference to her bringing good luck or taking up residence in a house or building, but there may be a slight reference to the origins of the myth by saying she usually lives deep in the mountains secluded from other people, which may be referring to Yamabito or Toho and the way their regions were fairly secluded. CLAMP definitely took a few liberties when they chose to use this myth, but I think it’s a fairly clear depiction especially when we get to scenes of her in a traditional kimono.

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The last one I want to bring up may or may not be the case. This is a personal theory of mine on the origins of this character, but I do think it works. I’m talking about Kitaro from GeGeGe no Kitaro. I have to admit I don’t know much about the history of this series, so this very well could have been the intended thought behind his character design. My thoughts on Kitaro being a zashiki warashi come mainly from his appearance. For one, his hair is short and cut into a bob or bowl cut. He’s also wearing fairly traditional clothes with his sleeveless top shirt in a striped pattern. There’s no real reference to similar abilities of good luck, but I think it’s safe to say that at least his character design may have been based off of the look of the zashiki warashi.

Let me know what your favorite characters are that are based off of zashiki warashi in anime and manga, and join me next time for more myths and legends in the October Mythology Special.

~~Thanks for Reading!~~


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The Mythology of Ancient Magus’ Bride: Part 3 (Enchanted Animal Pelts and more…)

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Welcome back to another installment of The Mythology of Ancient Magus Bride, where we take a look at the origins behind many of our favorite characters and smaller aspects of the show. As you know from my previous two posts, the mangaka Kore Yamazaki, loved to pull from various mythology in her construction of this world. We see evidence of this all over the place, from the characters themselves to the world building to the minute details. With these posts, I wanted to try and capture and examine these myths and people as examining their origins allows us to have a better and deeper understanding of the show as a whole. Usually I would present you with six aspects of the show to examine, but I only had time for five this time. Tonight we’ll examine the meaning and history of poppy flowers, the origins of Chise’s stone necklace, the mythology of transformative animal pelts, the legends surrounding faerie world time, and the connection between red hair and magic. Continue reading

The Mythology of Ancient Magus’ Bride: Part 2 (What Exactly Is Elias and more…)

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Welcome back to another installment of my new multi-part series where we look at the mythology behind Ancient Magus’ Bride. Throughout the series, we’ll be looking at both the origins of some of these characters as well as how their portrayals differ from the myth. As a general rule, each post will cover six new pieces of folklore and mythology, so if I’ve missed something, don’t be alarmed! I will most likely get around to it in a future installment. However, if you want to make sure I cover something, feel free to leave me a comment below or even tweet at me (link to my Twitter in the sidebar). Today, we’ll be covering some of the most interesting tidbits from the show and manga: my theories on the origins of Elias, the legend of Cartaphilus, the story behind the king of the cats, Silky’s dual history, the mythology behind Leanan Sidhe, and the history of changelings. As usual, I’ll provide links to all my sources, so feel free to click through them to learn more. Enjoy! Continue reading

How American Romance Comics Died a Slow Death and No One Seemed to Care

As a lover and reviewer of romance in all forms, it became acutely apparent to me that there seemed to be a dearth of romance comics geared specifically toward women in the American marketplace. However, when you look at the success of the romance paperback market which has total fiction market share of 34 percent and an estimated total sales value of 1.08 million in 2013 this fact seems a little strange. It’s not that women don’t read comics either since GraphicPolicy points to women comic fans outnumbering men under 18 and among the older demographic time after time. What I have seen though is a lot of young girls around high school age turn to manga where Japanese publishers have fostered an industry focused specifically on the female market. It isn’t an altogether uncommon sight to see many girls sitting on the floor of a Barnes and Noble, thumbing through the newest manga featuring high school girls just like them discovering love and relationships. But still, where are the romance comics from an American perspective, and why aren’t mainstream publishers capitalizing on this demographic? The more I looked into it, the more I found that at one point in time American romance comics used to be, and in some cases still are, the most popular comics ever sold. So what happened? Continue reading