Meet the Yokai
Preternatural and supernatural creatures are popular in Japanese mythology. These creatures often have the ability to transform into human form. Some common creatures that you may see with these abilities are foxes, cats, badgers, Japanese river otters, and Japanese raccoon dogs.
Tanuki are Japanese raccoon dogs with supernatural powers. Tanuki have the ability to shapeshift. They can transform their whole body or a part of their body, usually their testicles, to meet their needs and whims.
Tanuki are mischievous, carefree, jovial, and somewhat foolish. They enjoy playing pranks and teasing humans. Tanuki are generally harmless. Some tanuki even enjoy helping humans or using their shapeshifting powers to protect humans and/or nature.
Some powerful tanuki choose to live among humans. Unfortunately, this makes them susceptible to human flaws such as gambling and heavy drinking.
Did you know? The Japanese raccoon dog was named for its raccoon-like markings. Despite its name, the raccoon dog’s closest relative is the fox.
Did you know? Tanuki are the stars of Studio Ghibli’s animated film Pom Poko.
Kawauso are Japanese river otters with supernatural powers. They are excellent shapeshifters and are even able to mimic human sounds.
Kawauso are playful pranksters. They especially enjoy pretending to be attractive young women or young boys to play pranks on humans.
Although Kawauso are good at mimicking human sounds, their inability to hold a conversation often reveals their identity. But, it is all just part of the fun and games. When they get caught they just bound away in laughter.
Kawauso are mischievous, but they are usually harmless. However, there have been rare accounts of dangerous kawauso that lure men to their deaths. Like most yokai, it is probably best not to get caught up in their antics.
Like tanuki, kawauso have a fondness for alcohol and much of their mischief is centered around its acquisition.
Did you know? In 2012, the Japanese river otter was declared extinct by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. According to an article in Scientific American, the river otter was last observed in the wild in 1979. Unfortunately, a combination of overhunting, habitat loss, and pollution led to its demise.
Adventures with Yokai: The New Recruit
In the dark hours before dawn, a young sailor trudged behind his two shipmates through the winding alleys of a large coastal village. He was laden with a huge sake barrel, his legs aching.
His unburdened shipmates staggered several paces ahead, each with an arm slung across the other’s shoulders. They zigzagged and chuckled, turning back every so often to wave him forward with large sweeping gestures.
He had arrived on the docks hours before, excited about his first official task as a new sailor. To fetch the barrel of sake. To his surprise, two sailors had arrived before him. Although, with their fumbling and senseless banter, it appeared that they were too inebriated for the task.
He had introduced himself, trying to recall their faces, but his eyes had yet to adjust to the predawn darkness. Besides, he did not know all of his shipmates yet. They seemed at first startled and then delighted to see him, trying to stand properly and then gesturing wildly for him to lift the barrel. He had done so without complaint. He was the new recruit and they were his seniors.
And now, here he was, hours later, still following without question as they led him all over town. He was deeply suspicious his shipmates were either too intoxicated to realize they were going in the wrong direction, or this was a test for him as the new recruit. Either way, he would prove that he could endure it.
Needles of pain had spread down his back and into his knees by the time they finally stepped out onto the docks.
He was relieved by the sight of the vessels, an array of shapes and sizes lined along the docks. They tugged at their moorings as eager to return to sea as he was. Past them was a pure unhindered view of the sea. The sun would be rising out of the water soon, lighting a golden path across the blue. He sucked in a breath of the cool salty air, shrugged the barrel into a better position, and hastened his steps.
He was taken aback when his companions came to an abrupt stop on the long dock. A small rowboat bobbed on the water. It was a modest vessel barely large enough for the two oversized men that were crammed inside. They eyed him, arms crossed over their massive bellies, their expressions weather-hardened and intimidating.
His shipmates were waving their arms about again, motioning for him to set down the barrel. When he craned his neck to look for his ship, they tugged the thick straps down his shoulders and hastily plucked the barrel from him. He did not argue. He did not think he could carry it a moment longer. His body felt like jelly now that the weight had been removed.
With wide sweeping swings, his shipmates tossed the barrel off the end of the dock!
It landed in the waiting arms of one of the dog-eared men. He cradled it like a lost lover as the little boat groaned and rocked, water sloshing over its sides. The two men onboard bounced with it, roaring with laughter. Then, their burly bodies transformed.
Short rounded ears. Eyes rimmed in black. Thick flecked fur. A black-tipped bushy tail. Tanuki! The young sailor’s eyes widened. He took a step forward and fell headlong into the water.
He resurfaced to high-pitched laughter paired with the deep-bellied laughs of the tanuki. The two men he had believed to be his shipmates rolled across the dock. They had lush dark-brown fur and webbed feet. Their furry little arms were wrapped around their transformed bodies. Kawauso!
The young sailor cursed. The two impostors leapt up, bounding into the water. They swam effortlessly to join the little rowboat in its escape. The larger tanuki’s testicles were stretched to form a pair of sails. The other tanuki waved at him, arm slung over the barrel, as they sailed away.
The young sailor bobbed there for several long moments, chest-deep in water, as he watched the first hints of sunrise appear.
What was he going to tell the captain?
✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ La Fin ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿
Thanks for reading! (^_^)
Jason and Antonietta