This series will explore yokai, their history, and prevalence in a series. Japan is a land where spirituality is prized over religion, and Shintoism is viewed more like tradition than a bind. The tradition of visiting temples on the New Year, adding yuzu fruit to baths during the Winter Solstice, Jizo statues and local shrines are so old that no one remembers its origin story.
See our previous posts on Nyanko Sensei, the Maneki-Neko, Madara, the Okuri-Inu
Series Name: Natsume Yuujincho [夏目友人帳]
Number of Seasons: Six
Original Air Date: July – September 2008
Manga: Yes (ongoing)
Character Name: Hishigaki
Yokai Name: Hitotsume-nyūdō [一つ目入道]
Association: Manipulation of appearance, one eye, sacred regalia.
Episode of Appearance: Episode 1, Natsume Yuujinchou (Season 1)
A rather large youkai with one central eye, long grey-white hair, wearing white kimono with brownish-gold trim. Hishigaki is first introduced to Natsume Reiko standing near an ojizosan statue of a Buddhist priest holding shakujo.
O-jizo-san (地蔵菩薩) can range in size and are patrons who look over children, the underworld and weary travelers. If I remember correctly, in Spirited Away – it’s been a while since I last saw the film – Chihiro and her family pass small forest jizo before crossing the river and entering the spirit world.
A 錫杖, or Shakujo are staffs adorned with six golden rings and can also be referred to as “the pilgrim’s staff”. It is believed that the six rings represent the realms of karmic rebirth aided by the guidance of Jizō; a Bodhisattva that has attained enlightenment and wishes to help humanity essentially transcend suffering.
You may have seen this staff before.
It’s usually one of the divine instruments carried by a wandering Buddhist priest or monks who happen upon ungodly creatures in legends and decide to seal them with prayer. A contemporary depiction that comes to mind is the pervy priest, Miroku, from the anime Inuyasha.
Seemingly one of the first yokai Natsume Reiko adds to The Book of Friends, Hishigaki chases the school girl’s grandson through a forest decades later- mistaking him for Reiko.
A woman is seen praying before leaving a manju bun. Given Hishigaki’s attire, it can be safe to guess she may be a sort of shrine guardian living on the outskirts of the forest.
Alone and hungry, Reiko seemed to provide a temporary salvation from her stationary existence. The youkai watched the seasons change while remaining in the same place, waiting for the girl’s return. When she never did, the spirit felt betrayed and wanted her name back.
It has been said that sometimes loneliness is not that bad. However, once companionship is found and taken away once more – it can become too much to bear. This seems to be the case with Hishigaki, who began the route of turning into a vengeful spirit.
Beliefs of Shintoism and the Influence of Buddhism
I labeled this entry as Hitsotsume-nyudo due to her features, but I also wonder whether or not she could have been a Miko (shrine maiden) who went through a death ritual – giving her the white kimono garb.
Miko (巫女) are commonly known and identified by their bright crimson and white attire. Today in Japan the young women mainly sell omikuji (御神籤) or fortune slips at temples, assist priests in low-level rituals, and sweep the sacred grounds with brooms. Shrine maidens of the past had more pressing duties that carried weight far greater than today’s incarnate.
“…At the shrines of Ise, Kasuga, Kompira, and several others which I visited, the ordinary priestesses are children; and when they have reached the nubile age, they retire from the service. At Kitzuki the priestesses are grown-up women: their office is hereditary; and they are permitted to retain it even after marriage.”
Depending on prefecture, girls or women were thought to be property and wives to the gods, who in turn spoke through them and endowed with ritual dances and incantations for exorcism.
It can sometimes be hard to draw the line that intersects Shinto and Buddhist influences in Japan as they seem intertwined. Shinto beliefs are practiced in the course of daily life, while Buddhism dominates death and funeral rites.
The deceased are sometimes dressed in shinishozoku (死装束); which can translate to burial clothes or clothing worn when committing ritual suicide such as seppuku or harakiri. It is an all-white kimono with an off brown almost gold-ish obiage, or what resembles a thick sash in the middle. Occasionally, a triangular hat could be placed on the body. There are few prevailing theories regarding the hat that spirits are depicted wearing in paintings or historical records. A 天冠, or Tenkan could either be defined as a coronation crown used during the Imperial period (1890 – 1945) or it could be related to the ‘celestial crown’ adorning Buddha and other divine beings.
I read somewhere that the Tenkan was an invention of Kabuki Theater to differentiate human actors from those portraying yurei, or spirits. Japan seems to have a history of associating certain articles of clothing or manners of speech with the ayakashi – however until I can relocate the work and source it I won’t elaborate further on that particular theory.
Could Hishigaki been a human in a past life who worked at a local temple or shrine?
But then, where would the one eye factor in?
I came across this Wikipedia page that suggested “cyclotropia” was a thing in ancient Japan due to a diet historically low in animal protein and fats. So in other words, some fetuses developed only one working eye due to poor nutrients on the mother’s part. At first glance, it could be slightly believable, as the Japanese diet consists of healthy seasonal vegetables and rich aquatic lifeforms.
However, upon further searches, nothing else can be found except vague allusions to conditions followed by heavy medical jargon. I sifted through the medical journals hoping I could probably find answers quickly, but unfortunately I just didn’t have the patience and fortitude to give it much credence.
That is not to say something like this could not have existed in many ancient cultures. It just seems like a very Western perception to suggest another culture had deformed children based on a diet that did not heavily favor meat and other livestock that is popular, but extremely unhealthy today.
Another definition I found attributes it to severe cases of cross-eyes. But also cites the Wikipedia post so for now, it’s a mystery.
Hishigaki has the appearance of the ōnyūdō (大入道), or “giant priest” due to her size. However, these yokai tend to be depicted as ‘normal’ humans in appearance aside from their grandiose size. They are also bald, which she is obviously not.
Thus, bringing us back to the Hitotsume-nyudo for classification purposes. Although typically depicted as males, these youkai ambush travelers on the outskirts of cities and towns and are adorned as wealthy priests or monks. They are also able to control the perception of their size at will, an ability Hishigaki seems to possess – despite not having the fancy clothing.
This yokai was particularly difficult to identify as it seems to be a mix of different archetypes and could even be an original character Midorikawa made for the episode. If I come across differing information later on in this series, I will be sure to update this post and clarify its renaming.
And with that, we are at the end of the first episode! Next week, I’d like to cover a film by one of my favorite animation directors so the theme will be a bit different but the format will remain the same. The following week we will either resume covering yokai from Natsume’s Book of Friends episode two, or cover an episode of another series I have in mind to slowly alternate back and forth.
If this post got you interested in the series, feel free to check out Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 1 and Natsume’s Book of Friends Seasons 1 & 2 Standard Edition by using these links. It supports the series and also helps out the site at no additional cost to yourself!
I’m really glad more of you out there have stumbled upon this series thanks to #FolkloreThursday on Twitter! Do you have a favorite yokai anime character? Are you enjoying the glimpse into the massive Natsume’s Book of Friends fandom? Do you believe Japanese folktales and legends have moral lessons to learn, or are they solely accounts of exaggerated creatures and monsters? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us to be notified when the next article is posted!
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*Quote taken from (Hearn, Lafcadio “Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation” pg. 77)