Hishigaki, the Hitotsume-Nyūdō | Natsume Yuujinchou | The Youkai of Anime

A new installment in the Sunday series – this week focusing on Hishigaki from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

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)

OVA/Movies: Yes

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)

Description:

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.

jordy-meow-418063-unsplash (1)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.

The Episode

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

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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.

The Legends      

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.

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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)

Madara, the Okuri-Inu| Natsume Yuujinchou | The Youkai of Anime

A new installment in the Sunday series – this week focusing on Madara from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

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 as 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 post on Nyanko Sensei, the Maneki-Neko.

Series Name: Natsume Yuujincho [夏目友人帳]

Number of Seasons: Six

Original Air Date: July – September 2008

Manga: Yes (ongoing)

OVA/Movies: Yes

Character Name: Madara (Nyanko-sensei’s true form)

Yokai Name: Okuri-Inu [送り犬]

Association: Guardianship, banishment, protection.

Episode of Appearance: Episode 1, Natsume Yuujinchou (Season 1)

Description: A giant white wolf towering in height well beyond surrounding forest trees. Madara has red marking on his cheeks and a symbol on his forehead. He seems knowledgeable concerning purification rituals, binding of spirits and the local history of his area.

I came across really interesting information while learning more about this youkai. Wolves (日本狼) were abundant across Honshu until a strain of rabies infected the species.  Appearing first in Kyushu and Shikoku, it quickly spread throughout other islands in the nation. There is a dispute on whether the infection was brought to the island through domesticated dogs or human visitors. Others insist that the species was systematically killed off through government mandates. Either way, the last known wolf was killed near Yoshino (Kii peninsula) in the year 1905. However, that did not stop reports of the beast in rural areas of Japan well after the last official sighting.

Wolves, or ‘okami’, play a huge role in Shintoism. 狼 (おおかみ) takes the honorific ‘o’ that denotes reverence and the kami reserved for deities in its English translation. However, in Japan kami is a word that has other meanings.  It can also be interpreted as “superior”.  Norinaga Motoori is a celebrated scholar and philosopher known for his theological approach to Shinto. His practices are extremely detailed and I will elaborate on them another time once I have a fraction of understanding, but until then I’d like to cite a quote from Norinaga via an article from the Japan Times.

“I do not yet understand the meaning of the term kami,” wrote Norinaga (in “The Spirit of the Gods,” 1771). “It is hardly necessary to say that it includes human beings. It also includes such objects as birds, beasts, trees, plants, seas, mountains and so forth. In ancient usage, anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspiring, was called kami…Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful, are called kami…”

Even if you are not familiar with Japanese wolf spirits, I am sure you at least remember hearing about a video game called Ōkami circa 2006. I had this game for the WII and it took me literal years to complete. Not because it was difficult, I thought my save file had a game-breaking bug. I was so frustrated that I didn’t touch the thing until years later where I decided to start a new playthrough then realized…I was just being dumb. I completely missed a prompt to continue a cutscene, and that is why I could never progress in the game no matter what I tried. I don’t even know if that was some sort of wisdom on my part to figure it out later, or just ascribed to finally taking my time in the game.

Either way, this mention has merit.

Ōkami is an unbridled resource for anyone interested in Japanese folklore or its ancient times. A short summary would be that it tells the story of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, saving the lands from the evil influences of Orochi – an eight-headed serpent creature. The goddess is called forth to the human realm by a guardian of Kamiki Village named Sakuya. Amaterasu, or Ammy also gives the legendary hero Susano’o the courage to slay the beast while drunk on golden sake.

In the actual ancient legends, Amaterasu and Susano were siblings; created after Izanagi cleansed himself once he left his wife Izanami in the underworld. After a fight with her storm god brother, the sun goddess hid in a cave and the world fell into darkness –  with spirits running amok. The other deities assembled and tricked her into coming out of the cave, thus lighting the world once more. The gang fastened a sacred rope, or shimenawa (注連縄) [rice straw] purification rope across the cave so that her light would never be obstructed again. Susano was expelled and sent to wander the world as an outcast. On his journey, he found Kusa-nada-pime, the Rice Paddy Princess who was being attacked by an eight-headed dragon. He made the dragon drunk on sake and slew it with a sword…you get the picture.

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[If you still haven’t heard any of these names before, you have probably seen an episode of Naruto. In Naruto Shippuden, Sasuke has some sort of Sharingan eye jutsu named Susanoo that acts as a guardian taking a samurai-like form. Orochimaru is an arguably “evil” ninja who uses serpents as a summoning (Manda) and frankly for everything else. He’s pretty creepy, actually. It may be a stretch, however, to point to Sakura and Sakuya, as it seems Kishimoto never put that much thought into her character after admitting it difficult to write for women.]

The Legends

In the rural, mountainous regions of Nihon the wolves made their dens. From a spiritual perspective, they were seen as protectors of the forest and “patrons” of weary travelers. The mountains were viewed as dangerous, distrustful places where the spirits of the dead roamed freely. The rural dwellings for humans 里の世界 or Sato no Sekai were different from the 山の世界 or Yama no Sekai which were ruled by the mountain spirit – Yama no Kami (山の神 ).

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This concept is heavily touched upon in Natsume Yuujinchou and furthermore in Mushishi with Ginko always searching for a mountain’s spirit at the sight of trouble. If you remember, there were several instances where Nyanko-sensei and other Youkai would warn Natsume against travel to certain parts of the forest. Or Sensei would comment on “not knowing the forest” if the pair were traveling.

There were places that humans were just not allowed to dwell. Each forest had its own set of rules that the spirits, or yokai, were expected to follow.

The Episode

Upon the shimenawa breaking, Madara does a bunch of theatrics to intimidate Natsume and is released with an aura of dark energy. Natsume is “unfazed” and simply stares at him. Madara seems surprised that he is not quaking in fear. Nyanko-sensei mentions that he owes him for breaking the seal and that he will be his bodyguard in exchange for his gratitude. Outside of Shinto folklore, this seems to be a common arrangement amongst situational spirit – human contact. A sort of binding contract or ‘pact’ that dissolves at one party’s demise. In this case, it seems like Madara will willingly serve Natsume during his lifetime in exchange for The Book of Friends upon his death. Madara chases off problematic youkai who would bring harm to the boy, resembling a ferocious “guardian” canine or “guard dog” spirit.

A Deeper Interpretation

Madara’s surprise at Natsume’s reaction could denote his age. In this connotation, he may have been sealed during a time where these stories and legends may have been treated as fact and as such – common knowledge to travelers. Madara expected a reaction from his time period – given his manner of speech is noted to be archaic and attributed to an old man – I theorize he could have been birthed in the 1300s – 1700s at the earliest. I say this because other spirits seem to know and remember him, and youkai are said to have much longer lifespans than humans. This is also backed up by numerous yokai not recognizing gender and when Natsume corrects them on his identity (i.e. not being his grandmother, Reiko) they seem to remark on our appallingly short natural lives.

This brings us to the 番犬, or watchdog legends.

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In the mountains late at night, a wolf was said to sometimes trail a traveler.  The sending (off) wolf, or Okuri Okami [送り狼] would then disappear once the resident was near their home. If the traveler tripped or looked back while the wolf followed however, this could be taken as a sign of aggression and give reason for the wolf to attack. This begs the question: was Madara a guardian, or Okuri-Okami in his past? What happened along the way to ‘corrupt’ him and initially wish to control all the residents of his forest in Kyushu? Did he have a falling out with the mountain god, or was he just being his (usual) shady self? More questions than answers for now, but I hope the manga does allude to something like this in the future. Since it seems Madara knew Reiko better than he lets on – being able to take her form when he can only do that with “humans he gets a good look at” to paraphrase.

I may have to update or provide new entries for Madara with each season I cover of the show, otherwise this post could in theory go on forever. Maybe with more rewatches, I could come up with a theory on why exactly he is a divine being – as indicated by his markings and spiritual presence to effectively banish lower level or ‘purify’ intendedly evil ayakashi.

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!

What do you think of Madara’s character? Is he a scorned yokai, or just an old spirit who has been through some things? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on WordPress, Twitter and Instagram for more #YokaiSpiritSundays!

Nyanko-sensei, the Maneki-Neko | The Youkai of Anime | Natsume Yuujinchou

Kicking off the #YokaiSpiritSunday series on the official first day of fall, today we will take a look at Nyanko Sensei from Natsume’s Book of Friends!

Of late I’ve found myself writing a lot about yokai, or Japanese spirits. I have always had an interest in them, and read books pertaining to all types of ghosts and supernatural phenomena.

Years ago when the last local Borders Bookstore went out of business, I stocked up on a hodgepodge of encyclopedia on mythical creatures and universal folklores. Since I spoke of strange things so often, a friend in high school gifted me a book on youkai one year. I tried channeling this passion into the now-defunct YouTube channel I often reference in older posts. It was not doing well, and since I loved the channel so much I didn’t want to also see a series I put my heart into go down.

So it’s been here, in my head and heart for about five years. More ideas are stored here as well, ideas I would like to share on this blog. Eventually, I’d like this WordPress to be more than a blog, more than a website, more than a well-known name. I want it to be a community, a tangible place where people can feel safe. A place where people can discover that there is more substance in anime then they previously believed. People, especially Westerners, have this cognitive tendency to associate animation with childhood. They truly don’t believe animation is just another medium to explore stories, themes, and cultural consensus. In film school, I tried my best to cover animated films or shovel in a bit of discourse on why they matter. It was appreciated, which is one positive thing I can say about my ‘liberal’ compadres and professors.

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 as 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 so old that no one remembers its origin story.

These beliefs are shown in anime, either in the literal sense or the symbolic metaphysical. I am not Japanese, nor will I ever be. I do not attempt to be Japanese, I merely love the richness of the culture and accept the good and the bad. I try to be objective in my writing, and I will try to do so as this series goes on. I am an American at heart and although there will be some things I will never understand, that does not mean that we cannot try – together.

So I bring to you all, a new series to the blog that is near and dear to my heart: The Youkai of Anime series.

This time, we will take a look at Nyanko-sensei from the anime Natsume Yuujinchou, or Natsume’s Book of Friends. I will be rewatching all six seasons of the series and writing about the various yokai (and yurei) in each episode. Naturally, this will take a while. I don’t want to spam any one subject on In Asian Spaces, so it will be updated most likely each Sunday. I will also cover other shows, mixing them in so that one show or one subject is not the central focus.

Think of this as a yokai catalog, detailing folklore spirits in Japanese anime.

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Series Name: Natsume Yuujincho [夏目友人帳]

Number of Seasons: Six

Season 1 Original Air Date: July 8th – September 30th 2008

Manga: Yes (ongoing)

OVA/Movies: Yes

Related Media: Hotarubi no Mori E [蛍火の杜へ] or Into the Forest of Fireflies Light

Character Name: Nyanko-sensei

Yokai Name: Maneki-Neko [招き猫]

Association: “The Lucky Cat” “The Beckoning Cat” “The Waving Cat”

Episode of Appearance: Episode 1, Natsume Yuujinchou (S1)

Description: A plump, reservedly “ugly” calico cat with stumpy legs and beady eyes. Red markings on his cheeks that hint at his true ‘majestic’ form.

In episode one of the series, Natsume is being chased by a spirit. He runs into a shrine and passes onto purified sacred grounds. Accidentally knocking over a lucky cat statue, he releases Madara from his long imprisonment. As of season six of the anime, we have yet to find out who sealed Nyanko sensei.

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Are you all familiar with the tales of the maneki-neko?

A maneki neko, is usually a calico cat figure holding a koban in one paw with the other outstretched. A koban was a form of Japanese currency in the Edo, or Tokugawa Period (1603-1868). Edo was the former name of what we know today as Tokyo.

There is a lot of debate on whether the mankei neko is Chinese or Japanese in origin, which I cannot fully say. I came across a few articles that speculated the relationship of the figures to sex work and hinted at a changed or hidden meaning. Then again, theories exist on whether or not Spirited Away is about the sex industry, so anything could be interpreted as such. Meaning this is not to deny that it may have existed, this post simply won’t discuss that possibility any further.

The Legends

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During the Edo period, a lord of a surrounding district took shelter under a tree. A cat from afar beckoned him into a nearby temple. Upon leaving, the tree was struck by lightning. Thinking it was a divine act, the lord decided to patron the temple in gratitude.

It is a good time to note that riches historically were tied to how much rice one had. I remember a favorite Japanese teacher explaining a great way to remember the word for rich person. お金持ち(おかねもち)takes the words 金(かね)(o)kane, which is gold and 餠(もち)mochi, for sticky rice. The “o” is used to denote honor or show respect, making it sound less harsh.

Therefore, a person who has a lot of rice becomes a wealthy person in Japanese society. One koku of rice was thought to be the amount needed to feed one person for a year in this society. One koku in terms of currency was thought to hold equivalency to one ryô and in turn, one koban.

Another legend states that a feline beckoned wandering samurai into an adjacent temple. The group dwelled in the haven until the end of a storm. Long after, one samurai continued to frequent the temple and offered patronage. He revealed himself to be feudal lord Naotaka Li, the temple in question Gotokuji in Tokyo, Japan.  Li donated crops and rice fields to the struggling monk who dwelled there.

This temple’s lucky cats differ in appearance than the rest in that they have a bib-like collar and bell in place of koban. The site reportedly has a high count of deceased neko buried on the premises.

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I have read further legends that combine these two stories to some degree. One even suggests the cat was a Japanese deity in disguise – Bodhisattva Kannon, a goddess of mercy. The common factor seems to be a temple near ruin that is saved by a chance encounter with a wealthy benefactor.

Aside from this information, there doesn’t seem to be much else on the English speaking side of the web. The same archaic books, ukiyo-e, and sculptures are referenced and offered up as evidence but never a true…definitive answer as to how this begun.

When I do travel to Japan next spring, I will be sure to visit the Gotokuji shrine. It seems like a good place to buy maneki neko in Tokyo, given the legends surrounding it. I’ll even write on an Ema board, or wish board to pray to the benevolent spirits.

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Despite his initial shady nature, I’d like to think Madara is Natsume’s lucky cat. Throughout the series, he serves as a protector and ‘teacher’ or sensei.

“The association between karma and merit is highly significant for my discussion of the Japanese notion of luck. During my fieldwork I was frequently told that misfortune could be averted by taking appropriate spiritual precautions. One way in which this can be achieved is through establishing a relationship with certain deities.” – Inge Maria Daniels, Anthropologist.

Note: Anthropology has a problematic historic association with eugenics. However, I found this textual quote of interest pertaining to this discussion.

Given the tone of the series, (in my own interpretation) Natsume Takashi is slowly paid back good karma in the form of friendships and as an orphan, his family’s history.  Instead of running from or fighting spirits he encounters, Natsume would rather try and speak to them first. With Nyanko-sensei’s instruction, he learns to protect himself and engages youkai only when necessary. Sensei could be interpreted as his special protection deity, particularly considering Madara’s true yokai identity.

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Next week we will discuss Madara/Nyanko sensei and his true form.

(It is really majestic!)

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out another ongoing series, such as NEET in Anime. I have a few more shows in mind to draw from, but tell me about any series I should definitely cover! At me on Twitter and use the hashtag #YokaiSpiritSunday!

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!

Are you a fan of Natsume Yuujinchou? Which anime series will you watch during the fall season? Do you think sensei isめっちゃかわいい?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to follow our growing community on Twitter, Reddit, WordPress and Instagram!

[Quote on karma sourced from “Scooping, Ranking, Beckoning Luck: Luck, Agency and the Interdependence of people and Things in Japan” by Inge Maria Daniels.]

Natsume Yuujinchou Utsusemi Movie is Coming September 29th 2018 | Anime News

We are getting more Natsume Yuujinchou this year!

For those of you who have never heard of it or don’t know, Natsume Yuujinchou [夏目友人帳 ], or Natsume’s Book of Friends is the absolute best Slice of Life hybrid anime. No ifs, ands or buts. It is immaculate. I am overtly biased but I seriously have a soft spot for shows like this; focuses on personal growth, overcoming past trauma and coming of age. It also has strong supernatural and mystery elements rooted in Japanese Shinto practices and folklore.

The six season series focuses on Natsume Takashi, a boy who can see yokai or Japanese spirits. Natsume is an orphan frequently shuffled around to various relatives and foster families. Some of these people are kind, but this never lasts as he is gifted with the ability to see spirits. As a child he could not decipher between human and yokai, causing misunderstands that lead to rumors to spread about him. Word of mouth detailing unexplainable occurrences surrounding the small boy crept to local town folk ears.

Misconstrued by peers in school when attempting to make friends resulted in frequent loneliness.

Now fifteen, Natsume is placed with a distant relative on his grandmother’s side. Unbeknownst to him, Shigeru-san heard tales of his mistreatment at a funeral. He and wife Touko-san never had children and wanted to give Natsume a proper loving home.

Natsume arrives in the countryside of what is speculated to be the island of Kyushu. There are a few “sacred sites” in Kumamoto, and years ago I came across a Japanese YouTuber who found forest temples that inspired the show.  Sacred sites (or otaku pilgrimages) are locations around Japan that serve as the basis for dwellings in your cherished anime.

Think of it like this: manga is (usually) anime’s source material as sacred sites are to a mangaka’s inspiration.

Bad analogy aside, there is a historic site in Gifu prefecture called Ogimachi Village. This serves as the origin of Hinamizawa Village in Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. Using sites such as this are in part to garner local regional tourism; other reasons being the author just may envision their story unfolding there. Other times a memorial is built for fans when there is no tangible place. Satsuki and Mei’s house from My Neighbor Totoro can be found in Nagoya’s Nagakute-cho district.

In a similar vein, I am reminded of the extras on the Spirited Away DVD that show Miyazaki’s inspiration for the infamous bathhouse the witch Yubaba runs. When I was younger I often watched that second disc to see the behind the scenes creation of its Foley track. Or each time it rained I’d watch Kiki’s Delivery Service. The soft pitter patter of the rain on the house was so comforting. It makes me very nostalgic, sharing things like this. I have so many good memories thanks to Japanese animation. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

But, back to the main focus of this article.

The TV show is based on Midorikawa Yuki’s work. She also created the source material for the short film Hotarubi no Mori e [蛍火の杜へ]. Comparable to the Kintaro folktale of Japan, a mysterious human boy named Gin is raised in the forest by yokai. Takegawa Hotaru meets him as a child and the two develop a relationship over time. Watching the film you can see the similarities between Gin and Natsume, especially in their ethereal demeanor and physical appearance.

The town Natsume lands in proves to be a hotbed for paranormal activity and he is constantly chased by spirits requesting their names be returned. In an old box at his new home, he finds a ‘book of friends’ or book of spiritual contracts collected by his grandmother, Natsume Reiko. After a particularly nasty pursuit by unfriendly spirits, Natsume stumbles into a local shrine and accidentally breaks a barrier. This unseals the powerful spirit Madara who is initially stuck, but grows to enjoy the Maneki-neko cat form he had been sealed in for an unidentified length of time.

(I once read somewhere that Kyushu itself is thought of as a portal for spirits and is cursed land. Well, not a ‘you will turn into a tree sort, but a place where you should tread lightly. This was many years ago at the start of the series in 2008. Sadly the websites I see in my mind’s eye may not even exist anymore. This is also the case with the YouTuber I referenced. The videos were in Japanese and used some of the OST. With YT being super extra with copyright claims of late, they may have been wiped from the net to a place I cannot tread. ((Regional blocked sites where I’d have to fire up a proxy)) I will update when I find more information about this or can confirm that it is not some queer fever dream of mine.)

‘Nyanko-sensei’ is what Natsume affectionately calls Madara, and the two slowly return the youkai names. In the real and spirit world, Natsume gains companions who understand and value him as a person. He searches for more information about his grandmother and in the recent season, Natsume Yuujinchou Roku, his grandfather.

I am excited about the upcoming film, I am excited at the possibility of more seasons and each convention I attend I literally hunt specifically for Nyanko-sensei merchandise. The more prevalent the show becomes in America, the more overpriced-UFO-catcher-licensed-merch I can find. I am determined to assemble a small army of plushies and ceramic figurines to guard my nightstands.

Based on the incessant fangirling you’ve just witnessed, hopefully, it sparked a bit of interest in the series.

Natsume Yujincho ~ Utsusemi [夏目友人帳 ~うつせみに結ぶ~ ] is scheduled to premiere on September 29th of this year. Here’s to hoping I can somehow see the Japanese release by proxy of subtitled indie movie theatres.

For now, since the spring anime season has begun the next few posts will focus on currently airing episodes. I am still debating on whether I would like to pick one or two shows to review weekly, or just do first impressions and wait until it’s over to do a series review. There are quite of few series reviews from last season I have on the backburners that I would like to trickle into the mix somehow.

Are you a fan of Natsume’s Book of Friends? What is your favorite anime with yokai? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow us for more Natsume Yujinchou news! We may have some youkai themed content in future articles…