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Tsukumogami from Hyakki Yako Emaki .[citation needed]

Understood by many Western scholars[1] as a type of Japanese yōkai,[2] the Tsukumogami (付喪神?, "Kami of tool") was a concept popular in Japanese folklore as far back as the tenth century,[3] used in the spread of Shingon Buddhism.[4] Today, the term is generally understood to be applied to virtually any object, “that has reached their 100th birthday and thus become alive and self-aware,” though this definition is not without its controversy.[5][6][7]

Tsukumogami in Japanese folklore[edit]

According to Elison and Bardwell (1987), Tsukumogami was the name of an animated tea caddy that Matsunaga Hisahide used to bargain a peace with Oda Nobunaga[8]

Like many concepts in Japanese folklore there are several layers of definition used when discussing Tsukumogami.[9] For example, by the tenth century, the Tsukumogami myths were used in helping to spread the “doctrines of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism to a variety of audiences, ranging from the educated to the relatively unsophisticated, by capitalizing upon pre-existing spiritual beliefs in Tsukumogami.”[10] These “pre-existing spiritual beliefs” were, as Reider explains:

Tsukumogami are animate household objects. An otogizōshi (“companion tale”) titled Tsukumogami ki (“Record of tool kami”; Muromachi period) explains that after a service life of nearly one hundred years, utsuwamono or kibutsu (containers, tools, and instruments) receive souls. While many references are made to this work as a major source for the definition of tsukumogami, insufficient attention has been paid to the actual text of Tsukumogami ki.[11]

By the twentieth century the Tsukumogami had entered into Japanese popular culture to such an extent that the Buddhist teachings had been “completely lost to most outsiders,”[12] leaving critics to comment that, by and large, the Tsukumogami were harmless[citation needed] and at most tended to play occasional pranks,[citation needed] they did have the capacity for anger and would band together to take revenge upon those who were wasteful or threw them away thoughtlessly – compare mottainai.[citation needed] To prevent this, to this day some jinja ceremonies[citation needed] are performed to console broken and unusable items.[citation needed]

Known Tsukumogami[edit]

Difficulty in Finding a Definition[edit]

Because the term has been applied to several different concepts in Japanese folklore, there remains some confusion as to what the term actually means.[13][14]


  1. ^ Motokiyo, 195
  2. ^ Classiques de l'Orient, 193.
  3. ^ Reider, 207.
  4. ^ ibid.
  5. ^ Classiques de l'Orient, 194
  6. ^ Foster, 7
  7. ^ Motokiyo, 195
  8. ^ Elison and Bardwell, 213
  9. ^ Classiques de l'Orient, 194
  10. ^ Reider, 207-08.
  11. ^ Reider, 207
  12. ^ Guo, 324.
  13. ^ Classiques de l'Orient, 194
  14. ^ Motokiyo, 195
  • Classiques de l'Orient: Volume 5. (1921)
  • Elison, George and Bardwell L. Smith. Warlords, artists, & commoners: Japan in the sixteenth century. University of Hawaii Press. (1987)
  • Foster, Michael Dylan. Pandemonium and parade: Japanese monsters and the culture of yōkai. University of California Press. (2009)
  • Guo, Leilani. Baka Histoire: le détournement de la mythologie japonaise dans les films, comices et nasties vidéo. Article taken from “Gaijin Culture.” Solange, Marie and Takehiko Kyo (eds). Kagoshima: Nishinoomote News Press (1984)
  • Motokiyo, Kwanze. Cinq nô: drames lyriques japonais. Bossard. (1921)
  • Reider, Noriko T. Animating Objects: Tsukumogami ki and the Medieval Illustration of Shingon Truth. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 36. (2009): 231–257.

Suggested Reading[edit]

  • Kabat, Adam. “Mono” no obake: Kinsei no tsukumogami sekai. IS 84 (2000): 10–14.
  • Kakehi, Mariko. Tsukumogami emaki no shohon ni tsuite. Hakubutsukan dayori 15 (1989): 5–7.
  • Keene, Donald. Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century. New York: Henry Holt & Co. (1993)
  • Kyoto Daigaku Fuzoku Toshokan. Tsukumogami http://edb.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/exhibit/tsuroll/indexA.html and http://edb.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/exhibit/tsuroll/indexB.html
  • Lillehoj, Elizabeth. Transfiguration : Man-made Objects as Demons in Japanese Scrolls. Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 54 (1995): 7–34.
  • National Geographic. National Geographic Essential Visual History of World Mythology. National Geographic Society (U.S.) (2008)
  • Shibata, Hōsei. Tsukumogami kaidai. In Kyoto Daigaku-zō Muromachi monogatari, ed. Kyoto Daigaku Kokugogaku Kokubungaku Kenkyūshitsu, vol. 10, 392–400. Kyoto: Rinsen Shoten. (2001)