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Chōchin-obake (提灯お化け, "paper lantern ghost") is a Japanese yōkai of chōchin (a type of lantern), "[the] lantern-spook (chochinobake) ... a stock character in the pantheon of ghouls and earned mention in the definitive demonology of 1784." They can also be called simply chōchin, bake-chōchin, obake-chōchin, and chōchin-kozō.
They appear in the kusazōshi, omocha-e, and karuta card games like obake karuta starting from the Edo period to the early 20th century (and still in use today), as well as in Meiji and Taishō toys, children's books, and haunted house attractions.
An old chōchin would split upwards and downwards, and the part that got split would become a mouth and stick out a long tongue, and the "chōchin obake" is commonly considered not to have one eye in its upper half, but two. Sometimes, the chōchin would also grow a face, hands, a torso, and wings.
In pictures from the Edo Period, both bucket-shaped and cylindrical chōchin were depicted. In the Gazu Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro by Sekien Toriyama, a lantern-shaped yōkai under the name of "bura-bura" was depicted.
They are also known from ukiyo-e such as Katsushika Hokusai's "Oiwa-san" from the "Hyakumonogatari," and Utagawa Kuniyoshi's "Kamiya Iemon Oiwa no Bōkon" from the Edo Period and beyond. These were inpsired by the kabuki, the Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kaidan (1825), in which the spirit of Oiwa, who was killed by Kamiya Iemon, was performed displaying itself from a chōchin (which was called chōchin-nuke), and as well as another performance in which a chōchin had a human face, the Kasane ga Fuchi Satemo Sono Nochi (累渕扨其後) (in 1825, at the Nakamura-za among other places), so these were called chōchin-oiwa.
Among emakimono that depict many yōkai of tools, there is the Hyakki Yagyō Emaki, but there have been no chōchin found in older works before the Edo Period. Examples of works after the Edo Period include the Hyakki Yagyō no Zu" (百鬼夜行之図) by Kanō Jōshin.
The Chōchin-obake in particular was created from a chōchin lantern composed of "bamboo and paper or silk". They are portrayed with "one eye, and a long tongue protruding from an open mouth".
Although they are a famous yōkai, it is said that there are pretty much no legends in any area that are about this, so in yōkai-related literature, they are classified as a "yōkai that exist only in pictures.". There is also a theory that they were created as a kind of fiction for entertaining children. The yōkai comic artist Mizuki Shigeru published a story about how a chōchin-obake would surprise people and suck out their souls, but it did not cite any primary sources.
In an old story from the Yamagata Prefecture, at a shrine with an aged chōchin, a chōchin-obake would appear and frighten humans, and the obake would no longer appear after the chōchin was put away.。
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