Kokkuri (game)

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Kokkuri (こっくり, 狐狗狸) or Kokkuri-san (こっくりさん) is a Japanese game popular during the Meiji period that is also a form of divination, based partially on Western table-turning. The name kokkuri is an onomatopoeia meaning "to nod up and down", and refers to the movement of the actual kokkuri mechanism. The kanji used to write the word is an ateji, although its characters reflect the popular belief that the movement of the mechanism is caused by supernatural agents (ko 狐, foxes; ku 狗, tengu; ri 狸, tanuki).

The word kokkuri refers to the game, the actual physical apparatus, and the spirit(s) believed to possess the apparatus in order to communicate with humans. The physical mechanism is composed of three bamboo rods arranged to make a tripod, upon which is placed a small pot, which is covered by a cloth. Three or more people will place their hands upon the kokkuri and ask the spirits a question, which that spirit will in theory answer by moving the pot or remaining still.

Japanese folklorist Inoue Enryō wrote about the kokkuri phenomenon, denouncing it as mere superstition, yet his efforts did not succeed in depopularizing the game. Some scientific figures of the age attempted to explain the phenomena with the more scientific sounding yet ultimately equally mysterious term "human electricity".

In popular culture[edit]

  • Tamamura Tamao from the Shaman King series is a young shugenja who performs kokkuri in its modern form. Based on the ateji writing of the word, her partner spirits are a kitsune and a tanuki, and as a shugenja she fulfills the role of the tengu.
  • In the manga series Gugure! Kokkuri-san, a girl named Kohina Ichimatsu plays the game by herself and summons the fox spirit Kokkuri-san who, upon seeing her unhealthy lifestyle, takes it upon himself to become her guardian and raise her properly.

References[edit]

  • Smyers, Karen (1999). The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2102-9.
  • Foster, Michael Dylan (2008). Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yōkai. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25361-2.