Understood by many Western scholars as a type of Japanese yōkai, the Tsukumogami (付喪神?, "Kami of tool") was a concept popular in Japanese folklore as far back as the tenth century, used in the spread of Shingon Buddhism. 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.
Tsukumogami in Japanese folklore
Like many concepts in Japanese folklore there are several layers of definition used when discussing Tsukumogami. 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.” 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.
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,” leaving critics to comment that, by and large, the Tsukumogami were harmless and at most tended to play occasional pranks, 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. To prevent this, to this day some jinja ceremonies are performed to console broken and unusable items.
- Abumi-guchi – A furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander that works for Yama Orochi.
- Bakezōri – A possessed zōri (traditional straw sandals).
- Biwa-bokuboku – An animated Biwa.
- Boroboroton – A possessed Futon.
- Chōchinobake – An animated lantern, also known as Burabura.
- Ichiren-bozu – Animated prayer beads.
- Ittan-momen – A roll of cotton.
- Jatai – Possessed cloths draped from folding screens.
- Kameosa – A possessed sake jar.
- Kasa-obake – An animated paper umbrella. Also known as Karakasa-obake.[note 1]
- Kosode-no-te – A possessed kimono robe.
- Koto-furunushi – An animated Koto.
- Kurayarō – Animated saddle
- Kyōrinrin – Possessed scrolls or papers.
- Menreiki – A spiritual creature formed out of 66 masks.
- Minowaraji- An animated Mino straw coat
- Morinji-no-okama – A possessed tea kettle. Another variation is Zenfushō
- Shamichoro – An animated shamisen
- Shirouneri – Possessed mosquito nettings or dust clothes.
- Shōgorō – An animated gong
- Ungaikyo – A possessed mirror.
- Yamaoroshi – A possessed grater.
- Zorigami – A possessed clock.
- Although modern sources might guess that the kasa obake is a tsukumogami, the initial sources that introduced it made no such reference (see page for kasa-obake). Therefore, its true nature is unknown.
Difficulty in finding a definition
- 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)
- Classiques de l'Orient 5. 1921.
- Elison, George; Smith, Bardwell L., eds. (1987). Warlords, Artists, & Commoners: Japan in the Sixteenth Century. University of Hawaii Press.
- Foster, Michael Dylan (2009). Pandemonium and parade: Japanese monsters and the culture of yōkai. University of California Press.
- Guo, Leilani (1984). "Baka Histoire: le détournement de la mythologie japonaise dans les films, comices et nasties vidéo". In Marie Solange & Takehiko Kyo. Gaijin Culture. Kagoshima: Nishinoomote News Press.
- Motokiyo, Kwanze (1921). Cinq nô: drames lyriques japonais. Bossard.
- Reider, Noriko T. (2009). "Animating Objects: Tsukumogami ki and the Medieval Illustration of Shingon Truth". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 36: 231–257.