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For the video game, see 99 Spirits.
Tsukumogami from Hyakki Yako Emaki .[1]

Understood by many Western scholars[2] as a type of Japanese yōkai,[3] the Tsukumogami (付喪神?, "Kami of tool") was a concept popular in Japanese folklore as far back as the tenth century,[4] 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][2]

In Japanese folklore[edit]

According to Elison and Smith (1987), Tsukumogami was the name of an animated tea caddy that Matsunaga Hisahide used to bargain for peace with Oda Nobunaga.[7]

Like many concepts in Japanese folklore there are several layers of definition used when discussing Tsukumogami.[5] 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.”[8] 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.[4]

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,”[9] 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]

  1. ^ 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[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.[5][2]

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)


  1. ^ "Nipponbunka to rekishi". Retrieved 15 April 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Motokiyo (1921), p. 195
  3. ^ Classiques de l'Orient (1921), p. 193
  4. ^ a b c Reider (2009), p. 207
  5. ^ a b c Classiques de l'Orient (1921), p. 194
  6. ^ Foster (2009), p. 7
  7. ^ Elison & Smith (1987), p. 213
  8. ^ Reider (2009), pp. 207–208
  9. ^ Guo (1984), p. 324


  • 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.