|Japan has a rich history of folklore characters that appear in stories, songs, paintings, ceramics and other art forms as people or animals with supernatural or magical qualities. Many Japanese folklore characters are also associated with specific holidays or seasons, and are often found as figurines that bring luck or protection to places like shines, businesses and homes.
One of the most recognized figures in the Japanese tradition of yokai, or monster-like spirits, are Tengu. Originating from the name of the Chinese dog-like demon Tiangou, Tengu are often portrayed as dramatic airborne creatures with startling blends of human and bird features, including long protruding noses reminiscent of beaks and thick feathery beards. In some stories and myths, Tengu are also believed to have shape shifting abilities that enable them to transform in to human-bird hybrids.
Tengu, which means "heavenly dogs," are often worshiped as kami, or gods, by followers of Shinto, a traditional Japanese spiritual practice. Among the earliest depictions of Tengu are 13th century Japanese scrolls. One of the most famous of these scrolls, Tenguzōshi Emaki, is a satirical portrait of Japanese high priests by the artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
Hyottoko is another popular folk character with a unique history and a common presence in modern Japan. Thought to have originated from a colorful myth from the Iwata prefecture, or region, in northern Japan, Hyottoko is an abbreviation of the combined Japanese words for fire, “hi” (pronounced HEE), and man “otokko.”
The traditional story of Hyottoko describes an odd-faced boy who could make gold from his navel. The unique folk figure is often seen in the form of somewhat comical masks that feature asymmetrical shapes, mismatched eyes, and a mouth smoking a glowing red pipe. According to Japanese tradition, a Hyottoko mask hung above a fireplace in house where someone has died is thought to bring good fortune to the home and its inhabitants.
The Hyottoko figure is also represented in a classic Japanese dance called “Dengaku.” This spirited event is often held in rural villages where festive participants wearing Hyottoko masks perform like jesters. Now you can bring the legend of this playful Japanese figure into your home with a charming Hyottoko magnet from Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen. This whimsical decoration is sure to add a quirky touch to any magnetic surface.
Another popular Japanese folk character is a jovial and mischievous animal called Tanuki. Based on a species of actual native Japanese raccoon dogs, the folk legend of the same name is a renowned centuries-old character that remains one of the country’s most recognizable and beloved symbols.
Tanuki is commonly portrayed as a wily creature with shape shifting powers. While he is infamous for playing tricks on humans, this jolly figure is also thought to possess eight special physical characteristics that contribute to his good fortune. Tanuki’s eight lucky attributes include: large perceptive eyes to help him evaluate the world and make decisions; a sizable tail to steady him through obstacles; a sake bottle for good character; a big hat to shield him against stormy weather and other predicaments; and a giant belly to represent his stable unwavering nature.
Tanuki is often portrayed as a smiling pot-bellied creature wearing a large domed hat, and carrying a bottle of sake and empty purse in either hand. His unmistakable friendly and comical features are found on numerous statues placed throughout Japanese gardens, restaurants and temples.
The Tanuki sake set from Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen is the perfect way to celebrate the festive spirit of Japan’s mythical raccoon dog figure. Each set includes a medium-size sake flask and two single-serving cups featuring the adorable face of the legendary round-eyed character. Tanuki himself couldn’t resist enjoying his favorite drink from this delightful beverage set!
“Kitsune,” is the Japanese word for fox and another example of a living animal popularized through Japanese folklore. Once prevalent in many parts of Japan, foxes were frequently considered mysterious and intelligent creatures capable of outwitting their human counterparts. They were often said to have transformative powers that allowed them to adopt the shapes of people.
In addition to their ability to disguise themselves as humans, Kitsune were sometimes thought to have the power to possess them. The term “kitsunetsuki” was used to describe the state of possession by a fox.
The animal was said to possess young women by slipping under their fingernails. This supernatural experience was said to create such sensational and varied effects as the ability to suddenly read or write in unfamiliar languages, or run through the streets with abandon.
Yet not all Japanese legends portray Kitsune in a deceptive light. Many folktales also feature foxes as kind companions, mates and loyal guardians. Some ancient groups made offerings to or worshipped a powerful and revered fox spirit.
Now you can admire the graceful and mysterious subject of countless Japanese myths and legends with a lovely Auburn Fox Yixing Teapot from Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen. Crafted in China, this unique piece made from rare zisha clay may even inspire you to enjoy a folktale or two over a cup of delicious tea.
From the bird-like creature Tengu and the whimsical mask of Hyottoko, to the comical spirit of Tanuki and the clever Kitsune, Japan has a history of vivid myths and stories for you to explore. And with Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen, you can bring home a touch of the unique and sometimes mysterious world of Japanese folktales.
| OUR 2010 NEWSLETTERS
Tengu, Hyottoko, Tanuki and Other Popular Japanese Folklore Figures
East Asian Writing: Their beauty and their history
Calligraphy & Sumi-e
The Bento Box
Japanese Woodblock Printing
Magical Meaning of Cranes
Chinese Chop Seal & Ink
Japanese Furoshiki and Noren
The Magnificent of Mount Fuji
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Hyottoko magnet (5353)
Tanuki sake set (S1126)