How do you feel about footwear, in general? Do you believe it has sole? Certainly you do. What would you say, though, if I told you it might have soul as well?
A couple of months ago a funny little yokai called Tsukumogami made an appearance on our Facebook page and we didn't get the opportunity to go into much detail about him; which is a shame because the Tsukumogami are a fascinating part of the pantheon of mythological characters of Japan.
What is a Tsukumogami, exactly?
It's a Yokai, the Japanese term for demon, but it isn't always a sandal (or Bakezori) as shown in the image above. A Tsukumogami is the name given to any yokai which possesses an inanimate object and brings it to life. Tsukumogamis can possesses anything from straw mats and paper lanterns, to umbrellas and bathrobes.
Today these yokai are usually blamed for the misplacement of common items which are frequently lost. In America when someone asks, "where are my car keys?" someone else may reply, "Well they're around here somewhere. Car keys don't just grow legs and walk away." and in America, they'd be right. But in Japan, car keys (and sandals) grow legs and walk away every day! According to legend anyway.
Modern vs Ancient
While the description above paints a picture of how people may refer to the Tsukumogami yokai in modern times - "I can't find my phone! A Tsukumogami must have possessed it!" - the ancient history of this unique yokai is a bit different.
Tsukumogami, according to tradition, can be born only after the targeted object has been neglected for over 100 years and only if it was discarded carelessly or accidentally lost. But when the Tsukumogami were first mentioned in Japanese folkore (during the Heian period, 794 to 1185 AD), they were noted as being vengeful and bloodthirsty - perhaps angry at their original, neglectful owners. In later writings however, especially in those of the Edo period (1603 to 1868 AD), the nature of these yokai became more trivial and foolish and the Tsukumogami fell out of fashion. They remained somewhat obscure characters of lore until the 20th century when the manga and anime communities brought them back by casting them in novels, movies, and even Kabuki performances.
The Tsukumogami are an interesting, if not relatively silly, piece of Japanese folklore and we hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about them.
Thanks for reading, listening, and subscribing. May your items never be misplaced or neglected; and if they are, may the Tsukumogami who possess them be the kind and comical sort!