The Princess and the Fox

fairy-tale-contest-winnersEdward C. Price won Honorable Mention during our Japanese Fairy Tale Contest.

Once upon many years ago, in the far islands of Japan, a princess was born. Daughter of a brute but very wealthy man, she lived a noble life of seclusion. The princess was raised for the next fourteen years within the best possible environment, and was to become the Emperor’s new wife. Her father was cruel and without affection. He treated and saw the girl merely as a prized ticket to a higher statement. To avoid damaging her beautiful and delicate body, he would punish her mentally, by locking her away for several tortured days. During those times, she would dedicate herself to poetry and whatever form of literature available, enjoying mostly the works of the renowned female poet Ono no Komachi. Even when not locked away, the lonely princess would not see anyone but her trusted maidens. During rare meetings, there would always be a screen between her and the other party.  Still, the lady held no grudge, and grew to be a kind and loving person.

Princess Yaegaki follows the fox fires

Princess Yaegaki follows the fox fires

            Due to her nation-wide famed beauty, there were many marriage proposals, until finally, one came signed by the Emperor himself. There was never a day where the household, specially its master, was so full of joy. A huge banquet was thrown to all the allied families, and the celebration lasted for weeks. But, wherever good news arrive, bad news follow. Just before the beginning of the wedding’s preparations, the ruler fell ill and eventually passed away. The princess’ father was devastated. Rage, strong enough to create any demon, flew within his veins. He blamed it all on the bride-to-be, and exiled her to a manor in the countryside. There, she would not speak or see anyone, for even the servants would hide in the shadows. Rumors spread, and the proposals became more and more scarce. The girl was forgotten in complete loneliness.

            One night, as the princess wept and gazed at the full moon, a fox jumped from the bushes, and was intrigued by the crying figure. “What seems to bother you, my fair lady?” said the fox. The princess replied “I have lived fourteen years of drowning loneliness bestowed upon me by my status and beauty. And now I am completely alone, left here as if dead and buried.” The animal sat next to her, and said “Please do not cry. Tears do not suit your divine image. Let me tell you something: Today is my birthday, and I finally gained a third tail. I shall make you company, as we celebrate in my honor.” As he finished his proposal, the creature whistled, and from the same bush where he came from, several astonishing figures paraded bringing food and drink. They celebrated all night long, and for the moment, the young girl forgot all her problems.

            By dawn, the figures left, as if nothing had ever happened. “Please, my dear fox, do not leave me! It would be torture to experience company for a moment and suddenly be left all alone once more!” cried the princess. “Do not worry, child of men, I have my natural needs, so I must leave during the day. But I promise to come back every night to enjoy your delightful company.” said the fox, before disappearing in the wild. And so, every night, the fox came back. The two would spend whole nights talking about the most distinguished topics, laughing, arguing, and even crying together. Eventually, love fell over their heads, and on her fifteenth birthday, he asked for her hand.

            “A dream this is, indeed! But as sad as it seems, it cannot be fulfilled. We would never be allowed to be together!” replied the princess. “My actual form is no more than an illusion, for I can become a man, as I can become any creature of my pleasing.” explained the fox, in a more aggressive tone. “I am still a princess!” said the girl, “My status haunts me like a black hell hound, and it will never allow me to marry someone without any possessions! Please, I love you more than life itself, so let us stay together the way we are now!”. Without any word, the fox got up and simply left, without being seen again. Heartbroken and blaming herself, the princess wept thru out the next days, having constant episodes of severe depression.

            Meanwhile, in the capital, a ship arrived from an overseas country and with it a prince of a far land. His hair was blond, and his eyes of a deep green. All were enchanted by this unique character. He was after a bride, and made a proposal to the forgotten princess’ family. The father was not certain. He didn’t want to marry his daughter to a foreigner without any rewards, especially those that could increase his social status. The young prince then offered one thousand arms of the finest quality, accompanied by many unique accessories from his homeland. The deal was sealed, and the wedding prepared. When the news arrived on the countryside house, the girl became revolted, and refused to marry someone she did not love. Three swordsmen where needed to forcibly carry her to a carriage, and escort her back to the main household. During the preparations, she wouldn’t even bother to look at her future husband.

            On the wedding day, while weeping in her room, the door opened, and her groom stepped in. Without any hesitation, he embraced her as passionately as he could, while she struggle, ordering him to let go. As she fought to set herself free of that forced act of love, he whispered in her ear “Did you really think I would abandon you? How many times have I declared my love?”. She immediately recognized that soft voice. How could she not recognize it? It was her precious fox’s voice. She looked into the prince’s eye and saw the same look she stared at, night after night, during their long talks. “How did you do it?! I knew you could change shapes, but there was a ship! And servants!” she said. “It is all but a mere illusion shaped with the help of my dear friends.” he answered. And so, the wedding was performed, and the two married. When boarding the ship, the fox, still under disguise, instructed the princess’ father to wait four days until a new ship would come with his so wanted rewards. The newlyweds departed, and their ship vanished on the horizon. The two moved to the southern isles under new names as simple country folk. As for the father, rumor has it that the ship with the gifts did arrive exactly four days later. But, it was filled with nothing but leaves and wood sticks.

Ghost Hunt

Ghost HuntGhost Hunt is best described as The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS or better known as the Ghost hunters) meets Japanese folklore. Ghost Hunt is divided into several cases. Each of the cases shows a different aspect and spiritual ability of the cast. Cases range from creepy possessed dolls to demonic entities.

Ghost Hunt can almost be watched in any order. The arcs are stand alone outside of the character developer. The development of Mai Taniyama is what pulls all the story arcs together. Over time the teenager uncovers latent spiritual abilities as she helps Naru (her nickname for Kazuya Shibuya) on his cases. Mai is a bubbly extrovert who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Although she is easily frightened! That is certainly not a good trait when you are working with yuri, shiki, and other oddities.

Naru is the manager of the Shibuya Psychic Research center. Mai nicknames him Naru because of his narcissistic attitude (narushisuto). Naru comes off as cold and unfeeling, but he actually cares deeply for each of them. There is a bit of a love triangle between Naru, Mai, and Masako Hara, a spirit medium. The triangle is mostly used for comedy relief and is not fully developed.

Ghost Hunt Mai and NaruThe series is interesting and genuinely creepy at times. It focuses on mysteries and circumstances surrounded each of the cases. Many of the cases are predictable. The viewer will have many solved in the first episode of the arc. The situations are interesting. The odd mix of Shinto, Buddhist, Tao, and Catholic spiritual traditions works. Each of the characters in Naru’s team represent a tradition.

This is a “talk” anime. Action scenes are separated by long diatribes about various spiritual entities, ideas, and acronyms. The dialogue itself is uninspired. Don’t expect banter like you see in Spice in Wolf. The characters are generally stereotypical: the outgoing girl who falls for the silent guy, the faux priestess, and other stereotypes.

The animation is sound but not stellar. The soundtrack is forgettable.

Ghost Hunt is interesting despite the problems. The TAPS style investigations mixed with Japanese mythology held my attention for the 25 episodes. The mysteries were predictable, but watching how the characters come to the conclusions keeps the viewer entertained. Many of the case arcs were too long; they could often fit in just a single episode or two. Fans of TAPS should take a look at this anime. As it progresses, it departs from the TAPS investigation model, but the mix of East and West makes for a thought provoking watch.

Heikegani–The Samurai Crab


Artist’s impression of a heikegani. Remarkably, it’s pretty close to the reality.

The year was 1185, the place a tiny bay called Dan-no-ura. Two great fleets faced one another; on once side, the Heike clan, imperial rulers of Japan, and on the other the Minamoto, upstarts fighting to control the throne. At stake was control of all Japan. After a half-day of fighting, the Heike were routed, and their 6-year old emperor drowned to keep him out of Minamoto hands. Minamoto Yoritomo went on to become the first Shogun, or military ruler, of Japan.

A strange story arose in the wake of the battle. Locals told a legend about crabs in the area with strange patterns on their shells, said to resemble samurai masks. Legend held that the crabs were the reincarnations of samurai slain at the Battle of Dan-no-ura.

See what I mean? Credit: Nasir Sadeghi.

See what I mean? Credit: Nasir Sadeghi.

The crabs do bear an uncanny resemblance to samurai masks. Carl Sagan speculated in his show Cosmos that the resemblance was due to artificial selection. Basically, people would throw back crabs that resembled samurai masks, and eat the ones that didn’t. So that put selection pressure on the population to grow shells that resembled masks.

While it sounds good and it does fit the mold for how selective pressures tend to work, there’s a problem–nobody eats Heikegani. They’re too small. Plus, crabs with this kind of shell pattern aren’t confined to only that small bay, but they can be found all over the Bay of Japan. And there are other species of crabs with similar patterns, although maybe not as pronounced.

The folds and creases are points where muscles attach to the carapace. Humans just happen to think they look like faces–or masks–because of a phenomena called pareidolia, where we see faces in random patterns. It’s not quite as cool as reincarnated samurai ghosts, but then again, not many things are.



Kamaitachi–The Sickle Weasel

Kamaitachi, by Toriyama Sekien.

Kamaitachi, by Toriyama Sekien.

Night has fallen. You’ve had a hard day at work, and you’re walking home, cutting across a grassy field to save time. All of a sudden, a huge gust of wind knocks you to the ground. When you stand, you happen to look down and notice that your pants have been sliced open at the calf, and a closer look shows an inch long slit in your skin. There is no blood, and no pain. Yet, anyway. The pain will set in later, and you’ll suffer for days as the wound will take a long time to heal.

So what in the world just happened? Well my friend, you have just run afoul of the kamaitachi, or the sickle weasel. The critters are yokai that hang around the Koshin’etsu region for the most part. They are said to resemble weasels, with sharp, sickle like claws. Accounts of their attacks vary; some claim that they attack in trios, while others claim the monsters work alone.

What they can agree on is that the sickle weasel first attacks with a strong gust of wind, or a whirlwind, knocking their victim to the ground (they only attack men, by the way). The second phase of the attack is using their sickle-like claws to cut a deep gash into the skin, and the final phrase is to apply a medicine that numbs pain and stops bleeding. The attacks happen instantaneously, with the weasel moving faster than the eye can see (which begs the question of how anyone knows what the thing looks like, but that’s another matter).

The kamaitachi appear in anime, manga, and novels. So far there don’t seem to be any modern accounts of attacks by these elusive creatures. Like most things folkloric, it seems the sickle weasel exists exclusively in the minds of those who believe in them.


Jorogumo–‘The Whore Spider’

Credit: Wikipedia

A Jorogumo, surrounded by her children.

One day a logger was going about his work. Since logging is an exhausting business, seeing as how this was Edo period Japan and the chainsaw hadn’t been invented yet, the man decides to take a short break. He hears the crash of a waterfall nearby, and decides that sitting on the stream bank and watching the waterfall would be a pleasant way to spend his lunch break.

However, no sooner has the man settled himself and unpacked his food than a strange something attaches itself to his foot! Puzzled, the man pulls the stick substance off. He sees that it is something like spider silk. He sticks the stuff to a nearby log. A moment later, the log goes zipping across the stream bank, only to disappear beneath the churning waters of the waterfall. Not a little spooked, our logger decides it’s best to take his lunch break elsewhere and he beats a hasty retreat back into the woods.

Our nameless logger might not know it, but he’s just had an encounter with a Jorogumo, whose name translates to either ‘binding bride’ or ‘whore spider’. Jorogumo are said to come to be when a spider, most often a species of orb-weaver, comes to be 400 years old. On its 400th birthday, the spider gains strange powers and becomes the size of a cow. It can then change its shape to a beautiful woman. It uses this shape and its skill at playing biwa (where it learned to play is a mystery–presumably spiders are all music majors?) to lure victims into its traps, where it then binds their feet and stores them away for later feeding.

The story I told above contains the basics of the typical Jorogumo story. The creatures are often, but not exclusively, associated with waterfalls. Many times they are considered malevolent, but in Kashikobuchi, a Jorogumo is worshiped as a protective spirit who saves people from drowning.

Jorogumo appear in stories from the Edo period. Today, the ‘whore spider’ makes appearances in stories, video games, and anime. In particular, there’s a Jorogumo in the anime/manga xxxHolic, who performs a particularly gruesome act during the course of the series (by the way, anyone seen that anime? I haven’t yet).

I haven’t found any modern claims of any Jorogumo sightings, which seems to be unusual as far as Japanese spirits goes. Perhaps no spiders have reached their 400th birthday in recent years…


Atkinson, W (2003). Wrapping the Hole in the Middle of It all: Tanizaki’s Narrative Packages. College Literature. 30 [3].

Jorogumo, Wikipedia.

Goldstein, J. 101 Amazing Mythical Beasts and Legendary Creatures.

Rosen, B. (2009). Tsuchigumo. The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings.


The Curse of the Kleenex Commercial

Japanese Kleenex commercialAmerica has a whole host of urban legends surrounding television shows and movies.  Probably the most famous is the legend of the cursed movie set, which claims that for years after the movie Poltergeist was filmed, actors and producers all met terrible fates.  Similar claims were made for the cast of The Exorcist, and probably several other movies I’m not aware of.  The point is that the cursed set is a staple of entertainment related urban legends.  These sorts of stories aren’t limited to the US, however.  Japan has its own strange entry into the canon of cursed sets: the Curse of the Kleenex Commercial.

A series of Kleenex commercials aired in the Eighties that spawned the legend of the cursed commercial set.  The version of the commercial I scrounged up featured a woman in white and a baby painted to look like an ogre or a demon.  Legend has it the commercial features a strange song in German that says “die die” over and over, the tone of which changes based on the time of day.  The commercial was said to bring bad luck as well.  Thoroughly creeped out television viewers complained, and Kleenex pulled the ads.

But, legend has it, the trouble only began once the ad was pulled.  The lead actress in the commercial supposedly suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized, while the baby died under mysterious circumstances.  From producers to cameramen to gaffers, everyone even remotely related to the commercial died or suffered accidents or other misfortunes.

Chris’ Edit: Here is the video for those who don’t want to follow the link below.

Now, of course, not much of that is true.  It is true that the ads were pulled when people complained.  The song in the ad was actually an English song called “It’s a Fine Day”, which while not German and not saying “die die”, is still creepy in the context of the commercial, or so this fellow thinks.  No one associated with the commercial died under mysterious circumstances that I can find, and the lead actress Keiko Matsuzaka is still alive and working as an actress to this day.  So, while the commercial itself is bizarre, it’s more an example of failed marketing than anything supernatural. See the commercial here [Author’s note: I had no end of trouble trying to embed the video. So I wound up taking a screen cap, which ALSO gave me no end of trouble. Is it the curse of the Kleenex commercial at work? Or just poor technical skills? I’ll leave that for you to decide (hint: it’s probably the latter)].