Do you believe in spirits? Whether you answer a yes or no, it still intrinsically exists in Japanese mythology and is embedded in their folktales, traditions, and beliefs. Although technology has developed rapidly and people are quick to disprove the existence of the paranormal with science and gadgets, these spirit-like beings (or at least, the idea of them) still have a respected place in Japanese culture.
There are hundreds of different entities and beings in ghost form that supposedly tread Japan. What with its prevalent Shinto beliefs being essentially animistic in nature, with kami manifesting themselves all around human beings, the Zashiki Warashi is only one of the many interesting creatures that are worth your attention reading up on.
The World of Yokai: All About the Zashiki Warashi
The definition of “yokai” or “youkai” is anything that is under the category of paranormal beings in Japanese mythology. The idea of a yokai cannot be pinned down to a specific creature. It can be anything from an entity to an enigma. If you were to translate the word “yokai”, you would get English words such as “bewitching”, ‘suspicious”, “attractive”, and “specter”. They’re not all evil, and they’re not all mischievous – but the Zashiki Warashi is one of them.
The Meaning of the Name “Zashiki Warashi”
In English, the Zashiki-warashi is translated to “zashiki child”, or more popularly, “guestroom child”. A zashiki (“座敷”) is a room in a Japanese house where guests can sit, and it is filled with tatami mats. You can consider it a sort of parlor. “Warashi” (童子“) is an old Japanese word for “child” that was spoken around Japan’s northeastern region.
The zashiki warashi is also sometimes referred to as “Zashiki Bokko”, which means “guestroom basker”. The idea of zashiki-warashi is that it is a spirit that resides in guest or storage rooms in the form of a child of either gender. Some would refer to them as gods, thus the label of “child”.
The Appearance of the Zashiki Warashi
The zashiki warashi can be anywhere from 3 to 15 years old, but most of them seem to look around 5 or 6. Their faces are distinctly red from blushing, perhaps because of the mischief they have caused, or are about to cause. Sightings of a zashiki warashi are uncommon, but they appear in big, old houses that still have people living in them. Only a few people can really see them; supposedly only either the owners of the house they haunt or their children can do so. Because of this, they are known for the mischief they cause more than their visual appearance.
There are characteristics to look out for to be able to identify it as a zashikiwarashi. If the zashiki warashi is a girl, you’ll see it sport a kimono (Japanese outfit for a woman) such as a “furisode”, or a Japanese robe called “kosode”. The clothes of male zashiki warashi tend to veer to more patterned outfits, such as striped fabrics or patterns of assorted design like “kasuri”. Both genders have similar hairstyles; usually, straight hair chopped to a bob cut, which makes it hard to tell what kind of zashiki warashi is inhabiting that room, though occasionally some zashiki warashi girls possess long hair that is brushed back and tied.
Then again, stories of zashiki warashi vary widely. Some stories recount instances of having two or more of them in the same place at once. Others demonize the look of the zashiki warashi, claiming it to resemble a black, brute beast, while some male zashiki warashi boys are said to don warrior clothing. These are rarer counts, though, compared to the usual witnesses of an innocent child.
What Does the Zashiki Warashi Do?
If you have a fireplace, and suddenly see children’s footprints on the floor of those ashes (and you’re sure they’re not your dog’s or anyone else’s), you could be almost certain that is a zashiki warashi playing a prank on you. They do the same, even with other substances such as powdered bleach. The laughter that comes from a child or children, the sound of paper being crumpled, snorting, kagura music, the creak of an opening door made of wood, and the sound of whirring gears of a turning wheel are audible signs you have a zashiki warashi in your house.
If the pillows of your bed are all in disarray, and you can see that someone has been playing or riding your beloved futon, then that is a tell-tale diagnosis for a zashiki warashi haunting. Because of their childlike nature, they want to play and be noticed as much as possible by those living on the premises. They’d do anything to just be normal kids; such as have fun and play games – especially with other children.
If any of the children in a house that is known to have a zashiki warashi starts showing signs of playing with an “imaginary friend”, then you know exactly who they’re playing with. To others, they’re a warm welcome more than a creepy predicament. For couples who cannot bear any children or the elderly, the zashiki warashi find some company in them.
A Bringer of Good Fortune
If you do have a zashiki warashi in your house, do not try to ward it away. They choose when to stay and when to go, and your efforts to get them to leave or stop playing their pranks can only go three ways. Either they don’t listen to you and continue playing harmless pranks, start getting a little more deviant with their pranks, or leave you alone entirely – which is often the worst-case scenario.
It really isn’t a good idea to shoo them away. They are not just spirits but also thought to be guardians of your home, as well as lucky gods. Consider yourself fortunate if you do have a zashiki warashi in your abode – some Japanese families even go through customs to invite a zashiki warashi in their house. Their existence has a great and direct effect on how prosperous a family is.
Families who do have them go out of their way to appease them, and give them their offerings of food. They don’t have any diet, but they would love any offerings of treats or candies to them. Some offer azuki meshi, which is a rice and bean porridge, and monitor the consumption of this. Once the zashiki warashi stops eating from that porridge, that means it has the intent to leave.
What Happens When A Zashiki Warashi Leaves?
The zashiki warashi are protected and celebrated, and never made to feel like a nuisance for a reason. Once they feel disrespected or that it is time to leave, the state of the house, or even the family itself collapses. There is a story in the Tono Monogatari, which is a collection of Japanese folktales from the Tono part of the Iwate prefecture, that talks about how food poisoning killed an entire family once the zashiki warashi that resided in their house left.
Other stories concerning the zashiki warashi leaving involve the sudden decline in the family’s fortune. It is said that a zashiki warashi that wants to leave will appear in red clothes, possibly holding a red bucket.
The Origin Of the Zashiki Warashi
The stories that are told about this specific yokai circulate around the Iwate Prefecture for the most part. Other prefectures that have counts of zashiki warashi in their households include the Miyagi Prefecture, Akita Prefecture, Aomori Prefecture, and parts of the Tohoku region.
Some historians and folklorists suggest that the zashiki warashi are lingering spirits of kids who were victims of infanticide. Those children who were purposely murdered were sometimes buried in the kitchen’s “doma”, which was a kitchen without a floor that eventually leads to the Kura, or storehouse of the home, thus their tendency to stay in that specific room.
It’s also speculated that they look like children because of the Buddhist belief of the existence of “goho-warashi”, which are protective gods of the Buddhist faith that also come in the form of children. The zashiki warashi just wants humans to be more generous and giving, thus, in turn, give them many blessings too.
Different Kinds of Zashiki Warashi
Depending on what region you’re in, this childlike being is called by different names. Aside from the two already mentioned, there’s also okura-bokko, zashiki-kozo, and zashiki-warabe. Zashiki-bokko is the name used around the Prefecture where it’s most popular in; Iwate.
Then there are the ranked versions of zashiki warashi. The zashiki-warashi that has the most appealing appearance and is colored white goes by the name “chopirako”. They are stunning and attractive spirits and bring more than the usual number of blessings and wealth upon a household. This comes with a price, though, as the family of that households needs to give it more care and attention than they would a normal zashiki warashi. This high-class spirit comes from a deceased child who grew up in a wealthy family and was given a room and lavish toys when he/she died.
Those that reside around the dirt floor of a house go by the name “notabariko”, which means “mortar-pounding child”. It also goes by the names “usutsuriko”, and “kometsuki-warashi”. This low-ranked variant of the zashiki warashi don’t come happy, and come out of the ground and make a strange, thumping noise at night. The energy that they spread in the household is uneasy, and it does not have any positive or negative effect on the riches of the family that owns the house it haunts while it is there. However, if it leaves the household, the family will still experience some sort of misfortune.
One variant doesn’t look like the normal zashiki warashi; its differences lie in its member girth and length – they’re as thin as a vine. These are what you call “hosode nagate”, which means “thin arms, long arms”. They are called “hosode” for short. In case a natural disaster was to happen such as a tsunami, a hosode would appear, and beckon with their thin arms for people to get away from the location where the incident will take place.
A Movie That Portrays Zashiki Warashi
There is a drama film, directed by Akiyoshi Kimata, starring Ai Hashimoto, Renji Ishibashi, and Ken Utsui that revolves around a Zashiki Warashi. It received a 6.7 out of 10 stars on IMDB and came out last April 28, 2012. Its original title is Hoshi no Zashiki Warashi, but in English, it is translated to “Home: The House Imp”. Ai Hashimoto was nominated as Newcomer of the Year for it, for the Japanese Academy.
The premise of the story is how a man moves from Tokyo to the Iwate prefecture, bringing his entire family to a rural village in the countryside. They have a hard time adjusting to this, coming from the city, more so with the pranks that have been going on around the house. Right before they succumb to their frustration over their move, they find out about the being that was behind the mischief all along, changing the way they decide to deal with the situation.
Anime and Manga Shows With Zashiki Warashi
You’ll find the zashiki warashi in today’s popular culture, mostly in the form of literature and media. Anime and manga are no exceptions when it comes to featuring zashiki warashi. It appears in the show “xxxHolic”, where the creature feels romantically inclined to Kimiiro Watanuki, the protagonist of the story. There is also one named “Yukari” in an episode in Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.
It also comes out in the show Hetalia, where it is portrayed as a zashiki warashi that can’t stop giggling. It’s used only for a small segment, as the character, Britain, thinks he really heard the zashiki warashi’s voice but ended up not finding anything. Other anime that the zashiki warashi comes out in is “A Centaur’s Life”, “Hoozuki no Reitetsu”, “Hoozuki no Reitetsu”, and “Yo-Kai Watch”.
The Appearance of Zashiki Warashi in Mononoke; the Anime
Though it’s a bit of a raw topic, “Mononoke” the anime deals with the zashiki warashi’s darker background; originally that they were spirits that from babies that were killed once or before they were born. Mononoke featured prostitutes who worked at a brothel and got pregnant – the babies that were then not allowed to live turned into zashiki warashi.
You may be a person who comes to a different culture and background that doesn’t believe in the paranormal, but learning about other country’s beliefs is eye-opening, and can be an artful inspiration to those who keep an open mind.