Yokai, Oni and Pokemon… Oh My! Pt. 2

I hope you’ve all  braced yourself for the weird, because it’s time for us to once again discuss the stranger side of the Pokemon universe!

This is not what I meant.
This is not what I was referring to.

Previously I wrote about how many of the Pokemon you know and love are based off the terrifyingly, bizarre creatures of Japan known as Yokai. As a quick refresher Yokai are Japanese monsters, spirits, and other sorts of strange phenomena. These beings can be all-powerful gods, super-powered animals, deformed men and women, goblins and ogres, various kinds of undead and literally anything in between. For a more detailed explanation on Yokai check out my original post here. So keeping with the same approach as last time, I will now introduce 3 more Yokai and the Pokemon you may or may not know them as.

The Sickle Weasels

As I said, some Yokai are simply super powered animals, many of which are typically described as being tricksters who like to play jokes on humans. This kind of nature describes our first two Pokemon pretty well, Sneasel and its evolution Weavile. These Pokemon are described as being especially infamous for attacking weaker Pokemon and people with their sickle styled claws, simply for their own amusement.

Also known as being a total dick.

So you may be asking yourself what kind of prick’s idea of a prank is slashing away at someone with deadly claws. Well with comedy always being a subjective matter, the Kamaitachi find this style of prank especially hilarious. The Kamaitachi (lit. sickle weasel) are a trio of bipedal Yokai that bear a resemblance to the typical weasel. Despite looking rather normal, the Kamaitachi actually possess the ability to ride on powerful gusts of wind. Using this to their advantage they are said to gang up on travelers by the first weasel tripping them over, the second weasel cutting up the victims legs and oddly enough the third weasel then applies medicine to the cuts to prevent pain and bleeding. Honestly I can’t really explain why the Kamaitachi does something so bizarre, one explanation I found said that they are the cause of people receiving random cuts after walking through grass. However since most animal based Yokai just like to mess around with humans, I’m content in thinking this as a weird prank.

Still dicks but less so.

Sneasel and Weavile are also typically seen in large hunting groups that make them even more of a threat given their aggressive tendencies. However given the description I just gave you about the actual Kamaitachi’s behavoir, you can see that it’s pretty much harmless. But the idea of a super fast weasel that cuts you up has appealed to many game, manga and anime creators; thus spawning more ferocious counterparts like Sneasel and Weavile.

Mmm Cucumbers

Some of you may remember Golduck from the classic Pokemon games, or perhaps you’re more familiar with its pre-evolution; which was regularly shown throughout the anime as Misty’s awkwardly, loveable Psyduck. Who as a matter of fact, could not swim despite being a water Pokemon.

Natural selection at work.

Additionally another Pokemon shares the same Yokai inspired design as Golduck, appearing later on in the 3rd generation, the grass/water hybrid Lombre. So exactly what mythical beast could of been the inspiration for a large duck and a walking lily pad? Here’s a hint: they live in rivers, ponds and streams, have been known to challenge others to sumo matches, and love cucumbers. The correct answer is of course the Kappa.

The Kappa (lit. river-child) is a humanoid type of water imp. It is usually depicted as being green or blue, with webbed appendages, and a turtle’s shell and beak. Its most notable trait, however, is the cavity or dish on top of its head which is filled with water; this water source is what allows the Kappa to remain on land. As you can see Golduck and Lombre share many similar traits to the Kappa, especially Lombre who even has the Kappa’s most important feature, the water dish. Even to this day the Kappa are one of the most famous Yokai of Japan, so much so that there are actual danger signs posted around small bodies of water to warn passersby.

kappa-abunai

So what exactly about the Kappa warrants this cautionary awareness? Well the Kappa have a complicated relationship with humans, they’re not predominately antagonistic towards people, but it would still be wise to be cautious of them. General horror stories about the Kappa depict them of drowning people and animals without much provocation; they have also been known to kidnap children and even rape women. While these actions are certainly horrible, there is still something far worse a Kappa can do to you. There are two things Kappa love most in the world: the first being the simple cucumber, they find them delicious and irresistible.

The second thing, unfortunately for us, is the human sphincter. The reasoning behind this is just as bizarre as it sounds. The Kappa are actually trying to devour your soul, which is contained in a small mythical ball called a shirikodama; that happens to be housed inside the anus. Disturbing mutilation aside, the Kappa have also been known to be friendly and even seem to have some basic etiquette. The best way to avoid getting on a Kappa’s bad side is to give it some sort of gift, a cucumber would work best. However if you do manage to invoke the Kappa’s wrath don’t fret there are ways to save your ass. Remember that the source of water on top its head is what allows it to remain on land; if emptied the Kappa becomes powerless and even unable to move. Therefore it is commonly advised to trick a Kappa into bowing, thus spilling the water on top of its head. Although I feel like the method shown below is equally effective.

Kappa_vid

 The Snow Maiden 

For our last Yokai, we return to the previous idea of some Yokai being morally failing or vengeful women. While the last female Yokai I covered, the Futakuchi-onna, would fall into the morally corrupt category, this next Yokai should be considered more of a vengeful spirit.

This final Pokemon was introduced in the 4th generation in the Sinnoh region, the ice/ghost hybrid Froslass. Her appearance is reminiscent of a young women dressed in a white kimono. For the most part you can see that appearance-wise she is supposed to be a relatively attractive Pokemon, however her ghost typing does imply something more sinister is at hand.

Don't let the Gijinka fool you.
Don’t let the Gijinka fool you.

The Yuki-onna (lit. Snow woman) is another popular Yokai in Japan, being featured in many works of Japanese literature, manga and anime. She is described as being a tall and beautiful woman dressed in a pure white kimono, along with pale skin, long black hair and blue lips. Additionally, as with many Japanese spirits, she does not have feet and therefore floats. Based on this description you can clearly see the similarities between Froslass and the Yuki-onna. Further similarities can be seen in the Yuki-onna’s lore as well, which I will now briefly describe from Lafcadio Hearn’s famous depiction.

There were once two woodcutters, the older man Mosaku and his apprentice Minokichi, who often went to the mountain to collect wood. However one winter night the two woodcutters return home was interrupted by a fierce blizzard and the two took shelter in an abandoned cabin. Eventually both woodcutters fell asleep, but Minokichi was soon awakened by a cold chill. He saw that the door was open and then looked towards his master. Before Mosaku stood a beautiful woman with pale skin and wearing a pure white kimono. The mystery woman then crouched down and breathed on Mosaku who instantly froze to death. She then moved towards the frightened Minokichi, ready to kill him as well, but then noticed how young and beautiful he was. So instead she told him that she will spare his life, but he must never tell anyone what he just saw; if he did she would come back to kill him.

Since that day Minokichi went along with his life, not ever being sure if what he saw that night really happened. Till one day on his way down from the mountain he came across a beautiful woman named O-Yuki. Minokichi became instantly love struck and convinced her to become his wife. The two lived happily for some time and had several children together. One night however, while looking upon his beautiful wife, Minokichi was reminded of the horrific events of that night many years ago. His wife asked him to tell her about it and as soon as he finished telling his story she stared at him with contempt in her eyes. “You promised you would never tell anyone”, said O-Yuki, “If not for our sleeping children in the next room, I would of killed you in an instant. Take good care of them or else I will come back and give you what you deserve”. O-Yuki then vanished leaving her family behind.

Probably to pursue her career in the anime industry.

There is clear evidence of this story being an influence for Froslass’ creation. One of her Pokedex entries specifically states: “It freezes prey by blowing its -58 degree F breath. It is said to then secretly display its prey“, this being the exact method the Yuki-onna used to kill Mosaku. Additionally other stories have said that Yuki-onna was originally a young woman who died in a snow storm. Which once again is referenced by another of Froslass’ entries: “Legends in snowy regions say that a woman who was lost on an icy mountain was reborn as Froslass.” This example should prove that these resemblances between Yokai and Pokemon are no coincidence, but actually a clever reinterpretation of Japanese mythology for the modern day.

References:

  • Hearn, Lafcadio. “Yuki-onna.” Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1907), pg. 79-86.
  • Weavile image by stardroidjean
  • Kamaitachi image by William Niu
  • James boobs image by Google images
  • Psyduck gif from Pokemon parodies tumblr
  • Kappa sign from Google images
  • Golduck Loves Cucumbers by saffronscarf
  • Kappa gif brought to you by the series Ai Mai Mi
  • Froslass gijinka by zerochan user kofuku
  • Yuki-onna tsurara image by zerochan user tsurara_
  • Featured image: Pokemon Ukiyo-e style by pixiv user nojo
  • Animated Pokemon sprites from http://www.pokestadium.com/

  8 comments for “Yokai, Oni and Pokemon… Oh My! Pt. 2

  1. April 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Woah. There was some actual thought used in creating all of these Pokemon? And here I thought that recently they’ve just been running out of ideas and creating Pokemon by grabbing a bunch of animal parts, throwing them into a big machine, and naming them after the animal they end up looking like or the action they perform (Foongus,Krookodile,Ducklett ect.) I guess this changes my perspective on the Pokemon naming process, and I can now give the creators a bit more credit instead of seeing them as corporate guys who frantically rush to create something new to satisfy their fans.

    Is it bad that I gave up trying to “catch ’em all” after Red and Blue?

    • Mamoru Fuun
      April 2, 2013 at 11:09 pm

      To be honest it got pretty much impossible to catch ’em all after Red and Blue. Way too many Pokemon only available at events.

      It’s true that Pokemon creation is a lot more in depth than most would think, but you’re not wrong either. Sometimes they’re literally whatever animal they haven’t done before or something they’ve ignored for awhile. But it actually doesn’t even end with Japanese mythology, all sorts of Pokemon are based of mythical creatures all over the world, famous characters from literature and other media and other assorted icons and concepts. But you could say they’re fan pleasers too, watch to see if Fennekin is still a fire/fighting; if they really want to please the fans then it WON’T be.

  2. Margeaux Ducoing
    April 3, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Real Talk: I freaked when I saw this post listed on the homepage! Part 1 of your Pokemon myth discussion was everything I wanted and more! Since my first play of Pokemon Silver till today’s latest game installments, what has always grabbed me about this franchise was none other than the designs. The amount of creativity and detail that is put into each and every Pokemon character allows a single creature to stand out amongst its 600+ brethren. And as you describe in your post, all the influences from the folklore/myth (plus other inspirations) the character designers incorporate into the designs really shows their hard work and even love for the game. To think that they’re STILL spitting out new designs after almost 700 designs! Just awesome.

    (ps I only pray that Fennekin is not Fire/Fighting….)

    • Mamoru Fuun
      April 4, 2013 at 11:10 am

      I’m impressed as well, after all this time it be so easy to just slap some chicken wings on a frog and call it a Pokemon (trademark). But no they keep on upping the ante, this can be especially seen past the 4th generation when many legendary Pokemon are now being labeled as gods themselves, which are clearly based off actual deities.

      Btw, so long as Fennekin remains on all fours, there should be no way it is part fighting. At least I hope so…

  3. adavis7
    April 4, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Great job! Very well thought out and interesting. Has anyone written more extensively on this subject? I would also wonder what the ratio would look like between randomly thrown together pokemon to mythology based ones. After reading your first post I’m amazed that the developers are still able to come up with completely new and distinguishable pokemon even after they reached the 600+ mark. Once again great job and very informative!

    • Mamoru Fuun
      April 4, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Well I’m not sure I can calculate an exact ratio, but while researching for these articles I literally went through every Pokemon there was to see who is based on what. Many of them are really just loose associations, with only a small handful being exact depictions of mythological creatures, but if I were to throw out a number I’d say oh maybe 30% or more are associated with some sort of myth or folklore. Don’t quote me on that though.

  4. April 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    This post runs along similar lines to what I will be discussing in my final project. The question is essentially “How do history and mythology affect popular video games?” I will be focusing on Skyrim, but the idea is the same. For many of these games the developers are looking to existing myths, legends, and stories to establish a base for which to build off of. In Skyrim there are many pan-Nordic and some pan-Germanic culture references which define much of the game. The civil war, the references to the jarls meeting to decide a new high king, etc. have roots in real life stories. One of the best examples is Njal’s Saga (said like Knee-all, Nordic equivalent of Neil). When Christianity came to Iceland in 1000 it indirectly helps to create a familial blood feud (the Battleborn and Grey Mane families). This results in a fight at the Allthing (a meeting of important people, where fighting is forbidden) and a man is killed. The whole of Iceland is then drawn into this family blood feud. This is not too dissimilar from the civil war and the feuding families of the Skyrim city of Whiterun. I will be hunting for more details and references for the paper, but I wanted to share this in order to back up the point of history and mythology making a huge impact upon the gaming industry.

    • Mamoru Fuun
      April 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Wow that was certainly a mouth full. That is very interesting and I too have seen many mythological and even historical references in games such as these. While I have never played Skyrim I could see how it would have a huge list of mythological backing in the framework of the universe, so that sounds like a very good final project idea. However I think this is mythology referencing is a bit more fascinating from the Pokemon point of view. The game series has largely been marketed towards children and it is very unlikely that they would be able to appreciate the depth into which these Pokemon creations were made. Yet they continue to make such references and I admire that dedication. Additionally I too was actually considering expanding on my Pokemon articles and maybe coming up with some type of database of references made in the Pokemon universe.

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