Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Umibozu


Yokai are Japanese spirits that range from harmless to monstrous.  Some dwell in the woods, some dwell among the clouds, and some  (like the Umibozu ) dwell underwater.  The Umibozu resembles a gigantic mound of black flesh -- smooth and hairless like a shaven head.  This trait gives the yokai its name, which translates to "sea monk".  Unlike its namesake, the Umibozu is far from harmless.  It menaces ships that pass nearby, rising from the sea without warning.  It will then wreck the helpless vessel, dragging all onboard to a watery grave.

Thankfully, attacks by the Umibozu can be avoided.  Usually, the yokai remains submerged, and might not attack unless provoked.  While sailing, it is best not to speak its name -- a surefire way of summoning it forth.  If an Umibozu does attack, it may not sink its target directly.  Sometimes, it will ask for a barrel, which it will fill with water and use to flood the ship.  If an Umibozu makes such a request, give it a barrel filled with holes -- the creature will be unable to collect water, and will leave in frustration.  This beast, evidently, is not one of the smartest yokai.

Through the years, many explanations have been proposed for the Umibozu legend.  These range from natural phenomena like rogue waves and storm clouds to living beings -- like sea turtles and jellyfish.  The theory I find most believable equates the Umibozu to a large octopus.  The heads of these creatures look extremely similar, with a saclike structure and bulging eyes.  Furthermore, the Umibozu's torso bears long, scrawny limbs -- which greatly resemble octopus tentacles.

Read more about the Umibozu:
http://www.markburrier.com/illustration/umibozu/
http://hyakumonogatari.com/2012/02/21/umi-bozu-the-sea-monk/
Image (public domain) from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/Kuwana_-_The_sailor_Tokuso_and_the_sea_monster.jpg

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