Tsukumogami (付喪神)

Tsukumogami, the notion of Japanese folk beliefs, is a collective name of old or long-used yorishiro (objects representative of divine spirits) (tools, living things and natural things) in which deities (Shinto religion) or divine spirits reside. It is believed that Tsukumogami brings misfortune if it becomes violent (Araburu-kami [violent deity], Kyubi no kitsune [a fox having nine tails] etc.), and it brings good fortune if it becomes calm (Nagiru-kami [calm deity], Okitsune sama [the fox worshiped as a harvest deity] etc.).


"付喪" is a Chinese character used as a phonetic symbol rather than for its meaning, and it is written as "九十九" by right. "九十九" symbolizes "long time (99 years) or long experience" and/or "varieties of things (99 kinds)." This word is also written as "九十九髪," and it also means "things that have become deities over a long time or experience" since "髪" (hair) implies "白髪" (gray hair).

Common ground with ancient Shinto

A world view that yaoyorozu no kami (eight million deities) reside in shinrabansho (all things in nature, the whole of creation), a kind of animism, took root in Japan's ancient Shinto. As seen from the term "Kamusabi" (to believe like a deity), people believed things that lived long or things they used for a long time were sacred by themselves. The concrete examples of the above are himorogi (trees) belief and iwakura (rock and mountain) belief, in which people believed deities resided in large big trees or old rocks and worshiped them as shintai (deities) by putting shimenawa (a sacred rope) around them as proof of yorishiro.

Yorishiro that could become Tsukumogami were shinrabansho, including artificial tools and buildings, animals and plants as well as natural mountains and rivers. Because Tsukumogami brings not only good fortune but also misfortune, it is often expressed as a tale of apparition. The practice/sense of values of believing in the existence of spirits in long-lived articles/living things and "having a feeling of reverence/awe" for them was common in Japan, and the philosophy of Tsukumogami is the same with that of contemporary and ancient Shinto. Also, many monuments, mounds and memorial towers, such as hocho-zuka (mound of kitchen knives), ningyo-zuka (mound of dolls) and dogu-zuka (mound of tools), were constructed at various places in Japan in order to assuage the anger of Tsukumogami.


Behind the above-mentioned sense of values, there seem to be teachings of "taking good care of tools and domestic animals," precautions for avoiding damage or accidents arising from the use of old tools in poor condition, and gratitude for tools, domestic animals and pets that had belonged to people. One legend states that a thing that was treated courteously and became Tsukumogami would repay the owner. The practice of holding memorial services for tools and living things that had served their purposes derived from the belief that such things would become violent Tsukumogami if people treated them without due respect or did not hold memorial services for them.

The personification of shinrabansho

The sense of values that believes divine spirits exist in tools, domestic animals, animals, plants and nature, in which personality is not generally recognized, is considered to have derived from the fact that they were personified in caricatures and comics. As karakasa (a monster of umbrella), a kind of apparition, was drawn as the one that has eyes, a nose, a mouth, hands and feet, apparitions of animals such as nekomata (mythical two-tailed cat) can be categorized into Tsukumogami as ones that acquired spirit (personality) due to their longevity. As seen in "Nushi no densho" (transmission of nushi [master]), mountains and rivers can also acquire personality or life based on the Japanese traditional philosophy of animism, and they are utilized for shakkei (making use of the surrounding landscape in the design of a garden) or the design of Japanese cakes based on the "mitate no seishin" (spirit of simulation).


Tools, domestic animals, cats and dogs were seldom drawn as apparitions before the Kamakura period. Only dragons, snakes and foxes, which were the embodiment of nature according to ancient Shinto, were drawn violently in order to show their menace.

Kamakura period (around 1185 -1333)
Paintings of the model of Tsukumogami (九十九神) are seen in "Tsuchigumo no Soshi," such as women whose figures are the chicken and fox, apparitions of baku (mythological Chinese chimera), things that combine the gotoku (kettle stand) and cattle, the kine (pounder) to which a snake and human teeth are attached, and the hitogata (doll) whose face is tsuno-darai (horned basin) with teeth. ABE no Seimei and five shikigami (deity which performs according to Onmyoshi) are seen in "Fudo Rieki Engi Emaki," and these shikigami are the personified chicken, tsuno-daira and gotoku.

Muromachi period (1336 - 1573)
In this period, histories of apparitions were created and were called Tsukumogami (九十九神). At the beginning of "Tsukumogami-ki," there is a description that states, "According to 'Inyo Zakki,' tools acquired souls and deceived people's hearts 100 years after they were produced. They were called Tsukumogami." Paintings or picture scrolls in which living things were painted, such as "Nezumi Zoshi" and "Juni-rui Gassen," were created, and the Tsukumogami of kakashi (scarecrow) and hishaku (ladle) were painted in "Bakemono Zoshi." As household utensils, such as mortars, pots, pans, tubs and jars, became popular in the Muromachi period thanks to the development of light industry, they were also painted as Tsukumogami. Tsukumogami were painted as main characters in Mitsunobu TOSA's "Hyakki Yagyo-zu" (a painting of Night Procession of Hundred Demons), unlike other Hyakki Yagyo-zu that were painted before then, in which demons were painted as the main characters. Judging from the above, this period seemed to be the golden age of Tsukumogami.

After the Edo period
Tsukumogami were painted solely as apparitions, and their models were the embodiment of nature and daily necessities (including domestic animals) that had existed before the Edo period. However, paintings on which a note explaining that the object is the old one are seldom found today. The above coincides with the fact that many apparitions were created by painters in this period, a peaceful time in which the culture of ordinary people was prosperous and folklore did not exist, and that "the Edo period was a recycling society without parallel in the world" as researchers of the Edo period, such as Hinako SUGIURA, have pointed out. Behind the above, there was a fact that a sense of sin for consumption declined because the repair/collection of used articles became vigorous thanks to the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun)'s policy of encouraging bote-furi (bote-uri) (vending while calling to customers), which was introduced for the promotion of economy and the relief of the socially vulnerable, as well as the use and sale of various foodstuffs such as whale meat and night soil.

The present time
Although the level of recycling of resources does not reach the level of the Edo period, when the bakufu encouraged recycling through human-wave tactics and the social system, Tsukumogami or apparitions are the notion or the sense of values of nature conservation which Japan should send to the world, as with "mottainai" (wasteful) and "satoyama/chinju no mori" (outskirts of country/sacred shrine forest).

Witness testimony at present
At some amusement parks of joint public-private ventures that had fallen into ruin, according to eyewitnesses, roller coasters with no staff would start to run, the white horses of merry-go-rounds would become living white horses and be tormented, and lost children would crawl out from manholes in the middle of the night. According to psychics, what remained at the amusement parks is the "thought" of visitors at the time, and such "thought," when attached to the instruments, caused mysterious phenomena.

[Original Japanese]