It's been a while since the last post, but I am excited to share with you the appossha! Although this is a winter yokai, I thought it might help to keep you cool in this unquenchable summer heat!
I think that appossha is a really interesting yokai for a number of reasons. First of all, he is a super local yokai, found only in one tiny hamlet here in Fukui prefecture. He's so local that people in Fukui who aren't from that village hardly even know of him.
Koshino, Fukui, pop. ~1700 -> probably the same as the number of people who have heard of appossha.
So I love this yokai because he's so local and so unknown, and also because he's from Fukui, where I live. But more than that, I love what this yokai represents.
You'll read about his origins down below, so I won't repeat them here, but I just love the story of how this yokai came about. It's one of those things where you can visualize almost exactly what happened in your mind's eye: some foreign-speaking fisherman with only a smattering of Japanese, crawling out of the icy waters, red-faced, covered in sea weed, and banging from door to door begging in his broken language for some food. Of course children would be scared! And yet, when offered food and warmth, he turns out to be not monstrous at all.
What's more, this yokai is a remnant of a lost aspect of folk religion, which has been blended and absorbed into modern traditions, but can be seen pretty clearly in this example.
The marebito religion is a concept that was put forward by folklorist Orikuchi Shinobu, a student of Yanagita Kunio. It describes a set of folk beliefs centered around what could be described as worship of "the stranger." It describes an archetypal folk belief found in which a spirit from the world of the dead visits a village, and is offered food, shelter, etc. Yokai like the appossha and the namahage are perfect examples of this, but we also see some elements of this ancient folk religion in the festival of Obon, where the dead are welcomed back to the world of the living for one day. Although this isn't a "religion" in the sense of having a doctrine or scriptures, it does describe a common set of practices seen throughout Japan, which still echo in contemporary Japanese culture.
Even pop culture can echo this, as we see in the scene where No Face enters the bath house in Spirited Away. No Face himself is a great example of a marebito; he is an unknown creature from an unknown land (unknowable, even, as he wears a mask -- just as yokai like appossha wear masks). He brings gifts to the other guests at the bathhouse, but he also brings danger and threatens them. He's welcomed in a ritualistic way with a song and a ceremonial parade. It's clear that the storytellers did their research!
This sort of folk belief is of course not restricted to Japan. We see parallels in folk religions all over the world. Masks have been used as important religious devices all across the ancient world, and the concept of the stranger from another world is found all over folk lore, religion, and literature. They worship "the stranger" in the fantasy religion of Westeros. Heck, the movie E.T. is almost a perfect parallel to this type of story.
That may be stretching it a bit, but it's clear there is something deeply, profoundly human that can be found even in a little-known, somewhat goofy yokai like appossha.
TRANSLATION: from a phrase meaning “give me mochi”
HABITAT: underwater, in the Sea of Japan
APPEARANCE: The appossha is a scary monster which appears in the village of Koshino in Fukui prefecture. It resembles a red oni, with a large head and dark, kelp-like hair. It wears the clothing typical of a workman.
INTERACTIONS: Appossha live in the Sea of Japan off of Fukui prefecture. They appear on land once a year, on Koshōgatsu—a holiday celebrating the first full moon of the lunar new year. On this night, the appossha crawl out of the sea and wander the village streets, banging iron tea kettles and chanting, “Appossha!” The travel from house to house, demanding food and threatening children. They ask each house if there are any ill-mannered children living there that they can take back to the sea with them. Once a household’s children have been thoroughly scared, the parents give a gift of mochi to the appossha and it leaves.
ORIGIN: The appossha tradition is said to come from long ago, when a sailor from a foreign land was shipwrecked and swam ashore in Fukui prefecture. He traveled from door to door begging for food. The name “appossha” is thought to be a heavily accented variation of the foreigner’s words, asking for some mochi to eat: “Appo (mochi) hoshiya (want).”
The appossha is part of a family of oni-like yōkai which are found all over Japan, but especially along the Sea of Japan coast. The namahage of Akita Prefecture are the most famous example. In nearby Ishikawa and Niigata Prefectures, similar yōkai named amamehagi can be found. In Yamagata they are known as amahage. Although the minor details (such as where the yōkai come from) differ, the key parts of each story are the same: these yōkai come from the wilderness around the new year, scare young children, and leave once offered a gift from the villagers.
Appossha are an example of a type of creature called a marebito. In Japanese folk religion, marebito are divine messengers—demons, gods, or otherwise—which come from the world of the dead to visit our world at set times. Some deliver prophecies or bring gifts, others bring disaster. The strange foreign spirit is welcomed as a guest, fed, sheltered, and treated kindly and respectfully. Sometimes they are revered as gods. Their coming is often welcomed in the form of festivals and rituals. Although the marebito folk religion is no longer practiced today, aspects of it are still a visible part of Japanese culture. Yōkai like the appossha and namahage, festivals like Obon, and the use of masks in noh theater have preserved many of the elements of this ancient superstition.