Tsukumogami or the repentant artifacts

I’m a bit late with this month’s Yōkai but here it is.
Tsukumogami (付喪神) are artifact spirits.There are many types of tsukumogami, as in folk belief virtually any object has the potential to attain consciousness. They are usually depicted as having human, animal or monstrous limbs growing from object bodies, or else as human bodies with objects as their heads.
In Japan it is said, that houshold items and artifacts become alive, once they reach one hundred years of age. At every ending of a year in December, the event called Sweeping soot, Susuharai (煤払い, comparable to sping-cleaning) is held in which people thoughly clean their houses and old tools are thrown away on an alley. Getting rid of these old houshold items should prevent them from bringing bad luck and mishaps to your home.


Legend has it that during the Kenpō era (964–968), there was a rebellion of such old household items. The story goes that, having been tossed out into the street by noble families in Kyoto, a group of angry household tools got together to formulate a plan to punish the humans who had discarded them after so many years of loyal service.

Household items gathering and plotting revenge

Some of the most known Tsukumogami include:

Bakezori: A discarded sandal which scampers through the house muttering to itself
Biwabokuboku: An enchanted Biwa lute that can only be played by certain people
Boroboroton: A ratty old bedding sheet, which presses down upon the sleeper and suffocates them
Burabura: A ripped, ragged lamp which floats in the air spewing fire
Kameosa: A bottle of Sake which, having received a good life from its many owners, is benevolent to humans, providing an unlimited amount of whatever fluid is put in
Karakasa: A battered umbrella with a hairy leg for a pole, a long tongue and a cyclopean eye
Kosode no Te: A child’s Kimono, handed down for years but often the first thing to be pawned in hardship, it channels the will of those who used to wear it
Kotofurunushi: Another enchanted instrument, a doglike creature born from a Koto (slide-guitar)
Mokumokuren: A battered screen door in abandoned houses, which glares at those who sleep behind it with eyes in its holes.
Setotaisho: Soldiers made of cutlery which attack Kitchen staff. Mostly harmless, and prone to dashing itself apart when it charges, only to piece it together and start again.

After being discarded by their owners, the household items express a desire to become monsters and have their revenge, but a Buddhist rosary named Ichiren Nyūdō objects and asks his fellow tools to view their fate as simple karma. The hand-pole Aratarō, having none of this, beats the rosary until his clasp breaks. Ichiren flees for his life. Now the old scroll Master Kobun teaches the other artifacts the secret art of transforming, as taken from the Onmyōdō theory of yin and yang. They must wait for Setsubun (the beginning of spring in Japan), when yin and yang change places, and “throw away” their lives so that the Deity of Creation, who oversees the shaping of all things, will remake them with new and monstrous bodies. Following these instructions, the objects soon take a variety of new shapes. Now that they can properly avenge themselves, they begin devouring people and livestock and terrifying the populace. Elated at their success, the new monsters throw parties, compose poems, and enshrine and devoutly worship the Deity of Creation.

The artifacts become specters

They continue in this fashion until they have a chance encounter with the chief advisor to the emperor, who happens to be carrying a powerful charm. It calls forth a halo of flame which sends the fiends running for their lives. From here the tsukumogami’s luck only worsens – the emperor now has the priest who made the advisor’s charm perform his prayers, an act which summons several gohō-dōji (divine boys in the service of Fudō Myō-ō). The powerful spirit children seek out the monsters’ home and defeat them with ease.

The specters scurry away from the flames

Soundly beaten, the tsukumogami decide to accept the error of their ways and convert to Buddhism. They seek out old Ichiren, who has withdrawn from the world and lives in hermitage in the mountains. Ichiren forgives his old friends, and instructs them in the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which he believes is the speediest path to Nirvana. In this fashion all the old tools, though once only inanimate objects, swiftly attain enlightenment and become Buddhas. source

The specters repent what they have done and eventually become Buddhas

I was very fond of the old prints and even if the Tsukumogami look anything but scary I wanted to share this story with you. I gathered all the information from different sites such as The Obakemono project, the Kyoto-u collection and the Samurai Archives.

I hope to be back soon but today, school started again and it’s going to be a rather though time.. I promise to keep posting as oft as possible!

Share on Tumblr