Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Abura-Akago

Japanese mythology and folklore have brought us lots of fascinating supernatural beings such as Akashita, Amanojaku, the Azure Dragon, Ehon Hyaku Monogatari, The Ghost of Oyuki, Kamaitachi, Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki, Namazu, Preta, Tennin, the Vermillion Bird, and Yuki-onna among others.

Japanese culture is always rich and it just shows with all the interesting creatures that’s part of its history. They conjured beings to explain everything that’s happening around them. One such creature is Abura-Akago.

Abura-Akago or oil baby is said to be an infant spirit that steals oil out of an andon lamp. Japanese folklore describes the Abura-Akago appearing as a fireball that would float and enters a house. Then it would turn into an infant that would lap the oil content of an andon lamp. Once the oil is finished off, the Abura-Akago wold turn into a fireball and flies out again.

Andon lamps are made of paper that’s stretched over a frame that can be made out of metal, wood or bamboo. Light is made by lighting a cotton wick than’s doused with oil in a ceramic or stone holder. There would be lots of oil robbers that time and that’s how the legend of Abura-Akago is born.

One of the more famous illustrations of an Abura-Akago was one that’s made by Toriyama Sekein in his Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki or The Illustrated One Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past. It is the second book of Sekein’s Gazu Hyakki Yako series that was published around 1791. Much of the creatures featured in this series of books are taken from Japanese folklores, literature and other artworks.
Along with his illustration of the Abura-Akago, Sekein tells the story of a flying fireball that exists in the eighth town of Otsu in the Omi Province. Natives of the town say that a couple of years ago in the village of Shiga lived a person who would steal oil every night. When that person died, his soul became flame and that’s how the legend of Abura-Akago began.

There’s a related Japanese supernatural being that’s quite related to the Abura-Akago. This creature is the Abura-Sumashi or oil presser. This creature originated from the Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture. You might know by now that Abura means oil. Sumashi on the other hand means wring, squeeze or press.

The Abura-Sumashi is a spirit that would surprise people along the Kusazumigoe mountain pass. People from the region think that the Abura-Sumashi is the ghost of someone who stole oil. Before the advent of electricity, oil is a very valuable commodity. It is required to light and warm a house, especially during the winter season. Therefore the theft of oil, particularly from shrines and temples, can lead to punishment of reincarnation as a yokai. Modern day Abura-Sumashi are illustrated as a short creature with a straw coat over his body. His head would be potato like.

As you can see Japanese folklore is rich with creatures that are truly unique in their own ways. The Abura-Akago and the Abura-Sumashi are just two of the numerous demons, ghosts and monsters that are part of the rich culture and heritage of Japan.

41 comments:

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