Android Futureman
Aug 7, 2002
Just got through watching a Japanese film called Yokai Monsters or Spook Warfare (the Japanese title is Yokai daisenso).

The general plot involved a Babylonian monster who escapes from a statue and invades 18th century Japan. He takes over a lord's house and starts draining people's blood. His mistake is kicking out a water imp from the house. The imp winds up getting together a bunch of other ghosts who hang out at the "Monster Shrine" and they start battling the Babylonian invader (named Daimon, by the way). It's a fun film, made by Godzilla experts Toho.

But the thing is, the "Monster Shrine" is shown like a real aspect of Japanese life, the way the character's react in particular. I'm sure that they existed, although the only thing I've found so far online is this photo album which shows pictures (without explination) of a monster shrine:
Link is long dead. The MIA webpage can be accessed via the Wayback Machine:

Is anybody here versed in monster shrine lore and/or Shinto?
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It seems like they're only saying that it's "monster" as in huge.

I can find out on Saturday if you can tell me something more specific. I'll have to try to make it clearer for my Japanese relations. Do you mean "monster" as in demon or creature? Are Monster Shrines supposed to be dedicated to various monsters or just one particular creature? Or do you really just mean "huge"?
I'm not versed in monster shrine lore but this reminds me of the movie "Spirited Away," the animated story of a girl who accidentally gets caught in a world of spirits that all look like monsters.

It seems to me to be somewhat of a reverence for nature and honoring all the aspects of it.

I wish I knew more about it so I could share more information, but it has correlations to the Devas, the nature spirits, or 'forces' of nature.
I've found out a bit more about the film. The Monsters in the film (who seem to be like ghosts, spirits, or household gods) are mostly based in folklore that was gathered into a compandium called Kwaidan, some of which can be found here:

If there are such things as "monster shrines", I bet they are something like household gods, but maybe location gods/spirits that aren't tied to homes specificly.

And at another site, a bit about the overall collection, and how the creatures have been interpreted and misinterpreted:

Some clarifications about "Kwaidan"

Unfortunately up to date Lafcadio Hearn's book "Kwaidan" remains one of the few sources for Kaidan and Youkai research widely available for most non-Japanese. Hearn had a great understanding of Japanese society and he left great legacy of literature for all of us. Personally I have read "Kwaidan" many times and I love it, but it has a few points that may, and have, lead many readers to some confusion regarding Youkai.

One of his stories "Rokuro-kubi" has caused a great bit of confusion. As every Japanese knows the Rokuro-kubi (Stretching Neck) are Youkai that usually are women (Men in rare cases) with necks that can stretch over great distances. Rokuro-kubi in general are not evil, and try to remain a part of society, yet they have the urge to scare people once in a while. In Hearn's story he has confused the trickster Rokuro-kubi with the malicious Nuke-kubi (Sliding Neck), a totally different Youkai . Nuke-kubi have detachable heads, which leave their bodies to go hunt and eat at night. The Nuke-kubi enjoy feeding on humans (As the story suggests), and are generally evil Youkai. After much reading I have noticed in many western references the Rokuro-kubi is thought to detach it's head and have some sort of Vampiric nature, a view completely different from the Japanese view of the Rokuro-kubi. This clearly has been a consequence of "Kwaidan" being the main source of information for these people. The Nuke-kubi on the other hand is a fairly obscure monster and most people probably have never heard of them, even thou "Kwaidan" is read by many people.

The second major confusion may come from the story "Mujina." Now this is a very complicated issue since most Japanese know the Mujina, but don't understand it. For a long time it's nature remained a mystery to me. After much research I have found out that the Mujina and the Tanuki are the same animal/Youkai. The Japanese government declared this many years ago, presumably when Tanuki began to be a protected species. In the movie Pompoko, Studios Ghibli made a reference to the Mujina story, which is very accurate perhaps, as there is a scene where a Tanuki transforms himself into a faceless Soba vendor. Now that we understand what a Mujina is we can understand the confusion this story spreads. The story "Mujina" is about a faceless apparition, not about Tanuki or Mujina. As most Japanese know this faceless apparition is called a Nopperabo and they enjoy scaring people. The title of story should have been "Nopperabo" instead. So as I said the Pompoko reference is 100% correct, since the Mujina appears as a Nopperabo, yet Hearn failed to mention this. So it has lead some people to confuse the Mujina with the Nopperabo. The bottom line is the Nopperabo is a faceless apparition and the Mujina is a Tanuki
That's some really good information I can bring to them. Just one more question: Was the shrine a building or location in another area of the town or city or was it a small stone statue or area on the people's land? I haven't seen the movie, then again maybe they have and that will simplify things.

Edit: All these questions are really necessary because when I suggested they watch Ringu they looked at me like I had just grown two heads. They're not much into the paranormal and I'm afraid that might include folklore from their own homeland.
The shrine looked like a little delapitated building in the woods, almost like an overgrown city that was left to rot and there was just a little shrine that was part of it. Two kids who were being chased by the agents of the Daimon ran through it, and identified it as the Monster Shrine, but because they feared for their lives they ran in anyway.

Found a bit of information here:

about the Kappa, which was the main "house spirit" - he gets drawn into the fight after a household Buddhist shrine is thrown out the window and into his lake.

Kappa are supernatural creatures which live both on land and in water. They are as tall as a four or five year old child. They have a beak-like snout, and fins on their hands and feet. They also have a shell on their back, and a water-filled dish on their head. As long as the dish is full of water, kappa keep their supernatural powers. Kappa are known for dragging people into the water and pulling out their livers through their anuses.

Although kappa harm people sometimes, there are also many tales where they have helped people. They are very curious. They often appear in cartoons because of their lovable images.

Kappa love sumo wrestling and cucumbers. That is why cucumber sushi rolls are called "kappa maki". "Okappa" are bobbed hairstyles because they look like the kappa's hairstyles. Kappa are excellent swimmers. There is a saying "Kappa no kawa nagare (a drowning kappa)" which means, even an expert can make mistakes sometimes.

There is a review of the film here:

and if the link works, you can see the trailer here:

Any info you can dig up will be swell, TT!:)
OK, Mr. Ring, this is the little I was able to learn. :) T, who is the "Uncle-in-law" visiting from Japan isn't much into folklore or religion but he does know some things about it. His brother "H" is the real expert, unfortunately he wasn't there.

T's sons have watched the Yokai movies a few times on TV in Japan so he was familiar with it. He laughed when I mentioned it possibly because the film title is a little joke in itself. The word "yokai" means "ghost", so if Yokai was meant to be a location or town it's the equivalent of saying "spooksville". As your links suggested above, they also get some details wrong which is just part of the entertainment. I think the best way you can relate it is to think in terms of the Buffy universe. Did people used to think that vampires lived in cemetaries? Yes. Did these same people believe that vampires hang out in gangs, have lumpy foreheads, and turn to dust when staked? No, that's a Buffy thing.

I tried to get some sense of the "everyday" experience of shrines from T, my father-in-law who's American but took a college class on Japan, and his wife "Y" who's Japanese (but western down to her very soul). Essentially, it is possible to take a walk in the woods and come across some little shrine dedicated to a local spirit (I don't think it's incredibly common but it does happen). According to Y, the word "shinto" means "god". According to "T" all religion is the same, it's just meant to scare you. ;) In modern day Japan this all gets a little complicated because Shinto is the state sponsored religion and the major shrines are state sponsored and open to tourism. Just like in the West, you have overlap between official belief, common belief and entertainment.

I hope this answered your questions. If not, ask me something to clarify, I can always find out. They're going to be in town for another week.
Wow, I need to call you the mailperson, 'cause you deliver!

Actually, to tell the truth your relatives pretty much summed up what I thought was the case - a little belief that was blown up big for the film.

I assume that belief in traditional Shinto & shrines like that are viewed by many modern sophisticates as similar to snake handlers or holy rollers here in America.

The shrines themselves though - are they called yokai shrines? Or is tehre a different term they use in practice?

Thanks again!:)
Mr. R.I.N.G. said:
The shrines themselves though - are they called yokai shrines? Or is there a different term they use in practice?
I don't think so, but I can ask. In talking about the word "yokai" T began to explain how spooky Japanese cemetaries can be and he mentioned floating green lights. I think that "yokai" means ghost and not spirit/god. Each shrine might have a different name depending on who they're dedicated to? Two real touristy shrines are the "Golden" shrine and the "Silver" shrine. My father-in-law mentioned that up in the mountains there is some kind of shrine dedicated to the spirit of the earth as a manifestation of god. It was difficult getting the information I did because they really know very little about religion and their family is officially Buddhist but non-practicing except at funerals, etc. I think that brother "H" practices Shinto and knows more about it.

Just to explain T's reaction: He doesn't really believe in ghosts but he would never go to a Japanese cemetary at night. He doesn't even like them during the day. They aren't parks, like here, instead they are very crowded with monuments and difficult to walk through, giving you a claustrophobic feeling. Essentially, if you found yourself needing to run away from a non-existant ghost, you wouldn't be able to.
Interesting about the lights - in Yokai Monsters the first image on screen are two little floating fireballs (though they are orangy flame-colored) that float in darkness before the title comes up and you see some of the spirits in the woods. They follow the Yokai on their adventure but don't seem to be individuals in their own right. I figured they were similar to Will O' The Wisps.

Your relatives DO sound like practical people who don't have too much time for religion really, and who would dismiss the existance of ghots but at the same time wouldn't be caught dead in a cemetatry after dark. I guess most people world-wide are the same way.

Shinto has always seemed to be an inpenetrable religion to me - I guess in the sense that it is a closed religion (westerners can't "convert" to it), but at the same time it seems to be one of the best-preserved non-monotheastic ancient religious traditions around, like Hinduism.

It is said that Haiti is 95% Roman Catholic but %100 Voodou because the belief is widespread about both. In that way, do Shinto & Buddhism combine for most people in Japan?
As a self proffessed expert in the area of Jap myth, I will say there certainly are many shrines in Japan dedicated to Foxes, Dragons, Tengu, other mythical creatures. (cant name any offhand.)

As for telling the difference between buddism and folk religion, cant be done. (and there is sadly very little in English about the life and beliefs of the rural people as opposed to the city dwellers.)

as for those balls of lights, they are called KODAMA (`ko` little, and `(d)tama` soul) odd lights are common in jap myth...not suprising in a country with so much earthquake activity....

Lafcadio Hearn is a good author, and a book I would heartily reccomend is the `Catalpa Bow` by Carmen Blacker.
Homo Aves said:
As for telling the difference between buddism and folk religion, cant be done. (and there is sadly very little in English about the life and beliefs of the rural people as opposed to the city dwellers.)
Thanks for taking the lead, Homo Aves. :) Y said that the difference between Shinto and Buddhism in Japan was like the difference between being protestant and Catholic here. There's not much difference, but it matters to those who practice. There was something of a scandal over the flowers chosen for Y's mother's Buddhist funeral because of H practicing Shinto. The flowers weren't supposed to be yellow (I think).

I was enjoying a glass of Drambuie at the time of this conversation and was devoting all my senses to the first few sips... well, it was a holiday gathering.
buddhism and shinto

Hello, I'm a newbie, please be gentle with me!

I can maybe explain something about the difference between Shinto and Buddhism. Japanese shrines (Jinja or O-miya) are always Shinto, and Temples (O-Tera) are Buddhist. You can tell shrines because of the gates at the entrance, called Torii - they are shaped like an 'H' with another bar across the top (third picture on this page ).

Shinto worships spirits of place, or the natural world, so you often see trees with religious stuff hung on them, or it could be caves or rocks or mountains or springs or whatever. Shrines are usually something to do with the location. I think this is why they can easily be associated with mythical or supernatural figures.

Japanese people aren't very 'religious' in the sense that we understand the word - there's no conflict between Buddhism and Shintoism in your average Japanese person's spirituality. They say in Japan that one is born Shinto, marries Christian and dies Buddhist. The ceremony for new born children is at a Shinto shrine; these days people often marry Christian(-style) with white dresses and veils and churches; and funerals are carried out by Buddhist priests (and ancestor worship is a Buddhist thing) and there's nothing odd about it for the vast majority of people.

It's kind of like hedging your bets, if you ask me.
I guess a question that might seem relevent is, what does Buddhism give to a practitioner that Shinto doesn't? Or Christianity?

Are there no funeral ceremonies for Shinto, or were those surplanted by Buddhism?

The "born Shinto, marry Christian, die Buddist" thing is pretty funny, BTW!:D
Are there no funeral ceremonies for Shinto, or were those surplanted by Buddhism?
I'm not sure about that - I know that Christianity has ceremonies for all three, and I know you can have a Shinto wedding (I'm lucky enough to have been to one), so my guess would be you could have all three ceremonies in any of the three religions, including a Shinto funeral if you really wanted one. But since Buddhism is the religion with all the ancestor worship and lots of stuff about dead people then that would seem the most relevant religion to have a funeral with.

what does Buddhism give to a practitioner that Shinto doesn't? Or Christianity?
In the context we're talking about (ie Japanese general folk belief) I'd say Buddhism gives you a whole afterlife and all sorts (and perhaps the difference with Christianity is that you can't opt in and out at will? That's a guess)

In the wider context of the world's religions battling it out that must be a rhetorical question!?
Shinto regards death as a pollution, and it does not have a very developed or clear idea of the afterlife. Unless you were an actual shinto priest, like as not you would have a buddist funeral.

But as I said before, in `traditional` (modern day beliefs are more separating of the religions) folk religion there would be little differentiation.
I just asked my (Japanese) friend "You see Buddhism and Shintoism?" and she said "Yes apparently they're different from each other y'know"
Sadly many Japanese I have met show very little interest in their culture....They should do, their traditional ways are the secret of their success.
Sounds like you're in the know Homo Aves (just caught your post about the S Cargo)
I sure am! I have over a hundred books on the subject of Jap myth and religion, many of them rare.

i'll put you down as resident expert then!
A bit about the Tanuki, that seemed interesting:

Magical Racoon-like Dog with Shape-Shifting Powers
Modern-Day God of Gluttony, Boozing, and Restauranteurs

The Mythical Tanuki
Animals with the power of transformation -- for either benevolent or malevolent purposes -- are called "henge" in Japan. In Japanese folklore, the kitsune (fox) and tanuki are considered masters of transformation, as is the Tengu, the bird-man goblin of the forest and mountain who is revered as the slayer of vanity and pride.

Among okimono potters, Miwa Kiraku Vl is considered one of the most prolific. Many of his works are distinguished by a soft greenish celadon glaze; his motifs include the mythical shishi lion and the cunning Tanuki.

There are countless tales about the mischievous Tanuki. The Tanuki can transform into any living or inanimate shape, but in legend it often assumes the form of a monk or a tea kettle to play tricks on people. Real Tanuki live in the lowlands, forests and mountain valleys, and in legends, the mythical Tanuki is most often shown playing tricks on hunters and woodsmen. They can cast powerful illusions -- they can turn leaves into fake money or horse excrement into a delicious-looking dinner. Like the fox, the Tanuki's powers of transformation are not perfect, for a careful inspection often reveals their true nature (see below stories).

The Tanuki is said to love Japanese sake (rice wine), and is often depicted with a sake bottle in one hand (usually purchased with fake money made from leaves) and a promissory note in the other (a bill it never pays).

Even today, ceramic Tanuki statues can be seen everywhere around Japan, especially outside restaurants and bars, where the Tanuki beckons drinkers and dinners to enter (similar to the role played by Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat, who stands outside retail establishments). The beckoning Tanuki is most often depicted with a big round tummy, gigantic testicles, a flask of sake, a promissory note, and a straw hat.

The Tanuki is also known in some localities as Mujina. Indeed, about one century ago, the Japanese court system ruled that the Tanuki and the Mujina were the same species. When hunting of tanuki was prohibited by law, one hunter claimed he was out hunting mujina, not tanuki. The court threw out his case -- that is, he lost the case.

Tanuki are synonymous with modern-day Shigaraki (Shiga Prefecture). Shigaraki-style pottery, which traces its origins back to the 12th century, is one of Japan's most beloved ceramic styles. But the Shigaraki staple most folks are familiar with today is not Shigaraki tsubo (large jars), but rather the pudgy ceramic Tanuki that stands in front of drinking establishments throughout Japan. It holds a sake flask in one hand and in the other, a promissory note for the booze; it never pays, though. If you've ever been to Shigaraki, you cannot miss the numbing variety of garish tanuki that stand in front of many tourist shops.

What About Those Big Testicles?
A curious and defining characteristic of Tanuki is its gigantic testes. According to some legends, the testicles / scrotum can be stretched to the size of eight tatami mats. Others point to the word Senjojiki (the space of 1,000 tatami mats) as an indication of the Tanuki's testes size. Called Kin-tama (Golden Balls) in Japanese, the testes are supposedly symbols of good luck rather than overt sexual symbols (the Japanese are more tolerant of low humor than most Western nations). In the movie Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko (see below), the Tanuki stretches out its scrotum as a parachute in a desperate suicide attack. In other Tanuki folklore, the Tanuki uses the testes as an impromptu drum, beating out the "ponpoko" sound (no pun intended).

In biological terms, the Tanuki's large "golden balls" are a true depiction of the real-life Tanuki. According to evolutionary biologists, the Tanuki's scrotum is large because of fierce competition among Tanuki males for females. Phrased differently, Tanuki copulate frequently, and those Tanuki with larger testes size have a greater chance of getting their genes into the next generation. The same is true in the world of chimpanzees.

Donald Richie, in his review of Nicholas Bornoff's book "Things Japanese," has this to say:

The Tanuki makes an appearance, holding an empty sake bottle in one paw, an account book in the other -- signifying that this money was wasted on wine and women. As Bornoff tells us: "Some say that the vast scrotum is due to sexual overindulgences but, since his penis has disappeared, another interpretation is more likely" -- an entertaining aside from the author of "Pink Samurai: An Erotic Exploration of Japanese Society."

What About the Leaf on Its Head?
The shape-shifting Tanuki is said to put leaves on its heads and to chant prior to transformation. In some legends, the leave is the sacred lotus plant. It is also believed that Tanuki can change leaves into money (as one of them did in Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko). In the computer game "Super Mario Brothers," when Mario gets a leaf, he gains pointy ears and the tail of a Tanuki.

Tale of Bunbuku Chagama
The Tea Kettle Story

There are many different versions of this legend. In one, a Tanuki is helped by a poor man who saved its life, so the Tanuki turns into a Chagama (tea kettle used in tea ceremony) to help the old man make money. The woodsman sells the kettle to a priest, who in turn orders his assistants to clean it and use it to make tea. The Tanuki-kettle was unhappy with temple life -- it was polished and used on the fire, which really hurt. So it returns to the woodsman, and thereafter makes money for the "woodsman-turned-traveling-entertainer" by dancing as a kettle on a tightrope. In another version, a priest tries to catch a Tanuki to eat for dinner, but the Tanuki escapes by transforming into a tea kettle. The priest carries the kettle back to the temple, but when placed on the fire, the kettle sprouts arms, legs, a nose, and ears, and soon resumes its true Tanuki shape.

Tale of Kachi-Kachi Yama
This story portrays Tanuki as an evil creature. He robs from the field of an old farmer, but is caught by the farmer's wife. To regain his freedom, he lies to her, and once released, he kills her and runs away. But the old farmer, with the help of a rabbit (usagi), avenges her death. In one section of the story, the rabbit and Tanuki are gathering firewood. On the way home, the rabbit tries to set fire to the wood on Tanuki's back. When Tanuki asks the rabbit "What's that sound," the rabbit replies "Don't you know? Kachi-Kachi is the Japanese word for the sound made when using flint to light a fire. In the final scene, the rabbit and Tanuki are having a boat-racing contest, but since the Tanuki's boat was made from mud, it sinks in the middle of the lake, and the Tanuki drowns. The motto of the Shikoku Tanuki Train Line is: "Our ship isn't made of mud."

Relationship to Magical Kitsune (Fox)
Kitsune are the messengers of the god Inari in Shinto belief. Since the Tanuki does in fact look somewhat like a fox, it may be that the lines between the two magical beasts became blurred over the centuries. It also seems likely that Tanuki lore is indiginous to Japan, and that linkages between the Tanuki and Kitsune appear only after the 6th or 7th century AD, when Korean and Chinese mythology is introduced to Japan. One final note -- in the movie Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko, a Tanuki changes into a white fox, and scares the wits out of the people who want to move a Shinto shrine to develop the land
Yes, thats it

Thats my coat there, the Tengus cloak of invisibility...what do you mean, you cant find it?
I am a bit late jumping in here, but I thought that someone might be interested:
My husband`s family is rumoured to be "henge". Of course I really doubt it, and no one young says anything about it, but we have had to go through weird rituals, etc, because of the rumour. My son was born prematurely, but a lot of the oldest villagers around his family home said that the hospitalization was so that they couldn`t see the "true" form.

So, well, if anyone wants to know anything about henge myths, and the weird stuff they made us do, feel free to ask.
Please tell, the only ' Henge ' I know of is in ' Stonehenge, ' ( if you have time that is! )
on a bit of a tangent, has anyone seen the work of Yoshitoshi?
Henge is what they call animals who turn into people - to live human lives, etc. It`s read "Hen-geh" so a bit different than "henge". The "henge" actually means "change shape".
Supposedly way way back when, someone in my husband`s family came to live there just after someone had seen a white fox running about. They were oblivious of a lot of "common sense" things, and they day they arrived to the village, the fox disappeared. Another big point is that they came from the mountain, which would have been a really hard thing to accomplish back 100s of years ago. After they came, no one ever saw them at the same time as the fox, although they still saw the fox around the new house.

My theory? Someone just climbed over the mountain and came to live there. They probably left their home because something bad happened, so obviously didn`t want to talk about the past.

Of course, it lingers in village myth that they`re all really foxes.
To make sure I "knew" they made me and my husband swim 1 km out to sea, at night, pushing a flaming reed and bamboo boat. in funeral kimono. Apparently "foxes" are born in fox form, die in fox form, and revert in deep water if there is no one they don`t trust around.

Well, my husband stayed a human, although we almost drown on the way back.
Tamyu: What an amazing story!

What does your husband's family think of the idea that they are henge?

Why did you go out on the town's insistance on the boat? Were you curious about the tradition and to see what would happen?
Do you mean `Becomming a fox`?

Or `Owning foxes`??

(And presumably not `possessed by a fox` which is so common as to preclude comment??)

Two different things. I know there is a lot of prejudice against fox owning but I didnt know that there were people thought to actually `be` foxes

Your theory about the stranger comming over the mountain seems to make sense; a lot of these mountain villages were very isolated. (ones still today claiming descent from survivors of the Gempei wars, for example, to explain their mistrust of strangers) and had their own customs.

As an aside, there are families known to own foxes. There are also individuals who had fox spirits as familiars. Generaly wicked yamabushi who used the foxes as spies. Descriptions of them seem very similar to our old friend Gef the Talking mongoose.
Great article about misconceptions about fox lore:

And here is a bit on fox-human children

The child of a fox and a human is a half-fox.

A fox's child by her human husband is human, plain and simple—but not boring. Foxes' human children have unusual qualities. In both China and Japan, they are often "big men," physically or culturally—that is, they're huge and strong, or politically and socially important, or both.* Sometimes their fox mothers teach them magic, or they inherit magic in their blood; a few Japanese sorcerors were descended from foxes.

There's also a grab bag of traits they can have to show their fox ancestry. For example, in one Chinese story, a fox's human daughter is beautiful, kind, skillful, and in every way a perfect wife—except that she laughs all the time. In a version of "Kuzunoha," the fox-wife Kuzunoha sees her son eating beetles, and laments that he has inherited her animal blood. (Real foxes do eat beetles.) It seems that the people telling fox stories agreed that the child of a human and a fox had to be touched in some way, but they don't agree on exactly how the child is touched, or perhaps each offspring of a fox is different.

To read one story of a Japanese fox's human child, check out the story "Come and Sleep." At the end is the tale of Kitsune's granddaughter.

* The person who first asked me about foxes' children pointed out that it's ironic that foxes' children can be strong, since foxes themselves are weak. Foxes never win a physical fight with a human.