An Unexpected Experience

A normal evening that turned into something extraordinary

Chris Wilsson posted an interesting article today where he was given the rare opportunity to encounter both a Geisha and a Maiko by mere chance on the streets of Kyoto.
He even got some marvelous photos out of the experience, if I may say so myself, and it reminded me of one of my very own fondest memories of Japan.

It’s funny how these kinds of chance encounters can enrichen a trip. Oftentimes they are the ones you tend to remember the most.
They could be in the form of a festival you didn’t know of beforehand, an old man passing by when you’re in Nara who gives you seeds and nuts to feed the deer with (a story I’d love to share soon enough), or maybe it’s simply that vibrant butterfly whom accidentally lands on your shoulder.

It could be events that weren’t planned at all. Events that surprises you. Events that wouldn’t have been as extraordinary should you already know of them the moment you put your foot outside the door.

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The event that Chris’s article reminded me of was when I was in Kyoto myself, nearly a year ago. I was travelling with my significant other and a couple of friends, and we had planned to stay roughly a week in Kyoto.
“A week?” you might say to yourself, chuckling, and you’d be right to.
Soon enough, as you can imagine, we realized a week was not nearly enough time.

Long story short, the Gion District had to, unfortunately, be cut from our schedule, successfully rendering our hope of encountering a Geisha (or Geiko, which is the local name) or Maiko to vaporize into thin air. But here’s where the story begins rather than ends.

One evening we were walking down the Kamo River (the smaller river that runs through the center of Kyoto, not to be mistaken with the Katsura River) looking for a bar, as we had yet to discover how a typical Japanese bar was like. We went up and down the streets, right and left, searching for that perfect one. That traditional, cozy yet classy place, a place we thought would capture the essence of Japanese culture.

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Selective as we was, we spent at least an hour or two walking the streets of Kyoto, turning away from the riverbank, in order to find the perfect bar. Yet we never found a place we deemed worthy of our expectations. Our expectations, that at this point, was sky-high and in hind-sight, frankly quite unrealistic.

At one point we came to a conclusion and a mutual agreement was struck: we would never find the perfect place that could reach our combined expectations, and it was meaningless spending the whole night searching for the bar of our dreams.
We decided to just enter the next bar we stumbled upon, and go with it.

Soon we were standing outside a modern wooden house. The design was quite modest, simple, the entrance covered behind some trees and bushes, almost as if it was purposely hidden. The sign on the wall said one word: “Bar”. Nothing else.
Well, this is it then, we thought. It didn’t look like much to the world yet we had come to a decision. This would be the place, and we hesitantly entered.

And boy was I glad we did.

The bar had just opened; actually, it was their opening night. Its owner, together with what we later on learned was his apprentice were standing behind a small counter. And that was basically it, a bar counter with stools for maybe eight or nine individuals in a very narrow room. There were hangers for the coats on the wall behind the bar stools, and a window down the furthest end of the bar. Apart from this, there wasn’t much else. A couple of other guests were there, looking at us apprehensively.

The place was classy, mind you, a lot more classy than we had expected, and I can imagine we looked quite silly in our colorful shorts, sandals and loose t-shirts as we entered. Would we be thrown out? Even more importantly, had we insulted the bar owner? Luckily, it didn’t seem so, as he merely smiled at us.

After a moment’s hesitation, we nodded towards the owner and sat down beside the window. The owner’s apprentice offered us peanuts, and we ordered our drinks. We soon learned that both the owner as well as his apprentice was quite adept at English, and we ended up speaking for quite some time. After a while the guests struck conversation with us as well, and the evening that had gone towards disaster slowly morphed into a delightful experience.

Yet this wasn’t even the best part.

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The best part was later that very same evening, at the very same bar, a Geiko walked in.

She wore the most beautiful kimono, carrying her own with a regal dignity, only moving with slow, controlled movements; her hair in a traditional shimada that could only be described as a true work of art.
You could feel the atmosphere in the room changing as she entered. It was mind-blowing, almost as if some long forgotten princess of old had entered the room. My companions and I was completely speechless, our jaws donning the floor.
Now mind you, this wasn’t a neighboring street to the Gion District, so the whole experience was unexpected to say the least of it. The Geiko had come specifically for this very bar.

Apparently, the bar owner was quite famous in Kyoto, owning multiple bars and restaurants, some of them in the Gion District. The Geiko was an old friend of his, and she was there to visit him on the opening of his new bar. While some of the owner’s attention shifted towards his new visitor, the apprentice kept talking to us, explaining the whole thing.

Midnight had passed hours ago when we finally, and reluctantly, decided to take our leave. The evening had been, and in fact, still was, magical, but every day arrives at its end at some point.
The owner thanked us before leaving, giving us his card and encouraging us to visit him again. We returned his appreciation, thanking him for everything before we bade farewell to the guests and the Geiko – and left.

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Its funny how these kinds of chance encounters takes shape.
Had we found the perfect traditional Japanese bar we were looking for?
No, not at all, the bar honestly looked more Western than Asian.
Thinking of the initial quest we were embarking on, I’d say we failed miserably.

Yet somehow we’d met a local celebrity on the very opening night of his new bar, tasted some of the finest whiskeys I had in my life, got to meet a wonderous Geiko, and even exchanging stories and experiences with other locals.

We’d failed our plans and the evening was nothing like we’d hoped for – yet it turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my life.


 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please let me know of your own chance meetings or unexpected experiences!

Nightfall p.2

The second part of my Nightfall-series.

Time for another update!

I’ve been once again neglecting my legendary being-posts. Seeing how my motivation has waned a bit concerning those, I’ve been thinking about turning them into a monthly thing instead, possibly bi-weekly, as this series. There’s just not enough time to write everything I want to write… I will put them on hold for now, but fear not, as I will still be posting any new writing. That, my dear reader, I promise.

Moving along — Please enjoy the last part of Liannas story. Here’s a link to the first part.

Even though the tavern had reminded her of her uncle’s old shack from the outside, it had – luckily – none of the rats or the cobwebs inside.

The room was bustling with the type of noise you’d expect from your everyday Nihillian Tavern: drunkards cheering, prostitutes seducing innocent boys barely of age, and bone-headed fighters trying to start trouble.

When Nilassa had been nothing more than a runt of the Night she – like most of the others – had imagined it would be difficult to commit murder in a place like this. Yet, as she had soon learned, the opposite held more true. While the liveliness of a tavern admittedly did make it harder to sneak around, it also made it easier to stab someone in the back and leave before anyone noticed. People where usually too drunk, or too interested getting inside some dim-witted virgin’s pants, to notice someone being murdered right under their noses. At least when the murderer was one of the Night Mother’s.

Nilassa walked straight up to the tavern’s serving counter, snapping her fingers.
“A jug of your finest wine, and don’t let it be that horse-piss you call Nihillian’s finest.”
The innkeeper, looking offended, soon reclaimed control over his expression as he saw the golden coin she slide over the counter – and responded with a smile worthy none but the deities themselves.

“Coming right up, milady.”

 

Legendary being of the Week – The Haferbock

The Haferbock is just another one of those classic German folklore creatures called the Feldgeist, or corn-demons. Yeah, you heard me right; a corn-demon.
It’s a spirit closely related to vegetation and the growing of seeds. To be more specific; The Haferbock, or the Habergeis, is a creature that embodies the act of regeneration, and the circle of life for plants or growing things.

The Haferbock belongs to the family of Feldgeist, as I just mentioned, much in the same way as the Kurote belong to the yokai-family. There are dozens of Feldgeist, or vegetation deities, in German folklore, but the one that did catch my eye was the Haferbock.

The Haferbock takes the form of a goat in most stories, but it is also known to take the form of a three-legged bird or a goat-bird hybrid. The Feldgeist hide in the cornfields, and usually try to flee from any trespassers or humans it encounters. However, should you catch up to the Haferbock, or worse – touch it, the best you’ll get away with is bad luck for the rest of the day.
Should you meet a specifically vicious goat-bird it might slap you on your face, kick you, bite you, or even devour you.

If that wasn’t bad enough, tell your children to never imitate the cry of the Haferbock, should they hear it while playing in the fields. As the Haferbock really dislike imitations. Bad luck is ensued, and it will do everything in its power to catch the imitator. Even if the spirit does not succeed, you’ll find the bloody coat of a dead goat-bird hanging outside your window when you get back home, and trust me – it won’t be a pleasing sight.

Actually, you should never let your children near your cornfields, as the Haferbock is very fond of children, and not in a good way.
This trait is very important to the legend, as the spirits quite likely originated from the farmers’ own desire to frighten their children from entering the cornfields in the first place. Some sources claim it might be related to invoke extra vigor and speed into the reapers back in the day so that they speed up their work. (The faster they’ll get done, the less chance of encountering a Haferbock)

Nightfall p. 1

The first part of my Nightfall-series.

Hello internet!

Lately I’ve been focusing more on my own writing than my web-presence. (which has been practically non-existent since my yokai-special) But I am back once again, and this time I’d like to share with you something different from my usual posts.
This is an excerpt from my very own fiction writing. It’s a fantasy story about Lisanna, a young woman with a certain fondness for killing. The story is set in a corrupt and devious world, filled to the brim with intrigue and deceit.

With that short introduction I’d like to present to you — Nightfall!

Nilassa pulled her hood over her head as she strode down the street. There was no need to conceal her face, as there was no one nearby but her, yet arrogance led to death. Stick to the basics – that was the key to surviving in her line of work.

The description she’d received for tonight’s chosen had been vague, more so than usual. Her target was supposed to be staying at a local tavern, carrying some kind of odd-shaped weapon and wearing a moth-eaten cloak. That wasn’t much to go on, considering the description applied to basically every lone wanderer in the kingdom.

However, The Night Mother had assured her she wouldn’t be able to mistake the target for anyone else. Whatever that meant, she didn’t know. Yet she had left with no further questions. Asking questions lead to… inconveniences – and you didn’t want inconveniences.

She slipped down an even darker alley, ending up outside a run-down tavern. The Whipping Taskmaster, the sign said. Tasteful.
There were voices and singing coming from inside, and the small windows shared some of their warm, inviting light with the street outside.
Nilassa took a deep breath, and stepped through the door.

 

I hope you enjoyed it, and please let me know if you did! I’ll be releasing updates every two weeks.
However, next up is that european legendary being I’ve been talking about more than I’ve written on it. It’s been delayed for far too long!

Legendary being(s) of the week – Yokai Special


My apologies for the delay. It’s been happening a lot lately, beginning with the holidays, which has rendered me unable to find the time to keep up the weekly being.
However, to make up for this I’ve made this list of ten different yokais originating from traditional japanese folklore. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and see you next week — with that european legendary being I spoke of in an earlier post.


 

There is a plethora of strange and otherworldly creatures in Japan. Most of which wants to either kill you in disturbing ways or rip the limbs from your friends’ bodies; but there is also those with less ill intent who simply wants to move your pillow.

While merit should be given to these mythological creatures for succeeding at being odd or straight up absurd (as is customary to Japanese folklore in my experience), there is just something extraordinary special about their mythological spirits – or ‘yokai’, as they are called in Japanese. These ‘yokai’ takes the shapes of all kinds of objects and beings, and these are some of the more weird ones.

 

Kurote

Did you ever get that feeling as if something gently brushed your butt while you were doing your business? If you answered ‘yes’, then you can consider yourself lucky (if you’re fascinated with spirits, that is), as you might have encountered the yokai ‘Kurote’, literally Black Hand. The Kurote is a black and hairy hand that sticks itself up through your toilet to – yes, you guessed it – gently stroke your butt. According to legend, if you want to get rid of it you simply need to cut it right off, though you risk being visited by the owner of the hand in doing this, and your meeting with it might not be as harmless as the hand is on its own.

Datsueba

Datsueba resides in the underworld; she guards the paths in the afterlife. You can think of her as the ferryman on the river Styx, as she also does take a toll, a total of six mon. You might recognize the coins if you are a fan of Japanese history, as the famous Sanada Clan used the six mons as their family crest. Datsueba is a yokai who steals your clothes, but not in a trickster kind of way, after you’ve travelled the Sanzu River – which you’ll do in a different way depending how you behaved during your life. If you were good, you get to walk on the bridge; and if you were nasty you had to swim through the river on your own. It would not be too bad, except that she steals your clothes in order to give them to her partner, Keneō, who hangs them on a branch in a nearby tree to measure their weight in preparation for each soul’s personal judgement. Which, coincidentally, weighs quite differently if their soaked with water or not.
Don’t try to cheat her by not wearing any clothes at all though – as Keneō will flay you and use your skin as the replacement for your clothes.

Haradashi

A more down-to-earth kind of spirit is the Haradashi, which main purpose is to entertain sad and lonely people with belly-dances. It is a joyful and happy spirit, filled with warmth and kindness. The Haradashi takes on different forms, depending on the legend or which prefecture you visit, however; its signature characteristic is the funny-looking face covering its stomach. The Haradashi has a particular fondness of showing up at the door of lonely individuals but it is also possible to visit the yokai themselves wherever they have taken up residency. Offer it a drink, and it will gladly perform a belly-dance for you, which supposedly cheers you up and helps you get rid of your worries.
Quite similar to  the ‘Rockabelly‘ Yokai in Yokai Watch, with the difference that it prefers hamburgers instead of alcohol.

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Rockabelly

Nurikabe

The majority of yokai are not actually dangerous, even if it might sound like it from what I’ve been telling you, but simply mischievous, and likes to play pranks on silly, unknowing humans. The Nurikabe is not an exception, and it is actually one of the easiest yokai to get rid of, should you stumble upon it.
Nurikabe is basically an invisible wall blocking the way of unwary travelers. It is supposedly impossible to get around it, as it is known to stretch indefinitely in whichever direction you try to get past it, but a simple knock with a wooden stick on the ground or the lower part of the wall should do the trick and get rid of the yokai for you.
The legend quite possibly originated from arriving late to a meeting without a proper excuse or reason. Or it could simply be the invisible manifestation of a Tanuki’s scrotum.
You decide what seems more likely.

Jinmenju

The ‘Human Face Tree’ Jinmenju is another strange legend. It’s quite literally what the name suggests – a tree with fruits shaped like human faces. The Jinmenju has one simple purpose, it does nothing else than, well, laugh. The fruits are unable to speak or do anything else at all, but it can smile and it does laugh. According to legend, if you laugh back at the yokai it might laugh in return, and if you manage to make it burst into a great guffaw it might even fall off – which gives you a chance to taste it. If you’re uncertain concerning your comedic capabilities you can just wait until fall and the fruit will drop from the tree by themselves as they ripe. It’s supposed to taste sweet and sour so if you are into that, you might want to try it. If you don’t find the thought of eating a human face slightly disturbing, that is.

Kudan

The Japanese’s fascination with human faces does not end with the Jinmenju and if it wasn’t odd enough with human-shaped fruits perhaps the Kudan might spark your interest. This yokai is a bit more verbal than the Jinmenju, as it has acquired the gift of human language. Kudan is a human-faced baby cow which gives prophecies of great importance, prophecies that always come true. The prophecies they tell are of varied nature. It can be practically anything; from foretellings of diseases and plagues to good fortune, and then it dies, immediately.

Kosode no te

The Kosode no te, or “hands in the sleeves”, is one form of the many Tsukumogami-yokai that dominates Japanese folklore. Tsukumogami are inanimate objects that receive a soul in some kind of way, most commonly after a hundred years of service. The kosode no te is quite similar to the Ittan momen as it haunts old clothing, but with a much more specific background.
This spirit haunts old short-sleeved kimonos, worn traditionally by young un-married girls or prostitutes.  As the name quite literally suggests, a pair of ghostly hands appear in the sleeves and proceeds with its mission, which seems to vary, depending on the legend. Some legends speak of the yokai appearing in the clothing of deceased prostitutes, reaching out to collect their clients debts or even seeking the embrace of men, while some legends suggests that it manifests itself through an old woman’s spirit and its desire to feel young once more.

Azuki arai

You find this yokai in mountainous areas, most commonly by streams of clear water. Think of it as the Asian equivalent of the Kelpie, or the Neck, but instead of tricking you by appearing as a beautiful horse, the azuki aria, often described in the shape of an old man with crooked teeth, spends most of its time washing its azuki beans, commonly known as the beans red bean paste is made from. The beans are very popular in Japan – lately it’s been gaining popularity in the west as well – and has a wide variety of uses, from ice cream seasoning to skin care treatment. If you ever hear some odd singing while walking through the forest or the mountains, chances are; you’ve stumbled upon an azuki aria. The yokai sings about washing his beans or – here’s the kicker – finding a human to eat. However, azuki arai are supposedly very shy, and if they hear any sound they are likely to run off, so chances are you’ll be safe even if you come across one.

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Adzuki Beans

Mikoshi nyūdō

You’ll meet the mikoshi nyūdō in the form of a lone traveler, often as a priest or monk, if you’re walking on a path or street. Everything might seem normal until you look up to meet the traveler in its face whereas the mikoshi nyūdō extends it neck further and further, rendering you unable to meet its eyes. While you’re occupied with this, the yokai approach you in order to devour you. The good thing is that it is fairly easy – in theory – to keep it from eating you alive, which you do by basically acting confident and telling the mikoshi nyūdō that you’ve seen through it, before it turns into a murderous beast and, you’re safe to walk past it. However, if you look at it the wrong way while doing this, you’re done for anyway. There is no other way around it apart from this, as it will hunt you down if you turn around or impale you with bamboo spears should you try to run past it.

Wa nyūdō

The yokai that I personally found the most terrifying during my research, even considering its comical appearance, is without a doubt the wa nyūdō. This yokai is nothing more than a head, travelling the land, stuck to an ox-cart wheel, engulfed in flames. Doesn’t sound too scary, right? But as is customary with the yokai legends, even though it seems harmless, it often times isn’t. The wa nyūdō is no exception. Simply catching the sight of this yokai from Hell – or Jigoku, which is the Japanese Buddhist variant – might throw your whole family into disease, and should the wa nyūdō notice your gaze it will rip the limbs from your body – or your child’s – and eat them. And as if that wasn’t enough, it might claim your soul which he drags to Jigoku and – well let’s just say Jigoku is not a place where anyone of us, nor our souls wants to be, as it makes Christian Hell sound like paradise to you if you’ve been even a little bit bad.
To keep safe your best bet is staying inside if you see ti coming, barricading your door, and hanging up lots of protective charms.

 

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Legendary being of the Week – Huldufólk

This week I got a being from a part of the world that is a little closer to my own home, Scandinavia.

The Huldufólk are a type of elves that inhabit the vast, mountainy lands of Iceland. Their name quite literally mean hidden people, or people of secrecy. They live among the rocks and hills of Iceland, commonly in houses within the stones themselves. They are one of two well-known types of elves in Iceland, the other one being the álfar, which basically are the “normal” kind of elves you probably already know a thing or two about. There are a number of origination stories behind the huldufólk that are quite different from each other.

In one legend God comes to visit Eve and her children. Eve, however, is currently in the act of cleaning them, not expecting her father so soon, ashamed of her unclean children she hides them from his sight. God is not easily fooled though, as you might know, and sees all. He curses the hidden children, stating that if they shall not be seen by him, they shall not be seen by man, and thus will remain hidden forever.
One legend speaks of the huldufólk as the angels whom did not pick a side during Lucifer’s revolt in Heaven. Because of their neutrality, they were banished to live out their lives hidden.
In yet another legend they originated from the Icelandic’s feelings and their campaign against the prohibition of dancing sometime during the 12th century. Where the huldufólk assisted the Icelandic people in taking revenge upon the monk who issued the ban on dancing.
Then there are some who simply believes the huldufólk originated from an desire of not feeling alone in some of the more empty, dark and barren landscapes that you’ll find in Iceland at times. The thought of a hidden people, inhabiting the land, was comforting, presumably. The thought of a hidden people living among you could also be quite frightening, if I may say so, however, the huldufólk are supposedly friendly and mean no harm to anyone, so perhaps it isn’t that scary of a thought.

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It is said that if you stand at a crossroad at night (in some legends you need to block the road in some way) the huldufólk might bump into you and choose to show themselves, offering you gifts and treasures as long as you let them through. If you should accept their gifts, they will dissapear, as will the treasures. But if you stand your ground, and refuse to let them pass, something similar will happen, but this time you’ll get to keep the valuables. The lesson to learn from this being; act as obnoxious as you possibly can on Iceland, and you will find gifts of gold thrown at your feet.

Jokes aside, the Huldufólk are still highly regarded among the Icelandic, and I mean highly, the elves are no joke over there. A couple of years ago there was a protest against the government’s plan to build an highway right through an elven habitat, with hundreds of people standing on the elves’ side. And that wasn’t the first time either. There is even a school where you can learn about the álfr and the huldufólk, should you visit Iceland — yes, that’s right folks, an Elf School.
Many traditions takes place every year, to honor the hidden ones. One being the act of leaving out food to the elves during christmas — similar to the Swedish Tomtenisse, or the Norwegian Fjösnisse
It’s quite fascinating, how the Icelandic haven’t let go of their old beliefs. Just like in Japan, they keep to old traditions and hold their kami, and their yokai, in very high regard. I find it charming, how some cultures never really forget their traditions like so many others do.

See you next week for another exciting being, I’m sensing something from medieval European folklore!

Legendary being of the week – The Kanbari Nyūdō

Let me begin this post with a small blog update:

My original idea with this blog was to write about practically anything, anything at all that interested me or was in my mind at the time. However, I’ve decided to focus on carefully selected subjects instead, as I realized a blog that acts basically as my journal is probably not of much interest to the world. And I don’t want you as a reader to feel like you’re wasting your time here.

As such, I’ve decided to focus on the themes I am the most passionate about such as legends, mythological creatures, art, books and writing.
I might write more posts in style with last month’s welcome post, but those kind of posts are currently on hold indefinitely.


Now, without further ado — let us move on to the Kanbari nyūdō, which will be my first legendary being in my new weekly series.


The first thing you need to know about the kanbari nyūdō is that nyūdō is actually a type of yōkai, or kami, that goes under the name of ōnyūdō. The ōnyūdō is the term for any and all giant-like beings in Japan, often depicted in the form of a monk or an old man whom for some reason are usually bald.
There are lots of ōnyūdō in Japanese folklore — and the legends surrounding a lot of them are some of Japan’s absolutely most fascinating ones — ranging from the possibly giraffe-inspired mikoshi nyūdō to the cyclops-like hitotsume nyūdō. Also, fun fact if you’re interested in anime/manga, more specifically One Piece; Wadatsumi, (that in itself is a reference to the dragon kami of the sea: Watatsumi) the giant tiger blowfish fishman, goes under the nickname ōnyūdō and to top it all off, he is also referred to as Umibozu by Usopp — another character in the series —  which in turn is yet another type of ōnyūdō.
It is a potpourri of references to spiritual beings in one character.

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Wadatsumi

As you can see, there are a lot of different kinds of onyudo, and there is unlimited variations we could explore (and perhaps will!) but let us get back to the kanbari nyūdō that I mentioned earlier.
The kanbari nyūdō is a yōkai that haunts bathrooms and toilets. Yeah, I know. For some reason the Japanese folklore is filled to the brim with toilet-haunting beings. (The Kurote, Hanako-san, the Aka Manto and the filth-licker Akaname to name a few)
The kanbari nyūdō thankfully only shows up one day of the year, on new year’s eve. Compared to the ippondatara, which shows up once a year as well and kill anyone it meets, the kanbari nyūdō is quite harmless as it’s rumored to simply cause you bad luck.
In some stories the opposite happens if you call upon the yōkai yourself, by doing this it is also possible to avoid any problems which may arise during your visits to the toilet the next year such as; unzipped pants, tripping and falling on the floor or ending up with toilet paper stuck in between your cheeks or any other commonly experienced bathroom-related incident.
Actually I have no idea what problems could be severe enough in the bathroom that it would justify summoning a giant spirit, likely malevolent and with the possibility of causing you bad luck for a whole year. But what do I know?

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The legends surrounding the kanbari nyūdō varies from prefecture to prefecture, as is customary in Japanese folklore, but the common trait shared amongst the kanbari is that it enjoy peeping on people doing their business and cursing them with bad luck in different ways. But don’t worry, there is also something in it for you as well, if you go to a secluded toilet on new year’s eve and do not encounter the kanbari, and instead chant ganbari nyūdō, there is a chance you might find a human head in the bottom of the toilet. At this point; the legends varies, but the gist of it is that you’re supposed to pick up the head and cover it in some way and you’ll be rewarded with lots of gold.

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See you next week for another legendary being!