Only Mad Dogs and...
Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun – with a wheelbarrow to pick up horse poo out of a pony paddock.
Earlier this year I spent an inordinate amount of time researching Japanese folklore for background information for a science fiction novel I was writing. Readers... the novel was put out of its misery at the 20,000 words make but the research lives so in this post we head to Japan for an encounter with the Zashiki-warashi, one of those yokai supernatural/elemental spirits and entities that are so popular in both traditional and contemporary Japanese folklore.
The name zashiki-warashi translates into English as ‘parlor child’ and is used to describe a type of protective household spirit who brings good luck to the home. It is widely believed families with a zashiki-warashi living with them will prosper, whereas the departure of a zashiki-warashi is a sign that bad things are about to befall that family. Indeed some Japanese folklorists suggest zashiki-warashi originally evolved as a way traditional communities explained the changing fortunes of families, and homes, as well as the movement of wealth in villages.
Accounts describe zashiki-warashi as looking like children (ranging from about three years to 15 years in age) – some are clearly girls, others are boys but there are also tales of some of a distinctly androgynous nature. They have bob haircuts or in a short, spikey style. Female zashiki wear predominantly red kimonos, whereas the males wear robes of indigo although some have even been described as looking like mini-samurai warriors. As to why they appear like children, in Japanese Buddhism there are ‘wrathful’ divinities called goho-warashi or Dharmapala who protect the laws of Bhuddism but take on the guise of children.
Turning to their behaviour, all zashiki-warashi are good with children: they will play with them and even teach them nursery rhymes. In fact some zashiki are only visible to children but not adults – or else they will confuse the adults by joining a group of children so when counted there are one too many children but the adults cannot work out who the extra one is.
In common with many elementals in folklore, especially household spirits, the zashiki-warashi have a mischievous streak. They will spill ash, flour or soap powder and then walk around the house leaving little footprints in their wake. They will also make annoying noises, such a spinning wheel revolving or the sound of footsteps dancing on a wooden floor but when the householder goes to investigate the room where the noise is coming from, there will be nobody to be seen. And at night they will disrupt people’s sleep by pulling at their pillows and bedding. That said zashiki-warashi are never considered a nuisance, in fact they are treated as gods, and a family that has a zashiki-warashi is usually treated with respect by other people in their village or community.
Interestingly, although the Hayachine Shrine on the Japanese island on Honshu has been holding festivals offering prayers to the zashiki-warashi for over 1200 years, as recently as 2015 a webcam captured images of a translucent little girl in a kimono walking through walls in a house. So, if you are ever in Japan, keep your eyes open as you just might spot a zashiki-warashi – and if you do, leave out a plate of azuki meshi (rice with red beans) as this is apparently their favourite meal.
Welcome to Weird Times
Yes, it's back again. My Weird Times newsletter has come back from the dead and will now be a regular (well occasional) publication appearing both here on UrbanFantasist and on Medium at https://medium.com/weird-times The last iteration of Weird Times fell foul of the Great Pandemic – plus my growing awareness that there were just too many email newsletters in the world.
So welcome to my new publication Weird Times – an occasional publication devoted to weird tales, factoids, coincidences, remembrances, and other arcana from history, legend, folklore, urban myth and pop culture plus anything else that intrigues the editor. We are open to submissions however we have no contributor budget.
We are living through some almost dystopian weird times – climate change means the planet is burning, deluded politicians are turning the UK into a banana monarchy, deluded judges are turning the US into a crypto-fascist theocracy, Europe is seeing the biggest war in 80 years, the mega-rich are getting richer while everyone else is getting poorer, and the global economy is tanking. In otherwords we’re all going to Hell in a handcart.
In the circumstances what better than to relax with some weird tales from history through until the present day – the kind of weird geeky stuff to make you go WTF – or else give you ammunition to play Trivial Pursuits. Or am I the only person old enough to remember Trivial Pursuits?
We'll also have a link to the YouTube version after the show.
Today is My Birthday
Today is my birthday and I shall be celebrating it in the traditional way all writers celebrate holidays and special events. As to how old I am, I'm going with the American baseball player Satchel Paige who once said: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"
Now Available in Paperback
My mini-guide to writing genre fiction is now available in a paperback format on Amazon UK (price £4.99) and Amazon US (price $5.99). URL links below – and it is still available on Kindle.
Latest Interview: The Outer Realm
Here's me talking to Michelle Desrochers and Amelia Pisano on The Outer Realm – we talk about dragons, cryptids, and multi-dimensional beings among other things...
Charles Christian was an English barrister, Reuters correspondent-turned editor, author, blogger, podcaster, award-winning tech journalist, storyteller, and sometime werewolf hunter, who sadly passed away in 2022.
Prior to his sudden death he completed one of his largest works to date: The Witches Almanac, the definitive guide on the history of magic and folklore, including 359 of the most important witches and sorcerers in history.
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