The World of Japanese Spirit Objects
Japanese folklore is replete with tales of supernatural phenomena. The collective term these unearthly entities is “Yokai,” a diverse group of beings that includes not only departed human spirits but also a delightful assortment of peculiar phantoms and apparitions.
Among these captivating yokai, one that stands out is the “Tsukumogami”. The term “tsukumogami” (付喪神) translates to “tool kami” or “artifact kami.” The word “kami” in Japanese translates to “god” or “spiritual being.” Tsukumogami are objects that have gained spirits or become sentient after existing for 100 years.
The concept of tsukumogami has been a part of Japanese folklore for centuries, with roots in Shinto and animistic beliefs. Tsukumogami can manifest in a wide range of everyday objects, such as humble tools, musical instruments, theatre masks, shoes, mirrors and other household items, and even toys. Each object may possess unique abilities and characteristics.
Tsukumogami: The World of Japanese Spirit Objects
Legend has it that many everyday objects, if they manage to endure for a century, acquire a soul and awaken to self-awareness. But here’s the catch – not all of them are thrilled about their newfound sentience.
When the night casts its enigmatic veil, Tsukumogami are believed to spring to life, immersing themselves in playful or mischievous escapades, delighting in playing tricks on unsuspecting individuals. They can also become quite perturbed and, in some cases, downright hazardous when humans, in their negligence, discard these faithful objects after years of service.
These animated objects, it’s said, harbor a profound connection either with their owners or the places from whence they originated. They are said to bear the memories and experiences of their previous owners, akin to a repository of echoes from the past.
In the intricate tapestry of Tsukumogami tales, a recurring theme unfolds: spirits yearning for redemption or release from their physical vessels, mirroring the deep-seated desire for purification and absolution intrinsic to the traditions of sin-eating.
As the narratives unfold, Tsukumogami stories consistently carry valuable moral lessons, serving as poignant reminders of the repercussions that befall those who neglect or mistreat the objects that serve them faithfully. These tales resonate as cautionary tales, underlining the importance of cherishing and respecting the inanimate companions that have been a part of our lives.
These tool-based yokai take on countless other forms, from saddles to clocks, and even rolls of cotton and mosquito netting.
Every year, as the New Year approaches, a curious tradition unfolds. People across Japan bring forth their aging tools and objects from their homes, bidding them farewell by discarding them in the alleys. This age-old event, known as “susuharai” (煤払, literally “sweeping soot”), marks the culmination of year-end house cleaning rituals.
The purpose behind this practice is to avoid the misfortune that may arise from the lingering presence of tsukumogami tool specters, those objects that are just a single year away from reaching the century mark.
This custom, rooted in the renewal of hearth fires, the replenishment of fresh water, and the replacement of everything from clothing to furniture at the dawn of the New Year, was once seen as a display of opulence among the well-to-do. However, it is now understood as a safeguard against the calamities that may be wrought by these awakened tsukumogami.
At one point, numerous Shinto shrines conducted ceremonies to appease and pacify these discarded or broken household items to prevent them from transforming into vengeful spirits determined to wreak havoc on the households that abandoned them.
It’s often said that in Japan, sacred objects are as abundant as the cherry blossoms in spring.
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