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9 weird and terrifying monsters from Japanese mythology
From animated umbrellas to polite-but-violent turtle-people, Japan's folklore contains some extremely creative monsters.
- Compared to Japan's menagerie of creatures, Western folklore can feel a little drab.
- The collection of yōkai—supernatural beasts or spirits—has a staggering amount of variety.
- Although there are many more creative folkloric creatures, here are nine that caught our attention.
Like any culture, Japan has its fair share of folkloric creatures. But to Westerners, whose folklore tends to recycle the same variations on witches, goblins, orcs, and dragons, Japan's bestiary of creatures can be staggeringly varied. Out of the hundreds of yōkai—or supernatural beings—here's just nine of the strangest.
A bake-danuki uses it's, um, special skill set to fashion a boat.
Kazusa-ya Iwazô, 1842
Starting the list off strong are the tanuki, or raccoon dogs. Tanuki are real animals native to Japan that look, as their name would suggest, like a cross between a raccoon and a dog. But the folkloric version of tanukis, bake-danuki, are much more mischievous and powerful. If you have ever been or go to Japan, you have or will undoubtedly run across statues of wall-eyed, chubby, friendly-looking creatures.
These are tanuki, but they're a much more modern, friendly reincarnation. Tanuki in the past were tricksters who possessed the ability to shapeshift and stretch their massive scrotums (yes, really). Depictions of tanuki show them using their scrotums for anything from makeshift watercraft to making giant, comical faces.
A decidedly less delightful yōkai is the jorogumo. When an orb-weaver spider turns 400 years old, it grows horrifically large and becomes capable of transforming into a beautiful woman to lure men to later eat. Since the jorogumo's origin story involves real spiders, the word is also used to refer to several species of spiders, who, if they could live to be 400 years old, would ostensibly become this unpleasant creature.
Humanoid reptiles named kappa are said to inhabit Japan's ponds and rivers. They are short and scaly, have beaks for mouths, and have a bowl on top of their heads that contains water. If a kappa's bowl is emptied on dry land somehow, they're said to lose their magical powers. Although they're generally malevolent, kappa are supposed to be very polite. If a passer-by bows to them, they'll have to bow back, losing the water in their bowls. If that passer-by refills the bowl, they'll have made a friend and ally for life.
Kappa drown children, drink their victim's blood, or sexually assault woman, but they also have three obsessions. The first are cucumbers, which they apparently can't resist. The second is sumo wrestling. And the third is obtaining shirikodama, jewels that contain the soul, located—where else?—in people's anuses.
The kamaitachi are weasels with sickle-like nails on their paws. When they attack people, they ride on whirlwinds, knocking their victims down before giving them a quick slash on their ankles or calves. Allegedly, the creatures' sickles contain a kind of medicine that stops the wound from bleeding or hurting, which is at least the polite thing to do after knocking somebody down and cutting them up. The pain is said to set in later, however, after the numbing medicine has worn off. For some unknown reason, only men get attacked by kamaitachi.
Brigham Young University via Wikimedia Commons
The word nuribotoke means 'lacquered Buddha' or 'painted Buddha' due to the creature's black skin and minor resemblance to the Buddha, mainly because of its large stomach. Their eyeballs dangle out of their sockets, and they have a long tail that resembles a catfish's tail. They also stink.
Japanese homes and temples often contain a Buddhist shrine called a butsudan, a kind of ornate cabinet containing a small shrine within. Butsudans stay open during the day but are closed at night since it's believed that spirits can use it to enter the material world. When a butsudan is poorly maintained or left open at night, nuribotokes can enter homes, sometimes appearing as Buddhas who give false prophecies or dance around at night.
A lantern that's become a tsukumogami.
Tsukumogami is an umbrella term for tools or household objects that, after their 100th "birthday," gain a soul. Generally, they're depicted as friendly, but tools that were thrown away or misused are thought to become vengeful toward their previous owners. You could have a possessed futon (with the delightful name of a boroboroton), lantern (chōchin-obake), umbrella (kasa-obake), or any number of items.
The word nupperi is a slang term used to refer to a woman who applies too much makeup, which is the likely origin for this creature's name. Nuppeppo are blob-like creatures with the suggestion of a face beneath their amorphous fat. Folklore describes them as being mostly harmless aside from their disgusting odor, which smells like rotting flesh. Generally, they appear at night near graveyards and temples. Some sources say that if a human can catch the quick-moving creature, kill it, and manage to eat the nuppeppo's disgusting flesh, they might gain eternal youth or cure a serious disease.
These are actually a pair of yōkai: ashinaga ("long legs") and tenaga ("long arms"). As their names would suggest, these creatures resemble men with either long legs or long arms. The pair work together to catch fish: ashinaga wades into deep waters, and tenaga uses his long arms to catch the fish below.
Futakuchi-onna appear as regular woman, although they have a concealed mouth on the back of their heads. The futakuchi-onna uses her hair, which act as tentacles, to grab nearby food and feed her second mouth. In most folkloric tales, the futakuchi-onna was the wife of a miser who rarely supplied her with food. Eventually, the wife sprouted a second mouth that demanded food, spitting obscenities and screaming otherwise, thereby transforming into a futakuchi-onna.
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.