Tsukumogami

Chochinobake by Jing Wei

Kasa-obake by Richard Svensson

Tsukumogami [sook-oom-oh-gamee] (‘artifact spirit’) are a type of Japanese spirit that originate from items or artifacts that have reached their 100th birthday and thus become alive and aware. Any object of this age, from swords to toys, can become a tsukumogami. Tsukumogami are considered spirits and supernatural beings, as opposed to enchanted items. Tsukumogami vary radically in appearance, depending on the type of item they originated from as well as the condition that item was in. Some, such as tsukumogami originating from paper lanterns or broken sandals, can have tears which become eyes and sharp teeth, thus giving a horrifying visage. Others, such as worn prayer beads or teacups, may merely manifest faces and appendages, giving a warm and friendly appearance.

Though by and large tsukumogami are harmless and at most tend to play occasional pranks on unsuspecting victims, as shown in the Otogizōshi (a collection of 16th century Japanese scrolls) they do have the capacity for anger and will band together to take revenge on those who are wasteful or throw them away thoughtlessly. To prevent this, to this day Shinto ceremonies are performed to console broken and unusable items. It is said that modern items cannot become tsukumogami; the reason for this is that tsukumogami are said to be repelled by electricity. Additionally, few modern items are used for the 100-year-span that it takes for an artifact to gain a soul. Though they are generally considered as mythical or legendary beings, almost all of tsukumogami with names are artistic production created during the Edo period. The most popular artist is Toriyama Sekien, but other numerous artists added their own creatures to the list of tsukumogami.

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