Being a big fan of Japanese popular culture as I am, it’s hard not to have some aspects of it worm its way into your heart. In this case, I am talking about Pocket Monsters, known in America as Pokémon–that’s Poke Ay Mon, a very Japanese contraction of two words. They’ve found a soft spot in me, and burrowed inside. I just can’t seem to shake them. Then again, I am not really trying to.
I know that the games, here in the States especially, are seen as something for children. In Japan, children aren’t the only audience that the game appeals to. Adults, like myself, play the games and watch the animé as well as children. I spent a good part of my teen years enjoying the collecting/battling aspects that the games offer. Even now, as I am pushing 30, I still enjoy them as much as I did.
This blog isn’t meant to be a rambling about my obsession with Japan’s popular culture. I have tried many times to write that particular chestnut. I can’t seem to get it to come out right. No, this blog is about creatures from Japanese Myth that have made their mark on the roster of Pokémon. There are 493 of the suckers right now, so this writing will only include those that are better known.
I am starting with a Pokémon that has caused a lot of ruckus here in the US. When she was originally shown in-game, Jynx had a black face. This, of course, drew comparison to the infamous black-face characters in our past. In Japan, though, her black face signified the popular ganguro (literally face black in Japanese)–young girls would tan extensively and dye their hair blonde– style that was popular at the time. Jynx, ghowever, was based on the spirit 山姥 —Yama-uba (mountain crone in Japanese). The Yama-uba was said to inhabit the forests and mountains of Japan. She was clad in a kimono which was often depicted as red, and her hair was said to be golden-white. As far as similarities go, though, they do end there. Jynx has a little in common with the 雪女–Yuki-onna (snow woman in Japanese), mostly being that she is of the Ice-type. There is another Pokémon that shares traits with that spirit, and that will be covered next.
Froslass has more in common with the Yuki-onna than Jynx does. She (yes, Froslass is female, too) is an Ice/Ghost-type Pokémon. Since Yuki-onna is a spirit, it is fitting that Froslass has the Ghost-type. The Yuki-onna legend says that the spirit is someone who perished in the snow, hence the affiliation with snow storms. Like the Yuki-onna, Froslass floats. Neither have any feet–or, the Yuki-onna doesn’t in many depections. As far as behavioral similarities, the Pokémon games cannot have a spirit go around killing, there aren’t many. Though sometimes the Yuki-onna is depicted as having a child with her. In Froslass’ case, she evolves from a lower form called Snorunt who is also based on a spirit of legend.
Nintales is based on the Japanese legend of the 九尾の狐—Kyuu o no kitsune (nine-tailed fox in Japanese). The nine-tailed fox is said to be golden or silver in color due to it’s advanced age. In Japanese myth, many tailed foxes are said to be able to breathe fire, as Ninetales can do being the Fire-type. Nine-tailed foxes are supposed to be trickster spirits, as well. This leads the Ninetails being able to use Ghost-type moves that are generally tricky to it’s foes. The nine-tailed fox is vengeful, which is reflected in Ninetales’ original Pokédex entry:
Very smart and very vengeful. Grabbing one of its many tails could result in a 1000-year curse.
Mawile is one of my favorites on this list. It is based on the 二口女—Futakuchi-onna (two-mouthed woman in Japanese). Now Mawile isn’t strictly female all the time like Jynx and Froslass. There are depctions of male Futakuchi-onna like spirits in Japanese myth. Mawile’s main similarity to the Futakuchi-onna is it’s second mouth on the back of it’s head. This mouth is remniscent of hair because Futakuchi-onna’s second mouth is located deep within it’s hair on the back of the skull. In Mawile’s case, though, this mouth is said to have grown from horns. This “mouth” lets Mawile learn some mouth-based attacks like Bite, Crunch, Ice Fang and Poison Fang. The Futakuchi-onna’s second mouth was said to have appeared due to how little a woman eats. That’s what this mouth does. Eats someone–who was unfortunate enough to marry one without knowing–out of house and home. It’s also said, though, that this second mouth appears on someone who does not speak their mind, and will do so for them.
鬼—Oni (a Japanese word that has come to mean demon) are classic creatures found in all manner of Japanese folktales. Comparing Electabuzz to an Oni is fairly easy. Though most Oni mentioned in stories are blue- or red-skinned, most of them are depicted as wearing a tiger-skin loincloth of some type. Classic Oni are sometimes shown to have an affiliation with electricity in the form of lightning storms, hence Electabuzz’s Electric-typing. Like the Oni that it bears a certain resemblence to, Electabuzz can be fierce. But, as with Oni, Electabuzz can also be protective, as well.
Dunsparce is an interesting looking creature that is very Japanese in origin. It is based on the 槌の子—Tsuchinoko (Japanese for hitter or striker), a snake-like creature that has a larger central girth than it’s head or tail. The Tsuchinolo is said to be very poisonous (Dunsparce is not), but, it is also a creature that would rather flee, than fight. This is evident in one of Dunsparce’s inherent abilities: Run Away. This allows Dunsparce to flee wild battles. Tsuchinoko can also roll itself into a ball by biting it’s tail. Dunsparce isn’t shown doing this, but, it learns the attack Rollout which could be a sign of that ability. The wings on Dunsparce’s back give it the ability to hover–or fly “just a little” according to recent Pokédex entries. This mirrors Tsuchinoko’s jumping skill, in a way.
Bronzor and Bronzong
A big part of the Pokémon series is evolution. During the training of the Pokémon, when a certain criteria is met–in most cases, a milestone level is reached–the Pokémon will evolve into a (usually) stronger form. Bronzor and the Pokémon it evolves into, Bronzong, don’t necessarily fall under the normal myths about creatures/spirits the others I have written about do. Instead, they hearken back to a certain story from Japanese myth. At a time when mirrors were made of metal, a temple asked women of a village for mirrors because they wished to have a large bell. A woman, thinking that the mirror was the “Soul of a woman”, soon regretted giving her mirror–an heirloom passed down from her grandmother. Because she did not give up the mirror with the best of intentions, the mirror would not melt when sent to the foundry. The woman, ashamed that she had hindered the temple’s work committed suicide, saying that when she was dead, the mirror would melt without issue. Townspeople thought that, once the bell was cast, that the woman who died in shame might bestow them with great wealth if they could break the bell. Many tried by ringing them bell with abandon, but, none could break it. Preists, fed up with those ringing the bell rolled it into a swamp to be rid of it. Bronzong’s Pokédex entry claims that it was discovered when workers began excavation on a worksite.
Sneasel (and it’s evolution, Weavile) seem to be based, if loosely, on the Japanese creature the 鎌鼬—Kamaitachi (literally sickle weasel in Japanese). This creature is usually depicted as one of three–sometimes brothers–who ride on a wind and attack people with a flurry of sickle-swipes. Sneasel are notably fast, and attack with the sickle-like claws that it’s fingers end in. Like the Kamaitachi, Sneasel is known to be sly. It will often distract it’s prey through some means, only to have a second attack. The Kamaitachi are said to work as a group. One knocks the victim down, one cuts at the victim and the third uses medicine on the wounds caused by the others. This leaves a wounded victim with little clue as to what actually happened.
Espeon is based, at least design-wise, on the Japanese 猫叉—Neko mata (forked cat in Japanese). The Neko mata is said to be a normal cat that has reached certain age, been kept a number of years, or allowed to have kept a long tail. (Japanese people often bob the tails of their cats). Neko mata sometimes have been said to use psychic abilities. Espeon is the Psychic-type Pokémon which reflects that. Not much else is similar between the two, so it might be a bit of a stretch.
Like the 河童—Kappa (literally river child) that it is based in, Lombre is a bit of a trickster. Lombre look fairly similar to a Kappa. A Kappa has a depression in it’s head that holds water. This water contains a Kappa’s strength. The lily pad on Lombre’s head allow it to collect water with the ability Rain Dish. This ability heals it’s hit points in rainy weather. The Kappa and Lombre have other physical similarities. The face of both the Kappa and Lombre have a turtle-like beak. Their bodies are also humanoid in shape.
Based on the Japanese 天狗—Tengu (oddly enough, heavenly dogs–though Tengu are generally bird-like), Shiftry shares much with it’s mythical counterpart. Tengu possess hand fans that can create terrible winds. Shiftry’s hands are made of fan-like leaves and it has the Razor Wind attack at it’s disposal. Shiftry’s feet are very similar to a Tengu’s footwear of choice, the single-toothed geta sandal. They also share the same long nose that defines their look. Shiftry, like Tengu, live in forests–notably the oldest tree–in mountainous areas. Though Tengu can be mean-spirited (Shiftry is known as the Wicked Pokémon) they can also be helpful.
Snorunt is, at least physically, based on a Japanese spirit known as 雨降り小僧—Ame-furi-kozo (literally little rainfall boy). Both wear the Japanese style of rain hat/coat that is fashioned from an old umbrella. Though that’s basically where the similarities end, they both have something to do with the weather. The Ame-furi-kozo is often seen on rainy nights, whereas Snorunt is seen in snowy regions.
Though Drowzee is based, specifically, on a tapir, it gets this aspect of it’s design from a Japanese creature. This creature is the chimeric 獏–Baku. A Baku is a chimera who’s head it actually that of an elephant. It is known to subsist on the dreams and nightmares of sleepers. Drowzee puts it’s foes to sleep using Hypnosis and eats it’s dreams to replenish it’s hit points using Dream Eater. These actions mimic those of the Baku. Over time the Japanese have morphed the Baku from it’s chimera form to that of a tapir (or sometimes a pig). This form has stuck in recent popular culture which is evident in Drowzee and it’s evolved form Hypno.
This brings an end to my blog about Japanese myths and Pokémon. For any more information on Pokémon, it’s not that hard to find. For information on Japanese yokai (a catch-all term that encompasses monsters and spirits of Japanese myth), head to The Obakemono Project.