Japanese Art and the One Legged Umbrella Ghost: Mischievous Spirit of Kasa-Obake
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Japanese folklore is full of fascinating spirits that have a wide variety of power. Some spirits and ghosts may be extremely dangerous, while others may be much less harmless. Thereby they are represented in many different art forms that are either based on Japanese folklore, a fusion of modern ideas and folklore in the late Edo period, or adaptions within modern culture. The Kasa-obake (One Legged Umbrella Spirit) is an example of a rather harmless ghost that obtains a spirit when reaching a set age in the real world.
Gosotei Hirosada really depicts the Kasa-Obake (Kasa Ippon-ashi – second image) in a very impressive way. In the depiction by Hirosada, this amazing one legged umbrella ghost while looking a little glum, the spirit also looks mysterious and intriguing but not based on fear. Indeed, the impression by Hirosada is of a spirit that looks mischievous rather than menacing. This reality is based on the fusion of the subject being depicted by a kabuki actor, rather than solely being the depiction of a Kasa-obake.
Therefore, the intriguing aspect of this art piece by Hirosada is that it is a fusion between the Kasa-obake and how this spirit came alive within kabuki. Hirosada therefore is focusing on the one eyed Kasa-obake within the setting of kabuki. The upshot of this is that the significance of the one eyed Kasa-obake – with a very powerful tongue – is now part and parcel of the rich tradition of kabuki. Given this reality, an actor in the kabuki arena is playing the mischievous spirit and this in turns illuminates the art piece by Hirosada.
The highly respected Toshidama Gallery states: “This print is so entertaining. The picture represents a kabuki actor in the part of Kasa-obake. Kasa-obake is usually portrayed as one eyed with an enormous tongue, though here the restrictions of the staging mean that the actor has limited his portrayal to the umbrella and tying his leg up in order to hop around the stage.”
Toshidama Gallery also points out that the Kasa-obake is in fact an “artefact spirit.” In Japan this type of spirit is called Tsukumogami and various different spirits have different types of power. Therefore, in the world of Japanese folklore the “arefact spirits” become alive to reality and fully aware about this world when they reach the ripe old age of one hundred.
Once transformed on their hundredth birthday the Kasa-obake become transformed and enter the spirit world. Of course, seeing so much over such a lifespan, but without being able to do anything because of not being imbued with a spirit, then this experience impacts on their mischievous nature.
The Toshidama Gallery states about the Kasa-Obake that: “They occupy much the same position as poltergeists in western culture. Tsukumogami rarely cause harm but are prone to playing tricks and harmless pranks. Some are more popular than others; hence the umbrella demon is common, as are sandal demons and lantern demons. Tsukumogami should perhaps be rehabilitated since they become angry at people who are wasteful or who thoughtlessly throw away useful objects.”
Therefore, the next time you are thinking about throwing away something that may be more important than you imagine, then just take a look around because a Kasa-obake may be insulted. If so, then expect this mischievous spirit to play a trick or two on you.
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Some art and cultural articles by Modern Tokyo Times are republished in order to highlight the unique reality of Japanese culture to our growing international readership.