Meet one of Japan’s scariest yokai myths, the Rokurokubi
Last week, we looked at Foxes in Japanese myth and the Yokai Kitsune, and since it is October the month of Halloween we decided to take a look at another Japanese myth, this one much scarier called the Rokurokubi. Imagine it is late at night and suddenly a woman appears before you. She has a long elongated neck and her fangs drip saliva… It must be a Rokurokubi!
The Rokurokubi is a type of yōkai that may appear in two ways: The ones whose necks can stretch very long, and the nukekubi, which have the ability that the head can come off and freely fly around. This type of scary yokai are very common in Kaidan (spirit tales), urban myths and yōkai art (Like the scroll picture of a Rokurokubi used as main picture in this article), and have been seen in anime series and movies as well. The word rokurokubi is thought to derive from the word ‘rokuro’ which refers to a potter’s wheel or even an umbrella’s handle.
The myths about the nukekubi (The one’s whose head can come off and fly freely) are the earlier myths about these creatures. They are evil and prone to attack people at night, and like vampires just love to drink their victim’s blood. They can only be seen when the head is separated from the body. Some say that symbolically the act of the head moving away from the body represents a person’s soul wandering. A common myth is that nukekubi were once normal people who became afflicted with an illness and died to become a nukekubi, much like the traditional vampire.
Both rokurokubi and nukekubi are usually female. These creatures appear a lot in Edo-era ghost books but there are also tales that were orally told for centuries about them. An example is a myth about a story where a snake shapeshifter into a rokurokubi on an old highway between the villages of Iwa and Akechi in the Gifu Prefecture.
Anime and Rokurokubi
Here are a few anime mentions of rokurokubi or rokurokubi-like appearances in anime. In the anime Yo-kai Watch, the Rokurokubi is part of a classic trio of yokai. In InuYasha, the main character Inuyasha fights with a ‘spider-headed enemy which was probably inspired by the rokurokubi. In Naruto, the evil Orochimaru has a technique ‘Soft Physique Modification’ where he distorts his body similar to a rokurokubi. In the anime Rosario + Vampire, one of the students is a rokurokubi and lastly, in One Piece, Luffy, thanks to eating the rubber devil fruit, sometimes looking a bit like a rokurokubi when he stretches his neck.
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