Ron Foster's Quick Mythology
This file is reproduced with Ron Foster's permission.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 1996 13:14:22 +0900
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Ron Foster
Subject: Re: [l5rinfo] inhabitants of Rokugan
At 8:42 PM 96.4.17, email@example.com wrote:
> >Just for my own edification, what is a "yousei"?
> I second that :-)
Japanese mythology is really mixed up; there is no strict ranking or class of creatures, and nothing approaching taxidermy. I like to think I know a bit because I'm interested in the subject, and 'cause I majored in classical Japanese literature at a university here and ran across a lot of it. I'll give it my best shot:
A 'yousei' is basically a faerie-like creature (the name translates as 'magical spirit'). The major distinguishing feature I can see between a spirit and another otherworldly thing is that a yousei is not inherently possessed of a physical form. That is, they are usually immaterial (but can take on a form if they wish). The closest thing I can think of to compare them to would be pookas, although they are not necessarily evil. Note that these spirits are not ghosts. Ghosts have their origins in people who died with some overriding concern and therefore cannot achieve enlightenment (in the Buddhist sense) and so are attached to the material plane. Common ghosts are warriors who died dishonorably, or people who hated someone else while they were alive and derive their existence from the overriding feeling of hatred, or children who died hungry and so run around devouring thing in their immaterial form -- which of course, can never be satiated (some of you may have heard of these ghosts -- Gaki). Common spirits would be zashiki-warashi (the good-luck, fortune-bringing house spirit, the fox spirits mentioned by someone else, lion spirits, wind spirits, and so on. As can probably be seen, a lot of spirits are tied in with nature; in a larger sense, any spirit is basically a kami.
> And while we are at it, what is an Oni ? I mean, I understand that it is basically an evil creature
> from the Shadowlands... But then, some Oni look so human... Some eat people, and some gain
>force just by seeing them (those Crabs ! I can't believe they did that, dishonorable as they are :-)
An Oni is a material bakemono ('creature') whose closest equivalent in European mythology would be an ogre or giant (anyone want to explain to me the difference between those two?). The friendlier oni look more humanlike, but the nasty ones generally are portrayed as having red skin, spiral horns, immense fangs, pointed nails, flaming eyes, and all sorts of other devilish features (never tails or hooves, though). Some oni have magical powers, being able to call down lightning or breathe fire, or eat people's souls. In a lot of medieval manuscripts depicting the various hells, you'll see oni chopping people up, flailing them with thorned whips, forcing them to eat nails, and generally torturing souls and enjoying it.
Interestingly missing from Japanese mythology are the tales of battles between the gods and other gods, or the gods and the various monsters and demons of the pantheon.