Welcome back to another installment of the Weekend Yokai Hunter, the creepiest corner in the SMAC! web magazine. Not to mention THE place to quench your thirst for spooky Japanese folklore! This week, I find myself wrapped up in one of Japan’s most recognizable Yokai…
…the ITTAN MOMEN!
Probably one of the simplest looking Yokai in existence, I stumbled across this particular beastie the same way the vast majority of people in Japan did; one lazy Sunday morning spent in front of my TV in the company of a certain yellow and black stripe jacketed boy by the name of Kitaro…
WHAT ARE…Ittan Momen?
Literally translated as “one tan (28.8cm by 10m) of cotton”, the Ittan Momen is quite simply a long roll of white cloth. However, what this Yokai loses in terrifying appearance, it more than makes up with its speedy attacks! Said to fly above the evening skies of Kagoshima, the Ittan Momen targets random people by wrapping their cloth bodies around a victim’s face and neck before smothering them to death.
Yikes! If, like me, you’re a tad claustrophobic, I’m sure the mere thought of encountering one of these innocuous looking rags is a terrifying prospect. Unlike most tsukumogami, (lit. tools infused with a spirit), the Ittan Momen isn’t mischievous, just downright deadly!
Tales of Ittan Momen have long been passed down the generations of Kagoshima people, the earliest of which tells of a wanderer’s lucky escape! Traveling though the forest one night, a wanderer is suddenly beset by a wayward white cloth, intent on suffocating him. In a fit of panic, the terrified man unsheathes his short sword and begins to hack away at the unseen enemy. Victorious, the man looks upon his vanquished foe, only find the forest empty and his hands soaked in blood.
It is also said that in areas where Ittan Momen sightings were common, mothers would often warn their children not to stay out too late, otherwise the “Ittan Momen would get them”. Such warnings obviously weighed heavily on their minds, since whenever the children passed the Shijūkusho Shrine in the town of Kimotsuki, a place where sightings frequently occurred, the children would run past it in fear of being attacked and smothered.
Who would’ve thought a piece of cloth could be this scary?!
HUNTING FOR…Ittan Momen
Naturally the best way to encounter these rotten rolls of cloth, is to visit their home in Kagoshima, particularly the coastal town of Kimotsuki on the island of Kyushu. Though traveling to the southern island of Japan may not be necessary (as you’ll soon discover in the next segment).
Travelers who do however, should definitely check out the aforementioned Shijūkusho Shrine in Kimotsuki. Built in the Eikan era (A.D 983 – 985), this beautiful shrine is said to be one of the longest standing hubs of Ittan Momen activity, so paying a visit could well be worth your while.
As always, visitors to the Mizuki Shigeru Road in Tottori can also enjoy the Ittan Momen bronze statue on display there. Nice!
Ittan Momen TODAY!
So, how recognizable is our favorite roll of ferocious fabric? In a word, VERY! Ittan Momen you see, have achieved almost UFO status here in Japan, with a staggering number of “sightings”. In recent years there have been sightings not only in its native Kagoshima prefecture but also in Fukuoka prefecture, with one report coming from a bullet train passenger who claims to have spotted one flying alongside the train, matching its speed while doing so!
Ittan Momen have also been spotted on the main island too, with Tokyo sightings in both Kōenji and Ogikubo, the former of which was seen by a woman who was walking her dog and followed the Yokai for a short time before it disappeared! Man I would’ve loved to have seen that!
Other sightings include the mountains of Shizuoka prefecture and Hyogo Prefecture. What is very telling however, is that the highest numbers of sightings (and captured video footage), was during the East Japan Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Sightings aside, the Ittan Momen has enjoyed the spotlight in manga titles such as Kazuki Takahashi’s ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’, Yōichi Abe’s, ‘Shōjo Kudan Makora’, and of course Mizuki Shigeru’s astoundingly popular ‘Gegege no Kitaro’.
In spite of its violent origin, Mizuki’s version of the Ittan Momen is a kind and noble creature, who forms a part of Kitaro’s core group of friends. As such, his weekly appearance on the TV anime adaption has enamored him to many generations of children (myself included), resulting in the otherwise vicious roll of cloth finding itself voted the number one “most loved Yokai” in Tottori Prefecture! How’s THAT for good PR!
Also, since I’m a HUGE fan of the movie, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Ittan Momen also make an appearance in the 1968 movie ‘The Great Yokai War’ (the official English release title being ‘Yokai Monsters: One Hundred Monsters’), an absolute classic WELL WORTH a watch!!
And that’s a WRAP! (see what I did there?) I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about this peculiar white roll of cloth and who knows, maybe you’ll spot one the next time you visit Japan – just keep looking to the skies!
See you all again next week for more creepy Yokai antics!
If you have any questions, feedback, or even requests, get at me directly via Twitter! (@TricoBren)