Mujina and Mami – the Myth and the Mammals

28 Nov

On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka,—which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens;—and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.

All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.

 

The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:—

One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family. “O-jochu,” [1] he exclaimed, approaching her,—”O-jochu, do not cry like that!… Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.) But she continued to weep,—hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. “O-jochu,” he said again, as gently as he could,—”please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you!—only tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded:—”O-jochu!—O-jochu!—O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu!—O-jochu!”… Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand;—and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,—and he screamed and ran away.

Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller, [2] who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah!—aa!!—aa!!!”…

“Kore! kore!” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“No—nobody hurt me,” panted the other,—”only… Ah!—aa!”

“—Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers,—not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman—by the moat;—and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”…

“He!  Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face—which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

 

 

 [1] O-jochu (“honorable damsel”), a polite form of address used in speaking to a young lady whom one does not know.

 [2] Soba is a preparation of buckwheat, somewhat resembling vermicelli.

 

“Mujina” from Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn

(footnotes are Hearn’s originals)

 

Kwaidan was published in 1904, shortly before Hearn died.  It seems strange that his footnotes do not include a definition for “mujina” – the uninformed reader is likely to conclude that it is the faceless apparition, not some mischievous shape-shifting critter.

In another of his stories – “Common Sense” from Kotto, in which a priest is tricked with a vision of the Fugen Bosatsu and saved by a hunter – Hearn specifically states that the goblinry was the work of a badger.

 

In Japanese folklore, shape shifting is attributed to three animals – foxes, cats (under certain conditions) and raccoon dogs.  Hearn’s “mujina” and “badger” undoubtably refer to the raccoon dog.

 

A shape-shifting mujina by Toriyama Sekien. I personally think it looks more like a cat…

I had originally intended this to be a post about the raccoon dog, or tanuki, but while doing some background research I realized that simply clearing up the name would be a post in itself.

 

Previously I mentioned overlapping and crossover between dialectal names of raccoon dogs and badgers.  Here is probably a good point for clear definition.

 

Racoon dog or tanuki (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus) – a member of the family that includes dogs, wolves and foxes.  The raccoon dog has five digits on its front paws and four on its rear paws.  It is not, despite its English name, related to raccoons.  The modern Japanese name is hondo tanuki.

 

Badger (Meles meles anakuma) – a member of the weasel family.  It has five digits on both its front and rear paws.  Its modern Japanese name is Nihon anaguma.

 

Both animals are of similar size and build, both live in holes (the badger preferring to burrow, while the raccoon dog prefers rock crags, hollow logs or burrows dug by other animals), and both hibernate in winter (the raccoon dog being the only member of the dog family to do so).  They share similar dietary habits, although the raccoon dog is less picky.  They also both have dark patches forming a “mask” around their eyes – the badger’s “mask” consists of two vertical stripes, while the raccoon dog’s being more of a “Zorro mask” – and both are primarily nocturnal.  It is not hard to see how the two could be confused.

 

Depending on the region, mujina ( or the older ) could be used to describe either animal, or loosely, both!

A mujina according to the Wakansansaizue

I found a story of a 1924 court case involving the illegal hunting of raccoon dogs.  The defendant was declared not guilty because his understanding was that it was illegal to hunt mujina after March 1st, but not illegal to hunt raccoon dogs.

Even today in parts of Tochigi, the raccoon dog is known as mujina and the badger is known as tanuki.  And in other regions, the term is used to refer to the civet.

 

The masked palm civet (Paguma larvata) is something of an enigma itself.  It appears to be an introduced species, but some scholars believe it to be native.  Its local name is hakubishin (白鼻芯).  It has a slighter build than either the raccoon dog or badger, and is more cat-like in appearance, but still bears some resemblance.

 

Further confusing the issue (as if it isn’t already confusing enough) is another old term, mami ().  Mami can refer to mujina, meaning that it could be either a raccoon dog or a badger; however, it has also been used in reference to Japan’s two varieties of flying squirrel!

 

A mami according to the Wakansansaizue. It looks like a mujina to me…

A mami from the Kyokahyakumonogatari. I find this deptiction to most closely resemble the raccoon dog.

“Will the REAL mami please stand up?” The raccoon dog, badger, giant Japanese flying squirrel and masked palm civet have all been known as “mujina” or “mami”.

Furthermore, the ideograms for writing these names may have obscure older or secondary meanings.  The character for raccoon dog () traces its roots to China and refers to a wild cat.  (Is this the reason for shape-shifting to be attributed to cats in a more urbanized 17th century?)

The character for mami () can also mean a kind of wild boar.  It also turns up in the names of several supernatural beings.

 

A mami attacking travellers at dusk. This version seems to resemble a civet.

Hearn produced several chapters on singing insects, dragonflies, butterflies, frogs, folklore and mythology.  I’m sure that the subject of raccoon dogs, badgers, mujina and mami could have provided him with more than enough material for a small volume.

All images are public domain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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8 Responses to “Mujina and Mami – the Myth and the Mammals”

  1. wildinjapan January 9, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    Again, thanks for the links.
    I hope you enjoy my next post, due any day now.

    • Anonymous January 9, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      you’re welcome.
      Ok, will do.

  2. Anonymous January 8, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Ok, you’re welcome about the links.
    Also, thank you for the info about that even an authoritive Japanese dictionary says that Mujina can mean either raccoon dog or badger and for the info about that it can be possible for the badger to be a shapeshifter.

    Also, one more thing to point out, the badger is known in Chinese folklore and mythology also. But, it’s rarely found in Chinese folklore.
    Here’s the link:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=mQU4AQAAIAAJ&q=Badger+chinese+folklore&dq=Badger+chinese+folklore&output=html_text&cd=2

    • Anonymous January 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      *just look up the word “badger” in the thing that says “look up in this book” that link.

  3. Anonymous January 2, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Ok, I have a question:

    Isn’t the badger (meles anakuma) a shapeshifter also along with the raccoon dog?
    Because, Mujina can mean “badger” in Japanese.

    • wildinjapan January 3, 2012 at 8:01 am #

      As far as I’m aware, shape-shifting is limited to foxes, certain cats and raccoon dogs. As I explained in the post and in the post “Splitting hairs?”, Mujina has been applied to both the badger and raccoon dog, but only the raccoon dog has been attributed with shape-shifting abilities.
      The problem is further aggravated by early translations of Japanese stories – the raccoon dog was often mistranslated a badger (in much the same way as some early translations of Australian Aboriginal “Dreaming” stories mentioned iguanas, porcupines and bears – none of which are found on the Australian continent, or Aesop’s tale of the cicada and the ants) for audiences unfamiliar with the animal in question.

      So, a mujina can be a shape-shifter provided that it’s a raccoon dog.

      • Anonymous January 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

        Ok, but in Chinese legends, folklore, and mythology, it is said that all animals are capable of acquiring human form. Meaning, the badger can be a shapeshifter.
        Link:
        http://books.google.com/books?id=cvUlVtJ66nAC&pg=PA114&lpg=PA114&dq=shapeshifting+animals+china&source=bl&ots=Pah4zy_LGc&sig=sddgpw2Ymi1KWK0zfph

        Also, according to this link, Mujina actually is a badger (go to pages 10 & 11):
        http://www.yamakawadojo.com/The%20Obscuritan,%20Japanese%20Monsters%20and%20Ghosts.pdf

      • wildinjapan January 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

        Thanks for the links.
        Again, I think we’ve reached a point where it comes down to the actual definition of what a a mujina is. Since it can mean either a badger, a raccoon dog, or sometimes a different creature, depending on period and region, I don’t think we’ll ever really know without the aid of a time machine. Even the Iwanami Kojien, the most authoritative Japanese dictionary, gives either a raccoon dog or badger as the definition of mujina.
        I did a search in Japanese about shape-shifting among badgers and only had references to mujina.
        Finally, the character 狸 originally had the meaning of a wild cat in China (which was said to be able to shape-shift). In Japan, it was applied to the raccoon dog.
        The Japanese also had a belief that anything that reached 100 years (even inanimate objects) could become a kind of yokai , so I suppose that a badger could conceivably become a shape-shifter.

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