It has been a while since we’ve had a Japanese monster, so here’s one now. David Maybury of Children’s Books Ireland drew my attention to this modern take on an ancient spectre, it is the first image below. The beast is the Umibōzu. Or if you prefer 海坊主, a name that combines the character for sea with the character for Buddhist monk.
The illustrator is Shigeru Mizuki and the image is from the Yōkai Jiten, an encyclopaedia of traditional monsters published in 1981.
These spirits live in the sea and if you happen to come close to one your best defence is to look away and pretend not to see it. The Umibōzu are peaceable enough if you don’t hassle them. The worst thing you can do is try and chat with one. That will result in it sinking you and your vessel.
Some say the Umibōzu are drowned holy men, they have the shaven heads of a monk and when seen at sea they often appear to be praying. I read that they are sometimes described as having serpentine limbs like tentacles. These limbs, their big eyes and smooth heads make me wonder if the idea of the Umibōzu may be based on sightings of the Giant Squid. Such squid are rarely seen near the surface but this rarity might have made their appearances all the more frightening.
I got this image of a Giant Squid from here.
This well-known 19th century image of the Umibōzu was created by the wood block artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi.