For the video game, see 99 Spirits.

Tsukumogami (付喪神 or つくも神[note 1], "Tool kami") are tools that have acquired a spirit living in them after many years.[2] They deceived humans. Also, according to an annotated version of The Tales of Ise titled Ise Monogatari Shō, a certain theory in the Onmyōki, tsukumogami are what foxes that have lived for one hundred years turn into.[3] In modern times, they can also be written 九十九神 (ninety-nine kami).[4]

According to Komatsu Kazuhiko, the idea of tsukumogami, or yōkai of tools, spread mostly in the Middle Ages, and declined in more recent generations. Komatsu infers that despite the depictions in Bakumatsu period ukiyo-e leading to a resurfacing of the idea, these were all produced in an era cut off from any actual belief in the idea of tsukumogami.[5]


For "tsukumogami" to have the kanji representation 付喪神 comes from the Tenpō period otogizōshi, the emakimono called the Tsukumogami Emaki. According to this emaki, a tool, after the passage of 100 years, would obtain a spirit, and a tsukumogami is a result of this change or mutation. In this emaki, there was also a caption that "tsukumo" could also be written as 九十九 (meaning "ninety-nine") referring to "one year before one hundred," and made the interpretation that this meaning came from "tsukumo hair" (つくも髪, pronounced tsukumogami), a word that appeared in a waka in The Tales of Ise, section 63 to refer to an old woman's white hair, which is why tsukumo means "a long time (ninety-nine years)."[3]

Other than the "Tsukumogami Emaki" and interpretations made in annotated versions of The Tales of Ise waka poems of the words "tsukumogami" (つくも髪, tsukumo hair), usages of the word "tsukumogami" do not appear anywhere in literature, and usages of it has not been transmitted in detail. In collections of tales such as the Konjaku Monogatarishū, there were tales that could be seen to be about objects having a spirit, and in the emakimono Bakemono Zōshi, there were tales depicting a chōshi (an alcohol cup), a scarecrow, and other things turn into monsters, but there was no word "tsukumogami" mentioned in them.

There is the follow tale in the Tsukumogami Emaki. An object would become occupied by a spirit after one hundred years, so people would throw out old objects before they became a hundred years old, which was called the "susu-harai" (煤払い). By doing this, they prevented objects from becoming tsukumogami, but according to the captions of this emaki, it's written that ones that are "a year from one hundred," in other words, objects that are "tsukumo" (ninety-nine) years old would become angered and become a yōkai by some means other than the mere passage of time, and then cause a ruckus.[6][7] In the first place, the idea of becoming a yōkai once it's one hundred years old or is ninety-nine years old does not need to be taken literally, and it can be interpreted to be the idea that humans, plants, animals, or even tools would acquire a spiritual nature once it becomes old, and gain the power to change itself.[8][9][note 2] The yōkai that are depicted are not ones that gained the power to change themselves as a result of being used for a long time, but rather ones that were thrown away right before it, and became a yōkai through some different means.[11]


In the Tsukumogami Emaki, which depicted tsukumogami, it is written at the very beginning, "It's told in the Onmyō Zakki. A tool, after one hundred years pass, would change and acquire a spirit, and deceive people's hearts, and it's said these are referred to as tsukumogami," thus referring to changes or mutations of tools as "tsukumogami" (however, no book called the Onmyō Zakki has actually been confirmed to exist).[3] In the emaki, it's written that they can take on "the appearance of people male and female, old and young" (appearance of humans), "the likeness of chimi akki" (appearance of oni), and "the shape of korō yakan" (the appearance of animals), among others. Its form after its change/mutation is referred to with words such as "youbutsu" (妖物).

Even in emakimono that came before the Tsukumogami Emaki, paintings of yōkai based on tools can be confirmed, and in the Tsuchigumo Zōshi, there were depictions of gotoku (trivets) with heads, stamp mills with the body of a snake and two human arms attached to it, and a tsunodarai (four-handled basin) with a face and growing teeth, among others. Also, a face that appears to be what the tsunodarai is based on appears in the Yūzū Nenbu Engi Emaki (融通念仏縁起絵巻) and the Fudō Rieki Engi Emaki where a yakugami with almost the same appearance appears. However, all of these were not merely tools, but ones that are a hybrid with a tool or oni. This characteristic can also be seen in the Tsukumogami Emaki and the Hyakki Yagyō Emaki.[12]

The Hyakki Yagyō Emaki from the Muromachi period, author unknown. They are yōkai of tools, so they are commonly thought of as tsukumogami.

The Hyakki Yagyō Emaki from the Muromachi period also depicts many of what appear to be yōkai of tools. In the present day, these tools yōkai are thought to be depictions of tsukumogami, and it has been inferred that the parade depicted in the Hyakki Yagyō Emaki is likely the "youbutsu" (aged objects) of the Tsukumogami Emaki in a festival parade.[13]

Works about tools

In works about tools having a human personality, tools such as the "chōdo uta-awase" that would perform uta-awase can be found before the Muromachi period, and it is thought that these are close in concept to being the idea of "things that tools turn into" as depicted in the Tsukumogami Emaki.[14]

Understood by many Western scholars,[15] tsukumogami was a concept popular in Japanese folklore as far back as the tenth century,[16] used in the spread of Shingon Buddhism.[16]

In Japanese folklore

According to Elison and Smith (1987), Tsukumogami was the name of an animated tea caddy that Matsunaga Hisahide used to bargain for peace with Oda Nobunaga.[17]

Like many concepts in Japanese folklore there are several layers of definition used when discussing Tsukumogami.[18] For example, by the tenth century, the Tsukumogami myths were used in helping to spread the “doctrines of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism to a variety of audiences, ranging from the educated to the relatively unsophisticated, by capitalizing upon pre-existing spiritual beliefs in Tsukumogami.”[19] These “pre-existing spiritual beliefs” were, as Reider explains:

Tsukumogami are animate household objects. An otogizōshi (“companion tale”) titled Tsukumogami ki (“Record of tool kami”; Muromachi period) explains that after a service life of nearly one hundred years, utsuwamono or kibutsu (containers, tools, and instruments) receive souls. While many references are made to this work as a major source for the definition of tsukumogami, insufficient attention has been paid to the actual text of Tsukumogami ki.[16]

By the twentieth century the Tsukumogami had entered into Japanese popular culture to such an extent that the Buddhist teachings had been “completely lost to most outsiders,”[20] leaving critics to comment that, by and large, the Tsukumogami were harmless and at most tended to play occasional pranks, they did have the capacity for anger and would band together to take revenge upon those who were wasteful or threw them away thoughtlessly – compare mottainai. To prevent this, to this day some jinja ceremonies are performed to console broken and unusable items.

Known Tsukumogami

  • Abumi-guchi – A furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander that works for Yama Orochi.
  • Bakezōri – A possessed zōri (traditional straw sandals).
  • Biwa-bokuboku – An animated Biwa.
  • Boroboroton – A possessed Futon.
  • Chōchinobake – An animated lantern, also known as Burabura.
  • Ichiren-bozu – Animated prayer beads.
  • Ittan-momen – A roll of cotton.
  • Jatai – Possessed cloths draped from folding screens.
  • Kameosa – A possessed sake jar.
  • Kasa-obake – An animated paper umbrella. Also known as Karakasa-obake.[note 3]
  • Kosode-no-te – A possessed kimono robe.
  • Koto-furunushi – An animated Koto.
  • Kurayarō – Animated saddle
  • Kyōrinrin – Possessed scrolls or papers.
  • Menreiki – A spiritual creature formed out of 66 masks.
  • Minowaraji- An animated Mino straw coat
  • Morinji-no-okama – A possessed tea kettle. Another variation is Zenfushō
  • Shamichoro – An animated shamisen
  • Shirouneri – Possessed mosquito nettings or dust clothes.
  • Shōgorō – An animated gong
  • Ungaikyo – A possessed mirror.[citation needed]
  • Yamaoroshi – A possessed grater.
  • Zorigami – A possessed clock.
  1. Komatsu Kazuhiko, in the book 「器物の妖怪 - 付喪神をめぐって」(『憑霊信仰論』 講談社〈講談社学術文庫〉、1994年、326-342頁。ISBN 4-06-159115-0) used the word "Tsukugami" widely to include any yōkai, including animals, from the Edo period and before that originally came from tools.[1]
  2. Writing it as 九十九 ("ninety-nine") is not simply referring to a number, since the word was used since old times to loosely mean "many."[10]
  3. Although modern sources might guess that the kasa obake is a tsukumogami, the initial sources that introduced it made no such reference (see page for kasa-obake). Therefore, its true nature is unknown.

Difficulty in finding a definition

Because the term has been applied to several different concepts in Japanese folklore, there remains some confusion as to what the term actually means.[18][15] Today, the term is generally understood to be applied to virtually any object, “that has reached their 100th birthday and thus become alive and self-aware,” though this definition is not without its controversy.[18][21][15]

Suggested reading


  1. 小松 1994, p. 331.
  2. Classiques de l'Orient (1921), p. 193
  3. 1 2 3 田中 1994, pp. 172-181.
  4. 村上健司 『妖怪辞典』 毎日新聞社 2000年 221頁 ISBN 978-4-620-31428-0。小松和彦監修 『日本怪異妖怪大辞典』 東京堂出版 2013年 371頁 ISBN 978-4-490-10837-8。
  5. 小松 1995, p. 207.
  6. 小松 2007, pp. 170-172.
  7. 小松 1998, p. 189.
  8. 小松 2007, p. 180.
  9. 小松 1995, p. 203.
  10. 『熊野古道をあるく』 Jtbパブリッシング 2015年 34頁 ISBN 9784533104008
  11. 小松 2007, p. 169.
  12. 田中 1994, p. 170.
  13. 田中 2007, pp. 20-21.
  14. 田中 2007, pp. 172-181.
  15. 1 2 3 Motokiyo (1921), p. 195
  16. 1 2 3 Reider (2009), p. 207
  17. Elison & Smith (1987), p. 213
  18. 1 2 3 Classiques de l'Orient (1921), p. 194
  19. Reider (2009), pp. 207–208
  20. Guo (1984), p. 324
  21. Foster (2009), p. 7


  • 『室町時代物語大成』第9巻(たま-てん)角川書店
  • 平出鏗二郎 編校訂『室町時代小説集』 1908年 精華書院
  • 小松和彦 (1994). "器物の妖怪 - 付喪神をめぐって". 憑霊信仰論. 講談社学術文庫. 講談社. pp. 326–342. ISBN 4-06-159115-0. 
  • 小松和彦 (1995) [1992]. "第6章 つくも神". 日本妖怪異聞録. 小学館ライブラリー. 小学館. pp. 175–207. ISBN 4-09-460073-6. 
  • 小松和彦 (2007). 日本妖怪異聞録. 講談社学術文庫. 講談社. ISBN 978-4-06-159830-0. 
  • 小松和彦 (1998). "捨てられた小道具のお化けたち - 「もったいないお化け」と「つくも神」". 異界を覗く. 洋泉社. pp. 189–197. ISBN 4-89691-314-0. 
  • 田中貴子 (1994). 百鬼夜行の見える都市. 新曜社. ISBN 4-7885-0480-4. 
  • 田中貴子 (1999). "現代語訳『付喪神記』(国立国会図書館本)". 図説百鬼夜行絵巻をよむ. 河出書房新社. ISBN 978-4-309-76103-9. 
  • 田中貴子 (2007) [1999]. "百鬼夜行絵巻はなおも語る". 図説百鬼夜行絵巻をよむ (新版 ed.). 河出書房新社. ISBN 978-4-309-76103-9. 
  • Classiques de l'Orient. 5. 1921. 
  • Elison, George; Smith, Bardwell L., eds. (1987). Warlords, Artists, & Commoners: Japan in the Sixteenth Century. University of Hawaii Press. 
  • Foster, Michael Dylan (2009). Pandemonium and parade: Japanese monsters and the culture of yōkai. University of California Press. 
  • Guo, Leilani (1984). "Baka Histoire: le détournement de la mythologie japonaise dans les films, comices et nasties vidéo". In Marie Solange & Takehiko Kyo. Gaijin Culture. Kagoshima: Nishinoomote News Press. 
  • Motokiyo, Kwanze (1921). Cinq nô: drames lyriques japonais. Bossard. 
  • Reider, Noriko T. (2009). "Animating Objects: Tsukumogami ki and the Medieval Illustration of Shingon Truth". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 36: 231–257. 
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