Sometimes yokai are terrifying monsters, sometimes yokai are otherworldly nature spirits, and sometimes…. they’re the akaname. A toilet licking yokai with a tongue twice as long as it’s body, the akaname is one of the most comedic creatures to have ever graced the pages of Japanese folklore.
The Meaning Behind the Name
垢嘗: “垢” means “dirt” and “嘗” means “to taste”, so the direct translation of this yokai’s name is “dirt taster”. It is also known by the name “垢舐り” or “akaneburi” which translates to “dirt licker”.
あかなめ, or A-ka-na-me
The Origins of the Akaname
According to the Kokon Hyakumonogatari Hyōban, the akaneburi (it uses this term rather than akaname) is born of the very filth it consumes. Thereafter, it lives in the dirty bathrooms and bathhouses where it was born, licking up the mold, scum and slime from inside the bathtub, behind the toilet and on the floor.
The first depiction and description of an akaname was in Toriyama Sekien’s Gazu Hyakki Yagyō Zen Gashū, in the year 1776 (featured in the image above).
The Appearance of the Akaname
From the word “aka” in its name, the akaname is often thought of as being red (although the “aka” in this case means “filth”). However, the akaname can also come in shades of moldy green, like in Utagawa Yoshikazu’s print below. It has a short, twisted body always hunching, like that of a Western goblin. Additionally, like a goblin, it is about the size of a child. According to the book “Truth in Fantasy” it has cropped hair. This black hair is slimy, and hangs down messily over its head. Furthermore, it can have either one or two eyes. It also has a variable number of fingers and toes (between 1 and 5), however its toes always end in claws.
The akaname’s most prominent feature is its oversize tongue, which it uses to lick up the filth it consumes.
Legends about the Akaname
Akaname are shy, and will hide when they sense a human’s approach. However, most people find them creepy, and would prefer not to bump into one during a late night bathroom break.
Fortunately, they’re easy to keep away. In the same way that lice prefer to inhabit dirty hair, the akaname only appear in bathrooms which are dirty and so full of food for them to eat.
So, as the legend goes, if you want to keep the akaname away, you had better clean your bathroom!
The Akaname in Modern Media
Sadly, the akaname has only made a few recent appearances:
- In Gegege no Kitaro by Sakaiminato Mizuki, in the story Kamanari (1971)
- The Akaname appears in the anime and video game franchise Yo-kai Watch.
- It could have inspired the Pokémon character Lickitung.
- It is featured in the anime Gegege no Kitaro: in Series 2, Episode 28 (1972), Akaname; in 33 of the third anime adaption, Yōkai Akaname’s Sorrowful Counterattack; in the third movie based on the third anime adaption, GeGeGe no Kitarō: Saikyō Yōkai Gundan! Nippon Jōriku!!; in episode 16 of the fourth anime adaption, Akaname and Shiro-Uneri, and in episode 23 of the sixth anime adaptation, The Yōkai Apartment Secret Story.
- The Akaname is a character in the book “The Filth Licker” by Cristy Burne.
I wonder how the akaname would fit into the modern world. What would it think about the modern Japanese toilets with their automatic self cleaning functions? Let me know in the comments below!
References and Resources for Further Reading
- Learn more about the other inhabitants of Yokai Street here!
- On oni and other Japanese demons: Reider, Noriko T., “Japanese Demon Lore” (2010). All USU Press Publications. 59. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/usupress_pubs/59
- The original source: Toriyama, Sekien (July 2005). Toriyama Sekien Gazu Hyakki Yagyō Zen Gashū (in Japanese). Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., Ltd. pp. 10–65. ISBN978-4-04-405101-3.
- For a fun fantasy adventure: Burne, Cristy, and Siku. The Filth Licker. Frances Lincoln Childrens Books, 2012.
- On other video game characters related to yokai: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/04/8-videogame-characters-based-on-japanese-folklore.html
- On other bathroom yokai: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/japans-bathroom-ghosts
- About the Sakaiminato Mizuki Shigeru Road (a road lined with yokai statues): http://www.sakaiminato.net/c817/roadmap/bronze/016/
- 山岡元隣「古今百物語評判」『江戸怪談集』下、高田衛編・校中、岩波書店〈岩波文庫〉、1989年（原著1686年）、344-345頁。ISBN 978-4-00-302573-4。
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