Inugami are one of the more tragic yokai. Malicious onmyoji perform a terrible ritual to bring these loyal dog servants into being.
The Meaning Behind its Name
- Kanji: 犬神, the first character 犬 means dog, while 神 the second, kami, means god, so the direct translation of this yokai’s name would be dog-god. Another way of writing it is 狗神, with 狗 being a different character for dog.
- Pronunciation: いぬがみ or Inu-gami. In Kuma and Yakushima in Kumamoto Prefecture, it is pronounced “Ingami” and in Tanegashima they are called “Irigami”.
The Origins of the Inugami
Inugami as Magical Familiars
Inugami are most frequently known as the dog familiars of Onmyoji or other magic practitioners in Western Japan. They are created through rituals called kojutsu (also called “kodō” or “kodoku), which have been banned in Japan since the Heian era, 1000 years ago. (Also they are probably banned in most places under the grounds of animal cruelty today, at least, I hope…)
There are several detailed descriptions of the way to create an inugami, all of them gruesome, so if you are squeamish, you may want to skip these next few paragraphs:
- In one, a faithful dog is starved to death, then its head is buried beneath a crossroads, to turn its soul into an onryo, a kind of vengeful spirit. The dogs spirit is then tempted with the food it could not eat while it was alive, so that it becomes obedient to its master once again. The corpse’s mummified head is then kept hidden away, in a jar, under the floorboards or in a storage chest, so that its spirit remains bound to the person who performed the ritual.
- Another variation of this story also involves starving a dog, by burying it or by chaining it up just out of reach of food, until it goes crazy from hunger. At that point, the ritual practitioner cuts off its head which flies away towards the food. The dog’s body is then burned and its bones and head stored away, letting the spirit of the dog supposedly remain on earth to do the bidding of the person who performed the ritual.
- The final method is to allow several dogs to fight to the death. The winning dog is then given some fish to eat, but before it can finish, its head is cut off. The practitioner then eats the remainder of the fish, and once again, keeps the head.
Inugami as Supernatural Creatures
There are several other local legends that record inugami, not as spirits created from dogs, but as separate supernatural animals, with powers in their own right (some of which don’t look like dogs at all!) These inugami can possess humans in a phenomenon similar to kitsunetsuki, the possession of a person by a fox’s spirit. They are common in areas of Japan where there are fewer or no foxes to be found, leading to the theory that their legends are replacements for those of the kitsune in other regions. There are several different stories about the creation of these supernatural beasts:
- One legend says that an inugami, a dog-god, was created when a nue (a chimerical yokai composed of various animals, but in this particular legend made of the head of a monkey, body of a dog and tail of a snake) was killed by Minamoto no Yorimasa. Upon its death, the legend says that the body of the Nue split into three “gods” a snake-god (hebigami), monkey-god (sarugami) and dog-god (inugami).
- There is a tale that an inugami was born from Kōbō-Daishi‘s painting of a dog, which he created to ward off boars.
- A legend says that when Gennō Shinshō attempted to calm the curse of a sessho-seki (a “killing stone”) by splitting the stone, the fragments that flew off to Kōzuke Province (now Gunma Prefecture) turned into osaki (a kind of spirit possessing fox) and the fragments that flew to Shikoku became an inugami.
This kind of dog is not bound to a human as a familiar, in fact, it may not even always ressemble a dog… but more on that in the next section!
The Inugami’s Appearance
Inugami as Magical Familiars
Inugami as dog spirits created through ritual, look like ordinary dogs accompanying their master, although their true form is the head of the dog’s corpse, which is kept hidden away. However, in traditional Japanese prints, inugami are often portrayed as dogs wearing humans’ clothing. These dog spirits can also take other forms, through possession of humans, other animals and even inanimate objects.
Inugami as Supernatural Creatures
Inugami, in particular the supernatural wild animal rather than the human-controlled spirit, have many variations in their depiction. In some regions they are not described as dogs at all, but instead more like weasels or mice:
- In the town of Toyooka, in Ōita, they are said to be a kind of weasel covered in black and white spots.
- On the island of Aishima, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, they are called “inugami nezumi” (which translates to inugami mice). So in theory, they have the appearance of mice.
- On the mountain of Iyayama, in Tokushima Prefecture, they are also called “suikazura,” and they are said to be a bit larger than mice. Supposedly, they like to warm themselves by the fireside.
- In the book Chiriyahokori by the Oka Kumaomi, it is stated that inugami have a body length of 1 shaku and 1 sun and look like bats.
- Finally, in Asai Ryōi’s Otogi Bōko, the inugami of Tosa Province was said to have a body length the size of a rice grain and be colored with patches of black and white.
Stories about the Inugami
Long, long ago, an old woman was consumed with hatred against a powerful enemy, and decided to use her faithful dog as a means of vengeance. She buried him in the ground, all but the head, and after fondling him addressed him with the words: “If you have a soul, kill my enemy and I shall worship thee as a deity”-and then cut off the pet’s head with a bamboo- saw. The dog fulfilled her wish, but out of resentment at having been so cruelly killed then haunted her house, and made her suffer for the pain inflicted.Rev. Walter Weston, Mountaineering in the Japanese Alps
In Kyushu, people once believed that there were certain families who possessed inugami. These families were called inugami-mochi. The techniques for creating new inugami as well as the servant inugami already created were passed down through the family line. Supposedly, the presence of inugami would bring these families great wealth, but being an inugami-mochi family also carried great risk and a reputation. It was frowned upon to marry into such a family, and great pains were taken to ensure that the in-laws were not inugami-mochi before a woman’s marriage.
If an inugami-mochi family was accused of using their inguami to bring harm or possess another villager, they would have to perform a ritual to heal the person possessed, and then they and all their descendants would be ostracized from the village, forced to live in a remote hut for all future generations.
Inugami-mochi, or people who use inugami also seemed to be predominantly female and were often the village outcast.
In every buraku (hamlet) there is at least one woman with an unsavoury reputation as an inu-gami-mochi, or sorceress by means of the dog spirit, a dog-spirit carrier.John F. Embree in Suye Mura a Japanese Village, Univ. of Chicago press
In this case, the inugami-mochi has a role is similar to the village witches of medieval Europe: a woman with an animal familiar and supernatural powers, feared and avoided by the rest of the village.
However, there is only one actual record of inugami being created: in Yamaga, in Ōita Prefecture there were actual cases where a miko did cut off dogs’ heads. They dried the maggots that grew on the heads, then sold them. And… apparently people actually bought these magical dried maggots…
Inugami in Modern Media
- An inugami appears in the 2001 Film by Tohou Cinema, based on the novel Inugami by Masako Bando.
- An inugami appears in Season 5, Episode 17 of the show Grimm. The episode is actually titled “Inugami”.
- In Yo-kai Watch, the Inugami is a gray and silver fox Yokai, who has the same appearance as Kyubi, but with different coloring. It is called Frostail in the English dub. The game also has the character Hijiri Inugami, or “Holy Inugami”, a Christmas variant of Frostail.
- The Megami Tensei series includes the Inugami as an early game recruitable demon. First appearing in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, the Inugami specializes in fire, ailment, and support-based skills.
- In Gintama, an inugami appears as a pet of one of the characters
- In Gugure Kokkuri-San, one of the main characters is an inugami named Inugami.
- The manga Inugami by MasayaHokazono is about a boy who finds an inugami.
- In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, one of the main characters, Kotarô Inugami, is half human and half inugami. He can also summon inugami spirits himself.
- In the manga of Amatsuki, one of the main characters, Kuchiha, is possessed by an inugami.
- In Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, there also appears an evil Inugami under the leadership of the raccoon dog yōkai, Inugamigyobu Tamazuki.
- The manga Inukami! by Mamizu Arisawa, is about a boy whose clan summons inukami. In this manga, the mangaka chose not to use the dakuten in the term inugami.
- In the Inuyasha manga, the title character is a hanyou (half-yōkai) born of an Inugami family. His father Inu no Taisho was a legendary Inugami. Inuyasha’s older half brother Sesshomaru is also a powerful Inugami.
- In the light novel Engaged to the Unidentified, Kobeni Yonomori’s fiancé, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law are all inugami.
- The practice of inugami possession appears in Masako Bando ‘s novel Inugami, on which the 2001 film is based.
Similar to inugami are shikigami, another kind of supernatural spirit controlled by powerful sorcerers. You can read my article about shikigami here!
For Further Reading
- Casal, U. A. “The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan.” Folklore Studies, vol. 18, 1959, pp. 1–93. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1177429. Accessed 26 Jan. 2020.
- John F. Embree: A Japanese Village: Suye Mura, Univ. of Chicago Press
- Weston, W. (1896). Mountaineering and exploration in the Japanese Alps. London: J. Murray.
- Takeshi Abe, Adam Beltz: The Negima Reader: Secrets Behind the Magic. DH Publishing Inc, 2007, ISBN 1932897240, page 49–51.
- Stephen H. Sumida: And the View from the Shore: Literary Traditions of Hawaiʻi. University of Washington Press, 1991, ISBN 0295970782, page 228.
- Moku Jōya: Mock Jōya’s Things Japanese. Japan Times, Tokyo 1985, page 408–412.
- Herbert E. Plutschow: A reader in Edo period travel. Global oriental, 2006, ISBN 1901903230, page 16–19.
- Michaela Haustein: Mythologien der Welt: Japan, Ainu, Korea epubli, Berlin 2011, ISBN 3844214070, page 19.
- Keiko I. McDonald: Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu 2006, ISBN 082482993X, page 11.
- Hino 2006 , p. 234
- Ohto et al . 1955 , pp. 108-130
- Asai Ryōi “Gaya婢子- dog papier-mache ” Todo憶斗translation, Suzuki publication <Edo ghost story collection>, 2001, 139 pages. ISBN 978-4-7902-1101-3 .
- Ishizuka 1977 , pp. 56-59
- “Youkai Book: The Legend of Hyakki Yoko Wriggling in the Darkness of Another World”, Yukio Nakamura et al., Gakken <New sight mook>, 1999, pp. 38-39. ISBN 978-4-05-602048-9 .
- Tada 2008 , pp. 296-298
- Yoshida 1978 , pp. 32-34
- Tokihiko Ohto et al., Comprehensive Japanese Folk Vocabulary, Vol. 2, Institute for Ethnology, edited by Kunio Yanagida , Heibonsha , 1955, p. 764. NCID BN05729787 .
- Komatsu 2015 , pp. 68″Possession” edited by Sadayoshi Kida , Rio Yamadano , Hobunkan Publishing , 1975 , p.192 . NCID BN02663117 .
- Kimura Kobune et al ., Daigoen, Vol. 1, edited by Konami Iwatani , famous book promotion society, 1978, 446-447. NCID BN02844836 .
- Takashi Ishizuka, “The Possession of Japan: Seishin is still alive”, Miraisha , 1977. NCID BN02482167 .
- Tokhiko Ohto et al., Comprehensive Japanese Folk Vocabulary, Vol. 1, Institute for Ethnology, supervised by Kunio Yanagida , Heibonsha , 1955. NCID BN05729787 .
- Katsumi Tada, “Youkai Picture Book: A Hundred Tales of Kyoka,” edited by Natsuhiko Kyogoku and Katsumi Tada, National Book Publishing Association, 2008. ISBN 978-4-3360-5055-7 .
- Iwao Hino and Suihiko Hino, “Japanese Yokai Change Vocabulary”, “Animal Youkai Tan”, under Kenji Murakami , Chuokoron Shinsha ( Chuko Bunko ), 2006. ISBN 978-4-12-204792-1 .
- Teigo Yoshida, “Social Anthropological Study of Possessions in Japan,” Chuokoron Shinsha ( Chuko Shinsho ), 1978. ISBN 978-4-12-100299-0 .
- Kazuhiko Komatsu and Yoshiyuki Iikura supervised by “Japanese monster” Takarajimasha , 2015. ISBN 978-4-8002-3915-0 .