Japanese Legends: Episode 2, the "Akaname"- The Modernist Son

Image Credit: Yokai.com


In order to expand my learning experience with Japanese folklore, I sought the help of YouTube video articles, as well as articles featured on the internet. Although some aspects of Japanese folklore draws from ancient India, there is also a vast amount of "mystical" creatures and narratives that originate within Japanese culture itself. Throughout my research, I stumbled upon a popular cautionary tale that exists in Japan. The folk narrative of the Akaname (which literally translates to "filth licker") exists as a means of scaring children into completing their household chores and specifically cleaning the bathroom. Drawing from the legend narrative itself, it is said that Akaname inhabits "filthy baths", "abandoned houses", as well as "unclean toilets". It is widely believed that parents living in Japan created this narrative within the last few centuries as a means of teaching their children the importance of completing household chores. With respect to the Akaname narrative, this attracted my attention because I recently published an article on the Mexican-American legend of the Chupacabra (at the time of originally writing this piece). Keeping that in mind, the legend of the Chupacabra operates as a cautionary tales that warns children of wandering into the woods at night.

The Legend Itself:

With respect to folkloric and cultural significance, the Akaname narrative is a tool used by parents as a means of teaching their children the importance of hospitality and household chores. However, the legend itself states:

Akaname are small, goblin-like yōkai which inhabit only the dirtiest homes and public baths. They are about the size of a child or a small adult, though they generally appears much smaller due to their hunching posture. Akaname have a mop of greasy, slimy hair on the tops of their heads. Their bodies are naked, and their skin is greasy like their hair. Akaname come in many colors and varieties, ranging from a dark, mottled green reminiscent of mold, to the ruddy pink of bedsores. They come in both one-eyed and two-eyed varieties, and can have anywhere from one to five fingers and toes. All akaname have an extremely long, sticky tongue. They use this to lap up the slime, grease, hair, and other filth found in bath houses and behind toilets. (Yokai.com)

It is almost certain the legend of the Akaname likely does not exist (although within a folkloric context that cannot be proven nor dismissed), given the aforementioned description of the creature it is evident that this cautionary tale is successful. Furthermore, it is not surprising that children are frightened by a creature that inhabits bathrooms that have not been cleaned. With respect to cautionary tales, narratives of this nature are also something which are often shared among parents.

Final Thoughts:

Although the original source of the Akaname narrative is more or less unknown, it is widely believed at some point parents in Japan fabricated this legend as a means of teaching their children lessons through this generated fear. Although at surface level this appears somewhat alarming given that parents have deliberately frightened their own children. However, that is not necessarily the case. Instead, parents within the last few centuries have created a legend narrative that remains relevant throughout Japanese folklore in the modern age and will probably continue. Honestly, I might use it on my own kids in a few years, or whenever I have my first child.

(c) The Modernist Son, 2020

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