Saturday, 9 January 2010



摘自 搜神記

In the middle of the Jingchu era in the Cao Wei Empire, strange events occurred in the home of the magistrate of Xianyang. Each night, inexplicable sounds of revelry could be heard; however, nothing can be observed despite lying in wait. The mother of the magistrate was up one night until she became tired, whereupon she rested her head on a pillow. After a while, there came a call from under the stove: ‘Why do you not come as arranged?’ The pillow beneath her head replied: ‘I am being used as a pillow, and I cannot come. You could come and drink with me here.’ In the morning, the rice-scoop was discovered to be the pillow’s interlocutor. They were gathered together and burned, after which these strange occurrences ceased.

excerpted from In Search of the Supernatural (4th Century Chinese Compilation)


A friend of mine felt that perhaps a pillow and a rice-scoop are symbolic. My inclination is to say that they are more akin to tsukumogami ('artifact spirits'). According to Wikipedia:

Though by and large tsukumogami are harmless and at most tend to play occasional pranks on unsuspecting victims, as shown in the Otogizōshi they do have the capacity for anger and will band together to take revenge on those who are wasteful or throw them away thoughtlessly. To prevent this, to this day some Jinja ceremonies, such as the Hari Kuyou, are performed to console broken and unusable items.

It is said that modern items cannot become tsukumogami; the reason for this is that tsukumogami are said to be repelled by electricity.[1] Additionally, few modern items are used for the 100-year-span that it takes for an artifact to gain a soul.

Another story in a different compilation of supernatural stories I came across features an old pillow (belonging to the ancestors of the protagonist) which has assumed human form. This human figure has no facial features (presumably because pillows are flat and featureless). This pillow got burned too - because someone said that it is evil and will be murderous (the idea is that the longer you leave these objects they older and more powerful they become?).

My general impression of tsukumogami is that they are rather ambivalent - they can be good or bad. So maybe burning them is the safer option.

The idea that objects have life and feelings and don't like to be wasted reminds me of this Spike Jonze IKEA advert.

The idea that the new one is much better is obviously quite consumerist. Are tsukumogamis everywhere crying for the little lamp?