Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Animating Objects: Tsukumogami Ki and the Medieval Illustration of Shingon Truth

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Animating Objects: Tsukumogami Ki and the Medieval Illustration of Shingon Truth

Article excerpt

Tsukumogami are animate household objects. An otogizoshi ("companion tale") titled Tsukumogami ki ("Record of tool specters"; 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. The work is entertaining, and I believe that the principal motivation of the author(s) in writing it was 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. In this article I examine Tsukumogami ki and the popular practices and beliefs that are reflected in its text and illustrations. A complete translation of the work is included as an online supplement to this issue of the JJRS, at www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/jjrsMain.htm.

KEYWORDS: tsukumogami-otogizoshi-discarded objects-parodies-Shingon Buddhism-sokushin jobutsu

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THE RECENT pop culture boom in yokai ... (monsters) in Japan has brought about renewed interest in various native supernatural creatures, among which are tsukumogami ..., or "tool specters." Although animate tools appear sporadically in the literature of the late Heian period (794- 1185), the application of the name tsukumogami to animate objects is largely a medieval phenomenon, and portrayals and descriptions of tsukumogami increase notably in works of the medieval and Edo periods.1 According to a text entitled Tsukumogami ki ... (Record of tool specters) dated to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), after a span of one hundred years utsuwamono or kibutsu ... (containers, tools, and instruments) receive souls, and, like all things with individual souls, develop independent spirits and thus became prone to tricking people. These spirits are called tsukumogami. Resentful after having been abandoned by the human masters whom they so loyally served, the tools and utensils in Tsukumogami ki become vengeful and murderous specters. With imperial and Buddhist support, however, the wayward spirits learn to repent their malevolent ways, enter lives of religious service, and, in the end, attain Buddhahood through the Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism. The text emphasizes that the Shingon teachings enable even such nonsentient beings as tools and containers to attain enlightenment.

While many references are made to this text as a major source for the definition of tsukumogami, due attention has not been paid to the actual text of Tsukumogami ki. The tsukumogami story belongs to a genre called otogizoshi ..., or companion tales-short stories written from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century for the purpose of both entertainment and moral or religious edification.2 Befitting the otogizoshi genre, the story, while quite amusing, is markedly religious in tone. The Shingon tradition developed a sophisticated materialist cosmology, but outside the monastic institutions and the highly trained and educated few, the philosophy of objects was probably not so easily accessible or understandable to even the elite, let alone the majority of the medieval population. Komatsu Kazuhiko (1994, 338) writes that the text could have been employed to enhance Shingon Buddhist power. Indeed, I argue that the text was more than likely created to (re)claim Shingon's influence by highlighting the notion of sokushin jobutsu ... (realizing buddhahood in this very body), as exemplified in the case of Kukai ... (774-835), and asserting that the Shingon teachings enable even such nonsentient beings (hijo ..., mujo ...) as tools and containers to attain enlightenment.

Texts and Summary of Tsukumogami ki

The Tsukumogami ki3 story appears in a number of extant manuscripts with titles such as Hijo jobutsu emaki . …

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