It’s time to Rokurokubi!

Here’s a youkai that you might have seen, it’s something of a classic. The long-necked woman, also known as Rokurokubi (轆轤首).

Hokusai_rokurokubi

Rokurokubi looks completely normal during the day, but at night, during the relaxed state of sleep, she will show her true self.

The youkai with the ever-stretching neck. The direct translation of her name is a neck as long as rope. Supposedly, around the neck you can see wrinkles and veins, not unlike stretch marks.

There are some that consider Rokurokubi as youkai, but there are also some who think they’re just normal people with a strange affliction. There’s a story of a man, who upon spending the night with a geisha, watched as her neck started to stretch in her sleep, up to a foot in length. He wrote that he thought it was a sign of her relaxed state in her sleep that allowed her neck to uncoil, so to speak.

Another school of thought considered this long-neck-ness as a sign of the spirit detaching from the living body. An out-of-body experience, if you will.

In an Edo period essay, there was a story from the Fukui district speaks of a family, where the husband was traveling for work, leaving only his two sons and his wife at home. So his wife hired a maidservant, but this maidservant had an affliction where there was always phlegm caught in her throat and she could be heard mumbling in her sleep from it. One night, the wife peeked into the maidservant’s room and saw something round moving near the sliding door. It turned out to be the maidservant’s head, trying to leave through the door, but all the while, she could still hear her making those mumbling noises.

It was thought that what the wife saw wasn’t actually the maidservant’s head, but her spirit detaching from her body, and for people with a lot of phlegm, the spirit had the appearance of a head.

Generally speaking, Rokurokubi are female, and there’s even a saying that it’s a kind of affliction that can be passed from mother to daughter.

Interestingly, most of the stories of the Rokurokubi, don’t seem to include any acts of vengeance or violence towards another person. Nothing that shows them stalking or attacking people. The stories they feature in seem to stem from happenstance, or the fascination finding proof to see if a certain woman was a Rokurokubi, without any indication if the woman in question is aware of her own state. Perhaps that’s why the Rokurokubi might be considered a bodily condition rather than a creature.

Sources:

日本神妖博物誌 作者: 多田克己 譯者:歐凱寧

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