Japanese Entry 6: Kyuubi no Kitsune

“Goodness! Have I been found out?” The Kyubi no Kitsune (九尾の狐) or nine-tailed fox are said to be some of the most powerful creatures in all Japanese mythology. These creatures actually have their origins in ancient China, whose legends eventually seeped into Korea and then Japan. The Japanese fox legend intrigued me the most however, as they gave the fox a “process” so to speak when it came to achieving its nine tails. Foxes in Japan, like many animals, attain more and more power with age and are known to be some of the most powerful. Foxes are known to be able to manipulate flames known as “fox fire”, possess humans and sometimes inanimate objects, and of course shapeshifting. In fact, foxes seem to be the most well known and popular shapeshifter in Japan. They have a particularly hard time hiding their ears and tails while in a human form. For every hundred years that a fox keeps living, it grows a tail and with it more power. A fox will continue this process until it reaches one thousand years of age and gains its ninth tail. Once a fox has nine tails their hair turns either white or golden and they gain near god-like power. They become almost omniscient and can see and notice everything thousands of miles around them. The most powerful nine-tailed fox known exist was Tamamo-no-Mae or Lady Duck weed. She lived during the Heian period and while hiding as a concubine for emperor Toba, almost succeeded in killing him and possibly taking control of Japan. Her actions were said to have caused real life events such as the Genpei Wars, the end of the Heian era and the rise of the first shoguns. This character I designed heavily references Tamamo no Mae, while not actually being said fox. I have always loved the aesthetic of a powerful god like fox character paired with the beautiful twelve-layer robe. If she is not the famous Tamamo no Mae, then who is she? Osakabe-hime of Himeji castle perhaps? Her identity is hidden, just as her plans are behind that coy smile.

Japanese Entry 5: Junihitioe or ITSUTSUGINU-KARAGINU-MO

Here is a noble woman wearing a junihitoe (十二単) or twelve layered robe formally called itsutsuginu-karaginu-mo (五衣唐衣裳) first worn during the Heian Period lasting through 794 to 1185. The Heian period was known as the golden age for Japan, and it was during this time that Japan sought to be completely independent from Chinese influence. While they did take influence from china in the white make up and plucked eyebrows of the tang dynasty, the overall aesthetic became distinctly Japanese. This was the most apparent in women’s fashion. The most recognizable feature would first be the heavily layered junihitoe. This garment would consist of twelve kimono-like ropes carefully layered on top of each other in such a way that they would fan out and be splayed beautifully worn on top of a plain white silk robe and long trousers. The Heian court put much importance on color symbolism, so it was important to get the colors of the layers perfect and matching with the feeling of the current season. This different color palettes for these layers was known as kasane no irome (かさね の 色目). It was incredibly important for women to get these color combinations down perfectly lest they me made a laughingstock of the court and possibly even loose ranking (yes, fashion was THAT serious). The Heian court had an eye for the most delicate and subtle color differences that most people could only hope to replicate. It was also fashionable for women to wear their hair loose, and extremely long draping down to the floor. The longest record in the court was reportedly ten feet long! This long hair was also a move to abandon Chinese culture and the elaborate Tang hairstyles. Make up during this period was also highly important. First, they would powder their face with white rice powder, then they would color their lips red with pigment, and sometimes gloss the them with melted sugar. Women would also heavily pluck if not completely shave off their eyebrows and proceed to draw them much higher on either the brow bone or forehead with charcoal. It was also very common for both women and men to blacken their teeth with a charcoal mixture called ohaguro. It was a display of high status as well as a way to hide the yellowing of teeth. The Heian court was beautiful and delicate, but somehow rigorous and stressful at the same time. It would take a very organized and powerful mind to survive navigating this pool of aristocrats.

Japanese entry 4: Jorogumo

“How do I last? Bound to danger you say? Fufufu, oh my, what an interesting question. Well you see, one tends to last long when they ARE the danger and are the ones doing the binding!” In Japan, spiders are known to posess amazing supernatural abilities, with the jorogumo ( 絡新婦) or “whore spider” , being the most famous arachnid yokai. The legend goes that once a golden orb-weaver spider reaches the age of 400 years, they gain the ability to shapeshift and begins feeding on humans. Jorogumo are cunning, skillful deceivers who lure men looking for affection to the dens. They trap men in their impossibly strong webs and slowly poison them to weaken them. This process could last days at a time, letting the jorogumo enjoy her victims suffering slowly. Jorogumon are also known to control smaller fire breathing spiders as their minions. If she suspects someone might be on to her secret, she can stick a nearly invisible thread on to a victim as a means to have her minions follow them and burn down their house with the victim in it. Skillful they are at their craft that they are able accumulate hundreds of kills, even in human settlements. A jorogumo living in a bustling city could be at it for years and never be noticed. This concept of a killer spider in a bustling city really interested me, and I loved the idea of one taking up residence at the famous Yoshiwara red-light district of Edo. I also really enjoyed the idea of making her a courtesan, as the description is in her name “whore spider”.  How could a courtesan famous for her beauty and allure be racking kills over the span of years with no suspicion? It could explain as to why she is outliving all of her fellow Oiran in the other brothels. We simply do not know.

Japanese Entry 3: Oiran

This is a woman of the highest rank of courtesan in the red-light district of Edo known as the Oiran (花魁). Oiran are not simply prostitutes. They are highly educated in poetry, art, witty conversation, dance and are very adept at playing several traditional instruments. Women would have to be exceptionally beautiful, intelligent, and skilled in the arts in order to have just a hope of reaching this rank. They were the only women in this profession that could pick and choose customers. Even when a possible candidate came along, he would have to go through a long process simply to meet her, all while paying. There is no vulgarity or insulting an Oiran while being with her. A man must me at his utmost respectable behavior, lest the Oiran reject him after he had already paid large sums of money just to see her. For a typical commoner to spend a night with an Oiran it would take almost a years’ worth of wages and many men would only dream of seeing them. Most customers were wealthy lords, samurai, or merchants and their patronage to the oiran essentially kept the brothel afloat. Without the Oiran, the brothels would cease to exist, and as such these women were heavily guarded. They would also be nicknamed kesei(契情) or castle destroyer. This name implied that these women could bring a man to his feet with a single glance, much like a castle falls to an army. Despite this apparent power however, most courtesans did not last long in their profession. The work hours were long, abuse was commonplace, and disease was also a factor. The average lifespan of a courtesan who was not bought out by a patron as a wife was 23 years old. While they were powerful, fashion and trend setters, could be more assertive then a “respectable” woman, Oiran were still bound to danger most of the time.

Japanese Entry 2: Nekomata

“Hmmmm, what a cute nickname. This fool does not know how right he is, and it might just cause him his life!” Japan has a plethora of animals known to transform into humans. One of the more famous examples are of monstrous cats known as nekomata ( 猫また). The legends say that once a cat reaches a certain age, they gain magical powers, and in some cases their tales split in two. This variant of cat yokai are extremely powerful and are almost always malevolent. The nekomata living in the mountains are beastly and grow to monstrous sizes to join other packs of wild animals to attack humans. The nekomata living among humans are more intelligent. There are many stories of them eating their owners and taking their place in life. Other than shapeshifting, nekomata have razor sharp caws, can summon ghostly flames, and even raise the dead. The fear of nekomata was so prevalent that many cat owners would clip the tails of kittens to prevent them from splitting in two and becoming yokai. Some say this ended up in the development of the Japanese bobtail breed of cats. The depiction of nekomata wearing geisha attire is very popular and can be attributed to a couple of reasons. One is the nickname that patrons give geisha, neko or cat. The other reason being that the traditional instrument known as the shamisen (often played by geisha) was made using cate hide. It is a popular image to have a geisha nekomata playing a sorrowful song in memory of her fallen brethren (using them as an instrument adds to the irony). This was my main reason for designing these two characters. I also wanted a “mentor and student” relationship with the geisha being more mature and in control, while the maiko is rowdy and has more catlike characteristics showing. This seems as if though they have been discovered. By whom I wonder?

Japanese Entry 1: Geisha and Maiko Hikizuri

There are many forms of traditional entertainers and artists in Japan, but the most famous and iconic are undoubtedly the kimono(きもの) dawned Geisha (or Geiko) ( 芸子) and Maiko (舞妓) or apprentice Geisha. This profession gained its height during the Edo period which lasted from 1603 to 1868. Geisha and Maiko wear a special kind of kimono called Hikizuri (引きずり) literally meaning trailing skirt. Now a days this type of kimono is worn almost solely by Geisha and maiko, kabuki actors, other types of folk dancers, and brides. It used to be worn by upper class women as well as prostitutes (mostly in door wear) but it is extremely rare to see one in public. Contrary to popular belief, Geisha and Maiko were not and are not prostitutes. While their origin can be traced in prostitution, this is not their current purpose. This confusion came about when American soldiers went to Japan after the second world war and confused Geisha with Oiran and other sex worker (all of which traditionally wore kimono and similar makeup). In fact, originally, Geisha were all men in the past, and served more as court jesters in away. Female geishas emerged when a prostitute could not earn money on her own, so she learned dance and the arts to attract attention. This resulted in more women taking up that path, and then female geishas weree prohibited to sleep with customers and became sperate from sex work. The more obvious way to tell a Geisha and a courtesan apart would be in the way they tie their obi or sash. If the knot or bow of their obi is tied at their stomach, they are a courtesan. If the tie of their obi is tied at their back, they are a Geisha/Maiko. There are also differences between an apprentice and a geisha appearance wise. The apprentice Geisha (maiko) are dressed more festively and vibrant, and the actual Geisha are more subdued and mature in their appearance. Also, an interesting nickname given to geisha by patrons was neko (猫) or cat.

Korean Entry 6: Ungnyeo

I must hide my shame. For who would love a brutish woman like me? Before Buddhism becamw a major religion in Korea, they had their own folk traditions and legends. One such legend was the Ungnyeo(웅녀) or bear woman from the Korean creationism story. A tiger and a bear prayed to the heavens to become human and eventually the Gods gave them a task. They were told to stay out of sunlight and eat only garlic and mugwort for 100 days. The tiger failed and left the challenge, so the on the 21st day the bear won and was transformed into the first woman. Her lack of husband eventually drove her to depression however and caused her to pray to the Gods for a child. The God Hwanung was moved by her prayers and took her in as bride. In the original story, the bear woman complrtely transforms into a human, but I thought it would be interesting to design a half human-half bear woman, almost as if the transformation were incomplete. I wanted to make her physically very muscular. I felt that as a bear, her human parts would display her strength. This muscular figure would be the cause of major insecurities for her, as this is the exact opposite of the beaty standard. Like most supernatural animals, she would eventually gain the ability to shapeshift. She would use these abilities as to make herself not only look fully human, but also make herself as thin as possible. This would be an alternate story line of the Ugnyeong, had the arrangement with Hwanung not gone as planned. After all these gernerations, what caused her to reveal herself?

korean entry 5: Goguryeo Hanbok

This is a noblewoman wearing the predecessor to the hanbok during the Goguryeo Dynasty which lasted from 37BC to 668AD. During this time Korea was still being heavily influenced by China, so there are a few parallels with ancient Chinese fashion. This was the time however when Korea was becoming more and more distant from China as well, this being shown in the early development of the hanbok top and skirt. When the Goguryeo Kingdom fell, one of the supposed reasons was “the immorality of women” and as a result the following kingdoms held even tighter to traditional sexist Confucius ideals. As far as what was fashionable, women plucked their eyebrows, wore rouge on their cheeks, and were wanted generally quite thin. It is strange that there was so much expected of their appearance, but at the same time they were shamed for focusing so much on it at the same time.


“What a better place to observer them. Humans are as much fun as they are stupid”. What better place for a Dokkaebi to hide amongst humans? Dokkaebi (도깨비) often described as “Korean goblin” , are nature spirits who who have incredible powers which they use to either aid or play tricks on humans. They are often born from possession of inanimate objects and often take on fearsome appearances depending on the variation (the pointed teeth and ogre like visage being very common) usually accompanied by a tall blue flame known as dokkaebi fire and carry a club called dokkaebi bangmangi (도깨비 방망이). Despite their generally impressive appearance, dokkaebi are overall good natured and are mischievous at worst (with a few exceptions). They are very skilled in traditional Korean wrestling and often challenge humans to matches out of the blue. They are also depicted defending humans against evil spirits, bringing wealth and good harvest, and even punishing evil deeds. Dokkaebi come in an array of forms and variations, some with one leg, others with one eye and others taking human form. This variation is known as Gaksi dokkaebi (각시도깨비) or “maiden dokkaebi” known to attract humans with their beauty. I wanted to design a beautiful character but keep some of the more goblin like attributes. In this case, her club is disguised as a pipe with her goblin fire coming out of it. Since this is a maiden dokkaebi, I figured it would be interesting to see her navigate the world of gisaeng to observe human behavior. What is she looking for among the humans? We don’t know.

Korean Entry 3: Gisaeng Hanbok

This woman is a traditional Korean entertainer and on occasion courtesan known as gisaeng. Gisaeng were courtesans who were highly skilled in poetry, dance, conversation, and many other artforms. Despite being highly educated, they were part of the cheonmin class or “vulgar commoners”. This meant they were slaves to the government and had no hope of social advancement thanks to Koreas cast system. Despite this, gisaeng experienced freedom that many women from “respectable society” never experienced. Despite being in a heavily restricted and guarded station, gisang technically lived outside of many Confucius Korean ideals. They could be innovative with fashion and wear colors and jewelry reserved normally for noblewomen, speak their mind, travel locally, attend social gatherings, and intermingle with men. The virtue of a wife was to be chaste, reserved, stoic and loyal. A gisaeng was technically not expected to follow traditional norms and could be outspoken, witty, expressive and engaging. This gave them an allure irresistible to men who looked for an intellectual partner. Gisaeng were trendsetters with fashion, poetry, and many more artforms, which gave them immense cultural value and even a form of respect despite being considered the lowest of the commoner class.