The Dōbutsuen: Shōjō

The Dōbutsuen: Shōjō

The culture of Japan was heavily influenced by China in the past, and so it isn’t a surprise that many Japanese spirits borrow their identity from Chinese culture, picking up Japanese characteristics on the way. It is from China that the next Dōbutsuen creature, the shōjō, finds its origin.

Shōjō [猩猩]

The shōjō is a type of spirit which lives near water. It very much resembles human beings, except that it has a red face, red fur and in most depictions, a tail. Shōjō are famed for their great love of alcohol, and in Japan are closely connected to sake [酒] in folk tales.

The characters which describe the shōjō in Japanese and in Chinese are also used for the orang-utan, which the creature greatly resembles, though in Chinese you would pronounce the word as xīng xīng which can also be read as ‘lively’. In China the shōjō is known as the ‘live-lively’ ape and considered a delicacy.

Shōjō are renowned for their extraordinary mental powers, particularly regarding human names. It is a very unwise idea to try to trick or trap a shōjō as they know immediately the name of the person who has wronged them, and even the names of their anscestors. The curse of a shōjō is particularly feared.

It is said that a statue or figurine of a shōjō can cure smallpox.

There is Japanese tale called Shiroi Sake [白い酒] or ‘White Sake’ about a family of shōjō who lived on a beach near the famous Mount Fuji.

There was a dutiful son whose father was gravely ill. No doctor could cure him of his illness and so, the father, believing his time had come, called his son to him and told him of his final wish. Before his death, he said, he wanted to have a drink of sake.

The son was greatly grieved as he loved his father dearly and did not want to leave him alone. However, he was an obedient son and pure of heart, so he obeyed his father’s wish and left him to search for the wine. The son’s search eventually brought him to the shore close to the great mountain, where he found a group of the red shōjō. They were having a drinking party on the sands.

The son knew that shōjō were noble creatures and so he revealed himself and told them of his quest. The shōjō were touched by the young man’s sad story and so gave him some of their wine. He returned home and gave the wine to his father to drink.

The next morning, the son was amazed to see that his father was much better. He saw that the sake the shōjō had given him was magical and so returned to the shōjō to ask them for more. The shōjō gladly gave him more sake and he returned each day for five days until his father was completely healed.

A covetous man who lived nearby saw how the father had returned almost from the grave and was amazed. When he heard that that the father had been cured by special sake, he wanted a drink for himself. However to his dismay, the sake made him sick. Believing the sake was bad, the greedy neighbour made the son take him to the shōjō to ask for better sake.

The shōjō explained to the neighbour that as his heart wasn’t pure, the sake had poisoned him. Fearing for his life, the neighbour repented of his greed. Seeing that his heart was now pure, the shōjō cured him of his sickness and he returned to the village a changed man.

Photo credit: nao-cha @ Flickr

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