A to Z: Kijimuna and Koropokkuru

Published April 12, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

This time, I couldn’t quite decide which one to do, and since they seem closely related (despite being from opposite ends of Japan), I thought I’d do them both.  (There must be something about K that makes it double:  the other contender for today’s post was the vampire hunter/vampire pair of enemies Kresnik and Kudlak.)

We’ll start with Kijimuna:

Image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

This little cutie is an Okinawan spirit.  (And on the 3DS screen, that body looks more like a green pine cone than something covered in leaves.  Guess there’s something to be said for a bigger screen…)  His text from the two Devil Survivor games is as follows:

A tree spirit of Okinawa.  They are about the size of babies and are covered in hair.

They are the spirits of old Chinese Banyan trees and are also known by the names of Kijimun and Bunagaya.  They love fish and crab, but if they eat one eye of a fish, they get tired of eating the rest and discard the remains.  They hate octopi and will run at the mere sight of one.

So, for those unfamiliar with Japan, Okinawa here refers to the island of Okinawa (it’s also the name of a Prefecture of Japan) one of the most southern islands of Japan.  (Or is it the most southern?  I’m a little unclear on whether the smaller islands that were formerly part of the Ryukyu Kingdom were annexed along with the rest of it.)  Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu chain of islands, which curve around very close to Taiwan.  Because of the short distances involved, Okinawa (and the rest of the Ryukyu Kingdom) had a large Chinese population, so Okinawan culture and language is different from that of the majority of Japan.  The Ryukyu Kingdom was annexed by Japan in the 1870s after a couple of centuries of Ryukyu paying tribute as a vassal state.  Okinawa remains distinctly different from the rest of Japan, more than a hundred years later.  (It’s also still the site of numerous US military bases, though what possible excuse there can be to still have military bases there more than seventy years after the end of WWII, I can’t imagine.)

As to the actual Okinawan version of the Kijimuna, the game text is pretty much dead on.  (This should not be a surprise, of course, being so close to home!)  Though the Wikipedia article says they merely live in trees, rather than being the spirits of them, and merely favor the Chinese banyan trees.  It also specifies that the other name, bunagaya, means “Large-headed”.  They’re mischievous little critters who love to play tricks on humans, and the hair covering them is supposed to be red.  This is what they’re actually supposed to look like:

Photo by えぬ, via Wikimedia Commons. Click for link.

Interestingly, Wikipedia also says that Tomba (eponymous lead of Tomba! and Tomba! 2 on the original Playstation) appears to be a Kijimuna…and it’s hard to argue with them; he does look a lot like that illustration.

Okay, so much for Kijimuna; on to Koropokkuru!

Again, image copyright Atlus, but provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

This little guy hails from the northern end of Japan, in Hokkaido.  The only text I have for him is from Persona Q:

Small human-like creatures, they have a kind, calm personality.  Once coexisting with the Ainu people, there was a falling out at some point, and they disappeared.

Which is not a lot, is it?  The wiki actually has several of his compendium entries available, but they’re pretty much all identical to the one above.  The Ainu are often compared to Native Americans:  an indigenous people marginalized in their own lands, and forced to assimilate into the culture of the invaders or live isolated from the majority of the population.  Not completely accurate, as it looks like modern scholarship believes the Ainu and the main Japanese culture group both had roots in the same early historic and pre-historic cultures.  However, despite having related cultures and languages, the basic comparison is still sound, as the Ainu were sidelined and expected to assimilate after their land was annexed by Japan.  (For those who are fans of anime, Ashitaka in the Studio Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke was an Ainu.)

Anyway, getting back to the Koropokkuru itself, the name is believed to mean “person under the butterbur leaf”, because due to their short stature, they lived in small pits with butterbur leaves for roofs.  (Rooves?  No, I guess it’s “roofs” after all.  Ugh, English, why you so crazy?)

The Ainu belief is that the Koropokkuru lived in Hokkaido before the Ainu arrived there, and that they were shy of being seen, but sent the Ainu presents of food and trade goods, using their small size and agility to avoid detection.  Well, one Ainu youth wanted to see their benefactors, so he laid in wait where the gifts usually appeared, and when he saw a hand putting a gift in place, he grabbed it and pulled the unsuspecting Koropokkuru out into the open.  It turned out to be a young woman, and she was so enraged at his behavior that she not only stormed off in a fury, but her people have never shown themselves to — or left gifts for — the Ainu since that day.

It’s a very typical “overstepping the bounds puts an end to the fairy blessings” story, but I can’t help reflecting that if that was the opening episode for an anime, the young man and the Koropokkuru girl would end up in love…  (And, actually, most of the other overstepping tales I can think of off-hand involve a love story of one sort.  Melusine, the selkie, the heavenly maiden with the feathered robe…there are a lot of them where the blessing was that of conjugal relations.)

An additional aspect of this story is the claim “Their pits, pottery, and stone implements, the Ainu believe, still remain scattered about the landscape.”  As soon as you get to the angle that this story was the Ainu explaining the presence of pre-historic objects found in their homeland that they didn’t think their people had made, you start entering very familiar territory indeed!  I believe the Hawaiian people had a similar belief about particularly ancient small-scale stoneworks (which were probably for isolating fish, if I recall), and it’s well known that the ancient Greeks didn’t think their ancestors would have been able to move the massive stones used in Mycenaean architecture, and that those walls therefore had to have been built by Cyclopes.  I’m sure there are similar stories from all over the world, in fact.  (I’m too tired right now to try to investigate, though.)

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