Unlike my last post about Exeggutor, today’s Yokai in question is quite popular! That’s because Shigeru Mizuki brought the futakuchi-onna into pop culture during the 1960s in his series that would eventually be called GeGeGe No Kitaro.
This isn’t a post about Mizuki, but I’ll drop a brief background on him since he’s largely responsible for the abundance of traditional yokai appearing in anime and other Japanese media. Mizuki was a WWII veteran who lost his dominant arm in combat. He was the only survivor of his troop and was ordered to kill himself to restore honor to his family.
Of course, Shigeru Mizuki didn’t commit harakiri. He thought it was stupid. Good for him. It was stupid.
Instead, he settled down and became a Manga artist and a folklore historian. Imagine re-learning how to draw with your bad hand. What a persistent man!
Many of the themes in modern anime take influence from Shigeru Mizuki, from untrustworthy government undertones to invisible demon yokai tempting humanity. He died, aged 93, as a well-decorated hero in the world of modern art.
So, if you’re ever wondering why there’s an anime trope about evil governments, I’ll bet it has something to do with an officer ordering the forefather of anime to off himself. Probably left a bad taste in his mouth.
After taking one look at Mawile, it’s no stretch of the imagination that she’s based on the futakuchi-onna. Mawile’s name stems from the words Maw (Mouth) and Wile (Trickery)
Ruby: Mawile’s huge jaws are actually steel horns that have been transformed. Its docile-looking face serves to lull its foe into letting down its guard. When the foe least expects it, Mawile chomps it with its gaping jaws
Sapphire: Don’t be taken by this Pokémon’s cute face – it’s very dangerous. Mawile fools the foe into letting down its guard then chomps down with its massive jaws. The steel jaws are really horns that have been transformed.
Fire Red/Leaf Green: It uses its docile-looking face to lull foes into complacency, then bites with its huge, relentless jaws.
Black/White: Attached to its head is a huge set of jaws formed by horns. It can chew through iron beams.
Futakuchi-Onna translates to English as the two-mouthed woman. Let’s set aside Mawile’s gaping mile-long venus flytrap mouth that she has protruding from the back of her head. There are a few extra subtleties she shares with our yokai in question:
The Futakuchi-Onna is said to be a petite and supple young woman with long black hair. Upon first glance, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about her.
Mawile pays homage to this with her semblance of black hair. According to her Pokedex entries, she seems to hide her extra appendage pretty well. She’s even called the “deceiver” pokemon.
To convey traditional beauty, futakuchi-onna were always depicted as wearing kimono dresses or hakama skirts.
Again, Mawile has legs that resemble a hakama.
In western Japan, the popular belief is that the futakuchi-onna is a shapeshifted Kumo. Kumo are a complete bestiary of nasty-looking mega-spiders.
This story begins with a miser man. The man works tirelessly and reaps bountiful harvests of rice. He tucks it away in an enormous storage room, fit to feed a large family. He was also abnormally stingy.
The old man didn’t have a family. At an early age, he made it a point never to marry. His heart was filled with the frigid chill of fear. Fear of loss. Fear of sharing his hard work. Fear of epidemic.
One fateful afternoon the man was running his daily errands around town. He fumbled eyes upon a woman who was an abnormally peckish eater. Some stories state that this woman never ate at all. This piqued the miser’s interest. Perhaps a selfish man like himself wouldn’t have to die alone, after all!
The woman was slender and pale with lustrous jet black hair. Her refulgent eyes would swoon like the roaring tides of the ocean. She was truly a magnificent sight to behold!
He invited the woman over for dinner. Still, the woman did not eat. The old miser could barely contain his excitement!
She proved herself yet again with tireless labor in the fields.
It was decided. Our old miser would court this blessing of a woman and marry her.
So he did. Quite hastily.
The night after these two tied the knot, something was amiss. His precious rice reserve dwindled. No changes occurred in his wife’s mannerisms. She still sat politely and motionless at dinner. She continued to work hard in the fields.
The trend continued for weeks. Little by little, the miser’s rice stock would steadily shrink.
After ruling out bandits and wildlife, the old miser had nowhere else to point his finger than at his very own well-mannered wife. He was now certain his wife was up to nefarious eating habits or worse – selling off his beloved storage in secrecy.
One day, the miser planned to trick his wife by pretending to go to work – so he could spy on her daily routine. He was successful. His delicate young wife went about her business as usual.
Some time passed, and the woman approached the rice supply with gentle, elegant steps. She lifted her tender hands and let down her hair. Once it was loose, the back of her skull began to crack with the resounding magnitude of an earthquake.
From that crack emerged a mouth with thick ravenous lips, teeth sharpened like fangs, and a long tongue.
The woman kneeled politely as though she were nothing more than an absent-minded host. Meanwhile, the mouth on the back of her head began to cackle. It mumbled spiteful words to the woman. It threatened her.
Finally, the hair split into tendrils resembling the appendages of a fierce octopus. The second mouth began to gorge itself uncontrollably. With each passing bite, it made alarming groans and raspy hisses. It gurgled and it growled. No amount of food seemed to satiate the ravaging beast.
In the early moments of waning sunlight, the miser returned home. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. His wife did not eat her meal. She sat polite and motionless.
The old miser threatened to divorce her. He was not pleased that he had been deceived.
The woman sat silent. She absorbed his vocal punches with a level of tenacity fit for the owner of an opium den.
Later that evening, when the miser was taking a bath, the woman appeared in the doorway. Her eyes were hollow. From the back of her head loomed a chorus of threatening whispers. She let down her hair unapologetically and the ever-famished, hellacious fat lips emerged once again.
The futakuchi-onna hauled the man off to the mountains with his bathtub still intact. She threatened to boil him in that tub and swallow him whole. Her voice was coarse. Her ladylike mannerisms were now consumed by the explosive fuel of hatred.
He escaped and hid in a heavily scented lily marsh. It took him a few days to gain the courage to return home. When he did, his rice storage was decimated. Every grain from within its confines devoured. Large bites were taken out of furniture. Holes were scattered around the property.
The villagers told him that the woman had been seen in town spending all of his money on food the day he disappeared. They hadn’t seen a trace of her since.
The old miser spent the rest of his days poor. He was reduced to nothing more than a village beggar. He spent the rest of his days afraid the futakuchi-onna would someday return to seek vengeance on him for his harsh words and selfish behavior.
He died alone, scared, and starving.
In Eastern Japan, the story changes a bit. The futakuchi-onna is commonly believed to be a shapeshifted yama-uba. The yama-uba is an old mountain hag who was left in the wilderness to starve to death by her family.
Over time she grew corrupted and spiteful.
In this version, the woman is cursed for cruel behavior. Every night she feeds her children generously, except for her step-child.
She carries on starving the step-child until the child dies.
A few months pass. One fateful evening the husband allegedly slices the woman’s head with an axe. Miraculously, she survives.
Although it wasn’t a miracle at all. Her head began to ache with immeasurable pain. It began to speak.
The neglected step-child came to life as a mouth in the back of the wicked step-mother’s head. Destined to curse the woman for the rest of her life.
From there we get overlapping imagery. We’ve just shifted the curse to a different person with inhumane behavior.
You might be asking yourself, “who comes up with this stuff?”
This is a cautionary tale where the original moral became lost in time. We know it spawned from the Edo period. This was a time when ronin samurai roamed the land twirling blades for vigilante justice over feudal Japan.
More specifically, estimated around 1640-1643 there was the Kan’ei Great Famine. A large skirmish broke out where a 16-year-old ronin samurai led peasants and a group of samurai onward to the Shimabara Rebellion.
Their reasoning was the same story you’ve heard a thousand times before. They were sick of paying heightened taxes to pay off a castle expansion for their lord.
Most of those recruited peasants were rice farmers. They lost the battle. An estimated 37,000 rebels and sympathizers were sentenced to death.
A volcano eruption took place. Volcanic ash contaminated nearby crops with deadly toxins.
A virus called rinderpest infected the cattle livestock throughout the country.
Things were looking bad. Families in Kyoto were abandoning children to feed to dogs. Elsewhere, children were abandoned in the wilderness to starve. In places like Aizu, parents were feeding their children infanticides to any family member under seven years old.
Children were being sold off to slave labor.
In 1642, the Japanese shogunate outlawed tobacco growth and shut down breweries, and ordered the citizens to put their efforts into famine relief.
Mawile is easily one of the most innovative pokemon designs from generation 3. Believe me, we’ll be covering plenty more yokai origins from the Pokemon franchise. They’re all quite beautiful in their own twisted and unique way.
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