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Tsukumogami from Hyakki Yako Emaki.

Tsukumogami (付喪神, "Kami of tool") is a term used to categorize a type of yōkai. Understood by many Western scholars as a type of Japanese yōkai, the Tsukumogami was a concept popular in Japanese folklore as far back as the tenth century, used in the spread of Shingon Buddhism. The most accepted definition of the term says that tsukumogami are inanimate objects that once they have served their owner/s for 100 years, they recieve a soul and therefore become alive and self-aware.

They are usually harmless, though they tend to play small pranks. Still, they have the capacity to get angry and can group up to take revenge against those who threw them away or didn't treat them well. For this reason, jinja ceremonies are performed in Japan to console broken and/or unusable objects.

In Japanese folklore

According to Elison and Smith (1987), Tsukumogami was the name of an animated tea caddy that Matsunaga Hisahide used to bargain for peace with Oda Nobunaga.

Like many concepts in Japanese folklore there are several layers of definition used when discussing Tsukumogami. For example, by the tenth century, the Tsukumogami myths were used in helping to spread the “doctrines of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism to a variety of audiences, ranging from the educated to the relatively unsophisticated, by capitalizing upon pre-existing spiritual beliefs in Tsukumogami.” These “pre-existing spiritual beliefs” were, as Reider explains:

Tsukumogami are animate household objects. An otogizōshi (“companion tale”) titled Tsukumogami ki (“Record of tool kami”; Muromachi period) explains that after a service life of nearly one hundred years, utsuwamono or kibutsu (containers, tools, and instruments) receive souls. While many references are made to this work as a major source for the definition of tsukumogami, insufficient attention has been paid to the actual text of Tsukumogami ki.

By the twentieth century the Tsukumogami had entered into Japanese popular culture to such an extent that the Buddhist teachings had been “completely lost to most outsiders”, leaving critics to comment that, by and large, the Tsukumogami were harmless and at most tended to play occasional pranks, they did have the capacity for anger and would band together to take revenge upon those who were wasteful or threw them away thoughtlessly – compare mottainai. To prevent this, to this day some jinja ceremonies are performed to console broken and unusable items.

Known tsukumogami