On May 24, the “doge meme” Shiba Inu passed away. Her real name was Kabosu, named after the Japanese citrus fruit. The internet knew her for her endearing, goober smile and general similarity to a real-life cartoon character. The fact that her image was later used to peddle cryptocurrency is not her fault. She was a good dog. 

As was Hachiko, the famous Akita who kept visiting Shibuya Station to meet his master for years after the man’s death. Japanese history is full of good dogs. When it comes to Japanese mythology, however, the stories are not so nice. 

Image © Matthew Meyer / yokai.com

Hainu: The Winged Pooch That Terrorized Toyotomi Hideyoshi

In Chikugo, Fukuoka, there is a tale about a hainu (dog with wings). Don’t worry, this isn’t another dead canine story. This one had actual wings that it used to fly through the sky and be a nuisance to one of the most powerful warlords in Japanese history. The story goes that in 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second unifier in Japan, historically sandwiched between The Demon King and the Dine-and-Dasher, was just minding his own business invading Kyushu when his path was blocked by the hainu.

It kind of looked like a dog, only with a longer body and bird wings. Snarling and attacking all who approached it, the supernatural beast was well-known to the locals for slaughtering their livestock. After much effort, the hainu was eventually subdued. 

Hideyoshi, though undoubtedly annoyed about the delay, was impressed with the animal’s tenacity, and ordered it to be buried with honors at Sogakuji Temple, where the Hainuzuka mound is located to this day. Centuries later, the hainu was chosen as Chikugo’s mascot. There’s a lesson here about how it doesn’t matter whether you’re good or bad, as long as you are good at what you do.

mythological dogs

Original image from Kyoka Hyaku Monogatari book of Yokai (1853) / Wikimedia Commons

Okuri-Inu: The Patient Human-Eaters

Traveling in feudal Japan wasn’t easy in the best of circumstances. But when travelers found themselves on empty roads high up in the mountains or deep in some forest, they had to worry about something else besides bandits or kidnappers. They had to worry about the dreaded okuri-inu. 

Literally meaning “the seeing off dog,” the name is one of the worst cases of false advertising in history. True, the mythical creatures, said to resemble large dogs, did patiently follow (or “stalk,” if you will) lonely travelers as if seeing them off on their journey, but that’s just half the story. The other half can be succinctly summed up as: “If you tripped and fell, the okuri-inu swarmed in and ate you. The End.”

There was a way for people to protect themselves against the animals besides learning how to do a rolling get up. The trick was to make the man-eating devil dogs believe that you didn’t really fall but were just lying down for some rest. When you reached the end of your road, to make sure the dogs wouldn’t follow you to your house, you needed to turn around, give a low bow and thank the monsters for seeing you off “safely,” presumably through gritted teeth and a jackhammering heartbeat.

mythological dogs

Original image from the Hyakukai Zukan illustrated scroll of 100 yokai (1737) / Wikimedia Commons

Inugami: The Reason Why All Dogs Deserve To Go to Heaven

Japan’s ancient tech-wizards did slightly more wizarding than anything technical. This included exercising demons. Some, however, also chose to make demons. In the esoteric onmyodo practice, there’s a recipe for creating an inugami (canine deity) that’s used to kill enemies. It reads like a first draft of Eli Roth’s Hostel only for dogs, so consider this a warning.

A popular way of creating an inugami involved burying a dog up to its neck in the ground and starving it for a couple of days, with food laid out where the animal could see it but not reach it. Right before it died, you cut off its head, said some spells and kept the head to keep the dead pooch’s vengeful spirit in the physical realm. 

If all went “well,” the inugami would obey your commands, which, as mentioned before, usually involved killing your enemies. The good news is that a lot of records about the practice mention that the inugami would often break free, kill their creator and then hopefully pass on to enjoy a nice big steak in doggy heaven.

mythological dogs

Image © Matthew Meyer / yokai.com

Sunekosuri: A Much-Needed Palate Cleanser After the Inugami Story

Not all supernatural dogs from Japan are evil. Some are just playfully naughty. You know how some dogs apparently love training for the Olympic giant slalom by dashing between your legs as you walk until you inevitably fall down — hopefully somewhere where there aren’t any okuri-inu. Well, there’s a creature in Japanese mythology whose entire job is just that: tripping you up as a prank. They’re called sunekosuri (shin-rubbers), and they usually take the form of small dogs.

Some versions of the myth say that these playful poltergeists just like rubbing up against humans and that the tripping part is purely an accident. But they apparently also like working on rainy nights where a fall would cause the most annoyance without any serious injury, which feels like a calculated move by a mischievous manifestation. On the other hand, they may only want some cuddles, so you’re not allowed to get angry at them, especially not after what humanity pulled with the inugami.

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