These wonderful images featured here are from a Japanese painted scroll known as the Bakemono zukushi. The artist and date is unknown, though its thought to hail from the Edo-period, sometime from the 18th or 19th century. Across it’s length are depicted a ghoulish array of “yokai” from Japanese folklore. […]
The class of yokai characterised by an ability to shapeshift, and that featured in this scroll, is the bakemono (or obake), a word literally meaning “changing thing” or “thing that changes”. The founding father of minzokugaku (Japanese folklore studies), Yanagita Kuno (1875–1962), drew a distinction between yurei (ghosts) and bakemono: the former haunt people and are associated with the depth of night, whereas the latter haunt places and are seen by the dim light of dusk or dawn.
Amongst the bakemono monsters depicted in the scroll is the rokurokubi (ろくろくび), a long-necked woman whose name literally means “pulley neck”. Whether shown with a completely detachable head (more common in Chinese versions), or with head upon the end of a long threadlike neck as shown here, the head of the rokurokubi has the ability to fly about independently of the body. In his 1904 collection Kwaidan, Lafcadio Hearn provides the first extended discussion of this yokai in English, telling of a samurai-turned-travelling-priest who finds himself staying the night in a household of rokurokubi intent on eating their guest.
Fascinating monsters all, and you can see and read much more at The Public Domain Review.