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Abura-sumashi

The abura-sumashi is a creature said to have appeared at one time on the island of Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture, on a mountain pass called Kusazumigoe (草隅越). According to the story usually told about this spirit, an old woman was once walking her grandchild along this pass, when she recited a story she'd heard, in which the abura-sumashi would appear in that place, dangling an oil bottle. At that moment the abura-sumashi showed up again, proclaiming that he still appeared. 1

This story was introduced to Japan by Yanagita Kunio, who in turn took it from the work of one Hamada Ryūichi, a folklorist who lived on Amakusa. Thisyōkai attained considerable popularity by appearing in the work of cartoonist Mizuki Shigeru, who drew it clad in a straw raincoat and sporting a stony, potato-shaped head. 2, 3

The abura-sumashi's name can be translated as "oil wringer", from abura (oil) and sumasu, a word from Amakusa dialect which means to "press, wring, or squeeze". It seems to be related to the production of katashi-abura ("hardship oil", taken from the seeds of the Camellia sasanqua plant) which was once prosperous in the Kawachi district of the island.2

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1. Yanagita, p. 206.

2. Sumoto-machi "Aburasumashi-don no Sato".

3. Kusazumigoe no Aburasumashi.

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