Nukekubi by Night

Category : ,

Date : 2021

A long-necked rokurokubi woman of Kyoto. From the Kaikidan Ekotoba Monster Scroll, mid-19th century
“Nukekubi” from the Bakemono-Dukushi Yumoto, Edo Period.

The Nukekubi are a type of Japanese supernatural creature or spirit (yōkai). 

This kind of strange beings look normal human beings but when the night falls they use their ability to detach the head from the body to hunt human prey. His carnivore appetite drives them to fly long distances in search for fresh blood. It is said that they used to be extremely violent, sometimes biting their victims to death.  

An evident weakness of the Nukekubi is related to the place where the body rests; If the body is found and moved away, the head cannot be reunited to it when the morning comes. There is a very popular short-story of Hellboy where he hides the Nukekubi’s bodies underwater and that way he prevents the heads to attach back and they explode in the sunrise – One of our favourites. 

It is also very usual to find another yōkai similar to the Nukekubi , the Rokurokubi – a human-like creatures who stretch their necks with cannibalistic purposes.  The people in Japan say that these kind of creature did not born as yōkai, they are cursed to live like that, just the the werewolves in European talesIt is very common to refer familiar curses and bloodline. 

There is a story of a man who married a Nukekubi. A peddler told him to gave her a white dog’s liver to eat in order to cure her. She get cured but their next child became Nukekubi as well. The tragedy of being cursed with the “flying head” illness refers mostly to the principle of causality : cause-effect, action-consequence and theologically speaking, God’s punishment. 

From other perspective, the flying heads receive a contrasting meaning. In the Japanese tale called “A Woman’s Wild Thoughts Wandering Around” the flying head signifies her soul’s flying around while she’s asleep, almost like an astral projection and not as the physical carnivore heads.

Our personal interpretation shows seven flying heads attacking a samurai warrior. This central figure appears to be ready for the confrontation, we can easily see him as a yōkai killer. His monstrous mask and skulls around his waist can work as talismans or simply trophies – He probably went out at night for hunting Nukekubi and Rokurokubi . On the other hand, we can describe the scene as the voracious hunger that drives the heads to attack even the strongest preys.

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“The rape of a rokurokubi yokai”, Utagawa Kunitora, ca 1827
Page from "Hokusai Manga” depicting two Rokurokubi - Katsushika Hokusa, 1814.
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