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Fight demons, learn about luck and choose a charm: Japanese demons webquest

Japan’s demons or yōkai are different from any you’ve known. Some yōkai like to shake beans. Others drink oil, or eat cucumbers, or ride your nightmares into the night..

Most of them would like to eat you.

If you want to stay safe, you’ll need to know more about how to attract good luck in Japan.

Step 1:  Choose your lucky symbol.
Are you a…

– Cat lover?
– Dog fanatic?
– Doll collector?
– Bird watcher?
– Lion tamer?
– Ghost buster?

Your mission:
1) Research one of Japan’s lucky charms and report your findings to
the class.
2) Decide which lucky charm your class will adopt. And remember, the
wrong decision could be fatal…

Download the Takeshita Demons webquest here.

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Selective genetics or ghosts reborn? Legend of the Samurai crabs

Defeated Heike warriors are turned into crabs as they are tossed from their ships. (Paintings by Kuniyoshi)

I’m doing some research for book 4 of the Takeshita Demons series (which I think will be set on the ocean) and I came across this awesome story:

Legend of the Samurai crabs

On April 24, back in 1185, two powerful Samurai clans fought to the death on the Dan no Ura bay of Japan’s Inland Sea.

The ruling clan, the Heike (house of Taira), was led by their child-Emperor, Antoku, and his grandmother.

The Heike had ruled for many decades, but now, massively outnumbered, they faced defeat at the hands of the Genji clan (house of Miyamoto).

This crucial battle was a turning point for Japanese history: the Genji clan’s victory at Dan no Ura marked the beginning of seven centuries in which Japan was ruled by warriors and Shoguns instead of Emperors and aristocrats.

But back to the battle…

For the Heike, surrender wasn’t an option. But when 3000 enemy ships attacked under cover of a storm, they were vastly outnumbered and underprepared.

Knowing a bad deal when she saw one, the Emperor’s guardian and gran took the child’s hand and together they jumped into the ocean, opting for death on their own terms rather whatever gruesome end would be on offer from the enemy.

The remaining Heike warriors, about 1000 ships-worth in all, followed their leader into the ocean or were thrown there by the enemy and left to drown.

Remembering bravery and loss

Now, every April, there is a festival to remember the Heike.

But the festival isn’t the only way these warriors are remembered:

Legend has it that the warriors still walk the ocean floor, albeit sideways.

The story is that when the Emperor jumped, he and his warriors were transformed into crabs, called heikegani, or Heike crabs (Heikea japonica in Latin; 平家蟹 in Kanji). But the transformation was not complete: the shells of these crabs are still marked with grooves and ridges that form the faces of the Samurai warriors.

Samurai crab

Genetics or ghosts?

There are three schools of thought on the Heikegani crab:

1) Artificial selection:
Theory 1 has it that local fishermen weren’t keen on eating the spirit of a brave samurai, so any crab with a shell that looked even vaguely like a samurai’s face was thrown back.

The result? Ordinary crabs were removed from the sea in favour of samurai crabs, and these samurai crabs went on to breed and produce more samurai crabs. Crabs that most resembled a samurai were most likely to live. Check out this explanation by popular scientist Carl Sagan.

2) Muscles and guts
This is the most boring of the arguments. Apparently there are at least a dozen other species of crab around the world that also have human faces on their shells. The theory here is that although the ridges and lines on the crab’s shell might seem to form faces, they are actually positioned to protect muscles and organs underneath the shell, and have nothing to do with samurai warriors.

3) Ghosts!
The crabs are indeed reincarnations of the drowned warriors, and these warriors live, even today, on the sea floor, ruling the depths of the ocean…

Which theory do you think is true?

Other posts you might enjoy:

Could Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak really make someone invisible?

How to write a synopsis: four big secrets and an example

8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls


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How to keep your New Year Resolution: Papier mache daruma dolls


Want something fun to do on a hot (or cold) day this holidays?
Want to make sure you keep your New Year Resolution?

Here’s the perfect activity to keep you busy AND motivated to succeed in achieving your goals!

Papier mache daruma dolls

Start saving old newspapers and grab some glue: you can make and paint a papier mache daruma doll, perfect for recording your New Year’s Resolutions. Instructions are below or you can DOWNLOAD THIS PAPIER MACHE DARUMA ACTIVITY HERE

About Daruma dolls

– Daruma dolls are based on Daruma, the Japanese name for the Indian monk who started Zen Buddism.

–  The doll has no legs, because the monk once meditated for so long that his legs fell off.

Symbolism of Daruma dolls

– Daruma dolls are heavier on the bottom than on top, which means they bounce back when struck down. This makes them a symbol of optimism, determination and good luck.

– For this reason, the dolls are often associated with a famous Japanese proverb:
Nana korobi, ya oki (七転八起)
“Fall down seven times, get up eight. ”

– Daruma dolls are very hairy, symbolising long life. His hairy eyebrows are shaped like cranes, birds said to live for 1000 years.

Daruma dolls and goal-setting

Daruma dolls are usually painted red, the colour of the monk’s robes, but their eyeballs are left unpainted.

When you decide to pursue a new goal, you paint one of the daruma’s eyeballs. When you have achieved your goal, you paint the other eyeball to match.

As you make your daruma, think about what you would like your goal or resolution  to be.

Instructions for making a papier-mache daruma

You will need:

  • PVA glue
  • Water
  • Icecream container
  • A balloon
  • Newspaper (torn into 3cm strips)
  • White paper (torn into 3cm strips)
  • Masking tape
  • An unwanted plastic bowl or dish (to form the daruma’s weighted base)
  • Paint

What to do:

1)      Mix PVA glue and water in an empty icecream container

2)      Tear the newspaper into strips about 3cm wide

3)      Blow up a balloon to the size you would like your daruma to be. Remember: daruma dolls don’t have arms or legs, and their face is slightly sunken into their bodies.

4)      Dip the newspaper strips into the glue mixture and cover the balloon in six layers of paper strips. Let the layers dry overnight.

5)      Use masking tape to stick the bowl to the bottom of the daruma.

6)      Cover the balloon and the bowl with more layers of newspaper, working to create the shape of a daruma doll.

7)      Use strips of white paper for your final layer.

8)      Paint your daruma, leaving his eyeballs unpainted.

9)      Think of a goal you would like to achieve. When you have decided on your goal, paint in one of the pupils.

10)  Put your finished daruma on display. Every time you see him, you will remember to work towards your goal.

11)  When you have achieved your goal, paint in the daruma’s remaining eyeball.


Other posts you might enjoy:

Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese
Takeshita Demons: help us choose the cover art
8 cool myths about dogs, and why the inugami dog-god didn’t make it

Free stuff: more resources for teaching Japanese yokai or just having fun with monsters


Before Ben 10, there was 弁天, and she’s actually a woman

Some of you might think Benten is a ten-year-old boy with an awesome watch and a habit of turning into alien creatures. Well, you’re half correct.

Why only half?

Because you’re missing out on the original Benten (弁天):

For a start, Benten isn’t a boy, she’s a woman. And she’s around 1500 years old, not 10. And she doesn’t turn into aliens because she’s already a god and often has eight arms, plus she’s good friends with dragons and enormous snakes.

So Ben 10, eat your heart out. Benten is awesome!

Seven Lucky Gods

The fabulous Matthew Meyer portrays the seven lucky gods (see Benten in the middle)

Before Ben 10, there was 弁天

Benten is one of the seven Japanese gods of good luck, and she’s the only female representative on the team.

She’s hugely popular in Japan: she’s the goddess of water and oceans, she protects against disaster, and she’s associated with artistic learning and wisdom and general prosperity. So she’s quite the god to have on your side.

Especially when you consider the dragons.

Benten is also called Benzaiten, though when she first came to Japan from India, she was called Sarasvatī.

She likes to play the biwa (Japanese mandolin), so she’s easy to spot in paintings and sculptures, although when she appears with eight arms, she ditches the biwa and instead carries a bow, arrow, sword, ax, spear, long pestle, iron wheel, and silk rope.

So again: don’t mess with this lady! She’s absolutely my kind of goddess.