Welcome to yet another (hopefully) recurring feature on the blog, Japan Has the Best Monsters. This feature will highlight awesome Japanese monsters, or yokai (妖怪). Not famous monsters like Godzilla, but the little known and littler loved freaks of Japanese folklore and superstition. The sinister, mischievous, or just silly spirits that haunt Japan’s nightmares, dark corners, screen doors, umbrella stands, and public toilets.
And now, without further ado, let’s introduce today’s monster:
垢舐め Akaname, the Filth-Licker
Much like snakes and sharks, most Japanese monsters are harmless. They just get a bad reputation from the truly terrifying creatures like oni and jorogumo. And, y’know, being supernatural.
The Akaname is probably the weirdest of the weird. It’s a completely harmless, even helpful, monster that does one thing and one thing only: it licks toilets. It hides out in public restrooms, rarely seen by human eyes. After someone has come and done their business, the Akaname does its own. It cleans the toilet with its tongue.
That’s it. That’s all it does. It doesn’t eat people, or even scare them. It licks public toilets. Which is really, really gross, but also pretty nice. I mean, somebody’s gotta clean the damn thing. Might as well be a monster.
My guess is that belief in the Akaname originated from either stories of people with a stomach-churningly bizarre fetish (hey, whatever floats your boat)… or just wishful thinking on the part of people tasked with cleaning public toilets. Or both.
Let’s briefly picture a restroom in Edo Castle at the height of the Tokugawa Shogunate:
“Ugh. Ah, Takeshi, it really stinks today. I really don’t wanna clean this place.”
“Man, wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of monster that lived in bathrooms and licked toilets clean when nobody was looking?”
“No kidding. Hey, I have an idea. I have this cousin who’s into some really freaky stuff…”
And so the Akaname was born.
Keep this in mind next time you’re in Japan and nature calls. As you sit there (or squat there), take a look around. Keep an eye out for any movement. That flicker in the shadows, that brief glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye, might just be a hungry Akaname. Don’t be scared. He’s more afraid of you than you are of him. He doesn’t want to hurt you. He just wants to lick your toilet.