Children live in a different world than we do. A much more magical, absurd world. Think back to when you were eight, when you were in elementary school. Think back to all the imaginary creatures and people your parents told you about. Think about how readily you believed in them. It’s kind of astonishing. Back then, you unquestioningly lived in a world as magical as Middle-earth, inhabited by tooth-buying fairies, giant egg-hiding rabbits, flying caribou, and Arctic elves who ran a worldwide, free home-delivery Toys R Us.
What’s even more astonishing, looking back, is how readily we shed these imaginary creatures, how almost proudly we relegate them to the dustbins of our personal history. Nothing makes you feel more adult in elementary school than encountering some poor sap of a classmate who still buys that Santa business. All too late do we realize how much more fun life is with Santa than without. Of course, when we become adults, we like telling our kids about Santa, because for those few moments when they accept it without question,we, too, live in a world with fat, toy-dispensing elves.
By and large, we view our ancestors the same way we view that naive classmate who still believes in Santa. It makes us feel better to see how far we’ve come, all the imaginary creatures and monsters we’ve stopped believing in. When we read about people leaving bread out for pixies, or drawing evil eyes to ward off witches, we cluck our tongues and think, “what silly superstitions.” That’s how we explain most monsters, the wrong-headed inventions of our forebears. Unexplainable horrors explained. Backwards paranoia and superstition given dark, fanged shape.
But I don’t think we give our ancestors enough credit. Sure, many monsters were conjured up to answer for those bumps in the night, but others are surely the products of vivid, mischevious imaginations.
Monsters like our monster of the week:
ぬっぺっぽ Nuppeppo, the Stinky Sack of Flesh Monster
Nuppeppo is patently ridiculous, a ridiculousness reflected in his name with its cute double P’s, a rarity in Japanese. Like most of the monsters I’ve written about so far, he is basically harmless. He doesn’t drink blood or haunt people. No, he just smells.
Nuppeppo, you see, is a fat sack of flesh with terrible B.O. The folds of its obese, pink flesh form something of a face. It is said to be seen on empty streets at night, and around temples and graveyards.
In other words, a Nuppeppo is basically just gross. And not in a decaying-flesh zombie sort of way, but in a juvenile, vaguely annoying sort of way, like the stew of various lunch foods mixed together 3rd graders dare each other to eat.
It’s hard to believe a creature like the Nuppeppo would come from the same dark place in the human psyche as vampires, werewolves, or ghosts. No, I think the ancient Japanese passed around stories of the Nuppeppo precisely because it was ridiculous and funny. Most probably didn’t believe that old graveyards were haunted by a harmless stinky bag of skin. But they probably liked telling tales of the Nuppeppo, just like parents like telling their kids about Santa Claus, because for those moments they were telling them, they lived in a world that was absurd and magical enough to host something as weird and fun as a sentient sack of noxious flab.