History and description
John Batchelor records an account of this monster in his book The Ainu and Their Folklore when noting, “...three men, it was said, were out trying to catch a sword-fish, when all at once a great sea-monster, with large staring eyes, appeared in front of them and proceeded to attack the boat. The monster was round in shape, and emitted a dark fluid which has a very powerful and noxious odour.” It is said that its enormous body can reach sizes of up to 120 meters in length.
Ainu reverence of this monster has permeated into Shintoism, which has incorporated Akkorokamui as a minor kami. Self purification practices for Akkorokamui are often strictly followed. While Akkorokamui is often presented as a benevolent kami with powers to heal and bestow knowledge, it is fickle and has the propensity to do harm. Akkorokamui’s nature as an octopus means that it is persistent and it is near impossible to escape its grasp without permission. Like other Shinto purification rituals, prior to entering the shrine of Akkorokamui, one’s hands must be cleaned with water with the exception that one’s feet must also be cleaned as well.
Akkorokamui enjoys the sea and offerings which reflect this: fish, crab, mollusks, and the like are particular favorites of Akkorokamui, which give back that which it gave. Homage to Akkorokamui is often for ailments of the limbs or skin, but mental purification and spiritual release is particularly important.
Shrines in dedication to Akkorokamui and associated octopus deity are found throughout Japan. In particular, well known shrines include one in Kyoto and the island of Hokkaido that pay homage to Nade yakushi. These shrines, while named to different entities, come from and share various characteristics with Akkorokamui, and as such practices involving healing, renewal, and purification are similar.
Akkorokamui is characteristically described with the ability to self-amputate, like several octopus species, and regenerate limbs. This characteristic manifests in the belief in Shinto that Akkorokamui has healing powers. Consequently, it is believed among followers that giving offerings to Akkorokamui will heal ailments of the body, in particular, disfigurements and broken limbs.
Another octopus-related kami is Nade yakushi. It is housed within the Takoyakushi-do, a shrine dedicated to Nade yakushi, along the street Teramachi-dori (Temple-Town Street) in Kyoto. This deity receives visits by thousands of individuals per year wishing for healing. At the shrine, Nade yakushi is physically manifested as a wooden statue of an octopus. Worshipers believe that when the left hand of an individual touches the limbs of the statue, the individual's ailments, both mental and physical, are removed.
- Batchelor, John (1901). The Ainu and Their Folklore. London: The Religious Tract Society.
- Tierney, Emiko (1984). Illness and Culture in Japan: an Anthropological View. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Katao, Miki. Shingyoku & Teramachi-dori: Crossroads of Today and the Past. Learning About Kyoto. Kyoto University of Foreign Studies. http://www.kyopro.kufs.ac.jp/dp/dp01.nsf/b7eb328e75d9627a49256feb00103b33/572e9215650bd2784925739800252563!OpenDocument