Monsters in Cultural Traditions – Satori

Satori – Monster Research

Bryan Lee | ENGL-1100-401-F17 | Salt Lake Community College | Fall 2017

Introductory Information:

  • Cultural Monster Chosen: The Japanese Satori
  • Setting (from Wikipedia page):
    • The Edo period or Tokugawa periodbetween 1603 and 1868
  • From Japanese Yōkai Folklore, specifically from the Hida and Mino regions of Japan now known as Gifu.

sekiensatori.jpgYōkai Folklore and Other Findings About the Satori and its Origins:

The Satori comes from Yokai spirit/monster folklore. Yokai are:

  • Supernatural creatures or monsters
  • Usually something bewitching, attractive, a calamity
  • A ghost/specter/apparition – shrouded in the mysterious, suspicious
  • Range from malevolent to mischievous, some even bring good fortune from an encounter
  • Usually have animal like features and characteristics, some appear mostly human, some look like “things” or inanimate, lifeless objects.
  • Supernatural powers/shapeshifting
  • Satori would fall in supernatural category
  • Possibly represents tales that are an attempt to represent things that were unexplainable at the time through things and in ways they DID understand.

Yokai are divided into types and have characteristics that explain unexplainable phenomena. Here are the types and characteristics for the Satori:

  • What – True Form:
    • Ape-Man, children look like normal children
      • The children born of the stolen women and the ape men would grow up no different than any other normal human. They are given the name “Yang” since their ape man father had no name to bestow upon them.
    • How – Formation/Mutation:
      • Was derived from the idea of a mountain god. The mountain god was used as a way to explain someone’s voice echoing back from the face of a mountain or valley. The echo was explained as the replying voice of the mountain god because there was simply no other way to explain it. This is very similar to many other early ideologies and belief systems but they all have their own spin.
        • The mountain god speaking back would imitate voices. The Satori reads minds and then imitates voices.
        • Mountain God. The Satori dwells in the mountains.
        • Does the mountain god eat people? No. Do people go into the mountains and never come back? Yes. So in a way, that same thing that repeats what you say before you before you even finish your sentence is the same thing that is making those people disappear. Sure – maybe by eating them!
      • There are many other Yokai and similar monsters that are linked to the myth of the Satori, but they all seem to possess only similar or some of the same characteristics. Some of the other creatures are:
      • While all of these stories, myths, gods, and monsters do have similarities with the Satori, the Satori does have its own unique characteristics specific to the area it originated. It is knowledge that the yamabiko and the Satori both originated from the same basis (the mountain god replying as a way to explain echo), but they are indeed different and unique monsters.
    • Why – How They Appeared: Appeared to find food and most definitely to eat a human if the opportunity presents itself. While none of the Satori stories say exactly why these people first appeared, that may imply that they are and always have been native inhabitant of the mountain ranges. They also:
      • appear only at night
      • only men have ever been seen or encountered
      • steal and rape women to pass on their seed/blood
    • Where – Location: Mountains
      • Edo Era Japan (1603-1868) in Hida and Mino (now known as Gifa)
      • Religion (at the time): They did practice and mostly still practice belief in the same Shinto gods that the area has worshipped since as early as their recorded history goes. See Vanara

Yokai Bestiary:

  • This is a very nice bestiary of many different creatures and monsters found in the Yokai Folklore library and history:
  • Satori translated means “Consciousness” or “Enlightenment”

Personal Side Thoughts:

Satori and Meditation/Buddhism/Mindfulness: One of the main purposes of meditation is to take the time to intentionally practice the act of emptying your mind. While sitting, laying down, or even just walking, intentionally focusing on something as simple and central as breathing makes room for one to simply just let the thoughts inside their brain happen without paying it much or any attention to any specific thoughts. While meditating, you still acknowledge that the thoughts are there and real, you just make an effort to not follow them instead of traveling down that rabbit hole. The thought(s) are acknowledged and then the focus is directed back to breathing. Eventually, a regular and consistent practice of meditation results in that thought acknowledgment and thought-sorting process happening a lot quicker and almost subconsciously. I don’t know if it’s the desired result, but from personal experience, one does experience a much clearer thought process in normal everyday life just from intentionally practicing meditation. When anyone talks about “freeing their mind”, it usually sparks some sort of response about hippies or possibly even hallucinogenic drugs. When it comes down to it, the act of freeing one’s mind actually just takes intentional and consistent practice. Just like anything else worth doing in life. Freeing one’s mind is also commonly associated or even synonymous with the word “enlightenment.” The highest state of enlightenment, Nirvana, is said to be the highest state of consciousness.

 Satori and the Self – Abilities/Qualities of Satori:

  • Mind Control: The satori can read your mind and say what you are about to say (or what you are thinking) before you can say it.
    • Difficult or near impossible to escape because it will know what you are about to do.
    • For the same reason, it would also be very hard to try and kill in an encounter.
  • 2 Ways to Scare Away:
    • One – Surprise it. In other words, do something that the Satori did not have the ability to anticipate like throwing a rock at it from a distance. If successful, the Satori will run away in fear. They fear the unexpected. When you think about the mindreading/echo idea, the rock throwing solution also applies. One, if you throw a rock at a mountain, you hit it before the echo happens – you beat the echo. Also, if you throw a rock at a mountain, you will be able to tell that it was your rock that made the noise and caused, not a monster repeating and interrupting you every time you tried to speak – it’s something that you
    • Two – Empty Your Mind. If there is nothing for the Satori to read from your mind, he grows bored and leaves.

A couple of initial thoughts I had about Satori. They were a little off the mark, but not completely (as shown in conclusion after this section):

  • Possibly a story to scare villagers (particularly women) from leaving/escaping from their hometown from fear of the dangers in the mountains they would have to travel through in order to leave?
  • Represents the human “before” the time of the modern human? Very much the same but barbaric, primitive, violent, from a time before laws or commandments. At the same time represents humans (outsiders) who are very much the same but have some to steal their women (because it is not surprising that only the men from many foreign places would leave their homeland in order to travel to new lands and invade in order to profit, explore, or whatever other motives and steal/impregnate foreign women to spread their own bloodline, nation, etc.

Thoughts and Conclusion from Satori/Yokai Research:

A “Mononoke” in ancient Japanese culture is a good or bad spirit that was believed to actually be IN ALL LIVING BEINGS. Essentially, stories of mononokes were used to explain just about anything that was not explainable or understandable by humans at the time – in and outside of the body. There is a story, creature, god, or monster for just about anything throughout all the folklore that has been thought of and eventually recorded over the ages including physical phenomena like natural disasters, geographical features and the way they were formed or came to be, illness of the body, and illness of the mind. Mononoke sounds quite a lot like monster and monsters are both one, often considered both or either good and/or bad and two, both inside of us and outside of us (even if the monster depiction is a fabrication, it represents the real). Just like all cultural monsters that have been created over the years, Yokai and mononokes come from inside of us.

Masasumi_SatoriOf course events, emotions, and things like death, uncertainty, danger, “the outsider”, the unknown, and all the other fear and panic inducing things would be explained as monsters. How else would you have been able to describe the bad events, illnesses, feelings, and emotions at that point in time (and science, knowledge) other than to give those bad things the characteristics of the things that terrify you the most and that which you hate the most? The mononokes, creatures, and monsters depicted throughout Yokai folklore were and are ways to explain the unexplainable and even sometimes just a way to explain something that just had a lot more impact and lasting effect when the audience actually believed the cause to be a real monster instead of a representation. Even if you were bright enough at the time and did know that the story of the Satori was not real, you would most surely find comfort in some sort of fabricated and hyperbolized tale as an explanation as opposed to the alternative (hopelessly feeling like you are truly unaware of what the hell is going on or why in this crazy thing we call life).

The Satori may have evolved from the old stories of the mountain gods who would call back when you yelled out towards them, but it did indeed evolve itself into a unique story for its own purposes and utility for the area it was told (Hida and Mino). The explanation of this monster for me breaks down like this:

Basis of Japanese Folklore – Meaning:

There has to be something inside me if it has the ability to make me feel this much fear or anxiety, make me sick, make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, or make it feel like there are a bunch of insects flying around in my stomach, right? Just like most other cultures across the globe, the people of this time and place used many different fear-embodying monsters to describe, depict, and try to understand (the best they could with the mental tools they had) virtually any unexplainable event both inside and outside of the body.

Explanation of the Satori’s Powers, Acts, and Weaknesses – Meaning:

If someone goes into the mountains and never comes back, you could say that they have been “eaten” by the mountain. The Satori eat many things, but you can bet they will jump at any chance to eat a human if an opportunity presents itself. They say that the Satori imitates you when you speak near or to him and that he will say exactly what you were saying before you even finish your sentence. He can repeat or interrupt you sometimes mid-word when you speak because it is believed that he has the ability to read minds. At the time, a mind reading monster would probably seem like a logical and common explanation for something like that. Now we know that repeating occurrence situation to be the echo. The effect of echo works especially noticeably, loudly, and frequently when you are in the mountains. This is because the mountain are a perfect setting for echo where your voice can bounce off of large cliff faces and reverberate through entire valleys causing birds for what seems like miles to flee in unison from echo (and increased volume and reverberation).

While women being stolen and raped could have been referring to specific neighboring tribes, this general idea stems from the famous fear of the outsider. From the Yokai and other various folklore in my research, it was said that very few but some women would venture out into the mountains or get stolen by a Satori and after the experience (sadly of rape and who knows what else – rape of women or eating/willing of men are the only thing specified in any research or texts I was able to find) would end up finding their way back to their community. The child(ren) from the experience were given a different last name (similar to bastards in Game of Thrones), but they were more or less normal children – just born of a human and a Satori. Given that these monsters are described as ape-men, that implies that they are very similar to humans. This could very well represent any sort of outside threat looking to take advantage of the women in a small village mid-conquest. Yet another threat from the mountains, foreign invaders who come to kill the men and rape the women.

Lastly, an encounter with the Satori (or the mountain) can only be escaped two ways. The first way to escape is to surprise the Satori. The idea behind this is, if you want to beat something that can read your mind, maybe you can defeat it by doing something that it wasn’t able to read from your mind before you did it. Clever, right? The most common example given from my research is hitting the Satori (or mountain) with a rock by throwing it from a distance. Back to the idea of echo, what happens when you throw a rock down or at a steep cliff? One, you can estimate how far you are from by bottom by timing how long it takes for the rock to hit the bottom and know that you can trust it was the sound of your rock and not the Satori screwing with you. Two, if you throw a rock at a Satori (a mountain cliff), you hit it before it can read your mind (before the echo) and you’ve effectively beaten the Satori and his ability to interrupt, repeat, or react to his fate before it happens. Surprise a Satori in this way and he flees the scene in fear of being hit by something he was not able to anticipate. The second way you live to see another day after a Satori encounter is by freeing your mind. The word Satori directly translates to mean “enlightenment.” Without going into the history of Buddhism and assuming that most people have heard of Nirvana, enlightenment is essentially the goal of practices like meditation which are commonly associated with Buddhism and the life of the monk. Nirvana is said to be one of the highest states of enlightenment and enlightenment is one in the same with having a “free” or clear mind in Buddhist belief. If you travel through the mountains with a clear mind, the Satori will have nothing to take from your mind or mouth to repeat or interrupt you with. If you have a clear and free mind, you are able to take on all the obstacles, dangers, and hardships that traveling through the mountains puts in front of you because you are able to be above your fears and paranoias and able to focus on and be mindful in the present. If you have a clear mind, the Satori becomes bored (because he likes some entertainment before a nice, big, and roasted human leg – okay I made that part up) and he eventually he leaves and you keep on sucking down air. If you do not have a clear mind on the other hand, the Satori will not get bored and you get eaten. In other words, your fears and paranoias will most definitely get the best of you in a supremely dangerous place like the mountains whether it’s from the mountain itself, animals, other people, or maybe even monsters – the mountains and everything that comes with them will kill you.

Sources – All accessed between September 1st and September 17th, 2017 – (due to difficulty with finding much in English!):

To read my Satori tale, please click here.