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Gegege no Kitarō 3 (Toei, 1985-88)

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Ep. 1: Sunakake-baba and Kitaro confront Kamaitachi
Source: TV
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Added 12/16/2012
Updated 3/17/2023
Episode 1: The Mysterious Yōkai Castle Appears!! [謎の妖怪城出現!! Nazo no Yōkai-jō Shutsugen!!]. This cel (with the following four) comes from a series of battles with Tantanbō [たんたん坊 ], the yōkai baddie whose shrine has been tipped over by construction workers, allowing his castle to intrude into the human world. He's assisted by his spooky minion Kamaitachi [かまいたち ], whom you see above shooting out of a trapdoor (helped with heavy airbrushing on the front of the cel). Grabbing Kitarō for comfort is Sunakake-baba [砂掻ばばあ ] or Sand-throwing Grandma, one of the central figures among the Kitaro-tachi.

Kamaitachi means "sickle weasel" in Japanese, which is the name for a mysterious medical condition in which people walking outside in bitter cold sometimes find a serious cut on their extremities, which they've suffered without any painful sensation. Folklore suggested that the cause was a sly quick-moving, invisible yōkai, envisioned as a weasel with sharp blades instead of forepaws. Michael Dylan Foster covers this folk tradition in his Book of Yōkai (U. California, 2015, pp. 175-77. And the Kusa-Kamaitachi that appears in Ep. 108 of Series 3 is a more faithful anime image of this yōkai.

But this figure with green skin and a sucker mouth is quite a different character who plays a regular spoiler role in the Kitarō saga. Rather than sickle blades, his main weapon is the mucus he can spit, along with his flying capabilities. You can learn more about his various appearances, from Mizuki's manga to the 2018 anime series, at the Gegege no Kitarō wiki.


Originally, Sunakake-baba was a Japanese parallel to the “Sandman” familiar in Western children’s lore, except that she is far more sinister than the being who comes to put restless kids to sleep in the nursery. According to the folklore of Nara Prefecture, she wanders the streets and tosses her sand into the faces of adult bystanders, making them drop unconscious wherever they happened to be. (Presumably without benefit of sake.)

"Nobody has ever seen her," says Kunio Yanagita, Japan's eminent folklorist who encountered this legend in his fieldwork, adding "it is said that she is an old woman." Mizuki took this hint and made Sunakake-baba into one of the central supporting cast of his manga. So, ironically, the vagueness and obscurity of this folk tradition enabled the mangaka to craft her into a figure that is now one of the most recognized yōkai in contemporary Japan. See Michael Dylan Foster's Book of Yokai (U. California, 2015, pp. 172-73) for more detail.

Caution! Fussy Notes

This cel and three others I got in the same lot were radically cut down in size, along with their backgrounds. They are all 7.5 inches in height and about 8.5 inches wide. None have surviving sequence numbers or episode/scene/cut numbers on the backgrounds. However, the watercolors are perfectly matched to the cels (and now are stuck tight to them) so that I feel confident in believing that they are original and matching.

Why they were cut down so radically isn’t clear. They might have been trimmed for sale in Toei’s souvenir shop for tourists touring the studio; or they might have experienced ugly damage along one side, and the trimming made them more attractive to the eye.

Still, the image was strong enough that this was one of two cels from my collection that were borrowed by the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for its 2016 Exhibition Hokusai X Manga.

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Gallery Created: 8/3/2002
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