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The maneating trees
There is no sight quite as ominous as that of a gnarled old tree. Its branches twist like a hag's claws, the rough bark peeling and bursting around the edges of its roots. From a distance a tree that is standing on a hill, lonely and forgotten can easily gather a few legends and folklore around its base.
Like a story about trees with a thirst for human blood.
The Jubokko grow on the islands of Japan, and they are part of the Yokai - essentially spirits in Japanese culture. Although they are sometimes called demons, this concept is not indicative of what the Yokai actually are. The word itself is broken into two parts, 'Yo' meaning either 'bewitching, calamity' and 'kai' meaning 'mystery, wonder'. They can be either benevolent or malevolent, depending on the creature, but in the case of Jubokko, they are fiercely malevolent. They like to eat humans, after all.
The legend goes that these trees stood on fields where great battles took place. As the fields became thick with blood it soaked into the soil, and the roots of the trees sucked it all up, poisoning the once beautiful tree into a malevolent spirit. It became angry and bitter, and it developed a taste for the blood.
The Yokai come in many shapes and sizes, and although sometimes terrifying, are often good spirits.
But how would the tree be able to feast on humans? They are, after all, notably stationary. But the Yokai are quite adept at transformation.
When a human would wander by the Jubokko, the branches would twist and creak, transforming into long gnarled hands. Grabbing its prey, the tree would drag the screaming victim towards it, lifting it up off the ground before slamming the tips of its branches into the soft skin. The branches would turn into tubes, excitedly guzzling up the blood.
The corpse would be dropped, completely drained, and the Jubokko would settle once again into the unassuming form of a normal tree, waiting for a new victim.
To spot a Jubokko is quite simple, no matter the season, they are always lush and vibrant. Almost frozen in time. The blood they drink make it possible for them to ignore any weather conditions, snow, hail, or drought, the Jubokko never wilts.
The Jubokko is a wonderfully sinister story, but sadly a tale that might have been made up.
Shigeru Mizuki wrote a manga in 1960, GeGeGe no Kitaro, in which he used over 30 Yokai for the story, but never specified which were made-up and which were real. Many Japanese scholars have searched for the origin of the Jubokko within Japanese folklore, but have come up empty-handed. Due to this, they believe that Mizuki made up the terrifying tree.
What is interesting though is the Jubokko is not the first maneating tree that was made up for the purposes of ....
In 1874 Karl Leche wrote a letter to the New York World about the maneating tree of Madagascar. The tree, according to his story, had serpent-like branches, which coiled around the victim to strangle and eventually devour them. It was an absolute sensation and even told of how the nativ Mkodo tribe would regularly sacrifice someone to the tree to appease it.
However, it all turned out to be a hoax.
Edmund Spencer made up the story for fun. This took on a life of its own, and many people believed it, but nevertheless, it was still just a fabrication.
Maneating trees are a strange occurrence within the boundaries of folklore and legend. Unlike animals or natural disasters like floods, the tree really has no reason to be feared by us. It is, after all, decidedly stationary. But perhaps that is what tickles the fear. Not so much what it can do, but what's not so supposed to. The lonely, gnarled tree standing on the hilltop watching our lives peter out. What would happen if it did decide to move?
And how terrified would you be?
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