Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Weird in Mystic Japan Part Four - Japanese Treasures

I meant to write about Japanese monsters with this next part, but they are a bit trickier than expected, so instead I’ve decided to showcase some uniquely Japanese treasures.  Looking at the old AD&D Oriental Adventures, supposedly Asian treasures are just more weapons, armor, scrolls, and staves with powers that would not be out of place in a vanilla fantasy world. Unlike last time, where I basically cribbed stories from Japanese fiction and fairytale that can be thrown easily into a game or campaign, this time I’ll introduce some unique Japanese items that are staples of life here, and give some suggestions of magical versions.

Please note that I have decided to stop giving stats to things I post on my blog. I am not really a crunchy gamer, so statting everything I post would take time and also force me to choose a dominant game system, which I am loathe to do. I hope my descriptions are fine enough to allow the reader to easily create or convert to their favorite system.


BYOBU (屏風) – Large and ornate gilded changing screens of 2 to 6 panels depicting scenes from life, history, or mythology, byobu were made by craftsmen of renown and given as gifts between nobles, and some were reported to have as much value as an entire castle. Byobu are not very portable or durable, so moving them would require hiring trained movers, one for each section, who could command a fine wage for their labour.

Example - Byobu of 1,000 Faces (千面の屏風senmen no byobu). This ornate 6-panel byobu depicts the capital city bustling with people. The figures are of fine detail, and in fact the byobu can change its user into the appearance of any of the figures depicted on it. The wielder must first choose a figure and meditate at sunrise before the byobu, then use the screen to change from the sleeping kimono to their daily dress. Regardless of what clothes they change into, they will come out from behind the screen with the exact appearance of the figure they have chosen, as well as pertinent skills. The effect is undetectable by mundane means, and only high level sorcery could detect or pierce the illusion. The effect lasts until the user returns and changes behind the byobu, and the screen can only be used to effect an illusion once a day. There is a rumour that demons and other mythic creatures are hidden in the byobu and can be chosen as a disguise with appropriate powers. However, to find the truth will require either meeting the byobu’s creator or conferring with a powerful (and costly) sage. The byobu can be destroyed quite easily by mundane means, and only one person, its owner, may use it at a time.

Shaku (尺)- A shaku literally was a unit of measurement about a third of a yard or meter long. The word also referred to a thin stick used to make measurements, but was also used by nobles as a symbol of office, while zen monks still use them to smack tranquility into meditators.

Long Distance Shaku (遠方尺 enpo shaku). This simple shaku is made of cherrywood and emblazoned with the Kanji en, literally meaning ‘far.’ If the wielder of the shaku concentrates, he or she can extend the shaku as far as they could throw a stone (10 meters or so). The extended shaku can thus be used to attack (does damage as a small club or gauntleted fist), to trip opponents, to flip switches or knock over small objects weighing under a pound. The wielder cannot move or do anything else besides dodging while using the shaku. The shaku can be destroyed quite easily by mundane means.

Onsen (温泉) – Japan is an archipelago known for its seismic activity, and while the Japanese rightly fear earthquakes, they welcome the steaming hot springs or onsen that also dot the land. Many are the tales of healing properties of onsens, and famous warlords like Kanpei recovered from battle and torture in their favorite hot springs. A hot spring can either be natural, usually in a mountainous area, or dug out and filled with water bubbling up from the earth.

Good Medicine Spring (薬膳温泉 yakuzen onsen). This onsen sits on top of a mountain that can only be scaled by a treacherous path over a yawning chasm guarded by a 1000 strong pack of savage monkeys. Characters with flying capabilities will find that the shifting winds and fog, as well as random lightning strikes and hail, make the onsen accessible only by the path. If characters brave the path and find some ways to appease or avoid the monkeys, they will find a ring of stones within which fragrant blue water steams, next to which sits a simple hut. If bathed in for a day, this onsen immediately stops any poison or wasting disease. For every day spent bathing in its waters, the onsen confers double daily normal healing, OR restores a point of physical attribute lessened by damage, regardless of whether the cause was natural or mundane. Note that onsen waters taken from the ring of stones lose any power.

Swords () – Magic swords in Japanese myth date from ancient periods, and so are not the classic katana of the samurai, but rather the double bladed tsurugi or broadswords brought over from Silla (ancient Korea) or Tang (ancient China). The most famous is of course the Grasscutter Sword (草薙 kusanagi), which features in several legends and is one of the three Japanese Imperial Treasures.

The Liquid Sword (水剣 Suiken). The Liquid Sword is an ancient blade with the Kanji ‘sui’, literally ‘water’, emblazoned on the hilt. The sword reveals its powers only to those it favours, usually brave warriors fighting to protect life. So far, myths tell of how the sword has allowed certain users to move like water and avoid all but the fastest physical attacks, as well as drawing poison out of a wound or purifying the water from a bad well. It definitely has more powers, being aligned with the mighty force of oceans and seas, but these are as yet unknown. The sword is notoriously fickle, however, and has been known to disappear from its wielder’s scabbard to avoid incessant or useless bloodshed. The sword will disappear if anyone tries to destroy it.

Tea Service (お茶具 ochagu) – No Japanese noble home is complete without a set of tea goods, usually kept in a lacquered box and usually including a smack charcoal heater, a teapot, cups, candy dishes, a bag of sweet candy, a tin of bitter green tea (抹茶 maccha), bamboo or silver teaspoons, ladles and tea whisks. The appearance and materials of a tea service often reflects its owner, so a rich noble would use a lot of gilding, a shogun might favour silver and metals, and a monk bamboo and lacquered cedar.

Takuan’s Tea-Box (沢庵の茶箱 takuan no chabako). This simply lacquered cedar box was crafted by the legendary monk and contains a complete set of bamboo utensils, and if used to perform a tea ceremony 茶道 sado, will confer one of the following benefits on a partaker for the remainder of the part of day (morning, noon, afternoon, evening or night) in which the ceremony is performed:
Courage – The partaker is immune to all fear inducing effects.
Serenity – The partaker is immune to all confusion inducing effects.
Inner Strength – The partaker is immune to strength and damage effects, although any damage accrued will come to effect after the period expires. If this is enough to kill the character, they can make a heroic last speech before they die.
Rumour has it that Takuan instilled other powers in the tea set, but these can only be unlocked by high level practitioners of either tea ceremony or Zen Buddhism. The ochagu can be destroyed quite easily by mundane means, by Takuan made many of these during his lifetime and so others can be procured or found, along with countless imitations that grant no powers at all. Only monks or trained tea masters can use the powers of this tea set.

Brush () – Ornate brushes made of cedar, ivory, jade or bone were the accouterments of Japanese ladies, who would also wear them as pins or stays for their ornate hairstyles.

Spiderweb Comb (蜘蛛の巣の櫛 kumo no su no kushi). Legend has it a power hungry court lady had this comb made. It consists of a green jade comb in the shape of a spider spinning its web and holds an accompanying pin. Only women may use it, and if a character uses it to comb then pin up their hair, they may move as silently as a spider, climb walls, hide in shadows, and cast one magical web per day. The pin also contains a deadly poison that incapacitates anyone its flesh pierces and will kill them if they are not treated within a day. If the comb is displaced from the hair, the wielder loses all powers until the next day, when they must bathe and re-do their hair. The brush can possibly be destroyed by magical means, but has been known to mysteriously disappear once its wielder has been captured or killed.


  1. In various shows, wands are sometimes replaced by calligraphy brushes. The hair strands for the point originate from demons or celestial entities. The wizard tool kits are much more detailed...

    1. I'm not sure what shows you're speaking of, as generally the ones I see have priests or onmyoshi put magic wards on paper and use them against monsters. Using the brush itself seems more Chinese to me (like the movie Hero), but I haven't seen everything...

    2. The live action production Ogon Kishi GARO is where I've seen this recently. All the priests use their brushes in combat with demons, some even have golem familiars (?)

    3. Ah, I see. That Japanese 'gonzo high fantasy' is a bit different from the 'weird fantasy' I'm going for, but good to know. I'll be posting on the differences later.

  2. Loving the "Mystic Japan" series.
    Hope it becomes a staple of the blog.

    1. It is a staple, but not the only trick up my sleeve. I may bundle it up together with additions and put out a PDF at some point.