Neural Stimulator II: I'm a Little Teapot

This next installment was inspired by my horrible parenting skills. More specifically, our family tends to eat meals in front of the TV. Horrible habit, obesity epidemic, the whole nine yards. However, part of the reason our TV habits developed that way is because we actually limit my son's "screen time" quite a bit... on the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is of course full of bullshit because there's very little hard evidence that screen time actually results in obesity or ADHD or whatever. I mean, compared to my son I gorged on a bazillion hours of screen time when I was growing up and I turned out... uh... well, anyway... the thing is, he gets 30 minutes of video game time once he does his homework and his chores, and he gets some plain ol' boob-tube during family meals. Our family "takes turns" over who gets control of the remote, so every third meal it's "his turn". (He actually gets to pick more often than that, due to a complicated "veto" system that makes Calvinball look like Candyland, but I digress.) So when it's my son's turn to pick, he gets so little video game time during the day that when he gets control of the TV, he tends to gorge on Youtube clips about video games.

Last week, my son queued up a clip on Super Mario Odyssey (a game we don't technically "have" yet... actually, it's hidden in the closet behind a stack of khaki pants, at least until Christmas morning). More specifically, it was a MatPat clip on the origins of "Cappy". Here's the clip, in case you're curious:

My reaction: "WHOA! I need to use that!" If you don't want to watch the clip, I'll summarize. Mario encounters a magical "ghost hat" that has the ability to possess other creatures and objects. This ability is very similar to a yokai (meaning "bewitching spirit"), a creature from Japanese folklore called an osakouburi. This hat can possess clothing to walk around, or more subtly, possess people and gently manipulate them so they find their new hat to be so utterly dashing and indispensable. The magic hat in Frosty the Snowman could be considered a "Westernized" version. The real eye-opener was that the osakouburi is actually just an example of a much larger family of yokai monsters called tsukumogami, which are everyday tools that after aging to be 100 years old, acquire their own animating spirit. Tsukumogami translates as "tool spirit", but the name may have other meanings. The kanji for "tsukumo" can be interpretted as "ninety-nine", and "gami" (or "kami") can mean either "spirit" or "hair". So through clever word-play, tsurukogami could be read as "ninety-nine-year-old hair".

The process for creating a tsukumogami is simple enough: any object that sits around for 100 years acquires its own animating spirit. Most of these tsukumogami tend to be more mischevious than malevolent. However, uppity tools that play humiliating pranks on you is unpleasant enough that the folklore advises you to throw out or destroy your tools after 99 years, preventing them from turning 100 years and getting their own spirit. In some stories this upsets the tools so much that they come up with convoluted ways to trick their owners or fudge the rules so they get their own spirit a year early. However, if you have access to a Netherworld portal, drop off an item in a previous time juncture, and then pick it up a hundred years or so later, it becomes RIDICULOUSLY EASY to create tsukumogami. And yeah, I suppose yokai are supposed to be evil monsters, and many of them may be secretly plotting to kill you, but... a talking umbrella! THAT IS SO COOL! I still want one! Here's a list of some known tsukumogami:

  • Bakezori: a possessed zori (traditional straw sandals). As an additional ability, the bakezori might know how to walk on water, walk up walls, or walk across nightingale floors without making any noise. I'm also fond of the idea that each sandal has its own personality, and they tend to bicker with each other about which direction is best. They like to run around the house at night, causing mischief and singing silly songs.
  • Biwa-bokuboku: an animated biwa (a four-stringed lute). Adding a Sorcery schtick or two feels like it might be appropriate here, such as something from Influence or Summoning. Override Will, Banishment, or Exorcism could work well here. Give the biwa 3 Magic points on its own, so non-sorcerers can use it. In a Future Juncture, a Cyborg or Gene Freak could find a talking guitar among the ruins... HOW COOL IS THAT? Instead of Sorcery schticks, it could have Scroungetech Schticks. For example, Agony Grenade could be reworked as a sonic attack of some sort, or Blow Up Real Good could be reworked as an electricity attack. Grav Plate (maybe "Amp Feedback"?) could be used to distract opponents. Or maybe Helix Rethreader to scramble your opponents DNA... with ROCK MUSIC. Very metal, dude.
  • Boroboroton: a possessed mattress. Actually, never mind... I really don't want to know what a talking mattress would say, or what sort of powers it might have.
  • Chochinobake: an animated paper lantern. These are generally harmless, prefering to just surprise or scare humans, but there are some stories about more powerful and malevolent yokai masquerading as harmless chochinobake.
  • Ichiren-bozu: animated prayer beads. Diviniation schticks would be appropriate here, such as Ghost Sense or Prediction. However, the ol' D&D standby "Necklace of Strangulation" does come to mind...
  • Ittan-momen: a roll of cotton cloth. Apparently this is the one that specializes in the "Necklace of Strangulation" schtick.
  • Jatai: another piece of clothing obsessed with strangulation, this "snake obi" is a kimono sash that slithers around like a giant snake at night. According to folklore, if you leave your obi near your head when you lay down to sleep, you'll dream about snakes. Because the word for snake's body ("jashin") is the same as the word for wicked heart, these obi tend to be murderously jealous, hunting down men and strangling them in their sleep.
  • Kameosa: a possessed sake jar. Oh, come on... you've GOT to give one of these to a Drunken Master! When drinking from a kameosa, the Drunken Master rolls 1d6 whenever he spends Chi on a schtick in Path of the Drunken Master. On an odd result, he gets 1 Chi point back. Unless he rolls snake eyes, in which case the kameosa is empty, and it starts berating the Drunken Master for being a useless wino.
  • Kasa-obake: an animated umbrella. I was disappointed to discover that there isn't much folklore or stories about kasa-obake. They appear only in illustrations or made-up stories to entertain children. Which is odd, because they typically look like pure nightmare-fuel: one eye, one leg, a leering mouth, and a long salivating tongue. That being said, I can't quite get out of my head a Spy carrying around a snarky talking kasa-obake that shoots poison darts, sleep gas, and so forth. Or a Victorian-era Governess who uses a kasa-obake with the Flight schtick.
  • Kosode-no-te: an animated kosode (short-sleeved kimono). But not just any kosode... usually one worn by a prostitute. If a prostitute dies, her clothes are generally donated to a temple. If any of her clients owed her money, sometimes her spirit might animate the kosode, track down the client, and beg for her money... or, you know, grab them around the throat with ghostly hands and strangle them to death. For dead prostitutes, you can't really go wrong with Influence sorcery: Illusion schtick to look like a loved one, Override Will to play with people's heads, or Love Potion to turn bitter rivals into star-crossed lovers.
  • Koto-furunushi: another animated Japanese stringed instrument, similar to a zither. In Japanese folklore, it's associated with the camphor tree, and so it might have powers associated with relaxation or healing: Iron Mind Powder or Vitamin S comes to mind.
  • Kyorinrin: possessed scrolls or papers. If you don't think that's scary, then you probably pay someone else to prepare your taxes. As far as powers go, I'd probably go with one of the more plot-heavy Sorcery schticks written on the scroll (such as Invocation or Love Potion), but it has very obstinate opinions on where, when, and how it should be used.
  • Menreiki: A creature formed out of 66 gigaku masks (a type of theatrical mask). This looks more like just a straight-up monster, and is in fact listed among the demons in Gazu Hyakki Tsurezure Bakuro ("The Illustrated Bag of One Hundred Random Demons"), the fourth book in Toriyama Sekien's Gazy Hyakki Yagyo series. However, I can't find anything on what its powers might be, so... maybe one of the Foe Schticks such as Implant Suggestion or Requires Group Effort.
  • Minowaraji: an animated mino (a cape or raincoat made out of straw). It looks like the last thing you'd ever want to wear in the rain, but rice straw repels water. In addition to making you look like a haystack, adding a defensive ability might work best. Blunt the Crane's Beak, for example, or maybe dust off 1st Edition and pick one of the Damage Immunities. But it doesn't necessarily have to be made out of straw. Any coat could become a tsukumogami.
  • Morinji-no-okama: a possessed tea kettle. This one requires a little more elaboration (see below).
  • Shamichoro: an animated shamisen, a three-stringed instrument similar to a banjo. "Shami-choro" is a play on words, meaning "shamisen master", but also evoking an old Japanese proverb: "Shami kara choro ni wa nararezu", which means "one cannot go from novice to senior." Musical instruments are more likely to be left around for 100 years, but they are also likely to be neglected, sadly hoping that their master will one day pick them up and play them again.
  • Shirouneri: possessed mosquito netting or dust rags. I was going to skip this one, but I found another source that describes these as dish towels or kitchen rags that have seen too many years of use past their prime, so they turn into tiny cloth dragons and fly through the air, chasing cleaning staff and servants, and attacking them by wrapping their slimy, mildewy body around their necks and heads, causing them to pass out from the stench. They tend to be more annoying than murderous, but... a tiny flying cloth dragon! COOL!
  • Shogoro: an animated gong. The name is a pun, combining "shogo" (gong) with "goro" (common part of a boy's name). This one is just begging to give one of the PCs the Bank Shot ability.
  • Ungaikyo: a possessed mirror. The name means "cloud out mirror" or "mirror beyond the clouds". You may be thinking of "Mirror, mirror, on the wall" from Snow White, but many mirrors were used to drive off evil spirits or redirect the flow of chi. After 100 years of driving away yokai, the mirror becomes a yokai itself. This item would likely have several Divination powers, including: Allegiance, Exposure, Fight Finder, Ghost Sense, and Revelation. For driving off evil yokai, it probably has Banishment as well. And yes, you could ask it "Who is the fairest of them all?" but it's not really a good idea... how often does that end well?
  • Yamaoroshi: this is a metal grater, a kitchen tool with metal slicers that you use to slice or grate vegetables. It's also a pun, as the name sounds like "yamaarashi", the Japanese word for porcupine. So these creatures tend to resemble porcupines. Although this probably falls into the "more annoying than dangerous" category, an enterprising hero could pick one up to get +3 damage against vegetables.
  • Zorigami: a possessed clock. I've been digging around to hopefully find a legend or story about this, because the idea sounds so interesting, but unfortunately I haven't found anything. Presumably, the clock can use the Warning schtick from Divination specialty. With the idea that a clock might be able to manipulate time, I'd be tempted to give it something like Fox's "Fleet" schtick or or the Fu schtick Contract of the Fox. Also, I love the idea of using a grandfather clock as a portal to the Netherworld, perhaps linked to the Clock House.

So... about that tea kettle. As I was googling around about tsukumogami, I stumbled onto a page that discussed tea culture during Japan's pivotal Sengoku period. I didn't know about this before, but apparently all the fighting was over who got to collect all the tea utensils! Which warlord to attack, whether to use fire against a castle, if you allowed an enemy to surrender... it all depended on whether you got to collect their tea set. Here's the article:

The most devoted collector was Oda Nobunaga. It started in 1568 when he marched into the Japanese capital Kyoto to re-establish the Muromachi Shogunate under Ashikaga Yoshiaki. Matsunaga Hisahide, who was defending the capitol, was forced to surrender. When Nobunaga demanded Hisahide to show his devotion to the new political situation, gifts of gold, silver, rice, or money did not impress him. He already had plenty of those. Desperate to save his own life, Hisahide offered him one of his mozed prized possessions, an eggplant-shaped tea caddy called Tsukumo Nasu (meaning "ninety-nine eggplant"). This tea caddy had been passed down through the generations of the Ashikaga Shogunate, purchased by a tea master for 99 kan (hence the "ninety-nine" designation), and changed hands several times before Hisahide purchased it from a wealthy textile merchant in Kyoto for 1000 kan. Legend has it that Tsukumo Nasu was a tsukumogami, a talking tea caddy. It became one of Nobunaga's favorite treasures, and traveled with him wherever he went. From that point on, Nobunaga was hooked on tea culture, and he ordered his generals to collect "meibutsu" (masterwork tea utensils) and "karamono" (Chinese art objects). The tea ceremony became the centerpiece of his political and military strategy: Who do I attack next? Whoever has a valuable tea set. Do I burn down this castle? Not if it would destroy the tea utensils. He used the captured tea utensils to forge alliances, reward subordinates, avoid costly battles, attract rich supporters, and intimidate his enemies.

Hisahide's loyalty to Nobunaga did not last. In 1569, when the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaka turned on Nobunaga, Hisahide joined Yoshiaka in a plot to surround Oda with an "encircling net" of loyal daimyos. However, the plot fell apart in 1573, and Hisahide switched sides to support Nobunaga. In 1577, Hisahide betrayed Nobunaga again, sneaking his troops out of the Oda army, but Nobunaga pursued and trapped him in Shingisan Castle. As Hisahide prepared for a hopeless fight to the death, Nobunaga surpisingly offered unprecedented terms for his surrender. Of all the legendary tea utensils that Hisahide had collected, only one had he resolutely refused to part with: the Hiragumo. This was a famous tea kettle was called the "flat spider" for it's flattened shape and a spider design on the kettle's surface that appeared to crawl when it was full of boiling water. Nobunaga demanded it now: Hisahide could trade his life for the Hiragumo.

Hisahide refused. In a fit of rage, Hisahide filled the Hiragumo with gunpowder, chained it around his neck, climbed to the top of the castle walls, lit the fuse, and then threw himself into the midst of his enemies, blowing himself up along with the coveted Hiragumo.

As Nobunaga collected more tea utensils, word reached him of a legendary story: if someone managed to collect the "Big Three" tea caddies (named Narashina, Nitta, and Hatsuhana), then this would be the same as taking control of the entire country. Nitta he had already obtained from the northern daimyo Otomo Sorin. Hatsuhana he was able to purchase from merchants in Kyoto. But Narashina eluded him. It was held by Akizuki Tanezane, a rival warlord on the southern island of Kyushu. In 1582, as Nobunaga consolidated his power in central Japan, one of his generals beseiging Takamatsu Castle called for reinforcements. Nobunaga returned to Kyoto but ordered his troops west to help with the siege. With only his bodyguards and servants with him, he stopped at the Honnoji temple for a tea ceremony. General Akechi Mitsuhide was marching his troops into Kyoto, seemingly following Nobunaga's orders to support the siege at Takamatsu Castle. When he noticed that Nobunaga had only his servants and bodyguards, and all his other generals were busy elsewhere, he dediced this was an opportunity too good to pass up. As they were crossing the Katsura River, Mitsuhide announced to his troops, "The enemy awaits at Honnoji!" Before dawn the next day, Akechi surrounded the temple and attacked. Nobunaga's bodyguards were quickly overwhelmed and cut down. Nobunaga committed seppuku, and his page Mori Ranmaru set fire to the temple to prevent the traitors from capturing his body or claiming his head as a trophy.

Due to the Hinnoji Incident, many priceless tea utensils were damaged or destroyed in the fire. However, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi searched the ruins, he found both Hatsuhana and Tsukumo Nasu intact. As Nobunaga's successor, Nitta passed to him as well. In 1587, Hideyoshi turned his troops to the south and invaded Kyushu. Hideyoshi surrounded the Akizuki clan at Ganjaku Castle, but refrained from using fire to avoid destroying Narashina. Akizuki Tanezane made an appeal for mercy, and Hideyoshi demanded Narashina as his price. With the Akizuki clan now on his side, opposition to Hideyoshi's rule in the south collapsed, and he turned back to the east to deal with the remaining dissidents. Three years later, the Hojo clan surrendered to Hideyoshi at the end of the Siege of Odawara. After 123 years of war, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had finally unified Japan.

As can be seen from Nobunaga's obsession with tea utensils, these coveted crockeries function much like feng shui sites. As Nobunaga collected more of them, his armies won more battles, more samurai flocked to his banner, rivals became allies, and his fortunes increased. Performing a tea ceremony with the utensils attunes the participants to them and accords them the same benefits as being attuned to a feng shui site. Likewise, destroying one of these objects is the same as burning a feng shui site, and unfortunately many of the legendary tea artifacts from the Sengoku period were destroyed in subsequent fires. Hatsuhana and Nitta survived, but Narashina was lost in 1657 during the Great Fire of Meireki, which destroyed 70% of the imperial capital of Edo. Legend has it that the fire started when a priest tried to cremate a cursed kimono (perhaps it was a kosode-no-te?). This, of course, begs for a pop-up juncture to open during the Edo period, presenting someone with the opportunity to rescue the Narashina, combine it with the Hatsuhana and Nitta, and conduct a tea ceremony with the "Big Three", thus taking control of all the feng shui sites in Japan.

Since any items surviving the Sengoku period are now well over 100 years old, it's very likely that some of them are now tsukumogami. The most famous tea caddy, Tsukumo Nasu, survived the Honnoji Incident, but was badly damaged during the siege of Osaka Castle in 1615. Tokugawa Ieyasu found the shattered pieces in the ruins and gave them to Fujishige Togen, a famous craftsman known for his expertise in lacquerware. Togen and his son (also named Togen) repaired the tea caddy, and after Ieyasu's death in 1616, Tsukumo Nasu was gifted to the Fujishige family. During the Meiji Era, it was purchased by Yanosuke Iwasaki of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu. In the Contemporary Juncture, it is currently on display at the Seikado Bunko Art Museum in Setagaya, Tokyo. One must wonder, though... can it still talk? Was the talking tea caddy the secret to Nobunaga's success? Was Tsukumo Nasu able to tell Nobunaga where and when to attack, which nobles could be swayed to his side, or which generals he could rely on for support? Perhaps another tea caddy, after witnessing centuries of political intrigue, bloody battles, dastardly betrayals, and impossible victories, might be able to offer similar advice?

Tsukumo Nasu, if it were acquired from its current owners (or rescued from a pop-up juncture), has all the properties of a feng shui site once it's been attuned through a proper tea ceremony. Attunement offers an additional benefit: after being used in a tea ceremony, Tsukumo Nasu can be asked to use one of the Allegiance, Fight Finder, Prediction, or Truthseek schticks for the owner. At certain key points in history (and at the GM's discretion), Tsukumo Nasu may also offer advice before an important battle. If this advice is followed, all of the combatants fighting on the side of the owner gain a +1 AV bonus on all of their attack rolls.