Among the pantheon of mysterious apparitions, the kasa-obake is categorised as a tsukumogami an inanimate object (usually a utensil of some sort) that after one hundred years of human handling becomes imbued with a spirit of its own. They are believed to come alive at night, while the household is sleeping – and become the things that go bump in the night. In essence, they are angered by the lack of respect shown to them by their owners, who are ready to discard them when they become old and battered.
Their best-known incarnation is as the kasa ippon-ashi, or ‘one-legged umbrella’. Their presence is not very sinister; they just like to give people a fright by creeping up behind them. They are sometimes also known as karakasa kozo, the waxed paper or “Chinese style’ umbrella priest-boy, who is usually depicted with his long tongue lolling out of his mouth. Judging by the print shown below, by Gosotei Hirosada (1810-1864), showing a kabuki actor in the role, it was also popularised by comic interludes in the theatre.
Toshidama Gallery, Somerset. Gosotei Hirotada
Unsigned wood netsuke, the cord attached to the top of the leg, which is carved separately.