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Shōjō, the Drunken Ape

Ewa Nowogorski

Shōjō literally means “heavy drink”, and is the name of a Japanese sea spirit with a red face and hair and a love of alcohol, as the name implies. 

This creature has Chinese origins but takes up Japanese mythology as well. There exists a tale of shōjō and some white sake. There was once a dying man whose dying wish was to drink sake. His son searched for it near Mount Fuji and came across the red shōjō, or the red apes, who were having a drinking party on the beach. The son of the dying man approached the drinking apes, pleaded for some sake, and was given some after the apes empathized with his plea.

The son gave his father the sake, and as a result the father was revived, the alcohol curing his fatal illness. The son had to visit the ape and retrieve more sake everyday for 5 days to perfectly cure his father, and it worked. The opposite result happened to a greedy neighbor after he drank the same sake.

He was greedy and wanted to be extremely fit, healthy, and basically immortal. But when he finally got his hands on the sake, he became ill instead, and this was because his intentions weren’t pure.

Characters identifying as shōjō often appear in Japanese animations, and shōjō dolls are made and occasionally used to ward off smallpox. The reasons for this are because these creatures gave medicine to cure the greedy neighbor of his self-induced illness, and they became an icon of good health.

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