A shōjō (猩々/猩猩 lett. big drinker or orangutan) is a yōkai from the Japanese Sea with a red face and hair and a penchant for alcohol. It is a yōkai with a red face and hair and a penchant for alcohol.
This legend inspired a Nō play of the same name, a Nō mask for one this character, and the little man type of makeup for kabuki.
The Chinese characters used to spell "shōjō" are a Japanese (and Chinese) word for orangutan, and can also be used to refer to someone who has a particular fondness for alcohol.
Shōjō's Chinese origins
Mythological creatures called shēng shēng (狌狌) or "xīng xīng" (猩猩) are mentioned in three passages in the Shan Hai Jing ("Book of the Mountains and Seas").
Anne Birrell, who translated the name as alive-living, translated these passages as follows:
"There is an animal in the mountains that looks like a monkey with a long tail, but it has white ears. It moves crouching and runs like a human being. Its name is alive-living. If you eat it, you will become a good runner."
(Book 1--Mounts-South--Chapter 1 (p. 3))
"The Sloping Forest measures 300 square leagues. It lies to the east of the land of the living-apes. The living-apes know the names of men. These animals are similar to pigs, but they have a human face."
(Book 10--Regions Between the Seas: South (p. 135))
"There is a green animal with a human face. Its name is alive-living."
(Book 18--Book of Regions Between the Seas (p. 192))
Birrell translates the Chinese characters as "green" (青, qīng), but they can also refer to the color that is called "blue" in Italian, so the illustrator Sun Xiao-qin (孫暁琴, Sūn Xiǎo-qín), in the Classics Illustrated: Book of Mountains and Seas (经典图读山海经, Jīng Diǎn Tú Dú Shān Hǎi Jīng), chose to portray the xīng xīng of the last passage with a blue fur coat.
Birrell also wrote the following note about the creature:
"Alive-living (hsing-hsing): A type of monkey. The translation of its name reflects the phonetics for alive (sheng) in two signs. It is sometimes translated as orangutan. Hao Yi-hsing (郝懿行) notes that its lips taste delicious. He also quotes a text from the fourth century AD that gives evidence of their mental faculties and their knowledge of human names: "In the region of Yunnan, the living animals dwell in the mountain valleys. When they see wine and sandals left outside, they know exactly that it is a trap for them, and, mostly, they know the name of an ancestor of that person who set the trap and call her by name cursing her: 'Vile scoundrel! You hoped to trap me!""
Shōjō In Cryptozoology
In Cryptozoology, the shōjō is often referred to as xing-xing and is believed to be a mainland orangutan, because normal orangutans live only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
Bernard Heuvelmans lists this creature in his Annotated List of Apparently Unknown Animals of which Cryptozoology is Concerned.
Shōjō's Nature, folklore, and mass culture
There is a story about shōjō and white sake. There was a seriously ill man whose last wish was to drink sake liquor.
His son went looking for him near Fuji, but came across a red shōjō, who was having a drinking party on the beach. The shōjō gave him sake after listening to his request.
Because the sake healed his dying father, the son returned to the spirit for more liquor every day for five days. A greedy neighbor who had wanted sake fell ill after drinking it.
He forced his son to bring the shōjō to him for beneficial sake. The shōjō explained that his heart was not pure, so the consecrated sake would not benefit him, but instead would poison him. The neighbor repented and the shōjō gave him medicine to cure him. From then on they began to brew white sake together.
Several plants and animals have the word shōjō in their names because of their bright red-orange color. Examples include various Japanese maples, one of which is called shōjō-no-mai (red-faced dancing monkey) or shōjō nomura (beautiful red-faced monkey).
Some bright orange-red dragonflies are called shōjō tonbo (猩猩蜻蛉 ), called red-faced dragonflies.
Other names with shōjō refer to real or imagined connections to sake, such as the shōjō bae fly (猩猩蠅) that tends to fly around sake.
The Kyōgen-influenced spectacle of Nō theater, shōjō or shōjō midare shows a shōjō buying sake, getting drunk and dancing ecstatically, and then repaying the seller well and refilling his glass again and again.
The shōjō in the show are made from wooden dolls (nara ningyō), which are among the most common of the dolls derived from Nō theater. Shōjō dolls are also used as a traditional remedy to ward off smallpox.
Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai, who was known for his alcoholism and eccentric behavior, jokingly called himself Shōjō.
Shōjō is also featured in Supernatural 7x18.