Uncanny Japan logo
May 1, 2024

Falling Trees: Tengu or Furusoma (Creepy Dead Guy)?(Ep. 147)

Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Download MP3

Furusoma, the old wood cutter

Hey hey, this is Thersa Matsuura and you’re listening to Uncanny Japan. 

Mountain Lunch and Mystery Sound

The other day I went with some friends into the mountains to spend the afternoon. We enjoyed an incredible macrobiotic lunch, with mushrooms, grasses, wild veggies, and bamboo shoots all freshly picked that morning. Then we strolled alongside a rocky river, and watched a small group of kids all turned delightfully mad due to spring and I suppose just being in nature. They threw off their shoes and waded out into the water where they squealed and caught yamame (cherry salmon) with their bare hands. Then with the help of a man who seemed to be orchestrating the fun, they roasted them over a fire, ate them, then with their clothes still on all climbed into old fashioned barrel tubs (literally metal drum cans) that had fires burning underneath. There they relaxed after a hard day playing.

And, yes, part of that magical day is finding its way into the middle grade book I’m writing at the moment. But actually, today’s episode isn’t about making child soup at all. 

A little later we were talking to the guy — a nice, long-haired wild man himself — who runs these excursions that allows people (kids and adults) to experience the slower closer to nature life of old Japan. While we were talking, I heard the very distinct sound of someone shouting in the mountain not too far from where we were and the creaking and falling of a large tree, breaking branches of other trees on the way down. I said something about it — like Wow that was close —  but my friends hadn’t heard it. The man, though, nodded, and said. Yeah, tree. 

It was weird, but I thought nothing more about it. Maybe my friends were so concentrated on listening to him talk they didn’t hear it. Perfectly understandable. As I was leaving the parking area and passed where I was sure the tree had fallen, I slowed down, but couldn’t see anything. No fallen tree but also no cars or any signs of wood cutter. Again, maybe it was farther in the trees than I thought. 

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I was reading about interesting folktales from different places around Japan and the first one I came across was the Furusoma (古杣)or Old woodcutter. You’ll never believe what this ghostly woodcutter does! 


Hey hey! How are you? Holding up okay? I hope so. Guess what? I do believe The Book of Japanese Folklore is officially released! No more pre-order, real-order is possible. Now I get to make puppy dog eyes and ask if you’e like to leave a review, I’d be ever so grateful. Thank you! 

What Does Furusoma Mean?

Okay, let me tell you about this curious wood cutter. What is a Furusoma? His name gives you a good indication. Furu meaning old and soma is a cute little kanji combining tree and mountain and it means…forests (often on mountains). You see, after the late 7th century many large-scale construction projects started popping up all over Japan. There were fancy buildings, castles, temples, and shrines all being built and a lot of wood was needed. A soma was the area of mountain and forest maintained for the purpose of logging. In this case though, furusoma refers to the ghostly yokai more often heard than seen. 

What Does a Furusoma Look Like?

But if you have seen this fella, it might have been in from Mizuki Shigeru portrayal of him, which is a little freaky if you ask me. There’s one normal-ish image of an old gray-skinned man in an orange robe with a hood. His eyes are going in different directions. He’s got space teeth and a blue tongue sticking out. But then another wonderful bout of lucky coincidence, just last week some other friends came over for lunch and one gave me a couple Mizuki Shigeru books her son was going to throw away. She told me to pass them on and I was planning to, when I thought, I wonder…and sure enough there was a chapter on this obscure little beastie. 

Since it’s been a little hard finding good images of this sound yokai, I checked and discovered a much more creepy drawing. It’s black and white, same old man, eyes much wilder. It’s dark and hard to tell but he looks in pretty bad shape. As he should be because the belief is the furusoma is the ghost of a lumber jack that died after being crushed by a felled tree or some similar wood cutting accident. Sometimes the tale is that the person was illegally logging. Sometimes it’s not a dead person’s spirit at all, but a mountain kami or deity.  Having fun, I suppose. 

You don’t necessarily see them, and you probably don’t want to given their method of dying. But if you’re ever out walking around at night in a forested area — especially on the island of Shikoku in Kõchi and Tokushima Prefectures — you might hear the tell-tell sounds of a furusoma. That is, someone cutting (kan kan), the bari bari sound of the tree cracking as it falls, then Don! The crash. But it’s night time, you say. Why would anyone be cutting at night. 

That said there is one area where it can happen during the day, that’s the Nagaoka District. And before the ghost tree falls you’ll hear a shout of “Iku zo iku zo!” “There it goes! Or It’s going!”  

The Cursed Ink Brush (sumisashi)

This wouldn’t be a proper legend or yokai if there was something really out of left field here. And that would be there is something called a sumisashi. A sumisashi is an old fashioned a wonderfully creative tool for carpenters. So neat, in fact, that you can still find them used today. 

Imagine a length of bamboo about as long as a pencil. But it’s flat and one end is cut until it narrowed to somewhat of a point, then beaten with a hammer to fray the end. Now it’s a kind of brush and can be dipped in ink (the sumi part of sumisashi) and used to write things on the wood. Cut here. Deliver to Endo Dono. But what makes it even cooler is that the opposite side is left un-narrowed to a point. Think of the end of a ruler, but at an angle and the bamboo being mashed again so that it sucks up ink when it’s dipped in. This end is for making straight lines easily. 

That is a tool every good wood cutter had on hand and cherished. You know how you hear that combs were so beloved to Japanese women, but how they can take on the spirits or souls of their owners and curse others? if you don’t know then maybe I can do an episode on that. But just believe me, it was a thing.

Well, this version of the furusoma story had a woodcutter who died tragically and his poor sumisashi was left out in the woods. Forgotten. Sad. Angry. Curses ensue. Or, well, strange tree-felling sounds ensue. 

Now all that is about a furusoma, and thoroughly creepy yokai that might just resemble some poor fellow who’s been flattened by a falling tree. But it doesn’t seem to cause any harm. 


You also have the much more well known tengu daoshi (天狗倒し). Tengu are those majestic red-faced, long nosed — or crow-faced — mountains yōkai that fly around, do martial arts, and evidently make the sounds of trees being cut down, among many other cool tricks. Tengu episode is number 32 for more on them. Daoshi me to knock down or push down or, well, topple. 

But while similar to the furusoma, these occurrences have been reported all over Japan any time of night or day. 

A Deity to Wake You?

Another culprit might be a mountain deity in Tochigi Prefecture, Sano City. If you are out doing a hard day’s work cutting down trees and you decide to take a little nap, you can ask it to wake up at a certain time and it will! By making the sound of a tree falling near you. Now why a mountain deity would WANT you to keep chopping down trees I don’t know. I have questions about this one. 

And the final possible explanation for hearing a tree fall in the forest but not finding any such tree, is the old kitsune or tanuki. Down in Kyushu on the Kunisaki Peninsula the fox or raccoon dog (or both, why not both?) will slap their tails against trees thus mimicking the sound of a tree crashing to the ground. 

As for my furusoma story. Okay, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know. I mean I don’t live on Shikoku and it wasn’t nighttime. But it could have been a tengu just having some fun. Or some rascally tanuki or kitsune. 

Okay, that’s all for today. Thank you for listening if you’re able to help support the show there’s always patreon. I’m fixing to go and put up a post about the mountain visit and a bunch of pictures. 

I’ll talk to you all in two weeks then. Stay safe and well.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

About The Uncanny Japan Podcast

Speculative fiction writer, long-term resident of Japan and Bram Stoker Award finalist Thersa Matsuura explores all that is weird from old Japan—strange superstitions, folktales, cultural oddities, and interesting language quirks. These are little treasures she digs up while doing research for her writing.

© Copyright 2024 Uncanny Productions
Buy Me a Coffee at Ko-Fi