#155: Cyndaquil (ヒノアラシ)

Hinoarashi, the Fire Mouse Pokemon

C/D: Cyndaquil is the most adorable Pokemon ever, and you had no hesitation in immediately choosing him as your starter in Gold and Silver.  Don’t lie; you know it’s true.  Just look at that joyful face.  Only a demon with no soul could ignore that expression.  Eventually, Cyndaquil evolves into Quilava and Typhlosion and comes down with a bad case of Perpetually Angry Final Evolution Disorder, but I chose to believe that my adorable Cyndaquil remained happy and joyful on the inside.

There isn’t much to see in this Pokemon at first glance.  It’s some sort of rodent on fire.  Much like Charmander is a lizard on fire, Torchic is a chicken on fire, Chimchar is a monkey on fire, and Tepig is walking barbecued pork, the Fire-type starters have never been exceptionally inspired in design.  Some have suggested that we’ll eventually get through lighting all the animals of the Chinese zodiac on fire, to which I respond with mild horror; snakes are nightmarish enough without being able to shoot fireballs, thanks.  Regardless, to my knowledge, no wiki or forum out there has suggested that Cyndaquil is based on anything but pyromaniac tendencies and animal abuse, let alone mythological youkai inspirations.  There may be more to this flaming mouse, though, than meets the eye.

Let’s examine some of the characteristic and traits of the Cyndaquil family.  Cyndaquil is the Fire Mouse Pokemon; Quilava and Typhlosion are the Volcano Pokemon.  Cyndaquil is timid, curling itself up into a ball and shooting out flames if frightened, reminiscent of a porcupine or hedgehog.  Quilava and Typhlosion much more closely resemble weasels or stoats.  The latter is said to hide behind a haze of heat to conceal itself and to be capable of sparking massive explosions by rubbing its fur together; the former is covered by heat-resistant fur and is immune to all fire-based attacks (assumedly, this trait is shared by the whole line).  In the recently released Generation V, gameplay and story segregation have merged, resulting in Cyndaquil’s acquisition of the ability Flash Fire, full immunity to moves of the Fire-type.

My personal suspicions, at this point, were fully aroused as I recalled a legend I had heard as a little kid.  A bit more research would reveal the following: in Japanese, Cyndaquil is Hinoarashi (ヒノアラシ), literally ‘fire porcupine’, while Chinese, Cyndaquil’s name is Huo Cho Shu (火球鼠), meaning ‘fireball mouse’.  In both languages, Cyndaquil’s species is described as the 火鼠 Pokemon, translating literally to the Fire Mouse Pokemon; this, of course, is exactly how it was named in English.  Here’s the punchline: a few more searches pulled up a secondary definition for 火鼠.  Can you guess what is it?  No?  Incredibly enough, it’s a youkai rodent.  On fire.  Although I can find no other source that agrees with my view, I’d like to propose the hypothesis that Cyndaquil draws heavy influence from the myth of the 火鼠, the Fire Rat.

From the 和漢三才図会

火鼠 has several readings: kaso, hinezumi, and hinonezumi.  The first is the Chinese reading (on-yomi), and the latter two are Japanese readings (kun-yomi).  Kakoujuu (火光獣) is an alternate name for this mythical creature as, meaning ‘firelight beast’.  I regret to say once again that the hinonezumi originated in China; while these articles are meant to be an examination of youkai, it appears that the vast majority of youkai have basis in yao-gwai.  No loss, though.  Both are equally interesting, and there’s obviously been enough intermingling that it hardly matters where the monster first originated.  Once again, like the kamaitachi and the baku, it is the Japanese tradition of folklore that really places a spotlight on this youkai.

From what I can gather of this elusive animal, it is unusual among youkai in that none have ever been claimed to be native to Japan.  The hinonezumi is exclusively a Chinese creature, said to live at the far reaches of the southern regions of China.  In the volcanoes near the South China Sea, perpetual fires burn day and night without the need for wood or sustenance; through summer, autumn, winter, and fall, the eternal blaze continues.  The reason for this phenomenon can be found in the creatures that inhabit these volcanoes. They are the homes of the hinonezumi, the rat that exudes elemental fire.  About 250kg in weight, the flaming beasts are blessed with beautiful fur finer than silk, with individual hairs reaching upwards of 50cm in length.  By far the greatest attraction of the hinonezumi is its immunity to fire and heat; although a hinonezumi dies if exposed to water, it is said that the source of its power lies within its fur.

If you think this story sounds familiar, you’re probably right.  Europe had invented its own creature with similar properties: the mythical salamander, featured in Harry Potter, is purported to live in the heart of an inferno without suffering any consequences whatsoever.  Why this obsession with flame-retardant creatures?  In this case, the invention of these animals was necessary to explain an oddity that seemingly could not be explained any other way: the existence of the Kakanfu (火浣布), the Fire-Rinsing Cloth.  Beautiful robes of a most unusual property had circulated throughout the world by the time of the development of these myths, and their inherent powers were baffling.  Kakanfu had the quality of being resistant to flames – moreso, when thrown into the fire, it emerged impossibly pure and white.  It was said that the robe grew more and more beautiful each time it was subjected to this treatment, and indeed, the only means of cleaning this cloth at all was by setting it alight.  Kesa (袈裟), monk’s robes, were particularly prone to being made of this substance, and it was the very lucky or very honored Buddhist priest who owned such a garment.

Kaso, Shin Megami Tensei (multiple titles)

As clothing is usually woven with the fur of an animal, the idea of a flaming creature with fire-resistant fur seems natural enough.  In China and Japan, kakanfu inspired the story of the hinonezumi; in Europe, the salamander; in Latin America, a separate fire-rodent; and in many other places through the world, similar legends.  Certainly, the people who knew the truth of the matter weren’t going to ruin their business by revealing that their robes had no basis in extremely rare, fantastic creatures at all, but rather, a simple stone.  The mystical properties of the Fire-Rinsing Cloth arose from the simple fact that the clothing was made from asbestos, which, in modern days, is known to be rather hard on the lungs and not at all something you want close to your body no matter how fire-resistant it is.  Asbestos, or stone wool, was a closely guarded secret even in its manufactured country of India; the majority of the traders who dealt with the material bought into the idea of the mystical fire-proof creature as well.  It was India’s closest neighbors, the Persians, who first imagined the idea of the salamander (samander). Upon reaching northern China, the stories relocated the creature to south China and changed it to a furrier animal.

The similarities between Cyndaquil and the hinonezumi should be clear by now.  Making its home in a volcano, the Fire Mouse Pokemon possesses fur that is immune to fire and constantly creates flames from its body at all times.  Modern depictions of the hinonezumi tend to bear certain similarities to Cyndaquil as well: the picture on the upper right is that of Kaso, a summonable demon in the game series, Shin Megami Tensei.  One of Cyndaquil’s more unique attacks is Flame Wheel, known for being the only move that could defrost the user from the status affliction FRZ during Generation II (aside from Sacred Fire, a legendary-exclusive move).  This is likely because it was the only Pokemon that actively created fire from its body rather than simply breathing it, akin to the hinonezumi.

I will conclude by relating the most famous story involving the kaso that has ever been written, the story that I myself heard as a child.  Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語), the Story of the Bamboo Cutter, tells the tale of an old childless couple who discover a baby girl sleeping within a shining stalk of bamboo.  She is named Kaguyahime (輝夜姫), Brilliant Night Princess, and subsequently grows to become an extraordinarily beautiful young woman.  Despite being the daughter of commoners, her beauty is soon well known throughout the land and she is courted by multiple suitors.  Naturally, she rejects all of them.  At one point, she is approached by five princes and convinced to choose from one of them.  She responds by stating that she will marry the one who can complete the tasks she sets.  From the first prince, she requests the stone begging bowl of the Buddha; from the second, a jeweled branch from the mystical island of Penglai (蓬萊) in China (known as Hourai in Japan); from the third, a robe made from the hair of the hinonezumi of China; from the fourth, the jewel from a dragon’s neck that contains its power; and from the fifth, a swallow’s cowrie shell, which was supposed to induce pregnancy in women.

Naturally, every suitor failed in his task.  Various interpretations of the tale give various outcomes, but Minister Abe, the third prince, invariably uncovers what he believes to be a kakanfu, either by searching diligently or by sending his servants throughout the world to find a merchant who was willing to sell one.  Unfortunately, when he presents it to Kaguyahime, she tests its value by throwing it within the fire, and it is revealed to be a fake.  Disappointed, he returns home in shame.  The other princes face similar fates, except the fifth, who, although given the easiest task of all, dies after falling from a great height in his attempt to find the cowrie shell.

In the end, Kaguyahime is revealed to be one of the Moon people, either sent to Earth for a time as punishment for a sin or for her own safety while a war raged between the celestials.  She is summoned back by her people, however, and sadly bids farewell to her adoptive parents, drinks of the elixir of immortality, and ascends to the heavens.  Notably, Chinese legends tell of the goddess Chang’e (嫦娥) and her white rabbit, both of whom live on the moon.  The elixir of immortality is pounded daily by the white rabbit for his goddess to drink; however, in Japanese traditions, he is said to be pounding nothing more than mochi.  Either way, the elixir of immortality is strongly associated with the heavenly celestials and the Moon people in both Chinese and Japanese myths.

Stylized Fire Rat

Credit: 一ノ瀬結 on Pixiv

Huo Shu

Official Art from 屠魔