At the end of April, Kiku and Miko-chan noticed that Boss Panda was exceptionally distracted. He seemed unable to sit still and kept looking towards the garden as if waiting for something. Then Kiku noticed that the calendar on 30th April had a picture of a bamboo shoot and remembered that the annual race to find the bamboo babies was due.

A few years before, Boss Panda had frightened the two friends by leaping out of his chair and shouting about the takenoko, which Miko-chan worried might be a scary yokai. Kiku had already known that takenoko literally meant ‘bamboo children’ and was the term for the tender new shoots that could be dug up and eaten in dishes such as takenoko no nimono (たけのこの煮物), tender sliced shoots simmered in a dashi stock with mirin and sake.

He had not understood at the time why Boss Panda would be so alarmed at their arrival, until it was explained that whilst ordinary bamboo shoots were fine, the yokai takenoko were the spirits of baby shoots which had been dug up but remained uneaten and therefore bore a grudge. When bamboo shoots came up in the wild, they did so where bamboo grew normally, and so shoots were expected – but these particular shoots were mischievous little spirit babies, coming up in the most unexpected places, causing absolute chaos. Humans could not see the spirit takenoko, who delighted in tripping up unsuspecting pedestrians. Boss Panda had taken it upon himself to be the guardian of these babies and every year tried to minimise the damage they could cause by working with the Tokyo Crows to spot them, and quickly round them up and bring them back to the Bamboo Bathhouse until their season was safely over.

Miko-chan remembered that Japanese children would sometimes pretend to grow and sound like bamboo shoots, which grew extremely fast and were said to make the sound ‘nyokki-ki!’ (ニョッキッキー!). She had also seen an elimination game (often played as a drinking game) where numbers were called out adding ‘nyokki-ki’ at the end.

A day later, on 1st May, one of the Tokyo Crows arrived with the news that a commotion had been noticed on a street in Shimokitazawa, an area to the west of Shibuya.

Boss Panda armed Kiku and Miko-chan with small digging tools and collecting baskets and off they set. As they drew nearer to where some humans had been seen tripping, the friends could hear a familiar song…

‘TAKE-NO-KO! TAKE-NO-KO!

We trip you up for fun,

You’ll never see us come,

We grow so fast and free,

With a happy NYOKKI-KI!”

They saw one bewildered woman sitting on a step with bruises appearing on her knees, the contents of her purse strewn on the pavement in front of her – a sure sign that the bamboo babies had been up to their mischief nearby. As they rounded a street corner, they could see little patches of the road and pavement surface crumbling in places, and little green smiling faces poking up, with a high pitched NYOKKI-KI!”

The three friends quickly set about going up and down the street, carefully prizing up the little bamboo children and placing them in the baskets, until they had gathered them all. Even though they caused problems, Boss Panda was always glad when he had them safely back at the bathhouse where they could play without causing harm – and the three even sang the song with the babies on the way home.

‘TAKE-NO-KO! TAKE-NO-KO!

We trip you up for fun,

You’ll never see us come,

We grow so fast and free,

With a happy NYOKKI-KI!”

Next time you are in Japan in late April/ early May and you see someone trip – just look a little closer and you might just catch a glimpse of a naughty bamboo baby…