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ALTERNATE NAMES: gozuki (ox head demon)
HABITAT: Meido and Jigoku

APPEARANCE: In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu and Mezu are the demon generals who guard the gates of hell. They appear as terrible oni with animal heads; an ox head for Gozu, and a horse head for Mezu. They are extremely powerful and have the strength to move mountains. They are servants of Great King Enma, the ruler of hell, and are among the chief torturers and punishers of the wicked.

INTERNACTIONS: Gozu and Mezu are the first demons that one encounters upon entering hell. Should a person manage to escape from hell, Gozu and Mezu are sent out to bring them back.

ORIGIN: Though Gozu and Mezu are the most famous and most commonly depicted in story and art, they are not the only animal-headed demons in Great King Enma’s employ. Deer, tiger, lion, and boar-headed demons are also said to serve among the upper ranks of the guardians of hell. They operate the great torture chambers of Jigoku and oversee the torment of countless souls. Gozu, Mezu, and other animal-headed demons originate in Indian mythology, which was imported along with Buddhism to Japan by way of China.




TRANSLATION: none; written with characters that mean “human” and “cow”
HABITAT: farms across Japan, but particularly in Kyushu and western Japan
DIET: milk; rarely lives long enough to eat anything else

APPEARANCE: Kudan are prophetic creatures that take the form of baby cows with human faces. Very rarely, they are also said to take the reverse appearance: a cow’s face on a human body. They are born from cows, and their birth is often said to be an omen of some significant historical event. A kudan never lives for more than a few days.

BEHAVIOR: Kudan are able to speak human languages from the day they are born. Immediately upon being born, a kudan gives one or more prophecies. The content of their prophecies varies. Some kudan have spoken of great harvests or terrible famines, some have foretold plagues and droughts, while others have predicted wars. The prediction of a kudan never fails to come true. Upon delivering its prophecy, a kudan immediately dies.

ORIGIN: Kudan are a relatively recent yokai, having entered the public zeitgeist during the end of the Edo period. This was a period of great social and political upheaval. The fall of the shogunate and the return of imperial authority, combined with the rapid changes brought about by the opening of trade with the West were responsible for a lot of uncertainly and turmoil throughout Japan. During this time, stories of kudan being born popped up up in newspapers all across the country.

Kudan sightings continued through the end of the Edo period until after World War 2. Among some of the events supposedly predicted by kudan are the Russo-Japanese War and the Pacific War. Because of their uncanny ability to predict the future, the word of a kudan was viewed as absolute truth. During the Edo period, newspapers looking to add credibility to a story would include the words “kudan no gotoshi,” or, “as if a kudan had said it” to their articles. This phrase remains in use in the Japanese language today as a way of assuring the reader of the truth of a story.

Because of its reputation for honesty, images of kudan were used as talismans for good luck, prosperity, and protection from sickness and disaster. Newspapers advised their readers to hang the printed images of kudan on their houses for protection and good fortune. Kudan were such popular yokai that their mummified remains were often carted around in traveling sideshows. These “kudan” could be made of stillborn deformed calves, or of different animal parts stitched together to create a chimera-like stuffed animal. Visitors paid a small fee to gawk at these specimens and hopefully receive some of their good luck. A few of these mummified remains survive in museums today.



TRANSLATION: the three corpses; the three spirits
HABITAT: inside the human body
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The sanshi are three spiritual worms found inside of humans. Each is about 6 centimeters long. These worms live in their hosts from the moment they are born to the moment they die. They work hard to cause their hosts to do evil things.

INTERACTIONS: The names of the sanshi are Jōshi, Chūshi, and Geshi, meaning upper worm, middle worm, and lower worm.

Jōshi lives in your head and looks like a Taoist wise man. He is responsible for making your eyes grow weak, creating wrinkles, and growing white hairs. Chūshi lives in your torso and looks like a wild beast. He is responsible for damaging internal organs, making you overeat and overdrink, and causing bad dreams. Geshi lives in the lower half of your body and looks like a human foot with a cow’s head. He drains the will and shortens the life of his host.

The number 60 is an important number in Chinese astrology, and every sixty days the sanshi leave the body to visit the King of Heaven while their host human sleeps. They report their host’s wicked deeds for the year to king. Depending on this report, the King of Heaven shortens each human’s life span by a certain amount.

To escape the King of Heaven’s sentence, Kōshin practitioners do not sleep every 60th night, so the sanshi are never able to leave the body and give their report. Additionally, spells and charms are chanted to prevent any harm done by the sanshi. The following spell is said to defeat the sanshi’s power:

ホウコウシ、ホウジョウシ メイコシ シツニュウヨウメイイチュウ キョリガシン

Finally, if you find yourself drowsy and unable to stay awake, the following spell must be chanted before falling asleep to prevent harm:

シヤムシハ、イネヤサリネヤ ワガトコヲ ネタレゾネヌゾ ネネドネタレルゾ



TRANSLATION: white marsh; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: remote, holy mountains
DIET: unknown; likely herbivorous

APPEARANCE: The hakutaku is a wise chimerical beasts that resembles a white ox. It has nine eyes  — three on its head, and three on each of its broad sides — and six horns. Hakutaku live in remote mountains, and only appear in eras and countries where the ruler of the land is a wise and virtuous leader. They are extremely good omens and symbols of good luck. Hakutaku can speak human languages, and are highly knowledgeable about all things in creation.

INTERACTIONS: Because of its incredible knowledge of the various kinds of yokai and monsters, paintings of the hakutaku were very popular in Japan during the Edo period. They were sold and used as good luck charms and as wards against evil spirits, disease, and other yokai. Because the hakutaku knows all, it was believed that evil yokai would stay away from him.

ORIGIN: The hakutaku, like many other holy beasts, comes from Chinese legends. In China, it is known as the bai ze.

LEGENDS: One of the most famous accounts of a hakutaku comes from the legendary Yellow Emperor (2697–2597 BCE) of China. The emperor was performing an imperial tour of his lands, and in the east near the sea, he climbed a mountain and encountered a hakutaku. The two spoke, and the hakutaku told the emperor that in all of creation there were 11,520 different kinds of yokai. The emperor had his subordinates record everything the hakutaku said, and it was preserved in a volume known as the Hakutaku-zu. This volume recorded each kind of yokai, along with what kind of evils they do, or disasters they bring, as well as how to deal with them — a sort of demonic disaster manual. Unfortunately the Hakutaku-zu was lost long, long ago, and no surviving copies exist.

A legend from Toyama prefecture tells of a Japanese sighting of a hakutaku. It appeared on Mount Tateyama, one of the tallest and holiest mountains in Japan. This creature, called a kutabe in this legend, warned of a deadly plague that would soon sweep through the lands. It told the villagers how to create magical talismans that would protect them from the plague, and they were saved. Since then, the hakutaku has been revered as a symbol of medicine.