Yokai.com the online database of Japanese ghosts and monsters
Browsing all posts in: horse



TRANSLATION: horse head
ALTERNATE NAMES: mezuki (horse 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.



HABITAT: hackberry trees
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Sagari is a strange apparition from West Japan and Kyushu, particularly Okayama and Kumamoto prefectures. It takes the form of a grotesque horse’s head, which drops down from hackberry trees to startle travelers on the road.

BEHAVIOR: Sagari don’t do very much other than dropping down right in front of someone’s face and screaming their unholy cry. However, those who hear a sagari’s whinnying and screaming may be stricken with a terrible fever.

ORIGIN: Sagari come from the spirits of horses which die on the road and are discarded and left to rot where they fall. The horses’ souls sometimes get caught in the trees as they rise from the bodies. The ones that stick in the trees cannot pass on to the next word and transform into these yokai.



TRANSLATION: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: areas ruled by a wise and benevolent leader
DIET: purely vegetarian; never harms another creature

APPEARANCE: One of the rarest, most awesome, and most powerful creatures ever known in East Asia is the unicorn-like kirin. It is a regal animal, holy and highly revered, and often considered a god in its own right. The kirin is a chimerical beast resembling a deer with scales like a dragon’s covering its body. It has a tail like an ox’s and a flowing mane. Its body and mane are covered in brilliant holy fire. Its face is the picture of utter serenity.

BEHAVIOR: A gentle animal, the kirin never eats the flesh of other beings, and it takes great care never to tread on any living thing, even lowly insects. When it walks, it does so without trampling a single blade of grass. Its beauty is only surpassed by its rarity; kirin only appear during periods of world peace, during the reigns of noble and enlightened rulers, in lands owned by wise and benevolent people, or as heralds of a golden age. Kirin never harm good and pure souls, but they are swift and fierce to attack if threatened, breathing holy fire from their mouths.

INTERACTIONS: Because kirin are beasts of purity and goodness, they have been used in carvings and paintings as symbols of these virtues since early times. They are also seen as symbols of justice and wisdom. Because of their holiness, images of kirin frequently adorn temples and shrines. They are omens of great luck and fortune, and the appearance of a kirin is often believed to be a sign of the arrival of a great leader or a wise man.

ORIGIN: Kirin were originally introduced to Japan via Chinese myths and legend, where they are known as qilin. Over time, the Chinese and Japanese version diverged into slightly different creatures. In Japan, the kirin is considered to be the most powerful and sacred beast of all, surpassing the hō-ō and tatsu in power.

The giraffe is also called kirin in Japanese, named for the traits it shares with the holy kirin. Its long legs, scale-like pattern, gentle nature, and the knobs on its head must have reminded the first Japanese to see a giraffe of this most sacred of beasts.