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TRANSLATION: azure dragon
ALTERNATE NAMES: shōryū, seiryō, sōryū, chinron
HABITAT: the eastern sky

APPEARANCE: Seiryū is a large blue-green dragon with a long tongue. His home is in the eastern sky. He spans seven of the twenty-eight Chinese constellations, taking up one quarter of the entire sky. The constellations which make up the horn and neck of the dragon are located in Virgo. The constellation which makes up the chest of the dragon is located in Libra. The constellations which make up his heart, belly, and tail are located in Scorpius. The final constellation makes up his dung, and is located in Sagittarius.

INTERACTIONS: Seiryū is one of the shijin, or Four Symbols, which are important mythological figures in Taoism. Seiryū is the guardian of the east. He is associated with the Chinese element of wood, the season of spring, the planet Jupiter, and the colors blue and green. He represents the virtue of benevolence, and symbolizes creativity. He controls the rain. He is enshrined in Kyoto at Kiyomizu Temple, in the eastern part of the city.

ORIGIN: Seiryū and the other shijin were brought to Japan from China in the 7th century CE. They are strongly associated with Taoism, feng shui, astrology, the five element theory, and other forms of Chinese mysticism. The ancient capitals of Fujiwara-kyō, Heijo-kyō, and Heian-kyō were built in correspondence to these beliefs, with each of the quadrants of the city dedicated to one of the Four Symbols. Excavations of ancient burial mounds in Nara has revealed paintings of Seiryū and the other shijin on the tomb walls.

In later centuries, belief in astrology waned, and worship of the Four Symbols was gradually supplanted by worship of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. Their use as symbols, however, continued.

Ao bōzu


TRANSLATION: blue monk
HABITAT: wheat and barley fields, uninhabited homes, lonely roads
DIET: varies from region to region; commonly children

APPEARANCE: Ao bōzu are generally depicted as large, one-eyed, blue-skinned priests with a strong connection to magic. However, local accounts vary greatly in details such as size, number of eyes, and habitat. In Okayama, they are described as two-eyed giants who take up residence in abandoned or uninhabited homes. In other stories, they appear in wheat fields, or on dark, lonely roads.

INTERACTIONS: In Shizuoka, ao bōzu are said to appear on spring evenings at sunset in the wheat and barley fields. The transition from night to day is a popular theme in the tradition of in-yō sorcery. Further, the still blue-green leaves of the young barley also have powerful connections to in-yō. Children who go running and playing through the fields in the evening might be snatched up and taken away by an ao bōzu. Thus, good children must go straight home after school and not go tramping through the fields!

In Kagawa, ao bōzu appear late at night to young women and ask them, “Would you like to hang by your neck?” If the woman says no, the ao bōzu disappears without a word. However, if she ignores him or says nothing, he attacks her with lightning speed, knocks her out, and hangs her by the neck.

In Yamaguchi, they are considered minor deities. They appear before humans on the road and challenge them to sumo matches. Because Yamaguchi’s ao bōzu are only as big as children, many a person has foolishly accepted the challenge, only to find himself flung to the ground with god-like strength and potentially lethal speed.

ORIGIN: Very little is known about this yokai. Toriyama Sekien was the first to record the ao bōzu, and his illustration came with not a single word of description other than its name. From its name, we can glean a little bit of information; the word ao means blue or green, and can denote immaturity and inexperience. (Another well-known yokai — ao-nyōbō — uses this color in a similar manner.) As the original illustration was black-and-white, it may even be that this yokai was never intended to be colored blue or green, but rather just as a mockery of what Toriyama Sekien saw as a corrupt and unskilled priesthood. Nonetheless, thanks to its name, it is usually depicted in a sickly shade of ao.

The fact that ao bōzu has only one eye and is revered as a minor god in some places draws a strong parallel with another yokai, the hitotsume-kozō. Because of his similarity, there are theories suggesting a connection to the ancient spirit worship of old Japan. In these shamanistic proto-religions, one-eyed monsters often originated as fallen mountain gods and bringers of evil, sent to do the bidding of larger deities. They could be kept at bay with woven baskets, or other objects with many holes, which the monsters would view as hundreds of eyes and avoid, either out of fear or jealousy.

Because there are so many different accounts, and because there are so many different kinds of nasty priest yokai, it’s impossible to tell which, if any, is the real ao bōzu, and which are variations of other kinds of yokai.

Ao andon


TRANSLATION: blue lantern
HABITAT: parlors and living rooms; appears during ghost story telling parties
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: During the Edo period, a popular summertime activity among the aristocratic classes was to gather and tell ghost stories, hoping the chill of fear would stave off the intense midsummer heat. These ghost story telling parties were called hyakumonogatari kaidankai – a gathering of one hundred ghost stories. During these gatherings, one hundred candles would be lit and placed inside of blue paper lanterns, called andon, in order to create an eerie atmosphere suitable for storytelling. Throughout the night, guests would take turns telling progressively scarier stories about yokai, demons, ghosts, and other strange things. After each story, one candle would be snuffed out, until finally only the hundredth candle remained, its dim blue light casting long, creepy shadows, struggling to fill the dark room.

According to superstition, as the final candle was snuffed, a real ghost would appear out of the darkness to attack the participants, created out of the heightened emotional state and fears of guests. This ghost was called the ao andon.

The ao andon is the incarnation of mass human terror, formed out of the built-up fears of large groups of people. This fear takes the appearance of a demonic woman with long black hair, blue skin, blackened teeth, sharp claws, and horns. It wears a white or blue kimono, and glows with an eerie blue light.

BEHAVIOR: The ao andon appears at the end of the gathering, when all of the lanterns have been snuffed out. It emerges from the smoke of the final candle and attacks the guests. What exactly it does is a mystery; whether it slaughters all of the participants in a brutal finale inspired by the preceding tales, or simply jumps out to give one last shock before the guests return home has never been recorded. The reason for this is that by the time the ninety-ninth ghost story had been told, the guests were usually too frightened to tell the final story, and the parties usually concluded at that point, before the ao andon could appear.

ORIGIN: As the old proverb says (in both English and Japanese): speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear. It was feared that merely talking about ghosts and spirits for long enough would cause them to materialize for real.

Ao nyōbō


TRANSLATION: blue lady
ALTERNATE NAMES: ao onna (blue woman)
HABITAT: abandoned villas, mansions, and ruins
DIET: spoiled and rotten leftover food; otherwise humans

APPEARANCE: In the empty, abandoned mansions of bygone years, there is sometimes more than spider webs and cockroaches living in the shadows. Often, large and dangerous yokai take up residence in these manses, longing for a return to wealth and grace. One of these is the ao nyōbō, an ogreish spirit of poverty and misfortune. She takes the appearance of an ancient court noblewoman. Her body is draped in the elaborate many-layered kimonos of older eras, though they are now tattered and moth-ridden. She wears the white face of ancient courtiers, with high painted eyebrows and blackened teeth. Her body is aged and wrinkled from years of waiting in musty old ruins, and her beauty has long left her.

BEHAVIOR: Ao nyōbō inhabit the empty, abandoned homes of ruined families and fallen nobles. They wait in the house, constantly applying their makeup, fixing their hair, and adjusting their image in anticipation for the arrival of some guest who never shows up –perhaps a lover who has lost interest, or a husband who has abandoned his wife. Should any trespassers visit a home inhabited by an ao nyōbō, she devours them, and then goes back to waiting vainly.

ORIGIN: Nyōbō were the court ladies of old Japan – the paragons of youth, beauty, education, and refinement. They served in the palaces of high ranking families until they themselves were married off to a worthy suitor. After being married off, they spent their days in their own private residences, patiently waiting for their husbands to come home each night, or for secret lovers to show up during the day. Ao, the color blue, refers not to the aonyōbō’s skin color, but actually implies immaturity or inexperience (just as green implies the same in English). Ao nyōbō’s name refers to low-ranking women of the old imperial court who, no matter how hard they worked, couldn’t seem to catch a husband or elevate themselves to escape from poverty (the “ugly stepsisters” of ancient Japan). Originally used an insulting term for unsuccessful court ladies, it is a fitting term for this particular yokai.



TRANSLATION: blue heron fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: goi no hikari (night heron light)
HABITAT: rivers, wetlands; wherever herons and other waterbirds can be found

APPEARANCE: Many birds transform into magical yokai with eerie powers when they reach an advanced age. Aosagibi is the name for a bizarre phenomenon caused by transformed herons – particularly the black-crowned night heron. Other herons and wild birds, such as ducks and pheasants, are able to develop this ability as well, though it is most commonly attributed to the nocturnal night heron. This heron is found all along the islands and coasts, preferring remote areas with heavy reeds and thick woods. Aosagibi is most commonly seen at night in the trees where the herons roost, by the rivers where they hunt, or as the birds fly in the twilight sky.

BEHAVIOR: Long-lived herons begin to develop shining scales on their breasts, which are fused together from their feathers. They begin blow a yellow iridescent powder from their beaks with each breath, which scatters into the wind. During the fall, their bodies begin to radiate a bluish-white glow at night. Their powdery breath ignites into bright blue fireballs, which they blow across the water or high in the trees. These fireballs possess no heat and do not ignite anything else, eventually evaporating in the wind.

INTERACTIONS: Like most wild birds, night herons are very shy and usually flee from humans. Even after transforming into yokai, they retain their shyness. While the sight of a colony of wild birds breathing blue flames and making strange calls on a cool autumn night can be rather disconcerting, aosagibi does not post any threat to humans. However, because it appears very similar to other fireball-like phenomena, caution should be taken to avoid confusing aosagibi with oni-bi or other supernatural lights.