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Kaichigo

Kaichigo貝児
かいちご

TRANSLATION: shell boy
HABITAT: decorative shell boxes
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kaichigo is the spirit of a shell box come to life. It takes the form of a small, doll-like boy in a kimono.

BEHAVIOR: Kaichigo haunt the shell boxes used to store beautiful and expensive painted shells. They come out when nobody is around and play with the shells, flipping them over and moving them around into different positions.

ORIGIN: Kaichigo’s origins lie in kaiawase (“shell matching”), a popular Heian period game which uses painted seashells. Beautiful shells of the right size and color were collected and decorated, their insides lined with gold and painted with scenes from popular stories, such as The Tale of Genji. The two halves of the same shell would be painted with the same scene, and players of the game would try to match the two sides. Beautifully decorated shell boxes, or kaioke, were used to store the shells while not in use.

Kaiawase gradually became replaced by other matching games, such as karuta, which use less exquisite playing pieces. The kaioke and shells themselves came to be viewed as precious art objects instead of toys. Because each shell half will perfectly fit its matching half and no other, expensive kaiawase sets came to be used as wedding dowries—symbolizing a perfect and unique match between bride and groom. Some boxes have been passed down from mother to daughter over and over for centuries. Those kaioke which have been around for a very long time and are no longer used as games begin to resent their existence. They grow restless and want to be played with once again, and develop a soul: the kaichigo.

Tatarimokke

Tatarimokke祟り蛙
たたりもっけ

ALTERNATE NAMES: tatarimoke
TRANSLATION: curse child
HABITAT: lives inside of owls
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: A tatarimokke is the spirit of a dead baby which inhabits the body of an owl. Visually they appear no different than ordinary owls. Tatarimokke remain near the homes of the families they once belonged to. The hooting of the owls is said to actually be the sound created by the spirit of the dead baby.

INTERACTIONS: Tatarimokke are treated with respect by the families which they haunt, just like zashiki warashi. Houses that have lost a child recently will take care of any owls that appear near their homes and treat them as if they are the spirit of the lost child. In most cases, these spirits are beloved by the families they haunt, and they do not cause any harm.

In some cases, however, tatarimokke can be dangerous to people. The souls of babies whose bodies were carelessly discarded into rivers, babies who were killed by their parents to reduce the number of mouths to feed, and even the spirits of aborted fetuses could retain a grudge against the living. People passing through the places where these resentful spirits haunt might hear eerie sounds and feel unsettling sensations, see strange phenomena like floating fireballs, or may stumble on a rock and hurt themselves.

In the most extreme cases, tatarimokke truly do bring terrible curses upon those who are perceived as having wronged them. Particularly in the case of people who were murdered in particularly violent and gruesome fashion. In these cases, the tatarimokke is not the spirit of a newborn baby, but instead is the spirit of the murder victim. These tatarimokke lay a curse their assailant so powerful that it not only brings ruin to the murderer, but to his entire family, for generations to come.

ORIGIN: Long ago in Japan, babies were not considered fully human until some time after they were born. Therefore, when a newborn died, it was not given a proper funeral and placed in a cemetery, but was usually buried quietly in or around the house. The spirits of these children would float out, and were believed to easily get “stuck” to owls, thus becoming a tatarimokke.

The name tatarimokke comes from tatari (curse) and moke, which means “infant” in some northern dialects. It is usually written phonetically, but is sometimes also written with characters that mean “curse” and “frog.” In this case, the character for frog is actually read as “moke,” and refers to the local word for a newborn baby.

Akateko

Akateko赤手児
あかてこ

TRANSLATION: red child’s hand
HABITAT:  Japanese honey locust (Gleditsia japonica) trees
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The akateko appears—just as the name implies—as a red, disembodied hand belonging to a child. It is found hanging in Japanese honey locust trees.

INTERACTIONS: Akateko drops down from trees as people pass underneath them. Aside from giving its victims a nasty surprise and the general creepiness of a disembodied red child’s hand, it is not known for causing any great harm.

Some people have seen the figure of a furisode-wearing beautiful girl of 17 or 18 years standing underneath an akateko’s tree. Those who witness her are immediately struck with a powerful fever. It is not clear what relationship she has to the akateko, if she is part of the same apparition or another spirit entirely.

ORIGIN: The origin of akateko is usually given as a certain tree in front of an elementary school in the city of Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture. However, there are local versions of it in Fukushima and Kagawa Prefectures as well. In these prefectures, akateko sometimes work together with another yokai called aka ashi. They grab at the feet of pedestrians, causing them to stumble and fall. It has also been suggested that akateko and aka ashi are two forms of the same yokai.

Kosodate yūrei

Kosodateyuurei

子育て幽霊
こそだてゆうれい

TRANSLATION: child-rearing ghost
HABITAT: towns, cities; anywhere it can find people to haunt
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kosodate yūrei are the ghosts of mothers who died in childbirth or shortly after childbirth. They return to the world of the living because of their strong attachment to their child, and their lingering motherly duties. Like all yūrei, these ghosts appear as faint images of their former selves. They often appear wearing burial clothing, or else the clothes that they wore in their lifetime. However, kosodate yūrei often appear less horrific—even slightly loving—when compared to scarier types of yūrei. They appear to shopkeepers or travelers on the road at night, and often return to the same place over and over again.

INTERACTIONS: Kosodate yūrei exist to fulfill one purpose: to see to the well-being of their child. They try to do this by buying candy or other things for their children. They have no money, so they pay with whatever they can—sometimes even with dead leaves. They seek out living people, whom they try to lead back to the location of their waiting baby. If the baby is discovered and taken care of, the kosodate yūrei can finally rest. Until then, though, she will appear every night to find help for her child.

LEGENDS: Kosodate yūrei stories are very common. Although the details vary from place to place, one common version goes like this:

One rainy night, a shopkeeper was closing up his shop when he heard a tapping sound at the window. Looking out, he saw a woman standing pathetically in the rain, cold and drenched. He asked her if she needed help, but all she said was, “One candy please.” Even though the shop was closed, the shopkeeper felt sorry for the poor woman, so he sold her the candy. She paid him one mon—a very low denomination coin—and vanished into the night.

The next night, she came at the very same time, looking forlorn and disheveled. Again, she asked the shopkeeper, in a voice almost too faint to hear, “One candy please.” The shopkeeper gave her a candy, and again she paid with one mon, and left just as quietly as she had come.

Every night for six nights, this exact scenario played out. On the seventh night, she returned, but this time had no money. When she asked “One candy please,” she presented a handful of leaves. The shopkeeper told her that he could not accept leaves as payment. “Then take this instead,” she said, handing him her coat. The shopkeeper protested, but she insisted. Finally he gave in and accepted the trade.

The next day, a merchant from a neighboring village passed through the town. He stopped in his friend’s shop, and the shopkeeper told him of the strange woman who came visiting every night, and of the coat that she gave him as payment. When the merchant saw the strange woman’s coat hanging in the shop, he went pale. “That is the coat of my friend’s wife!”

“Really? Perhaps it was she who came to the store?”

“That is impossible! She died one week ago. She was buried in this coat!”

The merchant and the shopkeeper looked at each other in disbelief. They went to the temple where she was buried to tell the head priest what the shopkeeper had seen. The priest scolded them for believing in such superstitions. Afterwards he took them to the woman’s grave to show them that all was okay. When they reached the grave, however, they heard the unmistakable screaming of a newborn baby coming from under the earth!

They dug up the grave and discovered that it was indeed the corpse woman who had been visiting the shop! What’s more, entwined in her arms, a living baby wrapped up in cloth. The woman had given birth posthumously in her coffin. Wrapped up with the baby were the six mostly-eaten pieces of candy, which had kept the baby from starving during the week. Its mother had bought the candy with the six mon traditionally placed with a corpse to pay the guardians of the underworld.

They took the baby from the corpse and returned it to its family. When they reburied the woman’s body, the corpse had a serene expression on its face. And the ghostly visitor to the candy store was never seen again.

Kawa akago

Kawaakago川赤子
かわあかご

TRANSLATION: river baby
ALTERNATE NAMES: kawa akaji
HABITAT: rivers, streams, ponds, swamps
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Kawa akago are cousins of the kappa, and trickster yōkai. They look like small, red-skinned babies.

INTERACTIONS: Kawa akago appear on riverbanks and call out to passersby, perfectly mimicking the sound of crying human babies: “Waah! Waah!” (Japanese: “Ogyaa! Ogyaa!”) When someone wanders down to the river’s edge, the kawa akago retreats further into the underbrush and calls out again. This continues with the yōkai leading its victim further and further into the river. Finally, it sneaks up under the unsuspecting human, pulls his legs out from under him, and sends him tumbling into the river. While this is only meant as a prank, some people drown in this manner. This makes kawa akago a fairly dangerous yōkai.

ORIGIN: Similar yōkai called yama akago (mountain baby) are found in Akita Prefecture (old Dewa Province). They hide in leaf piles in the mountains, and when people step on the leaves, they call out in a loud voice, “Ouch! That hurt!” Then they laugh and vanish into thin air.

Obariyon

Obariyonおばりよん

TRANSLATION: a local phrase meaning “give me a piggyback ride”
ALTERNATE NAMES: bariyon, onbu obake, ubariyon, obosaritei
HABITAT: inhabited areas, roadsides
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Obariyon is a child-sized monster from Niigata prefecture which loves to ride people piggyback style.

BEHAVIOR: Obariyon lurks in bushes and trees by the side of the road, and when a traveler walks by, it leaps out onto their back crying out, “obariyon!” If the traveler relents and carries the obariyon on his back, the monster becomes heavier and heavier with each footstep, nearly crushing the traveler under its weight. In addition, this mischievous yokai chews the scalp of a person good enough to carry it, further adding to his misery. In order to protect against the head-chewing that obariyon inflict, some villages developed a custom of wearing metal bowls on their heads for protection.

INTERACTIONS: According to some tales, as the obariyon becomes heavier and heavier, it eventually crushes its victim under its weight. However, more commonly, when a person has dutifully carried the obariyon the whole way home, he or she finds that the strange burden was a sack of money all along, and becomes incredibly rich.

ORIGIN: The name obariyon comes from a phrase in local Niigata dialect meaning “give me a piggyback ride!” Differences in local dialects are reflected in the many different local names for this spirit. Though its name varies from place to place, it is always a local variant for a childish request to be carried piggyback style.

Although the exact origins of this particular creature are unclear, folk tales about yokai which demand to be carried or cared for are quite common across Japan. There is a recurring theme among folk tales that those who persevere when dealing with children will prosper. Just as those who put up with the strange demands of the obariyon may find themselves blessed with a bag of gold, those who manage to deal with the demands of raising young children will eventually reap treasures beyond belief. Obariyon is probably a direct metaphor about child-rearing. While the demands of the obariyon may be selfish and extremely burdensome, those who are willing to put up with it for the entire journey find the payoff was well worth the investment.

Abura akago

Aburaakago油赤子
あぶらあかご

TRANSLATION: oil baby
HABITAT: human-inhabited areas
DIET: lamp oil

APPEARANCE: Abura akago are yōkai from Ōmi Province. They are a type of hi no tama, or fireball, but can also take on the shape of a baby.

BEHAVIOR: Abura akago first appear as mysterious orbs of fire which float aimlessly through the night sky. They drift from house to house and—upon entering one—transform into small babies. In this baby form, they lick the oil from oil lamps and paper lanterns, known as andon. They then turn back into orbs and fly away.

ORIGIN: Like many other oil-related yōkai, abura akago are said to originate from oil thieves. While the particular circumstances of these oil thieves are lost to time, they mirror so many other yōkai that we can infer that these thieves died and—instead of passing on to the next life—turned into yōkai as a penalty for their sins.

Kekkai

Kekkai

血塊
けっかい

TRANSLATION: blood clot
ALTERNATE NAMES: kekke
HABITAT: under the floorboards of its birth house
DIET: its own mother

APPEARANCE: Kekkai are a kind of sankai—childbirth monster—from Saitama, Kanagawa, and Nagano prefectures. They are small and ugly, resembling a monkey. Their hair is said to grow in backwards, and they have two tongues: one red and one white. They are sometimes born from pregnant mothers instead of human babies.

BEHAVIOR: When a kekkai emerges, covered in blood and amniotic fluid, it quickly scampers away from its mother and tries to escape. This is most often accomplished through the irori, or earthen hearth, a common feature in old country houses. It either burrows down beneath the floorboards, or climbs up the long pothook which hangs above the irori and flees. If the kekkai is able to escape, it will return later to kill its mother while. It does this by burrowing up through the floorboards and into its sleeping mother, tearing her apart.

INTERACTIONS: A few traditional precautions exist to protect against kekkai. The most important is preparation. A large shamoji—a spatula—is placed by the irori. When the kekkai tries to climb up the pothook, it must be swatted down and caught before it has a chance to escape.

Another common precaution is to surround the floor around the mother with byōbu—folding screens—to prevent a kekkai from escaping. This practice is the source of a play on words surrounding this yōkai’s name: the byōbu creates a spiritual barrier, or kekkai (結界), which prevents the kekkai from escaping.

ORIGIN: Kekkai are almost certainly a way to explain the dangers surrounding childbirth and the existence of birth defects. Before modern medicine was invented, death from complications relating to childbirth was not uncommon. A grieving family might be easily convinced that a mother’s death was caused by some evil spirit—some kind of spiritual punishment for the family’s sins. Similarly, it is not hard to imagine how earlier cultures might have seen premature, stillborn, or deformed babies as monsters. Referring to them as yōkai may have been an attempt to understand the unknown and unexplainable.

Ōkaburo

Ookaburo大禿
おおかぶろ

TRANSLATION: big kamuro (an apprentice oiran)
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōkamuro
HABITAT: brothels
DIET: herbs and dew from chrysanthemums

APPEARANCE: Ōkaburo are cross-dressing yōkai found in brothels. They take the appearance of oversized kamuro, little girls employed as a servants in brothels. Only they are much larger than a typical girl of 5.

ORIGIN: The origins of this yōkai are vague. Ōkaburo are best known for their depiction by Toriyama Sekien. His ōkaburo is actually a male yōkai dressed up as a young kamuro, wearing a chrysanthemum-patterned kimono. His description makes an allusion to Peng Zu, a legendary Taoist wizard from China. Peng Zu lived past the age of 700 by having lots of sex with both women and men, and keeping a strict herbal diet which included licking the dew off of chrysanthemums. For this Peng Zu took the nickname Kiku-jidō, or chrysanthemum boy. Sekien likely intended his ōkaburo to be a pun referring to homosexual brothels in which young boys were dressed up as kamuro and offered to male patrons. Aside from the obvious connotations of having a young boy dressed up as a kamuro, the chrysanthemum was used as a secret symbol for homosexuality; the shape of the petals was supposed to represent an anus. The nickname chrysanthemum boy, the chrysanthemums on the kimono, and the image of licking the dew off of “chrysanthemums” leave little to the imagination as to what Sekien was alluding to with this yōkai.

A story of an ōkamuro with very different origins comes from a pleasure house in Hiroshima, where a particularly short-tempered oiran was employed. One day, her ohaguro (a tea-like mixture of hot water and iron filings used to blacken the teeth of courtesans) had been improperly prepared. The color would not stick to her teeth. Enraged, she grabbed the nearest kamuro and poured the entire pot of boiling liquid down the little girl’s throat. The girl, vomiting up her insides, smeared her bloody handprints along the wall as she died in anguish. Ever since, it was said that the voice of that young kamuro could be heard at night, calling out for vengeance against the oiran.

Amefuri kozō

Amefurikozou雨降小僧
あめふりこぞう

TRANSLATION: rainfall priest boy
HABITAT: found throughout Japan; appears during rainy weather
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Amefuri kozō resemble young boys. They wear children’s kimonos, wooden clogs, and wide-brimmed straw hats or umbrellas on their heads. They are not particularly cute, and have pudgy, upturned noses.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their childish appearance, amefuri kozō are charged with the very important task of causing rainfall. Wherever they go, they cause clouds to form and rain to come down. In ancient China, amefuri kozō were thought to be the servants of the god of rainfall, who is known as Ushi in Japanese.

INTERACTIONS: Amefuri kozō are shy and rarely interact directly with people. However, they enjoy stealing people’s umbrellas and wearing them as hats. They then cause rain showers to fall upon their victims.

ORIGIN: Amefuri kozō became widely known thanks to the printing boom during the Edo period. They were common characters in the cheap, pocket-sized publications sold by street vendors known as kibyōshi, or yellow covers. Kibyōshi were satirical comics, heavy on illustrations, depicting urban life with easy-to-read prose. Amefuri kozō and other priest boy yōkai became popular in these adult-oriented comic books. People enjoyed their grotesque, silly, yet somewhat cute appearance.

LEGENDS: Rain that falls while the sun is out is known in Japan as kitsune no yomeiri—fox weddings. Kitsune (fox yōkai) hold their weddings during sun showers. Before getting married, kitsune will say a prayer to the amefuri kozō for rain on their wedding day.

Makuragaeshi

Makuragaeshi枕返し
まくらがえし

TRANSLATION: pillow flipper
ALTERNATE NAMES: makura kozō
HABITAT: bedrooms
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Makuragaeshi are a kind of zashiki-warashi: a child ghost which haunts specific rooms of a house. They are found all over Japan, though details about them vary from region to region. They take the form of a small child dressed as a Niō, a monk, or a samurai, and appear in bedrooms late at night.

BEHAVIOR: Makuragaeshi gets it is named for its primary activity: flipping pillows. People who sleep in a room haunted by a makuragaeshi often wake up to find that their pillow has been flipped and is now at their feet. Makuragaeshi are also known for other minor pranks, such as running through ashes and leaving dirty footprints around the rooms they haunt.

While most stories about makuragaeshi present them as harmless pranksters, there are a few stories that describe scarier powers. Some don’t flip the pillow, but lift up and flip people instead. Others pick up entire tatami mats that people are sleeping on and bounce them around.  Still others are said to sit on their victim’s chest while he or she sleeps, pressing down hard and squeezing the wind out of the lung. They occasionally cause kanashibari, or sleep paralysis. The most extreme stories say that anyone who sees a makuragaeshi loses consciousness, after which the makuragaeshi steals their soul, leaving them dead.

ORIGIN: There are as many theories as to where makuragaeshi come from as there are variants of zashiki-warashi. Most often they linked to the ghosts of people — particularly children — who died in the room they come to haunt. As makuragaeshi are generally lower in rank than zashiki-warashi, they are often the result of ghosts which died tragically, such as murder victims. However, some makuragaeshi have also been attributed to shape-shifting, prank-loving yokai such as tanuki or saru. Others still have attributed this spirit to the actions of monster cats such as kasha.

Tōfu kozō

Toufukozou豆腐小僧
とうふこぞう

TRANSLATION: little tofu boy
HABITAT: urban areas
DIET: omnivorous; loves tofu

APPEARANCE: Tōfu kozō are small yokai who closely resemble human children except for their large heads and clawed fingers and toes. They wear little boys’ kimonos and wide-brimmed hats — the typical outfit of a tōfu-selling young boy of the Edo period. They are usually depicted with two eyes, but in some illustrations they appear as having only one eye. They are usually found in urban areas in close proximity to people.

BEHAVIOR: Tōfu kozō are timid and weak yokai, and are not known to be aggressive towards humans. On rare occasions, a tōfu kozō may follow a human home on a rainy night, but for the most part they shy away from any confrontation.

INTERACTIONS: Tōfu kozō are first and foremost servant yokai. Even among other yokai, they are often bullied and teased for their lack of strength. They get no respect from those above them; at most, they act as menial servants to more powerful yokai.

ORIGIN: Prior to the Edo period there are no known stories about tōfu kozō, and so their origin is a mystery. Some say that they are just one of many forms taken by an itachi, a shape-shifting weasel yokai. Others say that they are the offspring of a mikoshi-nyūdō and a rokuro-kubi. Another possibility is that they are an invention of a creative artist looking to sell illustrated storybooks. Stories of tōfu kozō first appeared in the penny-novels and pulp fiction of Edo in the 1770’s, and became incredibly popular among the Edo upper class. These silly stories helped to spawn the explosion of yokai-related fiction that appeared in the later half of the 18th century.

Tōfu kozō bears a very strong resemblance to another yokai called hitotsume kozō — the chief difference being that hitotsume kozō has only one eye and a very large tongue, while tōfu kozō has two eyes and carries a plate of tofu. Both of these yokai are somewhat weak, child-like creatures who act as messengers to more powerful monsters. In some literature the two yokai are used interchangeably for each other, therefore it has been suggested that tōfu kozō may be closely related to, or may even have been copied from hitotsume kozō. However, there is not enough evidence either way to say where this yokai comes from.

Usutsuki warashi

Usutsukiwarashi臼搗童子
うすつきわらし

TRANSLATION: mortar-pounding child
ALTERNATE NAMES: notabariko
HABITAT: warehouses, storage sheds, under floorboards
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: One particularly unpleasant variation of the zashiki warashi is the usutsuki warashi, named for the eerie thumping noise that this low-ranking house spirit makes.

BEHAVIOR: Unlike its more bright and cheerful cousins, this ghost crawls out from the dirt underneath the floorboards and roams about the house at night. It makes creepy noises, creaking and thumping, and tracks dirty footprints throughout the house. It does not cause any actual harm, though it spreads uneasiness and discomfort in houses that it haunts. Usutsuki warashi do not bring any particular good fortune to their home, either. However, a house which drives this spirit away due to its creepiness will still fall into ruin, just like a house that drives away the more pleasant zashiki warashi.

ORIGIN: This ghosts origins are similar to that of the yamauba. It comes from the old and terrible practice of kuchiberashi, or “reducing the mouths to feed” by thinning out families during times when food was scarce. Some houses with too many mouths to feed had no other choice but to sacrifice the newly born in order that the rest might eat. The cost of a funeral also being too high, these children were buried underneath the house, or in a storage shed. Instead of a tombstone, often an usu, a large mortar, was placed as a grave marker.

Chōpirako

Choupirakoチョウピラコ
ちょうぴらこ

TRANSLATION: none
ALTERNATE NAMES: often simply referred to as zashiki warashi
HABITAT: inner parlors and living rooms
DIET: none, but enjoys candies and treats left out for it

APPEARANCE: Chōpirako are very similar to ordinary zashiki warashi, only they are much more beautiful. Their skin and clothing glows with pure, radiant white light, and their features are more beautiful than they were in life. They are usually found in the homes of families that had only one child, who was loved and lavished with gifts.

BEHAVIOR: Like other zashiki warashi, chōpirako bring richness and prosperity to the houses they haunt, and promote happiness and well-being among the inhabitants. They often require more maintenance to keep them happy than most zashiki warashi do, but in return they almost always improve the house by bringing more wealth and good luck that other kinds of house ghosts.

ORIGIN: Rich families who could afford it often presented lavish funerals for deceased children, with a beautiful burial gown, lavish toys, and a room dedicated to the child’s spirit. The souls of these children which return as zashiki warashi return as this higher-class variation. When such a child dies, his or her room is often turned into a shrine, full of toys, books, and games that the child would have loved in life. The chōpirako resides in the this room, rather than in the zashiki, and very few people are allowed to enter the room in order to keep it in the pristine condition this ghost requires.

A few inns in Japan advertise that they are haunted by zashiki warashi or chōpirako in order to attract ghost-hunting guests or people seeking good luck and fortune.

Zashiki warashi

Zashikiwarashi座敷童子
ざしきわらし

TRANSLATION: zashiki child
ALTERNATE NAMES: many, depending in the region and variety of ghost
HABITAT: zashiki (a kind of sitting room covered in tatami mats) and other rooms
DIET: none, but enjoys candies and treats left out for it

APPEARANCE: Zashiki warashi are house spirits, fond of mischief, loved by all, and believed to bring great fortune and riches to those whose houses it haunts. They appear as ghost-like five or six year old children with blushing red faces. They can be boys or girls, and usually wear tradition clothes; child-sized warrior costumes for boys, patterned kimonos, with short, bobbed, or long, tied back hair for girls. Rarely they appear as wild, hairy brutish figures. Often it is difficult to make out any details other than a vague child-like shape. Direct sightings of these ghosts are rare. In some instances it is said that only the house’s owners, or only children, are able to see these spirits. Because of this, they are usually known only by their pranks.

BEHAVIOR: Zashiki warashi love mischief. Often the first signs that one’s house may be haunted by one is a trail of children’s footprints going through ashes or soap powder. Other mischief includes making phantom noises which sound like spinning wheels turning all night long, paper crinkling, children’s voices, or kagura – Shinto holy music. Most hauntings involve a single ghost, while some involve multiple spirits.

INTERACTIONS: Zashiki warashi are considered guardian spirits of the house, and gods of luck. It is said that a house with a Zashiki warashi will prosper and grow rich, and a house that drives away such a spirit will fall into decline and ruin. In one account, a family witnessed a zashiki warashi leaving from their home, and soon they all succumbed to food poisoning and died. In another well-known legend from Iwate, a wealthy man’s son shot a zashiki warashi with a bow and arrow, and soon after the family’s fortunes collapsed.

In many homes, these spirits befriend the children of the house, teaching them songs, games, and nursery rhymes. They keep elderly or infertile couples company, and these couples often treat the zashiki warashi as if it were their own child. The desire to attract and keep these friendly yokai has led to customs like setting food out in the zashiki for them, and even laying coins in the foundation when building a new house. The Japanese take great care to maintain their zashiki, so as not to drive out any guardian spirits dwelling there.

OTHER FORMS: Their common name comes from the zashiki, the formal reception room for guests in a Japanese house where they most often reside. They are known by many different names in other areas, such as kurabokko (“warehouse child”) and makuragaeshi (“pillow turner”). Countless variations of zashiki warashi exist from place to place, with minor difference in their appearance and habits.

Ubume

Ubume姑獲鳥
うぶめ

TRANSLATION: woman in late pregnancy; often written with different characters
ALTERNATE NAMES: obo, unme, ugume, ubametori, and many others
HABITAT: haunts the area where she gave birth
DIET: none; only exists to deliver her baby into safe hands

APPEARANCE: When a woman dies just before, during, or shortly after childbirth, her spirit is often unable to pass on out of anxiety for her child. This troubled attachment manifests into a ghost known as an ubume. They appear on dark, rainy nights, and are often indistinguishable from a living woman carrying a child, crying for help. Ubume can appear in many forms: a woman carrying a baby, a pregnant woman, or a blood-soaked walking corpse carrying an underdeveloped fetus. Other times they just appear as horrific, bloody, naked pregnant women crying out desperately into the night for help.

These variations in appearance are due to the burial traditions of different regions, as well as the circumstances of death; in some areas, when a pregnant woman died she would be buried with the unborn fetus still inside of her; in other areas, the fetus would be cut out of her and placed in her arms during burial. Women who died after delivering stillborn babies were also buried in this way.

BEHAVIOR: These tragic spirits wander the areas near where they died, seeking aid from the living which they cannot provide themselves. If the mother died after childbirth but her baby survives, an ubume will try to provide for the child in whatever way it can. She enters shops or homes to try to purchase food, clothes, or sweets for her still-living child. In place of money she pays with handfuls of dead leaves. These ghosts also often try to lead humans to the place where the baby is hidden so that it can be taken to its living relatives, or adopted by another person.

In cases where both mother and child died, an ubume can appear carrying the bundled corpse of her infant. When a human approaches, the ghost tries to deliver the bundle into the arms of the living. If the stranger accepts the bundle, the ghost vanishes, and the bundle grows heavier and heavier until the helpful stranger is crushed under its weight.

OTHER FORMS: The name ubume is written with characters that imply a bird’s name. The literal translation of these characters is “child-snatching bird” and some theories connect this spirit with another yokai called the ubumetori. This yokai is an evil bird which flies through the sky searching for clothing that has been left on the clothesline overnight. When it finds some, it smears its poisonous blood on the clothing, and shortly afterward the owner of those clothes begins to develop shakes convulsions, possibly leading to death. They are also blamed for snatching babies and taking them away into the night sky. Whether this bird is another form of the ubume or a separate spirit with the same name is not known.

Hitotsume kozō

Hitotsumekozou一つ目小僧
ひとつめこぞう

TRANSLATION: one-eyed priest boy
HABITAT: found all throughout Japan; often encounters on dark streets
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Child-like and mischievous, hitotsume kozō are little one-eyed goblins who are well-known in all parts of Japan. They have a single, enormous eye, a long red tongue, and wear shaved heads and robes, like tiny Buddhist monks.

BEHAVIOR: Hitotsume kozō are relatively harmless as far as yokai go; their most alarming trait is appearing suddenly and surprising people on dark streets, which they seem to enjoy doing. Hundreds of encounters have been reported over the years, most of them very similar to each other, and they simply detail a mischievous spirit who likes to spook people late at night.

INTERACTIONS: In East Japan, it is said that every year on the 8th of December, hitotsume kozō travel the land, recording in ledgers the families who have been bad that year in order to decide each family’s fortunes for the next year. They take their reports to the god of pestilence and bad luck, who brings misfortune on those bad families in the coming year. However, they leave their ledgers with the guardian deity of travels for safekeeping until February 8th. In a mid-January ceremony, local villagers burn down and rebuild that deity’s roadside way-shrines in hopes that the fires will also burn the hitotsume kozō’s ledgers before they come to pick them up (thus escaping disaster that year).

ORIGIN: Though similar in name to other one-eyed monsters like hitotsu-me-nyūdō, there is little evidence suggesting a relation between the two. Many believe that hitotsume kozō’s origins are connected in some way with Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Others believe that they were once local mountain deities who over time became corrupted and changed into yokai.

LEGENDS: A man named visited a friend on business. While waiting in the reception room, a young boy of about 10 appeared and began to mischievously roll and unroll the hanging scroll in the room’s alcove. When the man scolded the boy for being mischievous, the boy turned around and squawked, “Be quiet!” However, the boy’s face had only one eye! The man screamed and fainted, and had to be carried back to his own home. He was bed-ridden for 20 days, but made a full recovery.

In an account from Fukushima, a young lady was walking the street at night. A little boy approached her from behind and asked, “Ma’am, would you like some money?” She laughed and sweetly replied yes, and turned to face the boy. He was a hitotsume kozō, and he was grinning staring so intensely at her with his single eye that she fainted in shock on the spot.

A similar tale from Okayama tells of a particular street where an eerie, pale blue glow was seen one night. A man went to investigate and witnessed a ghostly one-eyed boy playing around. The man collapsed, paralyzed with fear, and was unable to move. The apparition approached the helpless man and licked him from head to toe with his long, slobbery tongue.

Hari onago

Harionago針女子
はりおなご

TRANSLATION: hook girl
ALTERNATE NAMES: hari onna (hook woman)
HABITAT: streets and alleys; found on Shikoku
DIET: young, virile men

APPEARANCE: A fearsome yokai known as hari onago appears at night on the roads of Shikoku, and is indistinguishable in the dark from an ordinary young woman with loose and disheveled hair. Upon closer look, however, the tip of each of her hairs is fitted with a needle-like, barbed hook – though if one is close enough to notice these hooks, it is probably already too late.

INTERACTIONS: Hari onago wanders the streets searching for victims – usually young, single men walking by themselves. When she comes across a suitable man, she smiles coyly at him. If the smile is returned, she attacks: she lets all of her hair down, and the barbed ends lash out with blinding speed and a will of their own, sinking deep into her victim’s flesh. Her strength is so great that even the strongest man can be overpowered by her hooks. Once her victim is ensnared and rendered helpless, she rips him into pieces with her hooks and devours the remains.

It is technically possible for a very fast runner to escape a hari onago, providing his home is close enough and has a sturdy door or gate. If he can get himself safely indoors before her hooks catch him, he may be able to survive until sunrise, when these yokai vanish. The scars and gouges she leaves in the wooden door frame remain as a testament to her viciousness, and as a cautionary tale to young men not to pick up strange girls.

Nure onago

Nureonago濡女子
ぬれおなご

TRANSLATION: wet girl
ALTERNATE NAMES: nure hanayome (wet bride)
HABITAT: watersides, wetlands, fishing villages; anywhere near water
DIET: attention

APPEARANCE: Nure onago appear as disheveled-looking young girls with matted, wet hair. As the name implies, they are soaked with water from head to toe. Often they are covered with dead leaves and things which have stuck to their dripping bodies. They are often encountered on roads near swamps, rivers, and coasts, or during nights of heavy rain, wandering about, dripping and sopping wet.

INTERACTIONS: Travelers along the coasts and rivers of Shikoku and Kyushu occasionally encounter these (apparent) young girls, lost, and soaked to the bone with water. Most people who witness such a pathetic sight rush over quickly to help the poor lost girl. When a human draws close to a nure onago, she looks up into their eyes and smiles. If the smile is returned, she will follow the helpful stranger human, sticking by him forever, wherever he goes, always dripping and stinking of mildew and swamp water. Although she causes no particular harm, her constant presence is often enough to ruin the rest of a person’s life.

Ignoring a nure onago and refusing to return her smile before attracting her attention is the only way to avoid this yokai. Unfortunately by the time her true nature is discovered, it is often too late.

ORIGIN: Nure onago come from the strong feelings of loss and sadness shared by widows of drowning victims – particular those widows of sailors lost at sea. These feelings build up and materialize into a nure onago, whose desire for attention is the amplified desire of heartbroken widows to see their husbands again.

Nure onago have very similar behavior to hari onago, and the two are sometimes grouped together as warai onago, smiling girls. Both are also found in Shikoku, suggesting a possible relation between the two. They should not, however, be confused with the similarly named nure-onna, which is much larger and more dangerous.

Kijimunā

Kijimunaaキジムナー
きじむなあ

TRANSLATION: the name comes from an old Okinawan village, Kijimuka
ALTERNATE NAMES: sēma, bunagaya
HABITAT: banyan trees on the islands of Okinawa
DIET: seafood; prefers fish heads and eyes
CRITICAL WEAKNESS: octopus

APPEARANCE: The southern island chain of Okinawa is home to a number of unique yokai which are not found anywhere else in Japan. One of these is the kijimunā: an elfin creature which makes it home in the banyan trees which grow all over the Ryukyu archipelago. Physically, kijimunā are about the same height as a child, with wild and thick bright red hair, and skin tinted red as well. They wear skirts made of grass, and move about by hopping rather than walking. Kijimunā retain the appearance of child-like youthfulness into their adulthood. Males are noted for their large and prominent testicles.

BEHAVIOR: Kijimunā lifestyle mimics that of humans in many ways. They fish along the shores, live in family units, get married, and raise children in much the same way as the native islanders do. On rare occasions they even have been known to marry into human families. The kijimunā diet consists entirely of seafood. They are excellent fishers, and are particular skilled at diving, which they regularly do to catch a favorite dish: fish heads (specifically double-lined fusilier fish heads). They are especially fond of fish eyes (even preferring the left eye over the right). Okinawans attribute eyeless corpses of fish found on the beach to picky kijimunā.

Kijimunā have a number of peculiar fears and prejudices. They despise chickens and cooking pots. They are extremely put off by people passing gas. However, the thing they hate most, above all else, is the octopus. They avoid octopuses at all costs, despising them and fearing them at the same time.

INTERACTIONS: Kijimunā often help fishermen catch fish, or aid humans in other ways in return for a cooked meal. When they form friendships with humans, they can last for a lifetime; such will often return to their human friends many times, even spending holidays with their adopted family.

Kijimunā attacks on humans are very rare. Cutting down the banyan tree in which a one lives is a sure way to earn its wrath. Kijimunā thus wronged have been known to murder livestock, sabotage boats so they sink while their owners are far out at sea, or magically trap people in hollow trees from which they cannot escape. Sometimes they press down on peoples’ chests while they sleep, or snuff out lights during the night. The enmity of a kijimunā, once earned, can never be satisfied for as long as it lives.