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TRANSLATION: candlestick spirit, candlestick demon

APPEARANCE: A tōdaiki is a magical lamp created using black magic and a living human being.

ORIGIN: Stories about people visiting strange lands and being transformed, or disappearing into another world and never returning are not uncommon in Japanese folklore. Fanciful stories like these might have originated in true but unsolved disappearances of loved ones.

LEGENDS: The most famous tōdaiki story involves a real historical figure. Hitsu no Saishō was the nickname of Fujiwara no Arikuni, a Heian period noble who lived from 943-1011 CE.

Long ago, during a period of great movement of culture and ideas between China and Japan, a government minister named Karu no Daijin was sent on a diplomatic mission to Tang China. He never returned, and his family in Japan, including his young son, Hitsu no Saishō, were left not knowing even knowing whether he was alive or dead.

Many years later, when Hitsu no Saishō was an adult, he traveled to China to search for news of his missing father’s whereabouts. He traveled far and wide, and in a particular location he came across something he had never seen before: a a candlestick fashioned out of a living human being! The man had been installed like a piece of furniture onto a fancy platform, and a large candle had been affixed to his head. Every inch of his body was covered in strange tattoos. And by some combination of strange drugs and sorcery, the man’s throat had been blocked up and ability to speak had been removed.

As Hitsu no Saishō looked in amazement at the strange creation, the tōdaiki began to shed tears. Unable to speak, the man bit hard into his finger tip until it began to bleed. Then, using his finger, he wrote out a poem in his blood:

Long ago I came to China from Japan. I have the same family name as you.
The bond between father and son transcends even the seas and mountains that have separated us.
For years I have cried in this horrible place. Every day I think of my parents.
I have been transformed into this candlestick in this faraway land. I just want to go home.

Upon reading this, Hitsu no Saishō realized in horror that the tōdaiki was his own father whom he had come to China looking for!



TRANSLATION: smokey fabric
HABITAT: chimneys, bonfires
DIET: combustible materials

APPEARANCE: Enenra is a yōkai made up of wisps of smoke, which rise up into the sky from a fires, such as the takibi bonfires which farmers light to dispose of the remains of their harvests. As the smoke rises, human-like faces appear and disappear in its form.

BEHAVIOR: Enenra is essentially just a personification of smoke. It floats about as it climbs into the air, billowing in the wind, and appearing as fragile as a piece of delicate silk dancing in the breeze. It is mesmerizing and relaxing to watch.

ORIGIN: Enenra was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. It seems to be loosely based on a passage in Tsurezure gusa which describes the smoke rising from fires burned in the summer to keep mosquitoes away. Contemporary yokai scholars have also pointed out that this yōkai’s name sounds similar to the name Enma, the lord of hell and judge of the dead. As hell is a place of fire and smoke, it has been suggested that instead of the spirit of smoke itself, enenra may actually be the spirits of the dead rising up along with the smoke. For that reason, enenra only appears before those who are calm and pure of heart and mind.



TRANSLATION: monk in the flames
HABITAT: Toribeyama, a mountain in Kyōto
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kazenbō is a ghostly apparition which resembles a monk wreathed in flames, being burnt alive. They appear on a mountain in Kyoto called Toribeyama, which has been used as a grave site for many centuries

BEHAVIOR: Kazenbō appear occasionally to visitors to the mountain. They don’t do anything harmful, but their horrific appearance is very disturbing. They materialize, appear to suffer in flames which never completely consume them, and then disappear.

ORIGIN: During the Heian period, Toribeyama was an important burial ground and cremation site, especially for the nobility of the city. During major epidemics, many diseased bodies were burned there. It is said that there was an unending column of smoke rising from the mountain from all the burning bodies.

Towards the end of the 10th century, a number of monks decided to offer themselves up in ritual sacrifice by fire. They believed that in doing so, they would rid themselves of their worldy attachments, along with their bodies, and achieve enlightenment. The ceremony was open to the public, and a large number of people came to witness the event. However, it would seem that a number of these priests did not actually achieve enlightenment. They must not have been able to truly give up their attachments to the material world. So now, instead, their ghosts are doomed to haunt Toribeyama, appearing in ghostly flames as beggar-monks wreathed in the fires of ignorance and sin.



TRANSLATION: raincoat fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: minomushibi, minoboshi, etc.; varies widely from place to place
HABITAT: wet rural areas

APPEARANCE: Minobi is a phenomenon that appears on rainy days in rural areas, particularly during the rainy season. Often it appears near bodies of water such as rivers or lakes, such as Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. Minobi appears as a number of tiny fireballs which glow like fireflies. They float about in the air and tend gather in large numbers.

INTERACTIONS: Minobi gets its name from its tendency to gather around people wearing mino (traditional straw raincoats). It sticks to the raincoat and burns. When someone attempts to brush off or swat out the fire, the minobi instead multiplies, growing larger and larger. Eventually the person is forced to strip off the raincoat and leave it on the road.

ORIGIN: Minobi is found all over Japan, although often by different names and with different explanations. Sometimes this phenomenon is thought to be caused by natural gas escaping from the ground (as with other mysterious fireballs like onibi and kitsunebi). Most often it is said to be the work of a mischievous kitsune, itachi, or tanuki. Because it appears more frequently during the rainy season, sometimes minobi’s true form is believed to be a firefly or other insect, such as the minomushi (bagworm moth).



TRANSLATION: derived from the Hindu deity Garuda
ALTERNATE NAMES: konjichō (golden winged bird)
HABITAT: Shumisen (aka Mount Meru)
DIET: dragons

APPEARANCE: Karura are a race of enormous, fire-breathing demigods. They are humanoid in appearance, with the heads and wings of eagles. They have red skin, and red and gold feathers. Karura are fearsome. They breath fire from their beaks. The flapping of their wings sounds like thunder, and creates gusts of wind so strong they can dry up lakes, knock down houses, and cover entire cities in darkness. Their gigantic wingspans are 330 yojanas wide, and they can leap 3,360,000 li in a single bound. (The lengths of one yojana and one li vary greatly from country to country and era to era—a yojana can measure anywhere between 1.6 km to over 13 km long, and one li can measure anywhere between 400 m and 3.9 km.)

BEHAVIOR: Karura inhabit Tendō, the realm of heaven. They are found on Shumisen (known as Mount Meru in English), a sacred mountain with five peaks which exists at the center the universe. They make their homes in trees, and live in cities rules by kings. They are the mortal enemies of the naga—a group of beings which includes dragons and serpents—and feed upon them as their main diet.

INTERACTIONS: Karura are are worshiped in some branches of esoteric Buddhism. Because karura are the enemies of dragons and serpents, they are seen as a counter to things associated with these creatures. They are guardians who keep venomous snakes and dragons away. They protect against poison and disease. They are even helpful against excessive rains and typhoons. Because they are such fierce predators, they are also viewed as destroyers of sin, devouring the spiritual impurities of the faithful just as they devour dragons.

ORIGIN: Karura comes from the Hindu deity Garuda, a giant eagle who served as the mount of Vishnu. Garuda was incorporated into Buddhist folklore, where he became a race of powerful eagle-like devas. They were then later brought along with Buddhism to China, and finally to Japan. The name karura comes from the Japanese pronunciation of Garuda.

Karura are one of the hachi bushū—the eight legions. These are the eight classes of supernatural beings who were converted to Buddhism by Buddha. The eight races of the hachi bushū are the ten (deva in Sanskrit), tatsu (naga), yasha (yaksa), kendatsuba (gandharva), ashura (asura), karura (garuda), kinnara, and magoraka (mahoraga). All of these creatures are inhabitants of Tendō (the highest state of existence) except for the ashura, who live in Ashuradō (the third highest state of existence).

Haka no hi


TRANSLATION: grave fire
HABITAT: tombs, graveyards, and burial grounds
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Haka no hi are mysterious, supernatural fires, or kaika. They spout forth from the base of graves.

ORIGIN: The cause of haka no hi is unknown. It is commonly believed to be a result of failure on the part of the grave’s owner to reach enlightenment and pass on to Nirvana. The flames are thought to be residual energy from worldly attachments, or else feelings of grudge or resentment, coming from the remains interred in the grave.



TRANSLATION: unknown fire
HABITAT: along the shores of Kyūshū

APPEARANCE: Shiranui are a specific type of kaii known as a kaika, or mysterious fire. They appear in bodies of water around Kyūshū on dark, calm nights—particularly at the end of the 7th month according to the old lunar calendar. They are most visible during the strongest ebb tide, around 3 am, and appear roughly 8 to 12 kilometers off shore. They can be seen from elevated parts of the coast, but not from sea level.

BEHAVIOR: Shiranui begin with one or two distant fireballs, called oyabi, floating just above the surface of the sea. The oyabi sway left and right, splitting apart and multiplying until finally there are hundreds or thousands of fireballs swaying in the distance. This line of fireballs can stretch out for many kilometers.

ORIGIN: Shiranui were thought to be manifestations of the lanterns created by Ryūjin, the dragon god of the sea. On days that shiranui appeared, local villages were forbidden to catch fish in the same area as the kaika. Boats that tried approaching shiranui reported that no matter how long they sailed, the fireballs remained far away on the horizon.



TRANSLATION: dragon lights
HABITAT: oceans, coasts, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Ryūtō are kaika which appear just above the surface of the water on calm, peaceful nights. They create no heat, nor do they burn anything. They are only found in bodies of water which are home to dragons.

BEHAVIOR: Ryūtō start out as single orbs of flame which hover a few meters above the surface of the water. They soon begin to multiply, until there are countless orbs. These fireballs float about aimlessly along the water, stretching and shrinking and morphing their shapes. Some of them sink back into the water. Others float up into the sky or nestle into the treetops. At dawn, they merge back together into one orb before vanishing back into the sea.

INTERACTIONS: Ryūtō are considered by the Japanese to be a manifestation of light caused by the dragons which inhabit bodies of water. Areas where ryūtō routinely appear often have shrines near them, and the lights themselves are considered sacred. On nights that ryūtō appear, people gather along the shore to watch these dancing and changing holy flames.

LEGENDS: The Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture (old Bingo and Aki Provinces) is not only one of the most famous shrines in Japan, but also a popular sightseeing location for watching ryūtō. The lights appear on the tranquil surface of Hiroshima Bay for about a week starting on New Year’s Day. They are believed to appear because the Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to the gods of the sea and thus is connected with Ryūjin.



TRANSLATION: shadowy unpious demon
HABITAT: temples and places where people have recently died
DIET: impiety

APPEARANCE: Onmoraki are bird-like monsters with black feathers, bright eyes that shine like lanterns, and a ghastly human face. They are skilled mimics, and shake their feathers as they give off their shrill, terrifying call.

INTERACTIONS: Onmoraki appear near temples, particularly in the presence of neglectful priests. They sneak up on sleeping priests and surprise them, scolding them in a perfect imitation of their own voices. When the priest wakes up and flees in terror, the onmoraki vanishes into the shadows.

ORIGIN: Onmoraki come from the bodies of the recently deceased. When people die but do not receive enough memorial prayer, their life energy can transform into this grotesque, bird-like demon. The name onmoraki comes from a play on words emphasizing demonic interference with achieving Buddhist enlightenment. The first part of the name, on, comes from onmyō, the Japanese word for yin and yang. On represents yin, the shadow, the unseen, and hidden, secret things—in this case it refers to demons which live in the shadows and in the hidden parts of the world. The second part of the name, mora, refers to Mara, a Buddhist demon who personifies unskillfulness, impiety, and the death of the spirit—a reference to the poor quality of memorial services which cause this yōkai to come forth. The last part of the name, ki, simply means demon—emphasizing the fact that this monster truly is a demon.