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TRANSLATION: jade rabbit
ALTERNATE NAMES: tsuki no usagi, getto (moon rabbit)
HABITAT: the moon
DIET: unknown; presumably mochi

APPEARANCE: The dark spots visible on the full moon are said to resemble a rabbit who lives in the moon.

BEHAVIOR: In Japan, the rabbit is described holding a wooden mallet which he uses to pound mochi (rice cakes) in an usu, or mortar. The mallet and mortar as also visible as dark spots on the moon. In China, the rabbit is believed not to be creating mochi, but is instead mixing the medicine of eternal youth.

ORIGIN: The myth of the rabbit in the moon is very ancient. The earliest written version comes from the Jātaka tales, a 4th century BCE collection of Buddhist legends written in Sanskrit. The legend was brought along with Buddhism from India to China, where it was blended with local folklore. It came to Japan in the 7th century CE from China, where it was again adapted and adjusted to fit local folklore.

The Japanese word for pounding mochi in a mortar like the rabbit is doing—餅搗き (mochitsuki)—and the word for the full moon—望月 (mochitsuki)—are homophones.

LEGENDS: The Japanese version of the Sanskrit tale appears in Konjaku monogatarishū. A fox, a monkey, and a rabbit were traveling in the mountains when they came across a shabby-looking old man lying along the road. The old man had collapsed from exhaustion while trying to cross the mountains. The three animals felt compassion for the old man, and tried to save him. The monkey gathered fruit and nuts from the trees, the fox gathered fish from the river, and they fed the old man. As hard as he tried, the rabbit, however, could not gather anything of value to give to the old man. Lamenting his uselessness, the rabbit asked the fox and monkey for help in building a fire.  When the fire was built, the rabbit leaped into the flames so that his own body could be cooked and eaten by the old man. When the old man saw the rabbit’s act of compassion, he revealed his true form as Taishakuten, one of the lords of Heaven. Taishakuten lifted up the rabbit and placed it the moon, in order that all future generations could be inspired by the rabbit’s compassionate act. The reason it is sometimes difficult to see the rabbit in the moon is because of the smoke which still billows from the rabbits body, masking his form somewhat.



TRANSLATION: giant snake, great serpent
ALTERNATE NAMES: orochi, daija
HABITAT: wilderness
DIET: carnivorous, very fond of alcohol; gluttonous

APPEARANCE: Uwabami are enormous serpents. Apart from their incredible size, they closely resemble ordinary snakes. They make their homes in the wilderness, far from civilization.

BEHAVIOR: Uwabami’s most notable feature is their appetite. They are capable of eating things that are much larger than their bodies, and in quantities that seem like more than they should be able to eat. They are also extremely fond of drinking, and can consume huge quantities of sake. Like many animals, snakes are believed to have a variety of magical powers. They can shape-shift into various objects and creatures, including humans. They can even control the elements to some extent. Natural disasters such as floods and rock slides are often attributed to uwabami.

INTERACTIONS: In addition to eating large volumes of food and alcohol, uwabami also like to feed on people. They set up ambushes and assault travelers in mountain passes. Because of their size, they can easily swallow a full grown human whole—and they often do. However, they are sometimes outsmarted by clever people, who live to tell others of what they saw.

ORIGIN: Snakes have been a part of Japanese mythology since the earliest times, in part to their peculiar behaviors. Snakes are symbols of life and death, and eternal youth—the shedding and regrowing of their skin was viewed as a magical ability. Because they can slip into the tiniest cracks, and can penetrate deep, dark places that are inaccessible to humans, they are viewed as tenacious and clever creatures. Because of these traits, snakes have long been considered to be kami or yōkai. During different periods of history, they have been referred to as orochi, daija, and uwabami, but all of these refer to the same creature.

The name uwabami has roots going back to archaic Japanese. The first part of the name, uwa, meant skillful or superior. Gradually this shifted to a similar sounding word, uha, which meant great or large. The second part of the name is from an archaic word for snake, hami. This word derives from the word for eating, hamu, which refers both to the snake’s fondness for biting and its ability to eat things that appear much larger than it. So uwabami were “skillful eaters” which over time became “giant snakes.”

Another linguistic point of interest is that the word “uwabami” also has the colloquial meaning of “heavy drinker.” The reason for this is the uwabami’s great love for sake and its ability to drink in far alcohol more than even a creature as large as it should be able to.

LEGENDS:  A famous tale comes from Ōnuma Lake in Nagano Prefecture.

Long ago, there was an daija who lived in Ōnuma Lake. Every year he would transform into an extremely handsome young man and travel to the eastern mountains to view the cherry blossoms. One spring, he spied a beautiful young woman all by herself under the blossoms. The woman was Kuro hime, the daughter of Takanashi Masamori, a powerful lord of Shinano Province. Kuro hime also spied the handsome man who was watching her and found him irresistable. The two became acquainted and soon fell in love.

Some time later, the handsome young man paid a visit to the castle of Takanashi Masamori. He introduced himself as the great snake who lives in Ōnuma Lake, guardian deity of the Shiga Highlands. He explained that he and Kuro hime were in love, and asked the lord for her hand in marriage. Masamori immediately snapped that he would never give his daughter to someone that was not human.

The young man did not give up, and returned day after day to ask for Kuro hime’s hand in marriage. Finally, the lord relented and gave his conditions: “If you can keep up with me on horseback and complete seven laps around my castle, I will give you my daughter.” The young man eagerly accepted and agreed to return to the castle in a few days for the race.

Masamori was not about to let his daughter marry a snake. He devised a plan to kill the creature so it would leave him and his daughter alone forever. He had his servants plant swords in the grass all around the castle. Masamori was an expert rider and knew where the swords were hidden, so he would easily be able to avoid the traps.

When the day of the race came, the young man showed up at the castle as promised. The race began, and Takanashi Masamori spurred his horse into action. He was indeed an expert rider, and the young man could not keep up with the lord. He had to transform back into a snake in order to keep pace with the horse. The swords planted around the castle perimeter pierced and tore the snakes body, but he did not give up. Finally, the lord and the snake completed their seven laps. The snake’s body was ragged, and rivers of blood flowed from his body. Immediately upon finishing his final lap, the daija collapsed. Masamori’s trap had worked.

After some time had passed, the daija awoke. It looked around, and seeing nobody it realized that Masamori had lied. Trembling with rage, the daija returned to the Shiga Highlands. It summoned all of its family, servants, and clan members. All of the spirits of the Shiga Highlands arose and summoned a great storm. Rain the likes of which had never been seen before fell. Ōnuma Lake swelled in size and burst forth, flooding everything around. All of the villages surrounding the lake were annihalated. Houses were knocked down. Fields were flooded and washed away. No humans or animals were able to escape destruction. However, the mountains around the Takanashi Masamori’s castle acted like a shield, and the castle stood firm.

Kuro hime looked down from the castle and watched the torrent wash away wash away the entire region. She heartbroken when she saw the destruction. Realizing that only she had the power to stop the disaster, she left the castle by herself and traveled down to Ōnuma Lake. Kuro hime threw herself into the flood and was never seen again. When the daija realized what had happened, it immediately scattered the storm clouds and caused the flood to recede. Ōnuma Lake shrank back to its original borders.

The daija is still worshiped today as the guardian deity of the Shiga Highlands. There is a small shrine called Daija Jinja located near Ōnuma Lake where the snake is enshrined. Every August, the villagers gather there to perform the Daija Matsuri and remember the story of Kuro hime.

Amazake babā



TRANSLATION: amazake (a sweet, low-alcohol content form of sake) hag
ALTERNATE NAMES: amazake banbā
HABITAT: dark streets at night, particularly in urban areas
DIET: amazake and sake

APPEARANCE: Amazake babā is a haggardly old woman from northeastern Japan. She is practically indistinguishable from an ordinary old woman, which makes her difficult to recognize as a yōkai until it is too late.

INTERACTIONS: Amazake babā appears on winter nights and travels from house to house. She knocks on doors and calls out, “Might you have any amazake?” Those who answer her, whether the answer is yes or no, fall terribly ill. A cedar branch hung over the door is said to keep the amazake babā from approaching your house.

A variation of amazake babā from Yamanashi prefecture is called amazake banbā. She travels from house to house trying to sell sake and amazake. The consequences of replying to her are the same as with amazake babā, but the way to keep her at bay is slightly different. If you hang a sign at the front door that says “we do not like sake or amazake,” she will leave you alone and go on to the next house.

ORIGIN: Originally amazake babā was considered to be a god of disease—specifically smallpox. During smallpox outbreaks, there was a large increase in amazake babā sightings in major urban centers across Japan, not just in the northeast. Rumors of old women roaming the streets at night selling sake and bringing sickness were rampant in large cities such as Edo, Kyōto, Osaka, and Nagoya. Fear of smallpox was a major concern in urban centers, and contributed to the popularity of amazake babā rumors.

Since the eradication of smallpox, the sickness spread by amazake babā’s has changed from smallpox to the common cold. Even today, statues of her can be found in cities. Mothers visit these statues to leave offerings of sake and amazake so that that their children will not become sick.



TRANSLATION: mountain sprite
ALTERNATE NAMES: sanki (mountain demon)
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: crabs and frogs

APPEARANCE: Sansei are small humanoid spirits that live deep in the mountains. They range in size anywhere from about one foot tall, to three or four feet tall. Sansei’s most noticeable trait is their single leg, which is turned around backwards. They are known as the leaders of all animals which live in the mountains, and their diet mainly consists of frogs and stone crabs, of which they are particularly fond and enjoy broiling with salt.

INTERACTIONS: Sansei occasionally sneak into woodcutters’ houses and mountain huts to steal salt, which they use to flavor the crabs that they eat. Though not very aggressive, they do sometimes attack humans. When this happens, if one calls out, “Hiderigami!” the sansei will flee in terror. However, if one calls out, “Sansei!” instead, that person will meet some horrible fate, such as falling ill or having their house catch on fire.

Tōfu kozō


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.

Shuten dōji


TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “little drunkard”

LEGENDS: There are three monsters who are considered the greatest and most evil yokai in all of Japanese folklore: the ghost of Emperor Sutoku, the nine-tailed kitsune Tamamo no Mae, and the dreaded king of the oni, Shuten dōji.

Shuten dōji was not born an oni. There are many stories about how he came to be, but most of them say that he was originally a human boy who was born over a thousand years ago either in present-day Shiga or Toyama. His mother was a human woman and his father was the great dragon Yamata-no-Orochi. How he changed from boy to demon varies greatly from story to story, but the one popular version goes like this: There was a young boy who was supernaturally strong and abnormally intelligent for his age. Everyone around him constantly called him a demon child due to his incredible strength and wit, and he gradually became terribly anti-social and resentful of others. At age six, even his own mother abandoned him. Orphaned, he became an apprentice priest at Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. Naturally, he was the strongest and smartest of the young acolytes, and he grew resentful of them as well. He slacked off on his studies as a result and got into fights. He also fell into drinking, which was forbidden to monks; however he could out-drink anyone and everyone who was willing to sit down and drink against him. Because of his fondness for alcohol, he became known as Shuten dōji, “the little drunkard.”

One night there was a festival at the temple, and Shuten dōji showed up very drunk. He put on an oni mask and went around playing pranks on his fellow priests, jumping out from the darkness to scare them and such. At the end of the night, he tried to take off his mask but found he couldn’t — to his horror, it had fused to his body! Ashamed, scared, and scolded by his masters for being drunk, he fled into the mountains where he would no longer have to interact with other humans, whom he saw as weak, foolish, and hypocritical. He lived there on the outskirts of Kyoto for many years, stealing food and alcohol from villagers, and drinking vast quantities of alcohol. His banditry eventually attracted groups of thieves and criminals, who stuck with him loyally and became the foundation for his gang.

Living in exile, Shuten dōji grew in power and knowledge. He mastered strange, dark magic, and taught it to his thugs. He met another demon child like him, named Ibaraki dōji, who became his chief servant. Over time, the young man and his gang gradually transformed into oni, and eventually he had a whole clan of oni and yokai thugs who prowled the highways, terrorizing the people of Kyoto in a drunken rage. He and his gang eventually settled on Mount Ōe, where, in a dark castle, he plotted to conquer the capital and rule as emperor.

Shuten dōji and his gang rampaged through Kyoto, capturing noble virgins, drinking their blood and eating their organs raw. Finally, a band of heroes led by the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu assaulted Shuten dōji’s palace, and with the help of some magical poison, were able to assault the oni band during a bout of heavy drinking. They cut off the drunken Shuten dōji’s head, but even after cutting it off, the head continued to bite at Minamoto no Yorimitsu.

Because the head belonged to an oni and was unholy, it was buried it outside of the city limits, at a mountain pass called Oinosaka. The cup and bottle of poison that Minamoto no Yorimitsu used are said to be kept at Nariai-ji temple in Kyoto.



TRANSLATION: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: coasts, islands, and shallow waters; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; extremely fond of sake

APPEARANCE: Along the mountainous coasts of Japan lives a race of ape-like, intelligent, red-haired sea spirits known as shōjō. They look like man-sized apes, with long, shaggy red hair, and reddish faces blushed with alcohol. They are bipedal like humans, and occasionally wear clothes or skirts made of seaweed.

BEHAVIOR: Shōjō spend their lives playing in the sea and on the sand of secluded beaches, drinking large quantities of alcohol. They revel in drunken silliness, singing, dancing, and enjoying life. Despite their silly appearance and demeanor, they are said to be very wise. They are extremely fond of sake and other types of alcohol. In fact, they are excellent brewers themselves, and can distil a powerful brine wine from seawater. The taste of the wine varies depending on the imbiber; if he is a good person, the wine will be delicious, but if he is a wicked person it will taste like a foul poison, and even may kill him if he does not change his evil ways.

INTERACTIONS: Shōjō can understand human languages and even parrot a number of words, and they are curious and gentle towards friendly humans. They are generally gentle and peaceful, and keep to themselves, preferring to remain apart from the world of mankind. Occasionally there have been stories of groups of shōjō harassing sailors and ships which stray too close to their homes, but these stories are rarely violent. Usually the shōjō flee into the water after they have stolen a few barrels of sake from the ship.

ORIGIN: The name shōjō is the Japanese version of the Chinese name for these ape-like spirit. Its name connotes liveliness, a fitting match for the lively personality of this creature. These days, the name is applied to the orangutan in both Japan and China, due to the ape’s physical resemblance to this yokai. Additionally, the term shōjō can be used to refer to a person who is a heavy drinker. The famous artist and yokai painter Kawanabe Kyōsai jokingly referred to himself as a shōjō in this way.

Azuki babā


TRANSLATION: the bean hag
ALTERNATE NAMES: azukitogi babā (the bean grinding hag)
HABITAT: forests and occasionally villages in Northeast Japan
DIET: humans

APPEARANCE: The people of Miyagi prefecture tell of a much more sinister member of the azuki family of yokai. Rather than the benign and cute azuki arai known throughout most of the country, this northeastern variation takes the form of a fearsome old hag dressed all in white, singing in a husky, ugly voice. Azuki babā only appears at twilight – particularly on rainy or misty autumn nights. Their song is similar to the azuki arai’s, except that azuki babā usually follow through on the threat to catch and eat humans.

BEHAVIOR: Witnesses of azuki babā who have survived to tell their experience describe and eerie white glow visible through the thick white mist. From the mist, the husky voice of an old hag can be heard singing her ghastly song and counting beans as she washes them in the river with a strainer. Those who don’t turn back at this point never make it back.

INTERACTIONS: Despite their ferociousness, azuki babā are much more rare than their harmless bean-washing counterparts, and are usually just used as stories to scare children into behaving properly. Of all the variations of azuki-related yokai, this one is the most likely to actually be a shapeshifted an evil itachi, tanuki, or kitsune, imitating the harmless azuki arai in order to attract a curious child to catch and eat.

Azuki hakari


TRANSLATION: the bean counter
HABITAT: rural villages, homes, attics, and gardens
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: A possible relative of azuki arai, azuki hakari, or “the bean counter,” is a poltergeist found in some homes and temples. Known only by the sounds it makes, it is said to dwell in attics or gardens, and is most active at night. Azuki hakari have never been seen directly – only heard. Though similar in name and habit to its azuki-related cousins, azukihakari has traits distinct enough to classify it as a separate yokai.

BEHAVIOR: Azuki hakari appear in homes late at night, after midnight. An encounter usually begins with the sound of heavy footsteps in the space between the attic and the roof. Shortly after, a rhythmic sound like dried azuki beans being scattered can be heard against the windows or sliding doors leading outside. The sound grows progressively louder, and gradually changes into the sound of splashing water, and finally to the sound of geta – Japanese wooden sandals – walking around just outside the room. Opening the doors or windows causes the noise to stop, revealing no sign of any creature that could have made such a noise; nor any beans or puddles or markings from whatever caused the noises.

Because of the difficulty of direct observation of all azuki spirits, it is very likely that some of the stories about azuki-arai which take place near homes or away from rivers, may in fact be about encounters with azuki hakari.

Azuki arai


TRANSLATION: the bean washer
ALTERNATE NAMES: azuki togi (the bean grinder)
HABITAT: remote forests; found throughout Japan
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Azuki arai is a mysterious yokai encountered in mountainous regions all across Japan. It has many regional nicknames, another common one being azuki togi. This yokai lives deep in forests and mountains and spends its time near streams. Few actual sightings have been recorded, but it is said to be a short and squat, with big, round eyes, and overall resembling a Buddhist priest. It appears full of mirth with a silly smile and large hands with only three fingers.

BEHAVIOR: Azuki arai are more often heard than seen. Their main activity seems to be washing red azuki beans by the riverside, singing a dreadful song interspersed with the “shoki shoki” sound of beans being washed in a basket:

Azuki araou ka? Hito totte kuou ka? (shoki shoki)
Shall I wash my red beans, or shall I catch a human to eat? (shoki shoki)

INTERACTIONS: Passersby who hear azuki arai singing usually slip and fall into the river, the noise from the splash scaring the yokai away. Nearly all encounters with azuki arai are purely auditory; they are notoriously shy, and do all they can to avoid being seen. Their uncanny ability to mimic the sounds of nature and animals also help them to hide. Because of their elusiveness, spotting an azuki arai is supposed to bring good luck.