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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.