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Hanzaki

Hanzaki鯢魚
はんざき

TRANSLATION: Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus)
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōsanshōuo, hanzake, hazako
HABITAT: rivers and streams
DIET: mainly insects, frogs, and fish

APPEARANCE: Hanzaki are monstrous versions of the Japanese giant salamander. These animals normally grow up to one and a half meters long, however the yōkai versions of this animal can grow much larger. They have rough, mottled, brown and black skin, tiny eyes, and enormous mouths which span the entire width of their heads. They live in rivers and streams far from human-inhabited areas.

INTERACTIONS: Hanzaki and humans rarely come into contact with each other. When they do, it is usually because the hanzaki has grown large enough to eat humans or livestock and is causing trouble to nearby villagers.

ORIGIN: The name hanzaki is a colloquialism for the Japanese giant salamander. They are called hanzaki for their regenerative powers; it was believed that a salamander’s body could be cut (saku) in half (han) and it would still survive. The call of the salamander was said to resemble that of a human baby, and so the word is written with kanji combining fish () and child ().

LEGENDS: There was once a deep pool in which a gigantic hanzaki lived. The hanzaki would grab horses, cows, and even villagers, drag them into the pool, and swallow them in a single gulp. For generations, the villagers lived in fear of the pool and stayed away from it.

During the first year of Bunroku (1593 CE), the villagers called for help, asking if there was anyone brave enough to slay the hanzaki. A young villager named Miura no Hikoshirō volunteered. Hikoshirō grabbed his sword and dove into the pool. He did not come back up; he had been swallowed by the hanzaki in a single gulp! Moments later, Hikoshirō sliced through the hanzaki and tore it in half from the inside out, killing it instantly. The slain creature’s body was 10 meters long, and 5 meters in girth!

The very day the hanzaki was slain, strange things began to happen at the Miura residence. Night after night, something would bang on the door, and something screaming and crying could be heard just outside the door. However, when Hikoshirō opened the door to check, there was nothing there at all.

Not long after that, Hikoshirō and his entire family died suddenly. Strange things began to happen through the village as well. The villagers believed the angry ghost of the dead hanzaki had cursed them. They built a small shrine and enshrined the hanzaki’s spirit as a god, dubbing it Hanzaki Daimyōjin. After that, the hanzaki’s spirit was pacified, and the curse laid to rest.

A gravestone dedicated to Miura no Hikoshirō still stands in Yubara, Okayama Prefecture. The villagers of Yubara still honor Hanzaki Daimyōjin by building giant salamander shrine floats and parading them through town during the annual Hanzaki Festival.

 

Amemasu

Amemasu雨鱒
アメマス

TRANSLATION: white-spotted char; literally “rain trout”
HABITAT: cold streams and lakes, occasionally seagoing
DIET: carnivorous, ranging from small fish and plankton up to and including large boats

APPEARANCE: Amemasu is the Japanese name for the white-spotted char (Salvelinus leucomaenis leucomaenis), a species of trout which is found in Northeast Asia. They are a popular target of game fishing and are also raised in fisheries.

BEHAVIOR: Amemasu spend most of their lives in the water, away from humans. They are found mostly in rivers and streams, but seagoing varieties exist as well. They are more common in Hokkaido, the northern parts of Honshu, and along the Sea of Japan—however legends of amemasu are occasionally found in the southern parts of Japan as well. They feed on whatever they can eat—from plankton to insects, to fish and any other aquatic lifeforms they can fit into their mouths. Yōkai amemasu can grow to colossal sizes, sometimes spanning an entire lake from head to tail. These giant amemasu also occasionally thrash and sink ships, devouring any poor souls who happened to be on the ship. In Ainu folklore, the wild thrashing of giant amemasu is believed to be what causes earthquakes—much like giant catfish are thought to cause earthquakes in the rest of Japan.

INTERACTIONS:  Amemasu can transform into human shape and walk about on land. They usually take the form of young, beautiful women in order to seduce young men. Shape-changed amemasu can be identified by their skin, which feels cold and clammy like that of a fish.

LEGENDS: A number of lakes in Hokkaido are believed to be the home of giant amemasu. According to Ainu folklore, these amemasu are thought to be the guardian deities of their respective lakes. Lake Mashū is home to an amemasu the size of a whale. Lake Shikotsu contains an amemasu so large that its head touches one end of the lake and its tail touches the other.

A legend from Minabe, Wakayama Prefecture tells of a mysterious whirlpool that appeared in a deep pond. A giant amemasu lived in the pond. Every spring, she would emerge from the pond in the form of a beautiful woman. For two or three days she would catch young men and take them away—where to nobody knows, but they were never seen again. The only way to know that it was a fish and not a woman was from her cold, clammy skin. One day, a cormorant dove into the pond to go hunting. The giant amemasu swallowed the bird in a single gulp. However, after a short time, the amemasu’s body floated up to the surface of the pond, dead. The cormorant burst out of its stomach. A shrine was built at that spot to honor Konpira-san, which still stands today.

Atuikakura

Atuikakuraアトゥイカクラ
あトぅいかくら

TRANSLATION: the Japanese reading of its Ainu name, atuy kakura
ALTERNATE NAMES: atsuuikakura
HABITAT: Uchiura bay in Hokkaido
DIET: mainly a scavenger; occasionally eats ships

APPEARANCE: Atuikakura is an enormous sea cucumber which lives deep in Uchiura Bay in Hokkaido.

BEHAVIOR: Atuikakura is rarely seen due its underwater lifestyle. It spends most of its time deep in the water, occasionally attaching itself to chunks of driftwood and floating to other parts of the bay.

INTERACTIONS: Despite rarely being seen, Atuikakura can be very dangerous to ships on the bay. When Atuikakura gets startled, it thrashes about wildly, smashing or capsizing ships which happen to be bear it. It also sometimes mistakes a wooden boat for a piece of driftwood, attaches its mouth to it, and drags the ship under the waves.

ORIGIN: Atuikakura is the Japanese transcription of its Ainu name, atuy kakura. Atuy is the Ainu word for the sea, and kakura means sea cucumber. According to local legend, Atuikakura was formed when a mouru—the traditional undergarment of Ainu women—washed down a river and into the bay. The mouru settled at the bottom of Uchiura Bay and and turned into a giant sea cucumber.

Akkorokamui

Akkorokamuiアッコロカムイ
あっころかむい

TRANSLATION: this is the Japanese version of its Ainu name, Atkor Kamuy
HABITAT: Uchiura Bay in Hokkaido
DIET: omnivorous; it can swallow ships and whales whole

APPEARANCE: Akkorokamui is a gigantic octopus god which resides in Hokkaido’s Uchiura Bay. When it extends its legs, its body stretches over one hectare in area. It is so big that it can swallow boats and even whales in a single gulp. Its entire body is red. It is so large that when it appears the sea and even the sky reflect its color, turning a deep red.

INTERACTIONS: Any ship foolish enough to sail too close to Akkorokamui will be swallowed whole. Therefore, for generations, locals have stayed away from the water when the sea and sky turn red. Fishermen and sailors who had no choice but to be on the waters would carry scythes with them for protection.

ORIGIN: Akkorokamui comes from Ainu folklore, where it is known as Atkorkamuy. Its name can be translated as “string-holding kamuy.” String-holding likely refers to the octopus’s string-like tentacles, while kamuy is an Ainu term for a divine being—similar to the Japanese term kami. In Ainu folklore, Akkorokamui is both revered and feared as a water deity, specifically as the lord of Uchiura Bay.

LEGENDS: Long ago, in the mountains near the village of Rebunge, there lived a gigantic spider named Yaushikep. Yaushikep was enormous. His great red body stretched over one hectare in area. One day, Yaushikep descended from the mountains and attacked the people of Rebunge. He shook the earth as he rampaged, destroying everything in his path. The villagers were terrified. They prayed to the gods to save them. The god of the sea, Repun Kamuy, heard their prayers and pulled Yaushikep into the bay. When the great spider was taken into the water, he transformed into a giant octopus, and took over charge of the bay as its god. Ever since then, he has been known as Atkor Kamuy, or Akkorokamui in Japanese.

Ōkubi

Ookubi大首
おおくび

TRANSLATION: giant head
HABITAT: hiding in large barns, or flying around in the sky
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Ōkubi appear as enormous, severed heads, which fly through the sky. In most accounts they are female in appearance. Quite commonly they have blackened teeth.

INTERACTIONS: Ōkubi are little threat to humans. Their most common activity is to fly about harassing people: grinning at them, blowing away their umbrellas, or otherwise scaring them. According to some accounts, if an ōkubi breaths on any body part, that part will become inflamed. However, stories about serious injuries or deaths are rare to nonexistent.

LEGENDS: Eyewitness accounts of ōkubi were common during the Edo period. In a story from Inou Mononoke Roku, the protagonist Inou Heitarō opens the door to his storage house. He discovers that an enormous head of an old woman—the size of the entire storage house—has taken up residence inside. Curious, he pokes at the head with a long chopstick. Instead of bumping against the forehead of the ōkubi, the head is sticky and mushy and the chopstick slides right in.

Taka onna

Takaonna高女
たかおんな

TRANSLATION: tall woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: taka jo
HABITAT: red light districts
DIET: as a normal person

APPEARANCE: Taka onna appear as ordinary, homely human women most of the time, but they have the power to elongate their bodies and grow to several meters in height. Like other brothel yokai, they are rarely seen outside of brothels and red light districts. They are fairly common yokai nonetheless. Sightings of these yokai peaked during the Edo period and continued up to the post-war period, when brothels and “pleasure districts” were at their height in Japan.

BEHAVIOR: Taka onna are frequently spotted peering into the 2nd-story windows of brothels and homes where romantic liaisons are taking place. Their activities are generally limited to peeping into second floor windows. Though they rarely attack humans physically, taka onna do enjoy scaring and harassing both men and women who frequent the pleasure districts, jealous of the physical pleasure they were never able to know in life.

ORIGIN: Taka onna were originally ordinary women who were too unattractive to marry (or to find work in the red light districts which they haunt). Through jealousy, they became twisted and corrupted, and transformed into ugly, malicious monsters who prey on others’ sexual energy.

LEGENDS: Taka onna encounters were often the subject of bawdy anecdotes, as they generally revolve around trips to the pleasure districts. In one account, though, a woodcutter describes how he discovered that his own wife was a taka onna. His child mysteriously disappeared one day, and over a short period his servants also began to disappear one by one. Unable to figure out what was happening, the woodcutter began to investigate his wife. One night while pretending to sleep in bed, he witnessed his wife jump into a well and then elongate her body and climb back out. He leapt out of bed and fled into the mountains, never to return.

Umi bōzu

Umibouzu海坊主
うみぼうず

TRANSLATION: sea monk
ALTERNATE NAMES: umi-nyūdō, umi-hōshi
HABITAT: seas, oceans, bays
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Perhaps no other aquatic yokai is as mysterious as the giant umi bōzu. Their true form is unknown, as they are only ever seen from the shoulders up, but they appear to be roughly humanoid in shape, with inky black skin and a pair of large, round eyes. Eye-witnesses report a great range in size, from slightly larger than a ship, to a size so unimaginable that only the creature’s bulbous face is visible above the water. Its head is smooth and round like that of a venerable monk, and its body is nude and as black as shadow. Some reports make them out to be more serpentine, while others make them out to be more ghostly, like a gigantic kind of funa-yūrei.

INTERACTIONS: Umi bōzu appear on calm nights, when there is no sign of anything out of the ordinary. All of a sudden, with no warning, the waves and the weather whip up into a furious condition, and out from the tumult rises a titanic creature. It moves to destroy the ship, either by smashing the hull in a single blow, or taking it down bit by bit, depending on the size of both the ship and the umi bōzu.

Occasionally, instead of smashing the ship, an umi bōzu will demand a barrel from the crew. It uses this to pour huge amounts of water onto the deck, quickly sinking the boat and drowning the crew. If given a barrel with the bottom removed, the umi bōzu will scoop and scoop to no effect, and the sailors will be able to make a lucky escape.

ORIGIN: Some say that the umi bōzu are the spirits of drowned priests, cast into the sea by angry villagers (this may also be implied by their name). These priests were then transformed into ghosts due to the horrible nature of their death, making them cousins of the similarly dreaded funa-yūrei, with whom they share some similarities. Others, however, say that umi bōzu are a sea monster which lives in the deeps of the Seto Inland Sea, and that they are the progenitors of a large variety of other aquatic yokai. Because sightings are rare and almost always fatal, it is likely that the true nature and origin of this spirit will remain a mystery for a long time.

Koromodako

Koromodako衣蛸
ころもだこ

TRANSLATION: cloth octopus
HABITAT: Sea of Japan; particularly near Kyoto and Fukui
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on both tiny plankton and large ships

APPEARANCE: Koromodako are strange and terrifying octopus-like yokai living in the seas bordering Kyoto and Fukui, particularly in the bays of Ine and Wakasa. Koromodako usually appear similar to ordinary small octopuses. Males only reach a size of a few centimeters long, while females can grow up to five times that length. Being so tiny, they are subject to the tides and waves, and so they float wherever the currents take them. Females live inside of a paper-thin shell, while males have no shell (similar to the family of octopuses called argonauts).

BEHAVIOR: When koromodako are threatened they become incredibly dangerous. They can instantly grow to many times their original size – large enough to engulf fish, fishermen, or any other creature that might try to eat them. Stretching their arms and body out wide, they resemble an enormous piece of cloth, from which they get their name. While in this form a koromodako can engulf nearly anything in the water, even entire ships. It wraps its arms and mantle around the ship, sailors and all, and drags it down into the deep, never to be seen again. After feeding, the koromodako shrinks back down to its tiny size, impossible to trace.

Taka nyūdō

Takanyuudou高入道
たかにゅうどう

TRANSLATION: tall priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: frequently confused with mikoshi nyūdō
HABITAT: alleys, roads, mountains; native to Shikoku and the Kinki region
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: The taka nyūdō is a close relative of the mikoshi nyūdō. It is usually encountered in alleyways, suddenly appearing before unsuspecting humans, and increasing its height at the same speed that its victim looks up at it.

Because of the similarity in regional names and appearance, taka nyūdō and mikoshi nyūdō are often confused with one another.

INTERACTIONS: Taka nyūdō can be defeated in a similar manner as the mikoshi nyūdō–by demonstrating courage in the face of death and showing no fear, refusing to raise one’s head and denying it the chance to grow. Some say it can also be outsmarted by carrying a ruler or other measuring utensils and attempting to calculate its height before it can react. The confused giant usually leaves in disgust and will not bother the same person again.

Taka nyūdō is generally less violent than other giants, often content with simply scaring its victims instead of ripping their throats out or crushing them with trees. Its true form is often a tanuki, kitsune, or kawauso.

Mikoshi nyūdō

Mikoshinyuudou見越入道
みこしにゅうどう

TRANSLATION: anticipating priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: mikoshi, miage nyūdō, taka bōzu
HABITAT: bridges, roads, streets; especially at night
DIET: omnivorous; prefers travelers

APPEARANCE: Mikoshi nyūdō are fearsome yokai who appear to lone travelers on empty streets, intersections, or bridges, late at night. They appear to be harmless traveling priests or monks, no taller than an ordinary person, but in an instant they can become abnormally tall, with long claws and hair like a wild beast.

BEHAVIOR: As soon as a person raises his eyes to look upon a mikoshi nyūdō, the giant grows to an immense height – as tall whoever looks at him is able to raise his eyes, and just as fast. Often, this causes the person looks up so high and fast that they lose their balance and fall over backwards; then the mikoshi nyūdō lunges forward and bites their throat out with its teeth.

INTERACTIONS: Those who are unfortunate enough to meet this cruel yokai usually do not live to tell about it, although a lot depends on the person’s reaction. If they try to ignore and walk past the mikoshi nyūdō, the angry giant will pierce or crush them with bamboo spears and branches. The same fate is met by those who turn and try to run away. People stare at the mikoshi nyūdō frozen in fear will drop dead on the spot, overcome by its presence.

The only possible escape is to anticipate the mikoshi nyūdō (thus its name), meeting it face-to-face, eye-to-eye, showing no fear. Then, look from its head down to its feet, rather than starting at the feet and looking up. If this is done properly, the giant’s power to grow will be sapped. Telling the giant, “You lost! I anticipated your trick!” is said to cause it to vanish in anger, leaving the traveler to pass safely along.

OTHER FORMS: Mikoshi nyūdō is a popular form of some shape-shifting animals. In particular, itachi and tanuki transform into these giants in order to hunt humans. Kitsune and mujina are known to occasionally take this form as well, though much less often. When a mikoshi nyūdō is result of a transformation, it is often seen carrying a bucket, a lantern, or some other tool. This tool is where the shape-shifter’s body is stored, and if one can snatch it away from the giant before it attacks, the spell will end and the yokai will be at its captor’s mercy.

Hitotsume nyūdō

Hitotsumenyuudou一つ目入道
ひとつめにゅうどう

TRANSLATION: one-eyed priest
HABITAT: roads and highways
DIET: omnivorous; occasionally humans

APPEARANCE: Hitotsume nyūdō could pass for human priests if not for the large single eye in the center of their faces. They dress in luxurious robes and travel in enormous, ornate palanquins carried by lesser yokai – or sometimes human slaves – surrounded by a splendid precession fit for a corrupt abbot or a rich lord. The fantastic procession is enough to make most travelers stop and stare, wondering what nobleman or lady might be riding inside; but when the palanquin stops and hitotsume nyūdō comes out, it means trouble for any who happen to be nearby.

BEHAVIOR: Hitotsume nyūdō are one of the most demonic types of ō-nyūdō. They roams the roads and highways outside of the cities, assaulting lone travelers unfortunate enough to get in their way. With their long legs they are faster than most humans, so running away from them is impossible. Like many giants, they are able to increase and decrease their size at will, growing taller than the highest trees and trampling them to crush any who might be hiding among them.

Hitotsume nyūdō attacks are occasionally blamed on mischievous kitsune or tanuki disguised by transformation magic.

LEGENDS: A legend from Wakayama tells how a man, traveling along a wooded road, came across a splendid procession unlike any he had ever seen. He climbed a tree to get a better look, and as the procession approached, it stopped just as it reached his tree. There was a frighteningly large palanquin, and out from it stepped a giant, one-eyed monster. The creature chased after the man, climbing the tree he was hiding in. In a panic the man swung his sword at the creature. At the very moment he did so, the hitotsume nyūdō and the entire procession vanished.

One hitotsume nyūdō frequently seen outside of Kyoto was said to be a reincarnation of a particularly fierce abbot of Enryaku-ji, renowned for his strict discipline. In life he was known for expelling lazy monks from his temple. He saw the world as growing increasingly secular and wicked, and he constantly lamented and criticized the corruption and sin of the monks of his day. After his death, it is said he was reincarnated into a yokai to continue punishing the wicked and impious clergy.

Ōnyūdō

Oonyuudou大入道
おおにゅうどう

TRANSLATION: giant priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: many variations and different kinds exist
HABITAT: any; usually found in mountainous regions
DIET: varies; most commonly livestock or humans

APPEARANCE: Ōnyūdō is a catch-all term for a number of kinds of giants found throughout Japan. While some ōnyūdō bear a strong resemblance to Buddhist priests and monks, the name is used in a euphemistic way; most ōnyūdō have no actual relation to the clergy. Size, appearance, and mannerisms vary from region to region and account to account; some giants are only slightly larger than a human, while others are as big as a mountain; some are saviors of men while others are man-eaters.

BEHAVIOR: Ōnyūdō can be separated into four general groups: those that harm humans; those that help humans; transformations of other yokai; and other truly unique ōnyūdō that do not fit into any of these categories.

Ōnyūdō that harm humans are by far the broadest category. Among them are many well-known yokai, such as Hitotsume nyūdōu, Mikoshi nyūdō, and Umi bōzu. These giants delight in terrorizing humans – sometimes hunting them to eat, sometimes pillaging and destroying villages out of rage, and other times terrifying lone travelers just for the fun of it.

Ōnyūdō that help humans are much rarer. They sometimes perform good deeds such as turning stuck waterwheels, moving heavy objects, or doing other things that require incredible amounts of strength. Though helpful, they are not always friendly, and can change from benevolent to violent or angry with little warning.

True ōnyūdō are actually fairly rare; transformed yokai – especially tanuki and itachi – make up a large percentage of the giant population. Shape-shifting yokai often take on giant form in order to scare people and cause mischief, though they rarely kill. As there is no easy way to identify if a giant is a true ōnyūdō or just a shape-shifter, the two are functionally indistinguishable.

The remainder of ōnyūdō are enigmatic and mysterious. Often they are only evidenced by their footprints or discarded trash – and it is generally wise to leave them be at that. Regardless of how good or evil at heart a particular ōnyūdō is, they are by nature extremely dangerous. It is better to avoid all contact with them than risk enraging them and potentially bringing destruction upon the nearby villages.

Gashadokuro

Gashadokuroがしゃどくろ

TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; rattling skull
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōdokuro (giant skeleton)
HABITAT: any; usually found near mass-graves or battlegrounds
DIET: none, but enjoys eating humans anyway

APPEARANCE: Gashadokuro are skeletal giants which wander around the countryside in the darkest hours of the night. Their teeth chatter and bones rattle with a “gachi gachi” sound, which is this yokai’s namesake. If they should happen upon a human out late on the roads, the gashadokuro will silently creep up and catch their victims, crushing them in their hands or biting off their head.

ORIGIN: Soldiers whose bodies rot in the fields and victims of famine who die unknown in the wilderness rarely receive proper funerary rites. Unable to pass on, their souls are reborn as hungry ghosts, longing eternally for that which they once had. These people die with anger and pain in their hearts, and that energy remains long after their flesh has rotted from their bones. As their bodies decay, their anger ferments into a powerful force – a grudge against the living – and this grudge is what twists them into a supernatural force. When the bones of hundreds of victims gather together into one mass, they can form the humongous skeletal monster known as the gashadokuro.

Too large and powerful to be killed, gashadokuro maintain their existence until the energy and malice stored up in their bodies has completely burnt out. However, because of the large amount of dead bodies required to form a single one, these abominations are much rarer today than they were in the earlier days, when wars and famine were a part of everyday life.

LEGENDS: The earliest record of a gashadokuro goes back over 1000 years to a bloody rebellion against the central government by a samurai named Taira no Masakado. His daughter, Takiyasha-hime, was a famous sorceress. When Masako was eventually killed for his revolt, his daughter continued his cause. Using her black magic, she summoned a great skeleton to attack the city of Kyoto. Her monster is depicted in a famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.