TRANSLATION: bitter smile
HABITAT: inhabited areas
DIET: hatred and ill-feelings
APPEARANCE: Nigawarai are large, ugly yōkai with horns and green-tinged, hairy bodies. They wear dirty rags. Their hairy mouths are twisted into what looks like a forced smile. Their hands end in sharp, poisonous claws, which are powerful enough to paralyze small animals.
BEHAVIOR: Nigawarai are created out of the negative feelings of human beings—particularly, ill-humor and forced, feigned amusement. As their name suggests, they are related to the uncomfortable smiles that people make when trying to hide their feelings of discomfort. They cause ill-will, disgust and encourage arguments among those around them. They both feed off of and spread these negative feelings.
INTERACTIONS: When used in cooking, the poison from a nigawarai’s claws makes food terribly bitter. However, it also has the ability to cure stomach pain, making nigawarai a useful yōkai for medicinal purposes.
ORIGIN: The earliest references to nigawarai go back to the Muromachi period, where they appear in monster scrolls. These paintings appeared without description, so the original intent of the artists in describing this yōkai is unknown. Over the centuries, nigawarai continued to appear in other monster scrolls. Through the work of numerous artists, they eventually developed the traits that they are known for today.
TRANSLATION: cackling woman
HABITAT: alleys near red light districts
APPEARANCE: Kerakera onna are gigantic, horrid yokai found in red light districts, who get their name from the cackling sound of their laughter. They appear as an enormous, middle aged woman in colorful brothel kimonos, with thick make-up and slathered-on lipstick. They skulks around in alleyways and on empty roads, dancing, laughing, and mocking the profession that worked them to death. They are rarely seen outside of the pleasure district responsible for their creation.
INTERACTIONS: When a man passes a lonely street or alley haunted by a kerakera onna, she unleashes a horrible, shrill cackle that can only be heard by him. A weak-hearted man faints right on the spot, but one who has the constitution to run away finds that no matter where he goes or who he turns to, the cackle echoes in his ears, and nobody but he can hear it. Eventually these men are driven insane by the incessant laughing – repayment for the lifetime of abuse the kerakera onna went through.
ORIGIN: During the Edo period, the average lifespan of a prostitute was only 23 years, as the demands and hardships of such a life were too much for most to bear. Work hours were long and difficult, pay was low, and abuse was commonplace, both from clients and employers. Very few women made it to middle age, but like most long-lived things in Japan, those who did were said to become very powerful. When a prostitute died after serving in such a painful world for so long, her ghost could not pass quickly and easily on to the next life. These ghosts become the kerakera onna.