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Haradashi

Haradashi腹出し
はらだし

TRANSLATION: belly exposer
HABITAT: old temples and homes
DIET: unknown, but has a fondness for sake

APPEARANCE: Haradashi is a goofy-looking yōkai that can change into various different forms. Occasionally a haradashi will appear as a headless torso with arms, legs, and comical facial features on its belly. Other times it looks like a kind, elderly nun, or a goofy female monster with long black hair. Whatever form it takes, the defining characteristic of a haradashi is the large, silly-looking face which appears on the creature’s enormous stomach.

BEHAVIOR: Unlike most yōkai, haradashi do not do anything harmful. They are cheerful and agreeable yokai, and enjoy amusing others and cheering people up. They frequently disguise themselves as ordinary humans and then use their belly faces to surprise people and make them laugh.

INTERACTIONS: Haradashi appear to sad and lonely individuals, particularly those who are at home drinking alone. Haradashi will slip into these peoples’ houses to cheer them up. When offered a drink, a haradashi happily accepts it, and then bares its belly and performs a ridiculous dance. Those who entertain a haradashi in their homes find that their troubles and worries vanish, and they become filled with hopes and dreams.

Haradashi don’t only perform house calls. They make their homes in old temples and invite in those who need help. They call out to people who are lost or seeking shelter from the snow or rain, and invite them to stay the night in their temple. A haradashi will present its guest with a warm room and a hearty meal, and of course entertain with its signature belly dance.

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.

Uwabami

Uwabami蟒蛇
うわばみ

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.

Tomokazuki

Tomokazukiトモカヅキ
ともかづき

TRANSLATION: together-diver; diving with
ALTERNATE NAMES: umiama
HABITAT: coastal areas where shellfish are found
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Tomokazuki are aquatic yōkai who are found underwater and appear to ama, the deep-diving women who gather oysters, urchins, and other sea creatures. They appear on cloudy days. They are a kind of diving doppelganger; they take on the appearance of the ama who see them. The only way to tell them apart from actual women is the length of the headbands they wear; tomokazuki have much longer headbands.

INTERACTIONS: Tomokazuki appear to divers deep underwater. They beckon the divers closer to them, offering shellfish and sea urchins as a way to lure them deeper. They continue to lure the divers deeper and farther away from safety. Eventually the divers are either lured too deep or too far from the shore, and they drown.

In order to protect themselves from tomokazuki, superstitious ama will carry magic charms with them while diving; usually in the form of the seiman and dōman symbols on their headbands.

ORIGIN: One popular explanation among believers is that tomokazuki are the ghosts of drowned ama. Since they are only ever seen by ama deep under the water, belief in tomokazuki is not common. Most of the time, tales of tomokazuki encounters are written off as hallucinations or delirium brought on by the stresses of deep diving—high pressure, lack of oxygen, physical exhaustion, and the fear of being swept away.

In one story from Shizuoka, an ama and her husband took a boat out to sea to dive for shellfish. While deep underweater, the ama saw a tomokazuki and quickly surfaced to tell her husband. He mocked her for believing such stupid things, and ordered her to keep working. The ama dove back down as her husband commanded. She was never seen again.

In Fukui Prefecture there is yōkai called an umiama, which is very similar to a tomokazuki. When an ama dives down to the sea floor, the umiama surfaces. Then, when the ama surfaces, the umiama dives down to the sea floor. Because of this, it is very difficult to spot this yōkai. However, those unlucky few who do manage to see it become gravely ill shortly afterwards.

Unagi hime

Unagihime, Takonyuudou

鰻姫
うなぎひめ

TRANSLATION: eel princess
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōunagi
HABITAT: lakes and deep ponds, especially in Miyagi Prefecture
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Unagi hime are large, shape-shifting eels which take on the appearance of beautiful women.

BEHAVIOR: Unagi hime live at the bottom of lakes and ponds. Very little is known about them, and stories about them are short and lacking in detail. Sometimes they are said to weave clothing on looms at the bottom of their ponds. The clacking sound of a loom can be heard near the banks of a pond where an unagi hime lives.

INTERACTIONS: Unagi hime rarely interact with humans due to the fact that they live deep underwater. When human fishermen come in contact with an eel yōkai, they usually leave the area where it was encountered alone and try not to disturb it. Fishermen who catch eels near a ponds inhabited by unagi hime are scolded by their peers.

ORIGIN: In Miyagi Prefecture, eels were believed to be guardians of the ponds they inhabit. A number of local legends tell of eels which battle with other guardian animals such as crabs and spiders. The eels usually take the form of beautiful women and try to recruit the help of humans in their fights. Sometimes the human is a famous warrior or priest, other times he is unnamed, but in most stories the eel loses the battle.

LEGENDS: There is a pond nearby which a warrior named Genbē lived. One rainy summer night, Genbē took a walk around the pond. The eel who owned the pond appeared before Genbē in the form of a beautiful woman. She told the warrior that on the following night, the spider who owned a nearby pond would come and fight her. She begged the warrior to stay by the pond and protect her, for with his help she would surely win the battle. Genbē promised to help. However, on the following evening, he grew cowardly and stayed at home, shaking. The next morning, he returned to the pond and found the severed head of a giant eel. Its unblinking eyes stared at him with such hatred that he lost his mind. He threw himself into the pond and drowned.

Tamamo no Mae

Tamamo no Mae

玉藻前
たまものまえ

TRANSLATION: a nickname literally meaning “Lady Duckweed”

APPEARANCE: Tamamo no Mae is one of the most famous kitsune in Japanese mythology. A nine-tailed magical fox, she is also one of the most powerful yōkai that has ever lived. Her magical abilities were matched only by her trickiness and lust for power. Tamamo no Mae lived during the Heian period, and though she may not have succeeded in her plan to kill the emperor and take his place, her actions destabilized the country and lead it towards one of the most important civil wars in Japanese history. For that reason, Tamamo no Mae is considered one of the Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai—the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan.

ORIGIN: Tamamo no Mae appears in numerous texts and has been a popular subject throughout Japanese history. Her story is portrayed in literature, noh, kabuki, bunraku, and other forms of art. There are several variations on her story.

LEGENDS: Tamamo no Mae was born some 3,500 years ago in what is now China. Her early life is a mystery, but she eventually became a powerful sorceress. After hundreds of more years she became a white faced, golden furred kyūbi no kitsune—a nine-tailed fox with supreme magical power. In addition, she was an expert at manipulation. She used her charms and wit to advance her standing and influence world affairs.

During the Shang Dynasty Tamamo no Mae was known as Daji. She disguised herself as a beautiful woman and became the favorite concubine of King Zhou of Shang. Daji was a model of human depravity. She held orgies in the palace gardens. Her fondness for watching and inventing new forms of torture are legendary. Daji eventually brought about the fall of the entire Shang Dynasty. She managed to escape execution, and fled to the Magadha kingdom in India in 1046 BCE.

In Magadha, she was known as Lady Kayō, and became a consort of King Kalmashapada, known in Japan as Hanzoku. She used her beauty and charms to dominate the king, causing him to devour children, murder priests, and commit other unspeakable horrors. Eventually—whether because she ran out children to eat or because Kalmashapada began to turn away from her and towards Buddhism—she fled back to China.

During the Zhou Dynasty she called herself Bao Si, and was known as one of the most desirable women in all of China. In 779 BCE she became a concubine of King You. Not satisfied as just a mistress, she manipulated the king into deposing his wife Queen Shen and making Bao Si his new queen. Though she was beautiful, Bao Si rarely ever smiled. In order to please his beautiful new wife, King You committed acts of such evil and atrocity that eventually all of his nobles abandoned and betrayed him. Eventually, King You was killed and Bao Si captured and the Western Zhou Dynasty was brought to an end in 771 BCE. Somehow Bao Si managed to escape again; she went into hiding for many years.

Little is known of her activities until the 700s, when she resurfaced disguised as a 16-year old girl named Wakamo. She tricked the leaders of the 10th Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty—Kibi no Makibi, Abe no Nakamaro, and Ganjin—as they were preparing to return home to Japan. Wakamo joined their crew and took the ship to Japan, where she hid herself away for over 300 years.

In the 1090s, she resurfaced once again. This time she transformed herself into a human baby and hid by the side of the road. A married couple found the baby and rescued it, taking her in as their daughter and naming her Mizukume. She proved to be an exceedingly intelligent and talented young girl, and was so beautiful that she attracted to attention of everyone around her. When she was 7 years old, Mizukume recited poetry before the emperor. His imperial majesty immediately took a liking to her and employed her as a servant in his court.

Mizukume excelled at court, absorbing knowledge like a sponge. There was no question she could not answer, whether it was about music, history, astronomy, religion, or Chinese classics. Her clothes were always clean and unwrinkled. She always smelled pleasant. Mizukume had the most beautiful face in all of Japan, and everyone who saw her loved her.

During the summer of her 18th year, a poetry and instrument recital was held in Mizukume’s honor. During the recital, an unexpected storm fell upon the palace. All of the candles in the recital room were snuffed, leaving the participants in the dark. Suddenly, a bright light emanated from Mizukume’s body, illuminating the room. Everybody at court was so impressed by her genius and declared that she must have had an exceedingly good and holy previous life. She was given the name Tamamo no Mae. Emperor Toba, already exceedingly fond of her, made her his consort.

Almost immediately after she became the emperor’s consort, the emperor fell deathly ill. None of the court physicians could determine the cause, and so the onmyōji Abe no Yasunari was called in. Abe no Yasunari read the emperor’s fortune and divined that he was marked by a bad omen. After that, the highest priests and monks were summoned to the palace to pray for the emperor’s health.

The best prayers of the highest priests had no effect, however. The emperor continued to grow worse. Abe no Yasunari was summoned again to read the emperor’s fortune. This time, to his horror the onmyōji discovered that the emperor’s beloved Tamamo no Mae was the cause of his illness. She was a kitsune in disguise, and was shortening the emperor’s life span in order to take over as ruler of Japan. Emperor Toba was reluctant to believe the diviner’s words, but agreed to test Tamamo no Mae just to be sure.

To save the emperor’s life, Abe no Yasunari prepared the Taizan Fukun no Sai, the most secret and most powerful spell known to onmyōdō. Tamamo no Mae was ordered to perform part of the ritual. They reasoned that an evil spirit would not be able to participate in such a holy ritual. Though she was reluctant to participate, the emperor’s ministers persuaded her. They told her that it would increase her standing an admiration among the court. She had little choice but to accept.

When the ritual was performed, Tamamo no Mae dressed even more beautifully than normal. She recited the holy worlds as expected and played her part extremely well. But just as she prepared to wave the ceremonial staff, she vanished. Abe no Yasunari’s divination was confirmed. The court flew into an uproar.

Soon after, word arrived that women and children were disappearing near Nasuno in Shimotsuke Province. The court sorcerers determined that Tamamo no Mae was the cause, and it was decided that she must be destroyed once and for all. The emperor summoned the best warriors in all of the land and then charged the most superb of them, Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke, to find Tamamo no Mae. The warriors gladly accepted the honor. They purified themselves and set out with an army of 80,000 men to slay the nine-tailed kitsune.

Upon reaching Nasuno the army quickly found the kitsune. The warriors chased her for days and days, but the fox used her magical powers and outsmarted them time and time again, easily escaping. The army grew weary, and frustration set in. It seemed that nothing they did was working. However, Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke would not accept the shame of defeat and vowed to press on. They practiced harder, honing their tactics, and eventually picked up the kitsune’s trail.

One night, Miuranosuke had a prophetic dream. A beautiful young girl appeared before him, crying. She begged: “Tomorrow I will lose my life to you. Please save me.” Miuranosuke adamantly refused, and upon waking the warriors set out again to find Tamamo no Mae. Sure enough, the next day they caught her. Miuranosuke fired two arrows, one through the fox’s flank and one through its neck. Kazusanosuke swung his blade. It was over, just as the dream had said.

However, Tamamo no Mae’s evil did not end with her death. One year after she died, Emperor Konoe died, heirless. The following year, her lover and former Emperor Toba died as well. A succession crisis ignited between forces loyal to Emperor Go-Shirakawa and forces loyal to former Emperor Sutoku. This crisis started the Fujiwara-Minamoto rivalry that led to the Genpei War, the end of the Heian period, and the rise of the first shoguns. As if that were not enough, Tamamo no Mae’s spirit haunted a massive boulder which killed every living thing that touched it.

Furutsubaki no Rei

Furutsubaki no Rei古椿の霊
ふるつばきのれい

TRANSLATION: old tsubaki spirit
HABITAT: tsubaki trees
DIET: water, soil, and sunlight

APPEARANCE: In Japanese folklore, almost anything, upon reaching an old age, can develop a spirit and become a yokai. When a tsubaki tree (Camellia japonica, or the rose of winter) reaches an old age, it’s spirit gains the ability to separate itself from its host tree, along with other strange and mysterious powers, which it uses to bewitch and trick humans.

ORIGIN: The tsubaki is an evergreen tree which has the strange behavior of not losing its flowers gradually, petal by petal, but dropping them all at once to the ground. As a result, it long been associated with death and strangeness in Japan (and is also taboo to bring as gifts to hospitals or sick people).

LEGENDS: Long ago in Yamagata prefecture, two merchants were walking along a mountain road when they passed a tsubaki tree. Suddenly a beautiful young woman appeared from out of nowhere on the road beside one of the merchants. She breathed on him, and instantly he transformed into a bee. She then disappeared into the tsubaki tree, and the bee followed her and landed on a flower. The fragrance of the tree had turned into poison, however, and as soon as the bee smelled it, it dropped to the ground. The flower soon fell off of the tree too. The other merchant picked up both the bee and the flower and rushed to a nearby temple to save his friend. The priest recited prayers and read the sutras over the bee, but it sadly did not return to life or to its former human form. Afterwards, the surviving merchant buried the bee and the flower together.

In Akita prefecture, long ago, a man heard a sad and lonely voice coming from the tree one night. A few days later, a disaster befell the temple. This happened again and again, and soon the priests at the temple realized that the tsubaki would cry a warning every time something bad was going to happen. The tree was dubbed Yonaki Tsubaki, or “night-crying tsubaki,” and still stands today in the temple Kanman-ji, where it has stood for over 700 years.

In Ōgaki, Gifu, there is an ancient burial mound. One year, historians excavated the burial mound and discovered some ancient artifacts, including a mirror and some bones; however, shortly after the man who discovered the artifacts died. The locals blamed it on a curse, and returned the artifacts to the mound, planting a tsubaki on top of it. When the tsubaki grew old, it transformed into a yokai tree. Since then, the glowing figure of a young, beautiful woman has been seen by the roadside near the burial mound at night.

Sazae oni

Sazaeoni栄螺鬼
さざえおに

TRANSLATION: turban snail demon
HABITAT: oceans, seas, and coastal areas
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Sazae oni are monstrous turban snails which haunt the seas. They appear on moonlit nights, dancing on the water’s surface like exotic dancers or dragons.

BEHAVIOR: Sazae oni are monstrous and deadly creatures, fully deserving the “demon” moniker. They are powerful shape-changers, often taking the form of beautiful women in order to lure seamen into trouble. At sea, they pretend to be drowning victims and cry out to be rescued, only to turn on their would-be saviors once brought aboard. When encountered on land, sazae oni often travel disguised as lone, wandering women who stop at inns and eat the innkeepers during the night.

ORIGIN: Sazae oni can be born a few different ways. According to ancient lore, when animals reach a certain age, they gain the ability to transform. It was thought that when a turban snail reaches 30 years old, it would turn into a yokai with all kinds of magical powers. Another way that sazae oni come to be is when a lustful young woman is thrown into the sea. Such a woman would transform into a sea snail, and if she happens to live a very long time she will transform into a sazae oni as well.

LEGENDS: On the Kii penninsula, legend tells of a band of pirates who spotted a woman drowning in the water one night. They rescued her, though not out of the goodness in their hearts; they had more nefarious reasons to wanting a woman aboard their ship. That night every pirate on the ship had their way with her. Unfortunately for the pirates, the woman was actually a shape-changed sazae oni, and during the night, she visited each pirate on the boat one by one and bit off their testicles. At the end of the night she had all of their testicles, and demanded treasure for their return. The desperate pirates traded away all of their ill-gotten gold to the sazae oni to buy back their “golden balls,” as they are called in Japanese.

Nekomata

Nekomata猫又
ねこまた

TRANSLATION: forked cat
HABITAT: towns and cities
DIET: carnivorous; frequently humans

APPEARANCE: One particularly monstrous breed of bakeneko is a two-tailed variety known as nekomata. Nekomata are found in cities and villages, transformed from ordinary cats. They are born in the same way as other bakeneko, though only the oldest, largest cats with the longest tails (and thus more power and intelligence) become this powerful variety. When these cats transform from ordinary animals into yokai, their tale splits down the center into two identical tails. These are the monster cats most likely to be seen walking about on their hind legs and speaking human languages.

BEHAVIOR: While not all bakeneko are malicious or violent towards their masters, all nekomata certainly are. They look upon humans with contempt, and are often responsible for summoning fireballs that start great conflagrations, killing many people. They frequently control corpses with their necromantic powers like puppet-masters, and they use their powerful influence to blackmail or enslave humans into doing their bidding.

The most dangerous and powerful nekomata live deep in the mountains, in the shape of wild cats like leopards and lions. These wild monster cats grow to incredible sizes, many meters long, and prey on other large animals, such as wild boars, dogs, bears, and of course humans.

Bakeneko

Bakeneko化け猫
ばけねこ

TRANSLATION: monster cat, ghost cat
HABITAT: towns and cities
DIET: carnivorous; fish, birds, small animals, and occasionally humans

APPEARANCE: Cats, feral and domestic, are found all over Japan: in houses as pets, on farms as exterminators, and in cities and towns as strays. When cats live to an old age, they begin develop supernatural powers and transform into yokai. Bakeneko begin their supernatural life looking almost identical to an ordinary housecat. Soon they begin to walk about at on their hind legs. As they age and their powers increase, they can grow to be very large, sometimes as big as a full-grown human.

BEHAVIOR: Bakeneko possess great shape-shifting abilities and frequently disguise themselves as smaller cats or humans – sometimes even their own masters. While in disguise, they like to dress up as humans with a towel wrapped around their head and dance around merrily. Many learn to speak human languages. They can eat things that are much bigger than they are, and even poisonous things, without any difficulty at all. It is even possible for a bakeneko to eat its own master and then take his form, living on in his place. If they do not kill their owners, they often bring down great curses and misfortune upon them. They can summon ghostly fireballs and are known to accidentally start house fires, their tails acting like torches on any flammable materials in the house. They also have the disturbing ability to reanimate fresh corpses and use them like puppets for their own nefarious purposes. They are generally a menace to any house they live in or near.

ORIGIN: Bakeneko can come into being as a result of a number of things, but the most common reasons are by living long-life (generally over 13 years), growing to a certain size (over 3.75 kilograms), by licking up large quantities of lamp oil. A telltale sign that a cat may be close to becoming a bakeneko is believed to be an exceptionally long tail. This superstition led to the custom of bobbing a cat’s tail at an early age to prevent it from growing supernaturally long and transforming into a yokai.

Kitsune

Kitsune
きつね

TRANSLATION: fox
ALTERNATE NAMES: unique names exist in many individual instances
HABITAT: found throughout Japan
DIET: carnivorous, but fond of fried tofu

APPEARANCE: Foxes, or kitsune, are found all across Japan, and are identical to wild foxes found elsewhere in the world, apart from their incredible magical powers. Their cute faces and small size make them particularly loved by most people.

BEHAVIOR: There are two major variations of kitsune. Good foxes are servants of the Shinto deity Inari, and Inari’s shrines are often decorated with many statues and images of foxes. Legends tell of such celestial providing wisdom or service to good and pious humans. They act as messengers of the gods and mediums between the celestial and human worlds. These foxes often protect humans or places, providing good luck and warding evil spirits away. More common are the wild, occasionally wicked foxes, who delight in mischief, pranks, or evil. They are usually the subjects of stories in which foxes trick, or even possess humans and cause them to behave strangely. Despite this seemingly wicked nature, they usually keep their promises, remember friendships, and repay any favors done for them.

INTERACTIONS: Most tales of kitsune are about foxes punishing wicked priests, greedy merchants, and boastful drunkards. They do this by confusing their targets by creating phantom sounds and sights, stealing from them, or otherwise humiliating them publicly. Certain mental disorders have been attributed to possession by kitsune (known as kitsune-tsuki). Mysterious illusory fires and strange lights in the sky are said to be caused by their magic, and are known as kitsunebi, or “fox fire.”

OTHER FORMS: Kitsune are extremely intelligent and very powerful shape-shifters. They frequently harass humans by transforming into giants or other fearsome monsters, sometimes just for pranks, and sometimes for other nefarious purposes. They are skilled enough to even transform into exact likenesses of individual people, often appearing in the guise of beautiful human women in order to play tricks young men. On more than one occasion this has resulted in the marriage with an unwitting human. Some kitsune even spend most of their lives in human form, adopting human names and customs, taking human jobs, and even raising families. When startled, or drunk, or careless, occasionally part of their magical disguise can fail, and the kitsune’s true nature may be revealed by a tail, a patch of fur, fangs, or some other vulpine feature.

Tanuki

Tanuki
たぬき

TRANSLATION: tanuki (raccoon dog)
ALTERNATE NAMES: bakedanuki; referred to as mujina or mami in some areas
HABITAT: mountains and forests; found throughout Japan
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals, with a fondness for alcohol

APPEARANCE: The tanuki rivals the kitsune for the most well-known animal yokai. Sometimes called the raccoon dog in English, it is an East Asian canine that resembles a badger or a raccoon. These shy nocturnal animals can be found on all of the Japanese isles, and tanuki statues are popular decorations in homes and shops. They are beloved not only for their cuteness, but also for the tales of mischief and trickery associated with them.

BEHAVIOR: Tanuki possesses powerful magical abilities. They are similar to kitsune in their superb ability to change shape. They have a jovial nature, and delight in playing tricks on humans.

Aside from their powerful ability to change their shape, perhaps the most famous attribute that tanuki possess is their large and magical testicles, which they can adapt to any need. They are used as weapons, drums, fans to keep cool, even umbrellas. Often, tanuki incorporate their testicles into their disguises: the tanuki becoming a shopkeeper and its testicles transforming into the shop; or perhaps a palanquin complete with servants to cart the tanuki from place to place. A famous nursery rhyme about tanuki testicles is learned by children everywhere:

Tan tan tanuki no kintama wa/Kaze mo nai no ni/Bura bura
Tan-tan-tanuki’s balls/Even when there is no wind/They swing, swing

INTERACTIONS: In the ancient religions of the Japanese isles, tanuki were considered gods and rulers over all things in nature. With the introduction of Buddhism, they gradually lost that status; like other magical animals, they took on the role of messengers of the gods and guardians of local areas. While tanuki are not generally feared or considered malicious yokai, they are not entirely harmless either. Like humans, each one is a unique individual, and while many tanuki are jovial do-gooders who love the company of humans, some locals tells of horrible tanuki who snatch humans to eat, or spirit them away to become servants of the gods.

OTHER FORMS: The most intelligent and magically adept tanuki have been known to adopt human names and practices, such as gambling, drinking, even administration and religious activities. Many go through their whole lives living among humans without ever being detected. In human form, tanuki have proven to be as corruptible as the humans they emulate, and some tanuki have well-earned reputations as thieves, drunkards, liars, and cheats.

Additionally, many use their shapeshifting powers to transform into stones, trees, statues, and even ordinary household items in order to play tricks on people. Some even transform into giants and horrible monsters, either to terrorize humans for pleasure, or else to scare them away from places they shouldn’t be.

Mujina

Mujina
むじな

TRANSLATION: badger
ALTERNATE NAMES: anaguma; known as tanuki or mami in some regions
HABITAT: forests and mountains
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals

APPEARANCE: Mujina, or badgers, live in the mountains, generally farm from human society. These days, ordinary badgers are usually called anaguma, while the term mujina usually refers to their yokai form. They are frequently confused with tanuki because of their similar size, appearance, and magical prowess. Additionally, in some regions tanuki are called mujina, while mujina are called tanuki. In others, the term mami is used to apply to both animals.

BEHAVIOR: Mujina are a slightly less famous as yokai than other shape-changing animals. They are very shy, and do not normally like to be seen by or interact with humans. Mujina encounters are much less common than those with other animal yokai. The few mujina which do live among human society take great care not to betray their disguise in any way, unlike other animals which are often much more careless.

INTERACTIONS: When it is dark and quiet, and there are no humans around, it is said that mujina like to shift into a humanoid form – usually that of a young boy wearing a tiny kimono – and sing songs in the street. If approached by a stranger, they run away into the darkness and transform back into animal form.

OTHER FORMS: The most well-known form mujina take is that of a nopperabō, a seemingly normal human form, but with no facial features whatsoever. They use this form to scare and panic humans who wander mountain or village roads at night time. Because of this, the two yokai are often confused, and noppera-bō are sometimes referred to mistakenly as mujina. However, other animal yokai do take up this same form, and there are non-animal noppera-bō as well, so care should be taken to avoid this misunderstanding.

Kawauso

Kawauso
かわうそ

TRANSLATION: river otter
HABITAT: rivers, wetlands, freshwater bodies
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on fish and small animals, with a fondness for sake

APPEARANCE: River otters can be found in the wilds all over Japan. They are under a meter in total length, and well-loved for their shy, playful nature and cute faces.

BEHAVIOR: As with most wild animals in Japan, kawauso develop magical powers upon reaching old age. They are particularly skilled at shape-changing and accurately copying sounds. They love alcohol, and are usually only seen in human areas when trying to acquire sake. They are playful yokai, well known for tricks and mischief, but very rarely dangerous.

INTERACTIONS: Kawauso are fond of playing pranks on humans, especially by mimicking sounds and words. They enjoy calling out human names or random words at strangers walking in the street and watching their confused reactions. They are fond of magically snuffing out lanterns in the night and leaving travelers stranded in the dark. Others transform into beautiful young women and try to seduce young men, and then run away laughing.

Occasionally kawauso do commit more violent deeds. In a few instances near castles in Ishikawa, a kawauso dressed up as beautiful young woman was found luring men to the water’s edge in order to catch and eat them, discarding the half-eaten bodies into the moat.

OTHER FORMS: A Kawauso’s favorite disguise is the form of a young beggar child wearing a big straw hat. They use this child form to sneak into towns and try to buy alcohol from shops. The ruse often falls apart when the disguised creature is asked who it is, or where it came from. Caught off-guard, it simply repeats the last word spoken to it, or makes funny nonsensical noises, ruining its disguise and giving away its supernatural nature.

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.

Rokurokubi

Rokurokubi轆轤首
ろくろくび

TRANSLATION: pulley neck
HABITAT: occurs in ordinary women; also frequently found in brothels
DIET: regular food by day, lamp oil by night

APPEARANCE: By day, rokurokubi appear to be ordinary women. By night, however, their bodies sleep while their necks stretch to an incredible length and roam around freely. Sometimes their heads attack small animals, sometime they lick up lamp oil with their long tongue, and sometimes they just cause mischief by scaring nearby people.

ORIGIN: Unlike most yokai which are born as monsters, rokurokubi and their close relatives nukekubi are former humans, transformed by a curse resulting from some evil or misdeed. Perhaps they sinned against the gods or nature, or were unfaithful to their husbands. In many cases their husbands or fathers actually committed the sin, but by some cruel twist of fate the men escape punishment and the women receive the curse instead; in all known instances the curse of the rokurokubi affects only women, even though the cause of it may not be their own.

LEGENDS: A lord noticed that the oil in his lamps was vanishing at an alarming rate, and so suspected one of his servant girls to be a rokurokubi. He decided to spy upon the girl to find out. After she had fallen asleep, he crept into her room and watched over her. Soon he noticed vapors and an ectoplasm forming around her chest and neck. A little while later, the servant girl rolled over in her sleep, however only her body moved! The head stayed in its place, and the neck lay stretched out between the two. The next day he fired her. She was fired from every place at which she subsequently worked. The poor girl never understood why she had such back luck with her jobs, and never found out that she was a rokurokubi.

An old tale from Totomi tells of a monk who eloped with a young lady named Oyotsu. While traveling, Oyotsu became sick. Treating her would have used up all of their travel money, so the monk murdered Oyotsu and stole the remaining money. On his travels, he stayed at an inn owned by a man with a beautiful daughter. The wicked monk shared a bed with the innkeeper’s daughter, and during the night her neck stretched and her face changed into that of Oyotsu, and angrily accused him of murdering her. The next morning, the monk, regretting his evil deeds, confessed the murder of Oyotsu to the innkeeper, and also told him what he had seen the night before. The innkeeper confessed that he, too, had murdered his wife for her money, which he used it to build his inn –and that as a punishment his own daughter was transformed into a rokurokubi. Afterwards, the monk rejoined his temple, built a grave for Oyotsu, and prayed for her soul every day. What happened to the innkeeper’s daughter is never mentioned.

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.

Daitengu

Daitengu大天狗
だいてんぐ

TRANSLATION: greater tengu (divine dog)
ALTERNATE NAMES: they often go by their individual given names
HABITAT: high, remote mountaintops
DIET: many individuals have preferred foods or strict religious dietary regimens

APPEARANCE: Daitengu are much larger and imposing than kotengu. They usually appear in a more human-like form; usually that of a man dressed in the robes of an ascetic monk, with a red face, an incredibly long and phallic nose (the longer the nose, the more powerful the tengu), and large, feathered wings sprouting from their backs. Only rarely do they appear in the more primitive avian form of the lesser tengu.

BEHAVIOR: Daitengu live solitary lives on remote mountaintops, far removed from humanity. Their time is spent in thought, meditation, and perfecting themselves. They possess greater pride, wisdom, and power than their lesser tengu cousins. They can also be just as savage and unpredictable, making them potentially much more dangerous. In fact, natural disasters and other great catastrophes are often attributed to the wrath of a powerful daitengu. However, they also possess more self-restraint, and some of them are occasionally willing to give aid to worthy humans.

INTERACTIONS: Over the centuries, while kotengu continued to terrorize people whenever they could, daitengu came to be viewed less as the enemy of mankind and more as a race of god-like sages living deep in the mountains. They became closely connected with the ascetic mountain religion of Shugendō. The mountain mystics grew close to the tengu, seeking their wisdom and worshiping them as divine beings. It is perhaps through this mystic religion that humankind was eventually able to earn the respect of the tengu. Many brave men have ventured into the unknown wilds in hopes of gaining some of the tengu’s wisdom, and occasionally, the tengu would teach secrets and impart their magical knowledge to the worthiest of them. (One of Japan’s most famous warriors, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, is said to have learned swordsmanship from the tengu Sōjōbō.)

By the 19th century, the warlike nature and vicious demeanor of the tengu came to be seen as honorable traits unique to these powerful bird-like spirits, and their knowledge and skills were popularized in the arts, through ukiyo-e prints, and noh and kabuki theater. From then on, tengu have remained one of the most well-known and loved subjects of Japanese folklore.

ORIGIN: According to Buddhist lore, tengu are born when a person dies who is not wicked enough to go to Hell, but is too angry, vain, proud, or heretical to go to Heaven. The tengu is a personification of those excessive vices, magnified and empowered in a new, demonic form.

Kotengu

小天狗
Kotenguこてんぐ

TRANSLATION: lesser tengu (divine dog)
ALTERNATE NAMES: karasutengu (crow tengu)
HABITAT: mountains, cliffs, caves, forests, areas surrounded by nature
DIET: carrion, livestock, wild animals, humans

APPEARANCE: Kotengu resemble large birds of prey with minor human-like characteristics. Often they wear the robes of a yamabushi – an ascetic and mystical hermit. They sometimes carry fine weapons or other items (usually stolen from human homes or temples).

BEHAVIOR: Kotengu behave more like wild birds than like people. They usually live solitary lives, but occasionally work together or with other yokai to accomplish their goals. They are hoarders, and like to collect trinkets and valuable magical items, which they sometimes trade. When angered, they throw tantrums and go on destructive rampages, taking out their anger on anything near them.

INTERACTIONS: Kotengu have very little respect for humans. They feast on human flesh, and commit rape, torture, and murder just for fun. They abduct people and drop them from great heights deep into the woods; or tie children to the tops of trees so all can hear their screams but none can reach them to help. They kidnap people and force them eat feces until they go mad. They especially revel in tormenting monks and nuns, robbing temples, and trying to seduce clergy.

In folklore, tengu are generally depicted as humorous creatures who are easily tricked by clever humans. There are countless folk stories about tengu being duped into trading powerful magical items or giving up valuable information in exchange for worthless trinkets. Often this happens because the foolish kotengu overestimate their own intelligence when trying to trick a human, and end up being tricked themselves. During the Edo period, most tengu lore was gradually superseded by amusing folk tales, dampening the vicious image portrayed in earlier stories.

Itachi

Itachi
いたち

TRANSLATION: weasel
ALTERNATE NAMES: often referred to as ten, the Japanese marten
HABITAT: found all across Japan, particularly in mountainous areas
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals

APPEARANCE: Like birds and spiders, many other animals also develop into yokai when they reach a certain age. Japanese weasels, known as itachi, are seen as disconcerting animals and bringers of ill omens for the particular brand of magic that yokai weasels perform. Like most animals-turned-yokai, they possess shape-shifting abilities in addition to a number of magical powers.

In the old days, weasels were believed to trasform into ten (martens) or mujina (badgers or tanuki, depending on the region) after reaching a very old age. Additionally, the names ten and itachi were often used interchangeably. As a result, there is often a lot of confusion over which animal is specifically being referred to in many stories.

INTERACTIONS: Itachi are tricksters and pranksters, but generally shy away from interaction with humans when they can. As a result, they are more mistrusted and disliked than most animals. Though they can transform, they prefer to use other kinds of magic, usually with unfortunate results for their targets. When an itachi is seen standing on its hind legs, it is said to be bewitching a human– perhaps hypnotizing them into leaving food out, or performing some other task for the weasel’s benefit. Itachi are said to be particularly dangerous in groups. When they gather together at night, they have the power to summon fire, climbing up onto each other’s shoulders and creating huge columns of fire which erupt into whirlwinds. These are frequently blamed for starting conflagrations which can burn down entire towns. In central Japan, the kama-itachi is another common and dangerous form. Their calls are also considered to be ill omens, for after the yelping cries of a group of itachi is heard, misfortune and despair always follows. For this reason, they are seen not only as dangerous yokai themselves, but as harbingers of greater evil.

OTHER FORMS: Itachi are often considered to be the most skilled shape-changing animals of all, possessing more alternative forms than any other shape-changer. An old phrase about animal yokai goes, “Kitsune nana-bake, tanuki hachi-bake, ten ku-bake” – foxes seven forms, tanuki eight forms, martens nine forms. When an itachi changes its shape, it usually adopts the form of a young priest boy dressed in clothes that are too big for him. This form is used chiefly to acquire alcohol, which the weasels cannot brew themselves. Itachi also frequently adopt the forms of other yokai in order to scare humans. One of their favorites is the ō-nyūdō: a colossal, bald-headed giant who terrorizes villages, destroys houses, devours livestock and sometimes even eats people.

Tsuchigumo

Tsuchigumo土蜘蛛
つちぐも

TRANSLATION: ground spider
ALTERNATE NAMES: yatsukahagi, ōgumo (giant spider)
HABITAT: rural areas, mountains, forests, and caves
DIET: humans, animals; anything that it can trap

APPEARANCE: The tsuchigumo, known as the purseweb spider in English, can be found all over the Japanese islands and throughout much of the world. Long-lived tsuchigumo can transform into yokai, and grow to a monstrous size, able to catch much larger prey (particularly humans).

BEHAVIOR: Tsuchigumo live in the forests and mountains, making their homes in silk tubes from which they ambush prey that passes by. Like other spider yokai, they rely on illusion and trickery to deceive humans into letting down their guard. While the jorōgumo uses her sexuality to seduce young men, the tsuchigumo has a wider selection forms of deception, and often has bigger ambitions in mind.

LEGENDS: The accounts of the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu contain numerous encounters with tsuchigumo. In one, a tsuchigumo changed itself into a servant boy to administer venom in the form of medicine to the famed warrior. When his wounds were not healing and the medicine didn’t seem to be working, Yorimitsu suspected foul play. He slashed with his sword at the boy, who then fled into the forest. The attack broke a powerful illusion which the spider had laid on the Yorimitsu, and he found that he was covered in spider webs. Yorimitsu and his retainers followed the trail of spider’s blood into the mountains, where they discovered a gigantic monstrous arachnid, dead from the wound Yorimitsu had inflicted.

In another legend, a tsuchigumo took the form of a beautiful warrior woman and lead an army of yokai against Japan. Yorimitsu and his men met the yokai army on the battlefield. Yorimitsu struck at the woman general first, and suddenly her army vanished; it was merely an illusion. The warriors followed the woman to a cave in the mountains, where she morphed into a giant spider. With one swing of his sword, Yorimitsu sliced her abdomen open. Thousands of baby spiders the size of human infants swarmed out from her belly. Yorimitsu and his retainers slew every one of the spiders and returned home victorious.

Jorōgumo

Jorougumo絡新婦
じょろうぐも

TRANSLATION: entangling bride; alternatively whore spider
HABITAT: cities, towns, rural areas, forests, and caves
DIET: young, virile men

APPEARANCE: In Japan, some spiders are known to possess amazing supernatural powers. One of these, the jorōgumo, known as the golden orb-weaver in English, is the most well-known of the arachnid yokai. Jorōgumo are found all over the Japanese archipelago, except for Hokkaido. Their body size averages between two to three centimeters long, but they can grow much larger as they age; some are large enough to catch and eat small birds. These spiders are renowned for their large size, their vividly beautiful colors, the large and strong webs they weave, and for the cruel destruction they wreak on young men. Their name is written with kanji that mean “entangling bride.” However, these characters were added on to her name much later to cover up the original meaning of the name: “whore spider.”

BEHAVIOR: Jorōgumo live solitary lives, both as spiders and as yokai. When a golden orb-weaver reaches 400 years of age, it develops magical powers and begins to feed on human prey instead of insects. They make their nests in caves, forests, or empty houses in towns. They possess a cunning intelligence and a cold heart, and see humans as nothing more than insects to feed on. They are skillful deceivers and powerful shapeshifters, usually spending their lives appearing as young, sexy, and stunningly beautiful women.

INTERACTIONS: Jorōgumo’s favorite prey is young, handsome men who are looking for love. When a jorōgumo spots a man she desires, she invites him into her home, and he is usually never seen again. They can spin silk threads strong enough to ensnare a grown man so that he cannot escape. They also have a powerful venom that can slowly weaken a man day by day, allowing the spider to savor the long and painful death her victim suffers. They can control other, lesser spiders, even employing fire-breathing spiders to burn down the homes of any who grow suspicious of them. A jorōgumo can operate like this for years and years, even in the middle of a busy city, while the desiccated skeletons of hundreds of youth build up in her home.

Nozuchi

Nozuchi野槌
のづち

TRANSLATION: wild mallet (named for its mallet-like shape)
HABITAT: fields and grasslands; found all across Japan
DIET: carnivorous; usually feeds on small animals like rats, mice, rabbits, birds

APPEARANCE: Nozuchi are one of the earliest known yokai recorded in Japan histories. They are powerful and ancient snake-like spirits of the fields known for their bizarre shape and habits. They are short, fat creatures shaped like mallets, about fifteen centimeters in diameter and just over one meter long. They have no eyes, nose, or any other facial features save for a large mouth located on the top of their head, pointing towards the sky. Their bodies are covered in a bristly fur, much like a hairy caterpillar.

BEHAVIOR: Nozuchi make their homes inside of large trees, particularly on the tops of hills. They are slow movers, and move about by rolling and tumbling down slopes, then slowly inching their way back up. They most often feed on wildlife – mice, rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals – however they are able to eat things much larger than they are. In Nara, they are known to feed on deer, which they can devour in a single bite, pulling the whole animal into their small, stumpy frame.

INTERACTIONS: Nozuchi have been known to attack humans who come near their nests, rolling downhill and snapping at their feet. Their bites are very dangerous to humans, resulting in terrible, mangled wounds which quickly lead to a high fever and death in most cases. A person who is touched or even merely seen by a tumbling nozuchi can contract this fever and possibly die. Fortunately, nozuchi attacks are easily avoided by sticking to higher ground where they cannot tumble, or by climbing a tree quickly if no other high ground is available.

OTHER FORMS: Nozuchi can transform into a humanoid shape, though they rarely are seen in this alternate form. They take the shape of a human priest, but with no eyes, nose, hair, or ears. The only feature on the head is a large gaping mouth pointing upwards towards the sky. Wicked monks who are banished from their temples to live in the wilds sometimes gradually turn into nozuchi, and are more likely to maintain a humanoid form than a serpentine one. Care should be taken not to confuse a shape-changed nozuchi with a nopperabō, which has a similar appearance but poses a different threat.