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TRANSLATION: clothes-stealing old woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: sōzukaba, ubason
HABITAT: Meido, along the banks of the Sanzu River

APPEARANCE: Datsueba and Keneō are a terrifying pair of elderly oni. They guard the bridge and the banks of the Sanzu River. All souls must pass by them before moving on to Meido to be judged.

INTERACTION: During a Japanese funeral, 6 mon (and old form of currency) are placed in the coffin to be used as a toll to enter the underworld. Upon reaching the Sanzu River, the souls must cross either by bridge (if they were good in life), by wading in the shallows (if they were only somewhat good), or by swimming across the deepest part of the river (if they were wicked).

After crossing the river, each soul encounters Datsueba, who accepts the toll and strips the souls of the clothes on their backs. Datsueba hands the clothing to her partner, Keneō, who hangs it from a tree by the riverside. The amount that the branch bends under the weight of the clothes serves as a measure of the weight of the sin each soul carries, and is used as evidence in the trials to come. Of course, the clothes of those who had to ford the river or swim across are heavy and wet, which only makes the branches of the tree sag lower. If a soul arrives with no clothes, Keneō flays his or her skin and hangs it from the tree instead.

Datsueba and Keneō perform a little bit of torture themselves, breaking the fingers of those guilty of theft, and so on. They also roam the banks of the river, tormenting the souls of children who are too young to cross the river and must wait for salvation to come to them instead.

According to some accounts, Datsueba is the wife of King Enma. In the Edo period, she became a popular object of folk worship, and temples dedicated to her began to spring up around Japan. Prayers and charms dedicated to Datsueba were used as wards against disease and coughs, in particular for children’s coughs.



TRANSLATION: heavenly woman, celestial woman
HABITAT: Tendō, the realm of heaven in Buddhist cosmology
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: Tennyo are extraordinarily beautiful creatures who resemble human women. Aside from their unparalleled grace and elegance, and supernaturally attractive faces and figures, there is little way to differentiate them from ordinary women. They wear beautiful gowns called hagoromo (literally “feather cloth”), which allow them to fly.

BEHAVIOR: Tennyo are servants and courtesans for the emperor of heaven, and companions of buddhas and bodhisattvas. They sing, dance, play music, recite poetry, and do much of the same things as their earthly counterparts in human imperial courts; though they do them all with more grace, refinement, and beauty. They aid and entertain the other inhabitants of heaven, and they even occasionally fly down to earth to visit.

ORIGIN: Tennyo are a female-only subgroup of tennin, one of many celestial races native to Tendō. They are based on the Indian apsaras, celestial nymphs from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. They were brought to China from India along with Buddhism, where they developed into the tennyo we know today. The Chinese Buddhist tennyo was later brought over to Japan.

LEGENDS: Tennyo are a popular subject of folklore throughout all of Japan. Legends often involve love stories and marriage between tennyo and human men. The most famous story is the Noh play Hagoromo.

Long ago, in what is today Shizuoka, a fisherman named Hakuryō was walking along the pine-covered beaches of the Miho peninsula. It was a beautiful spring morning, and Hakuryō stopped for a moment to admire the beautiful white sand, the sparkling waves, the fluffy clouds, and the fishing ships on the bay. A pleasant fragrance filled the air, and it seemed that ethereal music was dancing on the winds. Something caught his eye; draped over a nearby pine branch was a robe of the most splendid fabric he had ever seen. It was made of a soft, feathery material, and was woven in fantastic colors, so he decided to take it home and keep it as a family heirloom.

Just as Hakuryō was preparing to leave, a young woman of breathtaking beauty appeared in the nude before him. She had flowers in her hair, and smelled just as beautiful as she looked. She said that he was holding her hagoromo robe, and asked him to return it. Hakuryō realized that this beautiful maiden was a tennyo. He refused to return to robe, saying it would bring good luck and fortune to his village.

The woman grew sad, and lamented that she would not be able to fly home to heaven without her robe. She dropped to her knees and cried, her tears falling like beautiful pearls into the sand. The flowers in her hair wilted. She looked up at the clouds above, and heard a flock of geese flying by, which only saddened her more as they reminded her of the celestial karyōbinga birds back home in heaven.

Hakuryō was moved by the beautiful maiden’s sadness. He told her that he would return her robe, but first she must perform a celestial dance for him. She agreed to perform the dance, but told Hakuryō that she needed her hagoromo to perform the dance. Hakuryō refused to return the robe. He thought she would just fly off to heaven without performing for him. The tennyo replied to him that deception was a part of his world, not hers, and that her kind do not lie. Hakuryō  felt shame, and returned the dress to her.

The tennyo donned her hagoromo and performed the dance of the Palace of the Moon. She was accompanied by celestial music, flutes, koto, and the wind in the pines. The moon shown through the trees and sweet fragrances filled the air. The waves grew calm and peaceful. Her long sleeves danced upon the wind, and she danced in sheer joy. As she danced, she slowly floated up into the sky. She flew over the beach, higher and higher, above the pines, through the clouds, and beyond the top of Mt. Fuji. She disappeared into the mists of heaven.



TRANSLATION: together-diver; diving with
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.

Tsurara onna


TRANSLATION: icicle woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: tsurara nyōbō
HABITAT: snowy areas; only seen during winter
DIET: loneliness; can also eat ordinary food

APPEARANCE: Tsurara onna are beautiful woman that are created from the loneliness of single men during the winter time. When a man gazes longingly at a strong, beautiful icicle hanging from a roof and reflects upon his loneliness, a tsurara onna may appear shortly afterwards. On the surface, a tsurara onna appears to be an ordinary—though exceptionally beautiful—woman. They are very similar in appearance and behavior to yuki onna, which inhabit the same areas during wintertime. When the winter snows melt and icicles can no longer be seen hanging from roofs, tsurara onna disappear along with the cold weather.

INTERACTIONS: Despite their icy origins, tsurara onna can be quite warm and loving spirits. In fact, many stories of tsurara onna involve one which has fallen in love with and married a human. These marriages invariably end in tragedy. The beautiful bride inevitably leaves when the spring comes, leaving her mate confused and heartbroken. And any future encounters the following winter usually do not end well for either party, if the legends are to be believed.

Because they look and behave like ordinary human women, it is often very difficult to identify a tsurara onna. One recognizable warning sign is an unwillingness to enter a bath. Occasionally, stories tell of a woman who refuses to take a bath no matter how much her husband pressures her. Eventually, tired of fighting, she relents and enters the bath. When the husband checks on her later, all he sees are a few tiny shards of ice floating in the tub, and his wife is nowhere to be found.

LEGENDS: There are countless tales of tsurara onna. They are found in every prefecture where snow falls, and each one has its own unique twist. However, there are a few common motifs found in most versions of the story. Many of them are similar or even identical to yuki onna stories. Themes of love, marriage, and betrayal are common.

One iconic example from Echigo Province—modern day Niigata Prefecture—goes like this: a young, single man gazed out his window on a cold, snowy night. He sat there, wistfully admiring the lovely winter scene. He wished in his heart that he could find a wife as beautiful as the icicles hanging from his roof. Suddenly, he heard a knock at his door. A woman’s voice called out, and it was as beautiful and clear as ice.

“Excuse me! I was traveling along this road, but the snowstorm became too fierce and I cannot journey any further. Might I lodge at your house for the night?”

The young man of course accepted (what young man would refuse such a request?), and he was delighted to see the woman’s face was as beautiful as her voice. He worked hard to make sure her stay was as enjoyable as possible.

Several months later, the woman was still staying at the house… In fact, she and the young man had fallen deep in love and she forgot about her journey entirely. They had gotten married and were very happy together.

One spring morning, the beautiful young bride went out shopping. That night she did not return. The young man waited her return night after night. The snows melted, the plum blossoms bloomed, and soon it was spring. The young man asked everyone he met if they had seen his wife. He searched all around, but there was no sign of her at all. Nobody he met could tell him anything either. He slowly forced himself to accept that she had left him. Over time, the young man’s broken heart healed, and he was remarried to young woman from his village.

The following winter, during a snowstorm, the young man found himself looking out the window at the long icicles hanging from his roof. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The beautiful woman from the previous winter was standing outside of his house. The young man was shocked.

“I searched for you every day! What is the meaning of this? How could you just vanish like that without a word?” he cried.

The woman replied, “People have different circumstances you know… But we promised to love each other forever. You said that our bond was as long and as solid as the beautiful icicles hanging from your roof. And yet… you have remarried.”

The beautiful woman left the house with a sad look on her face. The young man started after her, when suddenly there was a voice from inside the house. It was his new wife, asking what was going on.

“It’s nothing. Stay inside.”

Suddenly there was loud crash followed by a shriek near the front of the house. The new wife ran to the front door to see what had happened. There, lying in the front yard, was her husband. He was dead, pierced through the brain by an enormous icicle which had fallen from the roof.

Amazake babā



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamamo no Mae

Tamamo no Mae


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.

Osakabe hime

Osakabe hime長壁姫

TRANSLATION: the lady of the walls
HABITAT: secret areas of Himeji Castle

APPEARANCE: Osakabe hime is a reclusive yōkai who lives high up in the keep of Himeji Castle. She takes the appearance of a majestic old woman wearing a 12-layered kimono.

BEHAVIOR: Osakabe hime is a powerful yōkai, capable of manipulating people like puppets. She is extremely knowledgeable about many things and controls a multitude of kenzokushin—animal-like spirits who act as messengers. She can read a person’s heart and see their true desires. She can then manipulate them any way she pleases. It is rumored that anybody who sees her face will die instantly.

INTERACTIONS: Osakabe hime absolutely hates meeting people. She spends most of her time hidden away in secret areas of Himeji Castle. However, once a year, she comes out of hiding to meet with the castle lord and foretell the castle’s fortune for the next year.

ORIGIN: Osakabe hime’s true identity is a mystery. By popular account, she is actually an elderly nine-tailed kitsune who takes the form of this yōkai. According to other accounts, she may be a snake spirit, or the ghost of one of Emperor Fushimi’s favorite courtesans. She may even be the sister of Kame hime, a similar yōkai who lived in Inawashiro Castle in Mutsu Province.

Another common legend is that she was originally the kami of the mountain upon which Himeji Castle was built. When Himeji Castle was expanded by Hideyoshi in the 1580s, the shrine dedicated to the local goddess of Mount Hime, Osakabegami, was removed. The goddess was re-enshrined in Harima Sōja, a shrine dedicated to several gods. In the 1600s, when the lord of the castle, Ikeda Terumasa, fell mysteriously ill, rumors arose that his sickness was due to the goddess’s anger at having been removed. In order to appease her, a small temple was built in the keep and Osakabegami was re-enshrined at the top of her mountain. Osakabegami may be the true identity of Osakabe hime.

LEGEND: During the Edo period, a young page named Morita Zusho went on a dare to go see if a yōkai really lived in the upper floors of Himeji Castle. He waited until nightfall, and then—paper lantern in hand—he climbed to the top of the keep. As brave as he was, Zusho couldn’t help imagining what would happen to him if there really was such a creature up there. Finally, when he reached the top floor, he saw a faint light coming from a door in the attic. He peeked in, but whoever was inside had heard him. A woman’s voice called out, “Who’s there!?”

Zusho was paralyzed with fear. He heard the sound of a kimono rustling. The door opened up to reveal a beautiful, elegant woman in her thirties wearing a splendid 12-layered kimono. Zusho felt his strength return and politely introduced himself and explained his reason for coming.

Amused, the yōkai replied, “A test of bravery, you say? You will need some proof that you actually saw me.” She gave him a neck guard of a helmet— piece of his master’s own family heirloom armor—to show his master as proof that he met Osakabe hime.

The next day, Zusho told the story of what had happened to his master. Everyone had trouble believing him because they had always heard that the yōkai took the form of an old woman and not a young one. But when Zusho presented the neck guard, his master was shocked and had no choice but to believe the story.

Takiyasha hime


TRANSLATION: Princess Takiyasha; literally “waterfall demon princess”

APPEARANCE: Takiyasha hime is the daughter of Taira no Masakado and a sorceress who raised an army of yōkai and attempted to conquer Japan. Her story became popular in the Edo period, and is depicted in novels, woodblock prints, and kabuki. The details of her story vary quite a bit from version to version.

LEGENDS: After Taira no Masakado was defeated and his rebellion quashed, the imperial court declared Masakado’s entire family to be traitors and ordered their execution. Two of Masakado’s children, Yoshikado and Satsuki hime, somehow managed to escape their execution. They remained in hiding at a temple at the base of Mount Tsukuba for years. Satsuki hime became a devoted nun, but her brother was not interested in religion. He spent his time exploring the mountain and playing at being a samurai.

One day while exploring Mount Tsukuba, Yoshikado encountered a mysterious wizard named Nikushisen. Nikushisen informed Yoshikado that he was the heir of Taira no Masakado, and gave him a magic scroll containing the secrets of frog magic. Yoshikado returned to his sister, and told her everything Nikushisen had said. He gave her the scroll. She studied it and also became a master of frog magic, and took the name Takiyasha hime. The two of them decided to fulfill their father’s dream of overthrowing the emperor and ushering in a new order.

In a different version of the story, instead of Yoshikado meeting Nikushisen, Satsuki hime secretly began to perform the dreaded curse ushi no koku mairi—the shrine visit at the hour of the ox. Every night, she snuck into the Kifune Shrine and performed the ritual. After twenty-one nights, she awakened the aramitama—the violent, wicked spirit—of the Kifune Shrine. The aramitama spoke to her, granting her the knowledge of onmyōdō, and instructing her to take the name Takiyasha hime.

Takiyasha hime and Yoshikado returned to their father’s fortress of Sōma Castle in Shimosa province. They called on the surviving soldiers who remained loyal to their father’s cause. Using her newly acquired black magic, Takiyasha hime raised an army of yōkai to continue her father’s rebellion against the emperor.

Ōya no Tarō Mitsukuni, a warrior who was knowledgeable about onmyōdō, had heard of Takiyasha hime’s plans and set out to Sōma Castle to investigate if the rumors were true. When he arrived, Takiyasha hime disguised herself as a prostitute and tried to seduce Mitsukuni. However, Mitsukuni suspected a trap and told her about the brutal death of Taira no Masakado. Takiyasha hime could not contain her emotion, and she fled from Mitsukuni. That night, she ambushed him with an army of skeletons and yōkai. According to Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s famous ukiyoe print, Takiyasha hime unleashed a gashadokuro upon him—a gigantic skeleton as tall as a castle.

Riding into battle on top of a giant toad, Takiyasha hime assaulted the brave warrior Mitsukuni. In the end, despite her magic, she was defeated just as her father was. Her short rebellion was snuffed out just as his was.

Today, many statues of frogs decorate Taira no Masakado’s gravesite in Kubizuka. The Japanese word for frog, kaeru, is a homophone of the word meaning “return.” Masakado’s severed head longed to return to his hometown, and patrons hope that Masakado’s spirit will “kaeru,” return, to heaven—and not cause any more harm on Earth. It is also said that this reflects the “frog magic” that Nikushisen taught to his daughter, Takiyasha hime.

Hikeshi baba


TRANSLATION: fire extinguishing old woman
HABITAT: human-inhabited areas
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Hikeshi baba takes the form of a white-haired, grotesque-looking, old woman. She wanders from house to house blowing out lanterns.

INTERACTIONS: Hikeshi baba is not a dangerous yōkai herself, although her actions can indirectly harm people. Her purpose is to make the world a gloomier place by extinguishing the cheerful, beautiful paper lanterns that decorate Japanese homes. Yōkai, by nature, are not accustomed to bright lights or cheery atmospheres. Her work is intended to make conditions more suitable for other yōkai to come out and do their own misdeeds.



TRANSLATION: a slang expression meaning “No way!”
HABITAT: dark streets
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: From the back, iyaya look like attractive young women wearing beautiful clothing. When somebody calls out to them to get their attention, they turn around and reveal ugly, wrinkly faces like those of old men!

BEHAVIOR: Iyaya can be found anywhere. They prefer towns and roads at night where they are more likely to surprise lone travelers. They don’t do anything harmful. Like many yōkai, they live just to shock people. That done, they wander off to find new victims.



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.

Rokujō no Miyasundokoro

Rokujou no Miyasundokoro六条御息所

TRANSLATION: Lady Rokujō; Miyasundokoro is her given name
ALTERNATE NAMES: Rokujō Miyasudokoro

ORIGIN: Lady Rokujō is a woman who appears in the noh play Aoi no Ue, which is based on the 11th century novel The Tale of Genji. The novel revolves around the life of Hikaru Genji, a noble living in the height of the Heian period. Lady Rokujō’s transformation from noblewoman to demoness has made her one of the most well-known monsters in Japanese theater. Her name comes from Rokujō, the area of Kyoto in which she lived.

LEGENDS: Lady Rokujō was the daughter of a minister living in the capital during the Heian period. She was high ranking, extremely beautiful, elegant, sophisticated, and intelligent. She had been married to the crown prince and would have become empress upon his ascension. However, when her husband passed away Lady Rokujō lost much of her power and standing among the court, robbing her of her ambitions. She sent their daughter away to Ise to become a shrine princess, and became a courtesan of the imperial court.

The widowed Lady Rokujō soon became one of the mistresses of an aspiring nobleman named Hikaru Genji. She fell deeply in love with him. But because of her age, rank, beauty, and refinement, Genji was reluctant to return her affections. Lady Rokujō also could not express her true feelings as she wished without breaking court decorum. Instead, she repressed her feelings of jealousy, which began to transform her into a demon.

One night, while sightseeing during the Hollyhock Festival, Lady Rokujō’s carriage collided with the carriage belonging to Genji’s rightful wife Lady Aoi. After already losing her place to Genji’s wife, Lady Rokujō discovered that Lady Aoi was pregnant with Genji’s child. The insult was too much. Her repressed jealousy escaped from her body and transformed into an ikiryō, which haunted Lady Aoi every night. Eventually, the ikiryō was witnessed by Genji, who purchased herbal charms for his wife to protect her against evil spirits.

Lady Aoi gave birth to Genji’s son, but shortly afterwards became possessed by Lady Rokujō’s vengeful spirit. (This possession is the subject of the noh play Aoi no Ue.) The ikiryō was finally exorcised by a shugenja, but the possession took its tool of Lady Aoi and she passed away.

Lady Rokujō had hoped to become Genji’s next wife, but she discovered that her own hair and clothes carried the odor of Genji’s herbal charms. She realized that she had been responsible for the hauntings. Thinking that Genji could never love her after murdering his wife, Lady Rokujō left the capital and joined her daughter at the Ise Shrine.

Six years later, Lady Rokujō returned to Kyoto with her daughter and became a nun. Shortly afterwards, she fell very ill. Genji came to visit her, and was stricken with her daughter. Lady Rokujō, still deeply in love with Genji, begged him not to take her daughter as a lover. Lady Rokujō passed away, and Genji adopted her daughter as his ward. They moved into her old villa at Rokujō.

Even in death, Lady Rokujō’s jealousy remained as a vengeful shiryō, which appeared at the Rokujō villa. It haunted Genji, attacking his new wife Lady Murasaki and the other ladies of the house. Upon hearing of the hauntings, Lady Rokujō’s daughter became sad that her mother had still not found peace in death. She performed the necessary memorial services to finally put her ghost at ease.

Kiyo hime


TRANSLATION: Princess Kiyo

APPEARANCE: Kiyo hime is one of the most famous antagonists in Japanese literature, and an example of a honnari hannya—a demon woman who has attained the maximum level of power. She appears in The Legend of Anchin and Kiyo hime, or Princess Kiyo, an ancient tale from Wakayama prefecture. Versions of the story appear in a number of ancient books. Her tale is retold in the famous noh play Dōjō-ji.

LEGENDS: Long ago, during the reign of Emperor Daigo, the young priest named Anchin was traveling from Mutsu to Kumano on a pilgrimage. Every year he made the journey, and every year he would lodge at the manor of the Masago no Shōji family. He was an incredibly good looking young man, and he caught the eye of Kiyo hime, the manor lord’s daughter. She was a troublesome young girl. Anchin joked to her that if she were a good girl and behaved herself, he would marry her and take her back to Mutsu.

Every year Kiyo hime waited for Anchin to come again for his pilgrimage. When she came of age arrived, she reminded him of his promise and asked him to marry her. Anchin, embarrassed that she had taken his word seriously, lied that he would come for her as soon as he finished his pilgrimage. On his return, he avoided the Masago no Shōji manor and headed straight for Mutsu.

When Kiyo hime heard of Anchin’s deception, she was overcome with grief. She ran after the young priest, barefoot, determined to marry him. Anchin fled as fast as he could, but Kiyo hime caught him on the road to the temple Dōjō-ji. There, instead of greeting her, Anchin lied again. He pretended not to know her and protested that he was late for a meeting somewhere else. Kiyo hime’s sadness turned into furious rage. She attacked, moving to punish the lying priest. Anchin prayed to Kumano Gongen to save him. A divine light dazzled Kiyo hime’s eyes and paralyzed her body, giving Anchin just enough time to escape.

Kiyo hime’s rage exploded to its limits—the divine intervention had pushed her over the edge. She transformed into a giant, fire-breathing serpent. When Anchin reached the Hidaka River, he paid the boatman and begged him not to allow his pursuer to cross. Then, he ran to Dojō-ji for safety. Ignoring the boatman entirely, Kiyo hime swam across the river after Anchin.

Seeing the monstrous serpent, the priests of Dōjō-ji hid Anchin inside of the large, bronze temple bell. However, Kiyo hime could smell Anchin inside. Overcome with rage and despair, she wrapped herself around the bell and breathed fire until the bronze became white hot. She roasted Anchin alive inside the bell. With Anchin dead, the demon Kiyo hime threw herself into the river and drowned.



TRANSLATION: wisdom; specifically the Buddhist concept of Perfect Wisdom

APPEARANCE: Hannya refers to demons or oni; more specifically to female demons called kijo—even more specifically to those kijo which appear in noh theater. They were once human women who were consumed by jealousy and transformed into demonesses. The name hannya also refers to a specific type of demon mask used in noh theater.

There are three grades of hannya: namanari, chūnari, and honnari. Namanari hannya are kijo that still resemble human women. They have small horns and use dark magic to perform their evil deeds, such as summoning ikiryō to attack their enemies. They are not completely evil; there remains a chance for these beginner demons to return to humanity. Chūnari hannya are mid-level demons. They have long, sharp horns, tusk-like fangs, and more powerful magic. However, they are still vulnerable to Buddhist prayers. Honnari hannya are true demons and the most powerful of the three. They have serpentine bodies and breathe fire. Honnari hannya have embraced their jealousy so deeply that there is no calming their fury.

ORIGIN: Hannya originate from the Sanskrit term for wisdom—specifically Prajñāpāramitā, the highest form of Buddhist wisdom which leads to enlightenment. The juxtaposition of the highest form of wisdom and creatures who represent direct opposition to that wisdom comes from the use of the hannya mask in noh. In the play Aoi no Ue, a shugenja (an ascetic mystic) exorcises the spirit of the hannya Lady Rokujō from Lady Aoi. As it is driven away, the evil spirit cries out, “Oh, how horrible! The voice of wisdom is like a demon!” Since then, demon masks and wisdom have been associated with each other.

The three most famous hannya from Japanese literature are Lady Rokujō from Aoi no Ue, Kurozuka from Kurozuka, and Kiyo-hime from Dōjō-ji.



TRANSLATION: hundred hundred eye (i.e. many-eyed) demon
HABITAT: cities, towns, and especially marketplaces
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: Dodomeki are cursed women with very long arms covered in tiny bird eyes. They were once human girls who developed a penchant for stealing money. Because of their wicked actions, one day hundreds of tiny bird eyeballs sprout out of their arms and they transform into this monster.

ORIGIN: When Toriyama Sekien first described this yokai, he inserted a number of puns. The dodomeki is described as being a woman with long arms — having “long arms” in Japanese is a figure of speech meaning somebody who likes to steal a lot. Thus, the dodomeki has long arms, both figuratively and literally.

The copper coin, or dōsen, had a hole in the middle of it, and was colloquially known as a chōmoku, or “bird’s eye,” due to its shape. This play on words is the reason that this yokai grew birds’ eyes as a result of stealing copper coins. Money was also sometimes referred to as oashi, or “feet,” because it comes and goes as if it had its own feet.

The phrase ashi ga tsuku is a common idiom which means “to catch someone who has committed a crime.” Very clever readers would have noticed that if the word ashi, which can also mean money, is replaced with chōmoku, which can also mean money, the phrase changes to mean “covered in bird eyes.”

LEGENDS: Long ago, in what is now Tochigi prefecture, lived a nobleman named Fujiwara no Hidesato. He had just been granted the title of kokushi of Shimotsuke province for his valor in defeating the rebel Taira no Masakado. One day while hunting in his newly acquired countryside, Hidesato was approached by an old man, who warned him that some kind of oni had been sighted at the horse graveyard at Utsunomiya. Hidesato grabbed his bow and arrow and went to investigate.

Hidesato reached the horse graveyard and waited until nightfall. When the hour of the ox came, an enormous demon appeared and ravenously began devouring horse carcasses. The demon stood over ten feet tall, had sharp, spiked hair, and was covered in glowing eyes all over its body. Hidesato carefully aimed an arrow at the brightest glowing eyeball and fired. The arrow hit its mark, and the demon roared in pain, fleeing into the woods until it finally collapsed at the foot of Mount Myōjin.

The battle was not over, for although the demon was near-fatally wounded, it still had power left. From its body erupted a torrent of flame. Its mouth split open and poisonous fumes spewed forth. The toxic air and intense heat proved too much for Fujiwara no Hidesato, who had to give up and return to his palace. When Hidesato returned the next day, the ground was blackened and burnt over a large area, but there was no sign of the demon.

400 years later, during the Muromachi period, the dodomeki finally reappeared. A village had sprung up on the northern slope of Mount Myōjin, and strange things had begun happening. The temple’s head priest had been suffering mysterious injuries and unexplained fires began to break out at the temple. A new head priest, the virtuous and holy Saint Chitoku, was called to discover what the cause of the strange problems was.

Saint Chitoku noticed that one young woman stopped by the temple frequently whenever he preached his sermons, and recognized it as the dodomeki in disguise. The demon, terribly wounded, had retreated into some caves nearby to heal. It transformed into a young woman, and had been visiting the site where it fell, gradually sucking back up all of the noxious fumes that it had breathed out, and collecting all of the blood that it had bled in the battle with Fujiwara no Hidesato. The village temple had been built on top of the battle site, and the dodomeki caused the fires and attacked the priest to scare them away.

One day, Saint Chitoku confronted the demon in disguise, and she finally revealed her true form was a dodomeki. She did not attack him, however; while frequenting the temple, she had overheard Chitoku’s powerful sermons, and they had stuck with her. The dodomeki promised that she would never again commit any act of evil. Since then, the area around Mount Myōjin has come to be known as Dodomeki.

Furutsubaki no Rei

Furutsubaki no Rei古椿の霊

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.



TRANSLATION: drought spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: batsu, kanbo (“drought mother”), shinchi
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: moisture

APPEARANCE: Hiderigami is a grotesque, hairy humanoid which stands between two and three feet tall. It has a single eye on the top of its head. It only has a single arm and a single leg, although it can run as fast as the wind. All hiderigami are female.

BEHAVIOR: Hiderigami are rarely encountered by humans. They live deep in the mountains and only rarely travel out into human-inhabited lands, but when they do their presence can be strongly felt over a wide area. A hiderigami’s body exerts such a strong heat that everywhere it goes the ground dries up, clouds fail to form, and rain cannot fall. Despite the incredible danger that they pose, it is said that throwing a hiderigami into a toilet will kill it.

ORIGIN: Hiderigami originated in southern China, and come from a goddess. Their origin is recorded in some of the oldest ancient Chinese records. When the legendary Yellow Emperor of China fought the warlord Chi You, he summon a powerful goddess named Batsu to aid him in battle. Batsu contained an supernatural heat inside of her, and when she released her power, the battle was quickly and decisively won in the emperor’s favor; however, she had used so much of her power up that she was unable to return to Heaven or contain her heat. While Batsu was nearby, the waters all dried up and rain would not fall, and so her presence became a terrible problem for the emperor. Unable to kill her or to send her back to heaven, the emperor exiled the goddess to a far-away mountain and forbade her to return. Whether Batsu became the mother of the hiderigami or became corrupted and transformed into this yokai herself is unknown.



TRANSLATION: ramie peat (named for her resemblance to these plants)
HABITAT: deep in the mountains
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Ouni looks like an ugly old woman with an angry face and a body covered in long, black hair. She is a kind of yamauba, or mountain hag. She lives deep in the mountains, away from civilization, and only occasionally appears before humans.

INTERACTIONS: Unlike most yamauba, ouni are friendly towards humans who treat them kindly. They occasionally visit rural houses or mountain huts late at night. When this happens, the ouni asks the owners of the house to give her free lodging and a meal for the night. If they are kind and invite her in, during the night she spins an enormous amount of thread for the family and then vanishes without a trace.

ORIGIN: Ouni’s name comes from the Japanese word for ramie, a fibrous plant that is used to make thread, and peat, the rotten muck found in swamps that comes from rotting plant matter. The first part of her name comes from the thread which she spins at night, usually in the form of ramie, as well as the long, black hair which covers her body and resembles thick threads. The second part refers to her filthy, black, hairy body, which makes her look like she is covered in dead vegetation.



TRANSLATION: old hag fire
HABITAT: riverbanks

APPEARANCE: Ubagabi is a kind of hi-no-tama, or fireball yokai. It appears on rainy nights near riverbanks, and takes the form of a 1 foot diameter ball of flame with the face of an old woman in it. It can also appear as a chicken, but does not remain in this form for long. They are created out of the ghosts of old women who were caught stealing oil and died of shame.

BEHAVIOR: Ubagabi have the uncanny ability to fly long distances — up to 4 kilometers — in the blink of an eye. Occasionally they graze a person’s shoulder and then continue off into the darkness. The unfortunate people whom they bounce off of invariably end up dying somehow within three years. However, if one is quick enough and shouts, “Abura-sashi!” (oil thief) just as an ubagabi comes flying towards him or her, the yokai will vanish. The shame at being called out as an oil thief is too much to bear even in death, apparently.

LEGENDS: Long ago in Osaka there lived an old woman who was very poor. In order to make ends meet, she resorted to stealing oil from the lamps at Hiraoka shrine — a terrible crime in an age when oil was so rare and precious. Eventually she was caught by the shrine’s priests and her crime was exposed. From then on, the people of her village shunned her, and would shout out at her for being an oil thief. So great was the old woman’s shame that she went to the pond behind the shrine and committed suicide. Such unclean deaths never turn out well, and instead of dying properly she turned into an yokai. To this day, the pond behind Hiraoka shrine is known by locals as “Ubagabi-ike” (the pond of the ubagabi).



TRANSLATION: lady of the bridge
HABITAT: very old, very long bridges
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Hashihime are intensely jealous goddesses who inhabit bridges — in particular, very old and very long bridges. As goddesses, hashihime may take different forms depending on occasion, however they are commonly depicted wearing white robes, white face-paint, an iron trivet, and carrying five candles. This is a ceremonial outfit used to perform curses.

INTERACTIONS: Hashihime ferociously guard the bridges they inhabit. As with most gods connected to a location, they are very competitive and jealous.  If one praises or speaks positively about another bridge while on top of a hashihime’s bridge, or if one recites lines from certain Noh plays that feature a woman’s wrath as the main theme, something terrible is likely to happen to that person.

Despite their fearsome nature, they are highly honored by the people who live nearby, and shrines are established in their honor near the bridges they inhabit. In times of war, residents will beseech their local hashihime to guard the bridge against invaders. In times of peace, hashihime are goddess of separation and severing, and are asked to aid people in things such as break-ups, divorce, and severing bad luck. So strong is their power of severing that it is considered taboo for lovers to pass in front of a hashihime shrine together, or for wedding processions to pass in front of one. If newlyweds need to cross a bridge inhabited by a hashihime, they will instead pass underneath it on a boat rather than risk cursing their marriage.

LEGENDS: The most famous hashihime story comes from Tsurugi no Maki, in The Tale of the Heike, and is retold in the noh play Kanawa.

A woman visited the the Kifune-jinja in Kyoto at the hour of the ox (roughly 2 am), filled with rage and jealousy towards her ex-husband who had thrown her away for another woman. Night after night she visited the shrine, praying to the gods enshrined there to turn her into a powerful demon. The woman wanted nothing else other than to see her ex-husband destroyed, even at the cost of her own life. After seven nights of pilgrimage, her prayers were answered: the gods told her that if she immersed herself in the Uji river for twenty-one nights, she would become a living demon.

The woman did as she was bid. She donned a white robe and tied her hair up into five horns. She painted her face and covered her body in crimson dye. She placed an upturned trivet on her head and attached torches to each foot. She lit a torch on both ends and placed it in her mouth. She immersed herself in the Uji river and for twenty-one days she kindled the hatred in her heart. Then, just as the gods told her, after twenty-one days she transformed into a terrible kijo with supreme power. She had become the hashihime of Uji.

That night, her husband awoke from a horrible dream with a premonition of danger. He quickly sought out the famous onmyōji, Abe-no-Seimei. Seimei recognized the dream as a sign that the man’s former wife would come and destroy the couple that very night, and promised to save them. He went to their house, recited magical prayers, and crafted two katashiro — magical paper doll representations of the man and his wife, meant to be used as substitutionary targets for the kijo’s rage. That night, as Seimei had predicted, the demon appeared. She attacked the two katashiro instead of the real couple, and Seimei’s magic worked: her power was reflected back upon her and she was driven away. The demon woman, realizing that she could not overcome Abe-no-Seimei’s magic, vanished, threatening that she would come back  another time.



TRANSLATION: literally “maple leaves;” used as a name

ORIGIN: The tale of Princess Sarashina/Momiji is famous in Japanese theater. The noh play Momijigari (“Hunting Momiji” or “Fall-Leaf Hunting”) first appeared hundreds of years ago, during the Muromachi period. During the Meiji period it was remade as a kabuki play. Momijigari was made into a film in 1899, becoming the first narrative film in Japan. It was designated an Important Culture Property in 2009.

LEGENDS: Long ago a powerful witch named Momiji lived in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. Her story takes place during the season of fall-leaf-viewing, when groups of people would gather in the mountains for festivals and parties under the falling red, orange, and gold leaves.

During this time, a samurai named Taira no Koremochi was charged by a local Hachiman shrine with hunting oni. His hunt had taken him to Togakushi mountain, where a particularly nasty kijo was said to live.

Koremochi and his retainers climbed the beautiful mountain, and they came upon a small group of aristocrats having a leaf-viewing party. Koremochi sent one of his retainer ahead to investigate. The retainer approached to inquire about the party, and was told that a noble princess was hosting it; however the ladies in waiting would not tell him the princess’ name. Just as Koremochi and his retainers decided to continue on their mission, one of the ladies-in-waiting approached and told them that her mistress had heard of Koremochi before, and she wanted to invite them to her party. Despite his mission Koremochi could not rudely turn down a princess, so he and his companions agreed.

At the party, the warriors were introduced to Princess Sarashina, an extremely beautiful young woman. They all sat and enjoyed watching the leaves, drinking sake, and dancing. Koremochi asked the princess if she would dance for him, and she did. Soon the men became drunk and sleepy, and dozed off under the beautiful trees.

As he slept, Koremochi dreamed of Hachiman and his mission. The god told him that Princess Sarashina was actually the kijo Momiji in disguise, and that he must kill her with the holy katana, Kogarasumaru (“Little Crow”). When Koremochi woke up, the sword he dreamed of was in his hand — a gift from Hachiman — and he knew that what he dreamed had been real. He chased after the women, and all of a sudden a huge firestorm broke out. Flame and wind lit up the mountain. Suddenly a ten foot tall kijo with horns made of burning trees appeared, and an intense battle between the samurai and the demoness took place. In the end, thanks to his magical sword, Koremochi was successful, and slew the Witch of Togakushi Mountain.



TRANSLATION: the black mounds; named for the area she haunted

LEGENDS: Kurozuka is the most well-known demon woman in Japanese folklore, and a very popular subject in the arts, starring in everything from paintings to ukiyoe prints to noh plays. She has gone by many names. Kurozuka, or the witch of “the black mounds,” is the most famous one, but she is also known as the Demon of Adachigahara, or even just simply Onibaba, “the demon hag.”

Her story has changed over the years and through various adaptations. A popular version of the story goes like this:

Long ago, a wealthy noble couple had a daughter whom they loved very much. However, their daughter was sickly, and by the age of five she had still never spoken a single word. The worried couple consulted with priests and doctors, until finally one doctor told them that the only way to cure their daughter was to feed her a fresh liver from an unborn fetus.

The couple summoned their daughter’s nanny and put the task of retrieving the liver to her. Expecting that it would take some time to find someone willing to give up their baby’s liver, the nanny prepared for a long journey. She gave the daughter a protection charm and promised not to return without the liver, then left.

The nanny traveled for days, months, and eventually years without finding any family willing to give up their baby’s life. Eventually, her travels brought her to the moors of Adachigahara, in Fukushima. Despondent, she decided that if nobody would give her a liver, she would have to take one. She made camp in a cave off of the toad and decided to wait for a pregnant woman to pass by.

Many more years passed, and finally a lone pregnant woman came walking by on the road. The nanny leaped out of the cave and slew the traveler with her knife, carving her belly open, killing the fetus, and taking its fresh liver. Only after the deed was done, the nanny looked down at her victim, and noticed the young woman was wearing a very old but very familiar protection charm: the very same one that she had given the daughter so many years ago! The knowledge of what she had done weighed so heavily on her that the nanny went insane, and transformed into a yokai.

The demon of Adachigahara developed fearsome magical powers. She learned to lure travelers into her shelter and invite them to spend the night, after which she would murder them in their sleep. She remained there on the moors of Adachigahara for many many years, murdering any lone travelers who passed by her cave and eating their remains.

In the noh version of her story, the demon woman is eventually visited by traveling Buddhist priests, whom she plans to kill. While she is out gathering firewood, the priests find a room full of dead bodies and bones, and they recognize her as the Demon of Adachigahara. She chases after them, but they are able to hold her back with their Buddhist prayers, and drive the evil spirit from her, banishing it forever. When the demon spirit is driven from her body, she becomes an old woman and dies. The monks bury her remains and build a grave among the black mounds where she haunted.

Tenjō kudari


TRANSLATION: ceiling hanger
ALTERNATE NAMES: tenjō-sagari, tenzurushi
HABITAT: attics
DIET: unknown; possibly humans

APPEARANCE: Tenjō kudari has the appearance of a naked, ugly, old woman with a long tongue, and long, disheveled hair. This yokai was first documented by Toriyama Sekien, and aside from his illustration, little else is known about it.

BEHAVIOR: Tenjō kudari spends most of its time in hiding, living in the narrow crawlspace between the ceiling and the roof. Every so often, in the middle of the night, it crawls out from the ceiling, upside-down, to scare people.

ORIGIN: In old Japan, the space above the ceiling was connected with a lot of superstitions about dead bodies rolling about or women being confined like prisoners. Tenjō kudari seems to have been something Toriyama inventioned based on those myths. Fittingly, during his time, the phrase “to show someone the ceiling” was a colloquial expression for causing trouble — which tenjō kudari certainly does.

A few possible connections to origins outside of Toriyama’s imagination exist. One involves the story of a yokai that moved into the roof crawlspace of an inn in Yamanashi. During the night, it would descend from the ceiling and snatch up travelers to eat. However, it’s not sure whether this myth inspired Toriyama Sekien or rather was inspired by his work.



TRANSLATION: hairy prostitute
HABITAT: brothels, red light districts
DIET: young, virile men

APPEARANCE: Kejōrō is a prostitute whose face and body are hidden behind a curtain of long, matted black hair. She appears in red-light districts and brothels. In most stories, it is only the hair on her head that is disturbingly thick and long, but in some stories, her whole body is covered in thick hair, like some kind of beast.

INTERACTIONS: A kejōrō’s victims are the young men who frequent brothels and red light districts. Thinking he sees a girl that he recognizes from behind, a man runs up to the kejōrō to speak with her. When she turns around, her face and body are covered by a thick mat of hair, hiding all of her features. Her victim is shocked by the horrible, hairy monster in front of him, giving her time to attack her victim, tangling him up in her hair and using it to slice him up. Despite this, reports of kejōrō-related fatalities are very rare.

Despite her horrible appearance to humans, the kejōrō is said to be quite popular with yokai. So popular, in fact, that male yokai frequently fight each other over her, competing for her affection. Kejōrō seem to return this devotion as well; in some stories, a kejōrō will cut off her hair and send it to her lover (human or yokai), or tattoo his name into her skin to prove her undying devotion to him.

ORIGIN: The earliest records of kejōrō go back to Toriyama Sekien’s “One Hundred Demons of the Past and Present.” There is some debate over his original description as to whether the kejōrō has a normal face under the matte of hair, or whether she is a faceless monster, related to the nopperabō or the ohaguro-bettari, with various yokai researches weighing in on either side of the question.

Ao andon


TRANSLATION: blue lantern
HABITAT: parlors and living rooms; appears during ghost story telling parties
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: During the Edo period, a popular summertime activity among the aristocratic classes was to gather and tell ghost stories, hoping the chill of fear would stave off the intense midsummer heat. These ghost story telling parties were called hyakumonogatari kaidankai – a gathering of one hundred ghost stories. During these gatherings, one hundred candles would be lit and placed inside of blue paper lanterns, called andon, in order to create an eerie atmosphere suitable for storytelling. Throughout the night, guests would take turns telling progressively scarier stories about yokai, demons, ghosts, and other strange things. After each story, one candle would be snuffed out, until finally only the hundredth candle remained, its dim blue light casting long, creepy shadows, struggling to fill the dark room.

According to superstition, as the final candle was snuffed, a real ghost would appear out of the darkness to attack the participants, created out of the heightened emotional state and fears of guests. This ghost was called the ao andon.

The ao andon is the incarnation of mass human terror, formed out of the built-up fears of large groups of people. This fear takes the appearance of a demonic woman with long black hair, blue skin, blackened teeth, sharp claws, and horns. It wears a white or blue kimono, and glows with an eerie blue light.

BEHAVIOR: The ao andon appears at the end of the gathering, when all of the lanterns have been snuffed out. It emerges from the smoke of the final candle and attacks the guests. What exactly it does is a mystery; whether it slaughters all of the participants in a brutal finale inspired by the preceding tales, or simply jumps out to give one last shock before the guests return home has never been recorded. The reason for this is that by the time the ninety-ninth ghost story had been told, the guests were usually too frightened to tell the final story, and the parties usually concluded at that point, before the ao andon could appear.

ORIGIN: As the old proverb says (in both English and Japanese): speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear. It was feared that merely talking about ghosts and spirits for long enough would cause them to materialize for real.

Kage onna


TRANSLATION: shadow woman
HABITAT: abandoned buildings, run-down homes, haunted houses
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kage onna are shadows of women which appear projected onto windows and doors when there is no one around to cast them. They appear late at night when the moon is bright, as the paper sliding doors and windows of traditional Japanese homes are particularly good at catching shadows in the moonlight. They usually take the form of a young lady, though occasionally they appear as an old crone with a bell hanging from her neck.

BEHAVIOR: Kage onna make no sound, nor do they interact with the house or its inhabitants, other than projecting an eerie atmosphere. Although they are not known to cause any harm to the residents of the house, the image of a person where there should be none is enough to startle the bravest person. If the door or window is opened to see who or what created the shadow, there is nothing to be seen. However, tradition says that a house where a kage onna is seen is likely haunted, or will soon be haunted, by other yokai as well.

ORIGIN: The moonlight frequently plays tricks on the eyes, causing people to see things in the darkness that aren’t really there, or casting eerie shadows on the ground and walls that don’t seem like they should really be there. Most of the time, this can be attributed to an overactive mind piecing together ghost stories and wandering thoughts and constructing some horrible figment of the imagination. Sometimes, however, a shadow is more than a shadow: sometimes it is a kage onna.

Ao nyōbō


TRANSLATION: blue lady
ALTERNATE NAMES: ao onna (blue woman)
HABITAT: abandoned villas, mansions, and ruins
DIET: spoiled and rotten leftover food; otherwise humans

APPEARANCE: In the empty, abandoned mansions of bygone years, there is sometimes more than spider webs and cockroaches living in the shadows. Often, large and dangerous yokai take up residence in these manses, longing for a return to wealth and grace. One of these is the ao nyōbō, an ogreish spirit of poverty and misfortune. She takes the appearance of an ancient court noblewoman. Her body is draped in the elaborate many-layered kimonos of older eras, though they are now tattered and moth-ridden. She wears the white face of ancient courtiers, with high painted eyebrows and blackened teeth. Her body is aged and wrinkled from years of waiting in musty old ruins, and her beauty has long left her.

BEHAVIOR: Ao nyōbō inhabit the empty, abandoned homes of ruined families and fallen nobles. They wait in the house, constantly applying their makeup, fixing their hair, and adjusting their image in anticipation for the arrival of some guest who never shows up –perhaps a lover who has lost interest, or a husband who has abandoned his wife. Should any trespassers visit a home inhabited by an ao nyōbō, she devours them, and then goes back to waiting vainly.

ORIGIN: Nyōbō were the court ladies of old Japan – the paragons of youth, beauty, education, and refinement. They served in the palaces of high ranking families until they themselves were married off to a worthy suitor. After being married off, they spent their days in their own private residences, patiently waiting for their husbands to come home each night, or for secret lovers to show up during the day. Ao, the color blue, refers not to the aonyōbō’s skin color, but actually implies immaturity or inexperience (just as green implies the same in English). Ao nyōbō’s name refers to low-ranking women of the old imperial court who, no matter how hard they worked, couldn’t seem to catch a husband or elevate themselves to escape from poverty (the “ugly stepsisters” of ancient Japan). Originally used an insulting term for unsuccessful court ladies, it is a fitting term for this particular yokai.



TRANSLATION: woman in late pregnancy; often written with different characters
ALTERNATE NAMES: obo, unme, ugume, ubametori, and many others
HABITAT: haunts the area where she gave birth
DIET: none; only exists to deliver her baby into safe hands

APPEARANCE: When a woman dies just before, during, or shortly after childbirth, her spirit is often unable to pass on out of anxiety for her child. This troubled attachment manifests into a ghost known as an ubume. They appear on dark, rainy nights, and are often indistinguishable from a living woman carrying a child, crying for help. Ubume can appear in many forms: a woman carrying a baby, a pregnant woman, or a blood-soaked walking corpse carrying an underdeveloped fetus. Other times they just appear as horrific, bloody, naked pregnant women crying out desperately into the night for help.

These variations in appearance are due to the burial traditions of different regions, as well as the circumstances of death; in some areas, when a pregnant woman died she would be buried with the unborn fetus still inside of her; in other areas, the fetus would be cut out of her and placed in her arms during burial. Women who died after delivering stillborn babies were also buried in this way.

BEHAVIOR: These tragic spirits wander the areas near where they died, seeking aid from the living which they cannot provide themselves. If the mother died after childbirth but her baby survives, an ubume will try to provide for the child in whatever way it can. She enters shops or homes to try to purchase food, clothes, or sweets for her still-living child. In place of money she pays with handfuls of dead leaves. These ghosts also often try to lead humans to the place where the baby is hidden so that it can be taken to its living relatives, or adopted by another person.

In cases where both mother and child died, an ubume can appear carrying the bundled corpse of her infant. When a human approaches, the ghost tries to deliver the bundle into the arms of the living. If the stranger accepts the bundle, the ghost vanishes, and the bundle grows heavier and heavier until the helpful stranger is crushed under its weight.

OTHER FORMS: The name ubume is written with characters that imply a bird’s name. The literal translation of these characters is “child-snatching bird” and some theories connect this spirit with another yokai called the ubumetori. This yokai is an evil bird which flies through the sky searching for clothing that has been left on the clothesline overnight. When it finds some, it smears its poisonous blood on the clothing, and shortly afterward the owner of those clothes begins to develop shakes convulsions, possibly leading to death. They are also blamed for snatching babies and taking them away into the night sky. Whether this bird is another form of the ubume or a separate spirit with the same name is not known.

Ame onna


TRANSLATION: rain woman
HABITAT: dark streets and alleys; formerly clouds and holy mountains
DIET: unknown; possibly rain, or children

APPEARANCE: Ame onna are a class of yokai that appear on rainy days and nights. They summon rain wherever they go, and are often blamed for kidnapping and spiriting children away. They appear as depraved, haggish women, soaked with rainwater, often licking the rain off of their hands and arms like wild animals.

BEHAVIOR: Ame onna are related to minor rain deities. However, unlike the gods, ame onna are not benevolent. Though the rains they bring might save a village in drought or bring fortune to farmers, ame onna have another purpose in mind: they wander the villages on rainy nights looking for newborn babies. If they should find a child born that night, they snatch it and carry it off into the darkness, spiriting it away to turn it into another ame onna.

Mothers who have their babies snatched away in this manner are sometimes known to transform into ame onna themselves out of grief and despair. Having lost their minds, these transformed women roam the streets at night with large sacks hoping to replace what was stolen from them while they were still human. They sneak into houses where crying children can be heard, and steal them away from their homes into the night.

ORIGIN: The first ame onna go back to the ancient folk religions of Japan and China, where the rains were said to be brought by benevolent gods and goddesses who live as clouds by morning and as rain by night, forever traveling between heaven and earth. Legend has it that somehow, some of these rain-bringing goddesses became corrupted and gradually evolved into evil yokai, abandoning their divinity to live among mortals and prey upon them.

Taka onna


TRANSLATION: tall woman
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.

Kerakera onna


TRANSLATION: cackling woman
HABITAT: alleys near red light districts
DIET: none

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.

Hone onna


TRANSLATION: bone woman
HABITAT: dark streets, alleys, graveyards
DIET: none; though has a large sexual appetite

APPEARANCE: Not all who die turn into vengeful beings of grudge and jealousy. Hone onna retain an undying love that persists long after their flesh has rotted away, allowing them to continue to be with the object of their affection despite having died. These ghosts appear as they did in life – young, beautiful women in their prime. Only those unclouded by love or with strong religious faith are able to see through their disguise to their true form: rotting, fetid skeletal corpses returned from the grave.

INTERACTIONS: At night, a hone onna arises from the grave and wanders to the house of her former lover. Her appearance is a great shock to those who had believed her to be dead. This shock quickly turns into such joy that it blinds them to any clues that something might be wrong. Even the hone onna herself does not know of her condition, as she is driven only by love; she exists as a ghost only to continue the love she had in life. She spends the night and leaves in the morning, and this unholy coupling can continue for days or even weeks without being noticed. Each night she drains some of her lover’s life force, and he grows ever sicker and weaker. Without intervention, he will eventually die, joining his lover forever in death’s embrace.

In most cases, a friend or a servant of her lover will see through her illusion and alert someone to her true identity. Though her human lover may be repulsed by her when the truth is revealed to him, the ghost never realizes her condition and continues to visit every night. A home can be warded with prayers and magic charms against entry by ghosts, but they only work as long as the master of the house wills them to. As her body decays further, her enchanting allure only increases, and eventually most men succumb and let her into their homes one last time, sacrificing their own lives to the ghost of the woman they loved.

LEGENDS: Perhaps the most famous hone onna story is the of Otsuyu from Botan Dōrō, the Tale of the Peony Lantern. It has been adapted into puppet shows, kabuki plays, rakugo, and film, and remains a famous and influential ghost story today.

Kuchisake onna


TRANSLATION: slit-mouthed woman
HABITAT: dimly-lit streets and alleys
DIET: none; though enjoys hard candy

APPEARANCE: The spirits of the dead who were killed in particularly violent manners – abused wives, tortured captives, defeated enemies – often do not rest well. One such spirit is kuchisake onna, the ghost of a woman who was mutilated, come back to wreak vengeance on the world. Her name comes from the deep, bloody gash which runs across her face, grinning from ear to ear. She appears at night to lone travelers on the road, covering her grizzly mouth with a cloth mask, a fan, or a handkerchief.

INTERACTIONS: Kuchisake onna sneaks up on her victims in the dark and then asks them if they think she is beautiful: “Watashi, kirei?” If the victim answers yes, she pulls off her mask, revealing a red, blood-dripping, grotesque mouth. Then she asks in a grisly voice if they still think she is: “Kore demo?” If her victim answers no or screams in terror, she slashes him from ear to ear so that he resembles her. If he lies and answers yes a second time, she walks away, only to follow her target to his home and slaughter him brutally that night.

ORIGIN: During the Edo period, a large number of kuchisake onna attacks were blamed on shape-changed kitsune playing pranks on young men. During the 20th century, the blame began to be placed on ghosts, serial killers, and simple mass hysteria, resulting in many kuchisake onna sightings over Japan. A number of clever young people claim to have outsmarted them by delivering quick, confusing answers, or by throwing money or hard candy at her, buying themselves enough time to escape from her wrath and lose her in the darkness.

Hari onago


TRANSLATION: hook girl
ALTERNATE NAMES: hari onna (hook woman)
HABITAT: streets and alleys; found on Shikoku
DIET: young, virile men

APPEARANCE: A fearsome yokai known as hari onago appears at night on the roads of Shikoku, and is indistinguishable in the dark from an ordinary young woman with loose and disheveled hair. Upon closer look, however, the tip of each of her hairs is fitted with a needle-like, barbed hook – though if one is close enough to notice these hooks, it is probably already too late.

INTERACTIONS: Hari onago wanders the streets searching for victims – usually young, single men walking by themselves. When she comes across a suitable man, she smiles coyly at him. If the smile is returned, she attacks: she lets all of her hair down, and the barbed ends lash out with blinding speed and a will of their own, sinking deep into her victim’s flesh. Her strength is so great that even the strongest man can be overpowered by her hooks. Once her victim is ensnared and rendered helpless, she rips him into pieces with her hooks and devours the remains.

It is technically possible for a very fast runner to escape a hari onago, providing his home is close enough and has a sturdy door or gate. If he can get himself safely indoors before her hooks catch him, he may be able to survive until sunrise, when these yokai vanish. The scars and gouges she leaves in the wooden door frame remain as a testament to her viciousness, and as a cautionary tale to young men not to pick up strange girls.

Futakuchi onna


TRANSLATION: two-mouthed woman
HABITAT: usually occurs in married women
DIET: as a normal person, only twice as much

APPEARANCE: Families which notice their food stocks are shrinking at an alarming rate while the women in their houses rarely eat a bite may be the victims of a futakuchi onna infestation. Futakuchi onna appear just as a regular women until their terrible secret is revealed: in the back of their skulls, buried beneath of long, thick hair, is a second mouth, with large, fat lips, and full of teeth. This second mouth is ravenous, and uses long strands of hair like tentacles to gorge itself on any food it can find.

ORIGIN: In the folk tales of Japan’s eastern regions, futakuchi onna are most often thought to be shapechanged yama-uba posing as young women. In the western regions they are frequently shapechanged kumo, or magical spiders. In the other tales they are the result of curses brought about by wicked deeds, similar to rokuro-kubi. In each story, regardless of its true nature, this yokai is used as a punishment upon a greedy man or woman for wickedness and extreme parsimony.

LEGENDS: In a small rural village in Fukushima there lived a stingy miser who, because he could not bear the thought of paying for food to support a family, lived entirely by himself. One day he met a woman who did not eat anything at all, and he immediately took her for his wife. Because she never ate a thing, and was still a hard worker, the miser was thrilled with her. However, his stores of rice were steadily decreasing, and he could not figure why, for he never saw his wife eat.

One day the miser pretended to leave for work, but instead stayed behind to spy on his new wife. She untied her hair, revealing a second mouth on the back of her head, complete with ghastly lips and teeth. Her hair reached out with tentacle-like stalks and began to scoop rice balls into the second mouth, with cooed out with pleasure in a vulgar, raspy voice.

The miser was horrified and resolved to divorce his wife. However, she learned of his plan before he could act on it, and she trapped him in a bathtub and carried it off into the mountains. The miser managed to escape, and hid in a heavily-scented lily marsh, where the futakuchi-onna could not find him.

Another story tells of a wicked stepmother who always gave plenty of food to her own daughter, but never enough to her stepdaughter. Gradually the stepdaughter grew sicker and sicker, until she starved to death. Forty-nine days later, the wicked stepmother was afflicted with a terrible headache. The back of her head split open, and lips, teeth, and a tongue formed. The new mouth ached with debilitating pain until it was fed, and it shrieked in the voice of the dead stepdaughter. From then on the stepmother always had to feed both of her mouths, and always felt the hunger pangs of the stepdaughter she murdered.



TRANSLATION: removable neck
ALTERNATE NAMES: frequently referred to as rokurokubi
HABITAT: occurs in ordinary women
DIET: regular food by day, blood by night

APPEARANCE: This variant type of rokurokubi, known as the nukekubi, is similar in most respects to the first type, except that the head detaches itself completely from the body rather than stretching out on an elongated neck.

BEHAVIOR: Nukekubi are often much more violent than rokurokubi. Because their heads are detached, they can travel farther distances than the rokurokubi’s head can. Additionally they often possess a thirst for blood. The flying head usually sucks the blood of its victims like a vampire, but occasionally brutally bites humans and animals to death.

ORIGIN: Uncured, this curse has the potential to tear a family apart, particularly due to the more violent nature of this variant. A diagnosis reveals that nukekubi suffer from an infliction similar to somnambulism; only instead of walking about at night, the patient’s entire soul and head depart from the body. Treatments for the curse of the rokurokubi and nukekubi have been long sought after, particularly because these women can often pass their curse on to their daughters, who begin to shows signs of it as they mature. Girls afflicted with this curse were usually sold off to live in brothels or human circuses, or else forced submit to an honorable death by suicide to preserve their families’ honor.

LEGENDS: A famous account from Echizen tells of a young woman afflicted with the curse of the nukekubi. Her head flew about the capital city at night, chasing young men through the street and all the way back to their houses. Locked out, the head would scratch and bite their doors and gates during the night, leaving deep gashes in the wood. When the young girl eventually discovered her curse, she was so ashamed that she asked her husband to divorce her. She ritually cut off all of her hair in repentance for her curse, and then committed suicide, believing it was better to die than to live the rest of her life as a monster.

According to lore from Hitachi, a man married to a nukekubi heard from a peddler that the liver of a white-haired dog can remove the curse. He killed his dog and fed its liver to his wife, and sure enough she was cured of the affliction. However, her curse had been passed on to her daughter, whose flying head took to biting white dogs to death. Other accounts claim that by removing the sleeping body to a safe place during the night, the head will not be able return, and will eventually die – however this is not a cure that most families are happy to try.



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.

Ohaguro bettari


TRANSLATION: nothing but blackened teeth
ALTERNATE NAMES: often referred to as a kind of nopperabō
HABITAT: dark streets near shrines
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Late at night a disturbing yokai can be seen loitering near temples and shrines, dressed in beautiful wedding clothes. She calls single young men over to her, who are seldom able to resist her charms. Until of course, they see her up close…

From behind, an ohaguro bettari looks like a beautiful woman wearing a kimono – often a newlywed in her bridal gown. She appears usually at twilight outside of a temple, or occasionally inside a man’s own house, disguised as his wife. At first, her head is concealed, or turned away from any viewers. Any man struck by curiosity who comes closer to speak to her or to get a better look at her face will be surprised as she turns to reveal her face: an ugly, white, featureless dome slathered in thick makeup, with nothing but a huge, gaping mouth full of blackened teeth. She follows up this initial shock with a horrible cackle, sending the man running away and screaming in terror.

ORIGIN: Ohaguro bettari is very similar to noppera-bō in appearance and demeanor. Because of this, she is often blamed, like nopperabō, on a shape-shifting prankster kitsune, tanuki, or mujina looking to have a laugh at the expense of an unwitting human. It has also been suggested that she is the ghost of an ugly woman who was unable to marry. Accurate eye-witness reports are hard to come by due to the embarrassment of the victims at having fallen for such a silly gag. However as no deaths or injuries (other than to pride) have been attributed to ohaguro bettari, and because sightings are rare, a mischievous shape-shifting animal yokai seems to be the most plausible explanation.

Iso onna


TRANSLATION: coast woman
HABITAT: coasts, particularly rocky ones; native to Kyushu
DIET: blood

APPEARANCE: Iso onna are dangerous vampires from Kyushu and Western Japan looking for fisherman and travelers to feed upon. They are closely related to nure onna, despite having no serpentine features at all. Iso onna wander rocky beaches, hunting for prey.

Individual accounts of iso onna vary quite a bit when it comes to their appearance. In most cases, they appear as beautiful women who have just come out of the water, dripping wet. Their hair is long and matted, reaching almost all the way down to the sand. Their eyes are heavy with sultry, sexual energy, and their wet clothes stick, nearly transparent, to their skin. From the waist up, they appear like ordinary human women, albeit soaking wet, while from the waist down, they are slightly blurry and transparent, betraying their ghostly nature. In some regions, iso onna are said to have serpentine bodies like nure onna, while in other regions they are said to be large enough to crush ships out at sea, like umi-bōzu. They also have the ability to disguise themselves perfectly as large beach rocks when they don’t want to be seen.

INTERACTIONS: When Iso onna appear to humans on sandy beaches, they look like beautiful women, staring far out to sea. When somebody approaches and tries speak to them, they turn around and let out an ear-piercing shriek, which stuns their victim. Then they lashes out with their long hair and drag their prey into the sea, where they drains their victim’s blood with their hair.

On rocky coasts without sandy beaches, iso onna appear sitting on the cliffs and calling out to passersby in an eerie voice. Their victims are mesmerized into walking straight towards them, ignoring the dangers posed by the rocky cliffs. They walk off the cliffs and fall to their deaths, leaving the iso onna free to feed on their bodies.

Iso onna are occasionally encountered far out at sea, but they otherwise act the same as they do on land, capturing their human prey and draining their victims’ blood using their long hair.

Iso onna are most commonly encountered during the holiday seasons of Obon and New Years Eve, when the border between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead can be more easily crossed. They occasionally cooperate with ushi oni to catch their prey.

Nure onna


TRANSLATION: wet woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: nure-yomejo
HABITAT: coasts, rivers, and other bodies of water; native to Kyushu
DIET: blood

APPEARANCE: Nure onna are vampiric sea serpents who haunt shores and rivers, looking for humans to eat. They are most commonly found on the shores of Kyushu, but there are stories of nure onna encounters as far north as Niigata and as far east as Fukushima. There are two variations of nure onna: one without arms, which resembles an enormous sea serpent with a woman’s head, and one with human-like arms. Aside from this difference, the two varieties look and act in exactly the same manner. Their faces are hideous and often betray serpent-like features, such as a forked tongue. They have long black hair which sticks to their dripping bodies. The name comes from the fact that they always appear sopping wet.

INTERACTIONS: While physically much stronger than a human, nure onna prefer to use trickery and guile to catch their prey, rather than relying on brute force. They most often appear on the coast near the water or by a riverbank, magically disguised as a distressed woman carrying a bundled up baby. They cry out for help from fishers, sailors, or anybody passing by. When the prey approaches, a nure onna will plead with him to hold her baby for just a moment so that she can rest.

If he agrees and takes the bundle, it quickly becomes as heavy as a boulder, and her victim is unable to move. The Nure onna is then free to attack her helpless victim, feeding by draining his blood with her long, serpentine tongue.

Nure onna frequently appear together and cooperate with ushi oni, as they inhabit the same environments and share the same diet.

Yuki onna


TRANSLATION: snow woman
HABITAT: mountain passes; anywhere there is snow
DIET: life energy; can also eat ordinary food

APPEARANCE: Yuki onna prey on travelers lost in the heavy snowstorms that blanket the Japanese Alps in winter. They have an otherworldly beauty, with long black hair and piercing eyes colored deep violet. Their skin is ageless and as white as snow. Their bodies are as cold as ice, and a mere touch is enough to give a human a deep, unshakable chill. She feeds on human life force, sucking it from their mouths into hers with an icy breath that often freezes her victims solid.

INTERACTIONS: Yuki onna sometimes fall in love with their intended prey and let them go free. Some marry humans and live happily together with their husbands. As supernatural spirits never age, however, they never age, and their husbands inevitably discover their true identities, ending these happy marriages. Most yuki onna are not this congenial, however, and spend their lives hunting humans in the snow. They stay near mountain roads and prey on the travelers coming and going, or break into homes and flash-freeze all of the inhabitants during the night.

LEGENDS: In Niigata, an elderly man operated an inn on a mountain trail with his wife. One snowy night, the inn was visited by a young lady who was traveling alone. She warmed herself by the fire and ate together with the innkeeper and his wife. She was sweet and charming and extremely beautiful. In the middle of the night, during a fierce blizzard, she stood up and made to leave the inn. The innkeeper begged her not to go outside, and took her hand to hold her back. It was as cold as ice, and merely touching it sucked all the warmth from the innkeeper’s body, causing him to shiver violently. As he tried to keep her in the house, her entire body turned into a fine icy mist, and shot up the chimney and out into the night.

A man from Yamagata claimed that he had been married to a yuki onna. His wife was beautiful, with piercing eyes and skin as white as a marble statue. While he loved to take long hot baths every night, his wife always refused to bathe, which puzzled him greatly. One particularly cold and snow night, he insisted that his wife take a bath, lest she freeze to death in the cold. She protested, but there was no reasoning with the man, and finally she acquiesced. When he went in to check on her a few minutes later, all he found remaining in the tub were thin, half-melted icicle fragments.



TRANSLATION: mountain hag, mountain crone
ALTERNATE NAMES: yamanba, onibaba
HABITAT: isolated huts or caves, deep in the mountains
DIET: generally eats human food, but will cook anything available

APPEARANCE: Yamauba are the old hags and witches of the Japanese mountains and forests. A kind of kijo, yama uba were once human, but were corrupted and transformed into monsters. They usually appear as kind old ladies. Some sport horns or fangs, but most often they look just like ordinary elderly women, with no sign of their evil nature until they attack.

INTERACTIONS: Yamauba live alone in huts by the road, occasionally offering shelter, food, and a place to sleep for the night to weary travelers. Late at night when their guests are fast asleep, they transform into their true shape – an ugly, old, demonic witch –and try to catch and eat their guests, often using powerful magic. Stories of encounters with yamauba have been passed along and spread by those few travelers lucky enough to escape with their lives, and are frequently told as bedtime stories to disobedient children.

ORIGIN: Sometimes yamauba are created when young women accused of crimes or wicked deeds flee into the wilderness and live out their lives in exile, transforming gradually over many years as they grow older. In some cases, though, their origin can be explained by an old custom from times of famine or economic hardship. When it became impossible to feed everyone in the family, often times families had to make a hard choice: remove one family member so that the rest can survive. Often this was the newly born or the elderly. Some families led their senile mothers deep into the woods and left them there to die. These abandoned old women, either out of rage or desperation, transformed into horrible monsters who feed on humans and practice black magic.



TRANSLATION: ogress, demoness
HABITAT: Hell; remote mountains, caves, islands, secluded huts
DIET: omnivorous; anything and anybody, particularly travelers

APPEARANCE: Kijo are female demons. They resemble human women in most ways, although they are usually hideously ugly to behold. Most kijo were, in fact, once human women, but hatred, or jealously, a curse, or a wicked crime corrupted their souls their bodies into monstrous forms. Some have red or yellow eyes, blue skin, sharp horns, long claws, or other supernatural features. Usually they dress in rags and wear their hair long and unkempt, living like savages far from civilization.

BEHAVIOR: Kijo refers chiefly to women who have been transformed from humans into horrible monsters – either out of intense jealousy, wicked crimes committed, or a terrible grudge that twists the soul into pure hatred. These transformed women retreat from common society into more secluded places where they continue to perpetrate their wicked deeds. They can be found living in remote mountain caves, abandoned houses, or along mountain roads where they can receive a steady supply of victims. Kijo are stronger than most humans, though their strength pales in comparison to oni. Where these demonesses excel is in magic. They accumulate powerful spells over their long lives, and are capable of bestowing hexes and curses, the ability to brew poisons and potions, and the weaving powerful illusions. Some kijo dedicate themselves to personal vengeance or some political goal, but just as often they keep to themselves and go unnoticed by humankind for centuries.

INTERACTIONS: Like oni, kijo are the stuff of Japanese legends. Innumerable fairy tales, bedtime stories, kabuki plays, films, and so on have been created to entertain, to caution, and to preach morality. Women who do bad things might turn into kijo, and men who go after unscrupulous women might be heading to their deaths unknowingly.

ORIGIN: Kijo is a very broad term that in its most general sense encompasses any female demon, just as the term oni can technically refer to any male demon. Indeed, the name kijo is formed simply by combining the two kanji for “oni” and “woman.” Though their name might suggest that kijo are the female counterparts to the male oni, there is nothing substantial to support this. While tales point to oni working either as tormentors of the damned or as menaces to human society in the living world, kijo do not seem to have any connection to Hell or the afterlife; kijo generally work solo and have their own motives. Further, kijo and oni are not commonly seen together, and little to nothing is known about how either creature reproduces (or if they even do). Rather, it is likely that kijo are entirely separate creatures from oni, other than the fact that both are commonly born from a corrupted human soul.



TRANSLATION: crippled wheel
HABITAT: Hell; encountered on roads and mountain passes, and occasionally villages
DIET: souls

APPEARANCE: Instead of a giant monk’s head stuck in a wheel, katawaguruma appears as a tormented naked woman riding a single, flaming ox-cart wheel, eternally suffering and burning with pain.

BEHAVIOR: Katawaguruma looks and acts in much the same manner as wa-nyūdō, rolling along the roads of Japan, occasionally stopping in towns to hunt for impure souls to drag back to her hellish masters.

INTERACTIONS: These demons bestow powerful curses on any who see them, and this curse spreads rapidly through town, by the sharing of news and gossip about the katawaguruma. Eventually this can bringing calamity upon an entire village. Despite this, there is evidence that the katawaguruma has a capacity for mercy alien to its male counterpart.

LEGENDS: In a 17th century record, when a katawaguruma attacked a village in what is now Shiga, she abducted the child of a woman who dared to peek at her through a crack in her door, saying “Instead of watching me you should have been watching your child!” The woman was distraught and realized her own curiosity was responsible for the loss of her child. She composed a poem expressing her faults, and displayed it all around town, warning others to watch their children more carefully. The next night, the katawaguruma returned and saw that the woman was truly regretful, and returned the child unharmed. The katawaguruma was never seen in that village again.

Azuki babā


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

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

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

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



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.

Nure onago


ALTERNATE NAMES: nure hanayome (wet bride)
HABITAT: watersides, wetlands, fishing villages; anywhere near water
DIET: attention

APPEARANCE: Nure onago appear as disheveled-looking young girls with matted, wet hair. As the name implies, they are soaked with water from head to toe. Often they are covered with dead leaves and things which have stuck to their dripping bodies. They are often encountered on roads near swamps, rivers, and coasts, or during nights of heavy rain, wandering about, dripping and sopping wet.

INTERACTIONS: Travelers along the coasts and rivers of Shikoku and Kyushu occasionally encounter these (apparent) young girls, lost, and soaked to the bone with water. Most people who witness such a pathetic sight rush over quickly to help the poor lost girl. When a human draws close to a nure onago, she looks up into their eyes and smiles. If the smile is returned, she will follow the helpful stranger human, sticking by him forever, wherever he goes, always dripping and stinking of mildew and swamp water. Although she causes no particular harm, her constant presence is often enough to ruin the rest of a person’s life.

Ignoring a nure onago and refusing to return her smile before attracting her attention is the only way to avoid this yokai. Unfortunately by the time her true nature is discovered, it is often too late.

ORIGIN: Nure onago come from the strong feelings of loss and sadness shared by widows of drowning victims – particular those widows of sailors lost at sea. These feelings build up and materialize into a nure onago, whose desire for attention is the amplified desire of heartbroken widows to see their husbands again.

Nure onago have very similar behavior to hari onago, and the two are sometimes grouped together as warai onago, smiling girls. Both are also found in Shikoku, suggesting a possible relation between the two. They should not, however, be confused with the similarly named nure-onna, which is much larger and more dangerous.