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TRANSLATION: promoted giant triton
HABITAT: migrates from mountains, to valleys, and finally to seas

APPEARANCE: Like many animals, giant tritons (Charonia tritonis)—a kind of sea snail similar to a conch—can turn into yōkai after living for a very long time. When a giant triton reaches an age of several thousand years old, it turns into a draconic creature called a shussebora.

BEHAVIOR: Long ago, it was believed that giant tritons lived deep in the mountains. They spend their lives buried under the earth. They grow larger and larger, until after three thousand years they descend from the mountains into the valleys during landslides. They spend three thousand more years living near human villages, until they finally burrow into the sea. After three thousand more years underwater, they transform into a mizuchi—a kind of sea dragon.

INTERACTIONS: Because they spend their years buried in the earth or deep in the sea, shussebora very rarely ever interact with people. However, the caves they leave behind during their migrations serve as a testament to their existence. All over Japan, after landslides people have discovered large caves which shussebora were thought to have lived in. These discoveries were even documented in newspapers during the Meiji period.

The flesh of a shussebora was said to bring very long life to anyone who eats it. However, as there is no documented evidence of this, and nobody who has actually eaten a shussebora has come forth, this is thought to be just rumor.

ORIGIN: Because of the ambiguous nature of these creatures—the rumors about their life-giving meat, and the lack of any evidence other the caves they allegedly lived in—the phrase “hora wo fuku” (“to blow a conch shell”), meaning “to brag,” is said to have originated from this yōkai.



TRANSLATION: shark person
HABITAT: oceans; particularly the South China Sea
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Kōjin are aquatic humanoids that closely resemble ningyo. Unlike the merfolk of Western legends, Asian merfolk are monstrous in appearance. Kōjin have black, scaly shark-like bodies, and ugly, human-like facial features and arms.

BEHAVIOR: Kōjin are native to the South China Sea, where they live a life similar to other merfolk. They are well known for their skill at weaving, and they spend much of their lives working on their looms. The sea silk that they weave is of the finest quality and doesn’t get wet even in the water. They are very emotional, and cry frequently. When they cry, pearls (or precious gems, by some accounts) fall from their eyes instead of tears.

ORIGIN: The kōjin is better known in the West by the alternate reading of its kanji—samebito. This is because of Lafcadio Hearn, who included a story about a samebito in his book of Japanese folk tales, Shadowings.

LEGENDS: Long ago, a man named Tawaraya Tōtarō lived on the shore of Lake Biwa. One day, he came across a strange looking creature crouching near the base of a bridge. It resembled a man, but its body was inky black, it had the face of a demon and the beard of a dragon, and its eyes were like green emeralds. Although Tōtarō was scared, the green eyes seemed gentle to him, and so he approached the creature. The creature introduced himself as a samebito. He had served as an officer under the Eight Great Dragon Kings in the dragon palace of Ryūgū-jō, but was banished from the palace and exiled from the sea due to a small mistake he had made. Since then, he had been wandering, unable to find food or shelter. He begged Tōtarō for help.

Tōtarō pitied the samebito. He took the samebito back to his home, where he had a small garden with a pond. He told the samebito that he could live there for as long as he wanted, and he could have as much food as he wanted to eat. For six months they lived together, and every day Tōtarō brought the samebito fresh food fit for a sea creature.

During the seventh month, Tōtarō went to a festival at Mii-dera, where a great pilgrimage of women had come. There, he met a woman of extraordinary beauty and refinement, with skin as white as snow, and a voice like a nightingale. Her name was Tamana, and Tōtarō fell in love with her at first sight. Totaro followed Tamana home, and discovered that she lived in the same town in which he had met the samebito. He also learned that she was unmarried, and that her family wanted her to marry a man of rank. They demanded as a betrothal gift a casket of ten thousand jewels from whomever wished to marry Tamana.

Tōtarō fell into despair, knowing that even if there were ten thousand jewels in all of Japan, he would never be able to procure them. Though it seemed impossible that he could ever make Tamana his wife, he could not get her lovely face and sweet voice out of his mind. It haunted him so much that he refused to eat or sleep, and became so ill that he could not even lift his head from his pillow. It seemed that he would die of a broken heart. The samebito, whom Tōtarō had cared for in his time of despair, entered the house to care for Tōtarō in his last days. Tōtarō apologized to the samebito, fearing that after his death, the samebito would lose his home and his means of survival, and would die as well. The samebito was so touched by Tōtarō’s compassion that he began to cry. Great tears of blood spilled from his green eyes and down his black cheeks, but by the time they hit the floor they had hardened into splendid rubies.

At this sight, Tōtarō instantly found new strength, and began to gather the jewels. The samebito, astonished at Tōtarō’s recovery, stopped crying. Of course, the flow of jewels also stopped. Tōtarō begged the samebito to continue crying until he had ten thousand jewels, but the samebito regretfully replied that he could only weep when he felt true grief in his heart. Seeing that Tōtarō’s sickness was cured, the samebito was filled with nothing but relief, and thus could not cry anymore. The samebito suggested that they visit the bridge where they had first met to reminisce, and perhaps he could cry again.

The next day, Tōtarō and the samebito visited the bridge. They ate fish and drank wine, and watched the setting sun. Seeing the sun set over the sparkling sea, and with a little help from the wine, the samebito thought about his former life in the sea and his happy days in the dragon palace. He was overcome with homesickness and began to weep profusely. A great shower of jewels covered the bridge. Tōtarō began gathering them up. When he had collected ten thousand jewels he shouted for joy. At the same moment, a delightful song was heard far away in the sea. Like a cloud, a glorious palace made of coral the color of the setting sun rose out of the water. The samebito leaped with joy. He explained to Tōtarō that the Eight Great Dragon Kings must have granted him amnesty and were calling him back home. He bade his farewell to Tōtarō, thankful for his kindness and their friendship, and then dove into the sea.

Tōtarō never saw the samebito again. He brought the casket of ten thousand jewels to Tamana’s family and presented them as a betrothal gift. Shortly after, Tōtarō and Tamana were married.



TRANSLATION: horse head
ALTERNATE NAMES: mezuki (horse head demon)
HABITAT: Meido and Jigoku

APPEARANCE: In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu and Mezu are the demon generals who guard the gates of hell. They appear as terrible oni with animal heads; an ox head for Gozu, and a horse head for Mezu. They are extremely powerful and have the strength to move mountains. They are servants of Great King Enma, the ruler of hell, and are among the chief torturers and punishers of the wicked.

INTERNACTIONS: Gozu and Mezu are the first demons that one encounters upon entering hell. Should a person manage to escape from hell, Gozu and Mezu are sent out to bring them back.

ORIGIN: Though Gozu and Mezu are the most famous and most commonly depicted in story and art, they are not the only animal-headed demons in Great King Enma’s employ. Deer, tiger, lion, and boar-headed demons are also said to serve among the upper ranks of the guardians of hell. They operate the great torture chambers of Jigoku and oversee the torment of countless souls. Gozu, Mezu, and other animal-headed demons originate in Indian mythology, which was imported along with Buddhism to Japan by way of China.



ALTERNATE NAMES: gozuki (ox head demon)
HABITAT: Meido and Jigoku

APPEARANCE: In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu and Mezu are the demon generals who guard the gates of hell. They appear as terrible oni with animal heads; an ox head for Gozu, and a horse head for Mezu. They are extremely powerful and have the strength to move mountains. They are servants of Great King Enma, the ruler of hell, and are among the chief torturers and punishers of the wicked.

INTERNACTIONS: Gozu and Mezu are the first demons that one encounters upon entering hell. Should a person manage to escape from hell, Gozu and Mezu are sent out to bring them back.

ORIGIN: Though Gozu and Mezu are the most famous and most commonly depicted in story and art, they are not the only animal-headed demons in Great King Enma’s employ. Deer, tiger, lion, and boar-headed demons are also said to serve among the upper ranks of the guardians of hell. They operate the great torture chambers of Jigoku and oversee the torment of countless souls. Gozu, Mezu, and other animal-headed demons originate in Indian mythology, which was imported along with Buddhism to Japan by way of China.



TRANSLATION: earth prison; hell

APPEARANCE: Souls who are deemed unworthy of rebirth in the five upper Buddhist realms find themselves in the worst afterlife of all—Jigoku, or Buddhist hell. Though it is described as one realm, Jigoku is not just one place. There are countless different hells, which are usually separated into eight hot hells and eight cold hells. These are further subdivided into many other smaller planes and demi-planes—more than 64,000 according to some counts—and each one has a uniquely specialized form of punishment and length of stay, tailor-made to the sins of its inhabitants. While there are many different levels of hell in Japanese Buddhism, the general term Jigoku usually refers to the eight hot hells, also known as the eight great hells. The eight great hells are as follows:

Tōkatsu Jigoku, the reviving hell, is the plane of hell reserved for those who commit the sin of killing. Those who kill without remorse go to this hell. Even the killing of lesser creatures such as mosquitoes, flies, or ants—unless repented—will cause a soul to go to this hell. In addition, people who were particularly pugilistic in life, and those who died in mutiny or uprisings will also fall into this hell. Here, the ground is ever hot and burning. Denizens of this hell must fight each other with iron claws, tearing each other to pieces. Terrible oni roam the land, smashing, and pulverizing souls with their iron clubs. As soon as a soul dies, a cool breeze blows and it is instantly revived, and must fight to the death again. Souls here experience the pain of being killed countless times, for a life span in the reviving hell lasts 500 years. However, time in hell is measured differently than in the world of the living: one day in this hell is equivalent to 500 years in the realm of the Four Heavenly Kings, while one day there is equivalent to 50 years on earth. Therefore, a soul in Tōkatsu Jigoku must continue this punishment for over 1.6 trillion human years.

Kokujō Jigoku, the hell of black threads, is reserved for those who have not only killed but also committed the sin of theft. Here, oni knock the souls onto the hot ground and mark lines on their body with black threads. Then, using axes and saws, the bodies are hacked to pieces along the markings made by the threads. Others are made to carry heavy piles of hot iron across a tightrope suspended over a giant frying pan. When the victims fall, they are boiled and hacked to pieces in the pan. One life span here lasts a thousand years; however, a day in this hell is equivalent to 1000 years in the realm of Tōriten, while one day in Tōriten is equivalent to 100 years in the human realm. This works out to about 13.3 trillion human years.

Shugō Jigoku, the crushing hell, is reserved for sinners who have killed, stolen, and also committed the sin of lewdness. The suffering here is ten times greater than that of Kokujō Jigoku. Denizens here are crushed repeatedly between mountains of iron, being pulverized into a bloody jelly. When the mountains separate, life is restored and the process begins again. Trees with razor-like leaves dot the landscape, and beautiful men and women beckon to the souls from the tree tops. The lustful inhabitants climb the trees, slicing their bodies up in the process, and when they reach the treetops the beautiful men and women reappear at the bottoms of the trees, beckoning them back down. As blood and severed organs spout from the bodies, giant demons and beasts rush in to gobble of their entrails and pound the souls into a bloody mush. Fellators have their tongues stretched out and nailed to their ears. Pedophiles have molten copper pumped into their anuses until it pours out of their mouths. Homosexuals see their lovers covered in flames, and are forced to embrace them, only to be burned and torn into pieces themselves. Souls remain here for 2000 years; however, one day here lasts 2000 years in the realm of Yamaten, and one day in Yamaten lasts 200 human years. Thus, a lifetime here is equivalent to over 106 trillion human years.

Kyōkan Jigoku, the screaming hell, is for murders, thieves, lechers, and alcoholics. The suffering here is ten times stronger than in the previous hell. Here, sinners are thrown into boiling pots or locked up in iron chambers and roasted by oni. Those who committed crimes while drunk have their mouths wrenched open and molten iron is poured into their bellies. The cries of anguish of the denizens only serve to anger the oni further, and they fire arrows at the souls or bash them with iron clubs to make them stop, at which point they only revive and resume their suffering. One lifetime here lasts 4000 years, of which one day is equal to 4000 years in Tosotsuten, of which one day is equal to 400 human years. Thus, a condemned soul will spend over 852 trillion years in Kyōkan Jigoku.

Daikyōkan Jigoku, the hell of great screaming, contains murderers, thieves, debauchers, drunks, and liars. The suffering inflicted here is ten times worse than in the previous hell. Here, the tongues of the damned are pierced with iron nails and stretched and torn from their bodies, after which they grow back and are immediately pierced and torn again. This continues for 8000 years, one day of which equals 8000 years in Kerakuten, where one day is equivalent to 800 human years. The damned in Daikyōkan Jigoku suffer for an equivalent of roughly 6.8 quadrillion years.

Jōnetsu Jigoku, the burning hell, contains killers, robbers, perverts, drunkards, liars, and those who have held thoughts or beliefs contrary to Buddhist teachings. Here, the tortured souls are beaten with red-hot iron clubs. They have hot skewers thrust through their mouths and out their anuses, and are broiled over a great sea of fire. A life span in this hell lasts 16,000 years, one day of which equals 16,000 years in Takejizaiten, where one day is equivalent to 1,600 years on earth. A damned soul here spends the equivalent of 54.5 quadrillion human years.

Daijōnetsu Jigoku, the hell of great burning, is much the same as Jōnetsu Jigoku, only much hotter. The suffering here is equivalent to ten times more than all of the higher hells combined. This plane of hell is reserved for sinners who have committed all of the crimes listed previously in addition to physical crimes against Buddhist clergy—for example, raping a nun. The screams of the tortured souls here are so terrible that they can be heard up to 24,000 miles away. The power of this hell is so great that those who are to be sentenced here begin to feel their suffering up to three days before they actually die. The punishment on this level of hell lasts one half of an antarakalpa—a unit of time in Indian cosmology that is so unfathomably long that it defies mathematical description.

Mugen Jigoku, the hell of uninterrupted suffering, is the eighth and deepest circle of hell. It is reserved for the worst of the worst—murders of their own parents; killers of saints; those who have betrayed every single Buddhist precept. The souls down here are so hungry and thirsty that they tear apart their own bodies and drink their own blood in a useless attempt to ease their suffering. Words literally cannot describe how awful this hell is; if Mugen Jigoku were ever accurately described, both the reader and the writer would die from the sheer horror of it. It is so deep that it takes 2000 years of falling, non-stop, at terminal velocity, for a soul to descend all the way into this hell. Some say that those who are sent here never come back, while others say that the term of punishment here lasts one full antarakalpa, after which the soul may reincarnate again; although, even after a soul is finally released from this hell, its punishment is said to continue on into its next lives.

INTERACTIONS: Because Jigoku is so terrible and the buddhas so merciful, the tortured souls in Jigoku are allowed a few more trials like the ones they received in Meido to see whether they can be released from hell early or not—or at least have their existence “upgraded” to a less torturous one. On specific days, Buddhist memorial services are held by the deceased’s surviving relatives. While the specifics of what exactly happens in Jigoku vary between different Buddhist traditions, this is one explanation of the trials:

100 days after death marks the first trial in Jigoku. These trials are not so much judgments, as the soul is already being tortured in hell. They are more like appeals, where the soul (and his or her still-living family) get to appeal to the gods and the buddhas for one more chance at salvation. During the first of these trials, the soul is brought before King Byōdō (whose true form is Kannon Bosatsu, also known as Guanyin or Avalokitesvara in English).

On the 1 year anniversary of the death, the soul is once again brought to trial. This time the judge is King Toshi (whose true form is Seishi Bosatsu, or Mahasthamaprapta).

On the 2nd year anniversary of one’s death (the beginning of the third year after death), the soul is granted another chance for salvation by trial. King Godō-tenrin (whose true form is Amida Nyōrai, or Amitabha) presides over this judgment. In Chinese Buddhism, this tenth trial is the last chance for salvation; however, in some forms of Japanese Buddhism the soul still gets three more chances for salvation from Jigoku.

The next trial occurs 6 years after death, and is presided over by King Renge (whose true form is Ashuku Nyōrai, or Akshobhya).

Another trial occurs 12 years after death, and is presided over by King Gion (whose true form is Dainichi Nyōrai, or Vairocana).

The thirteenth and final trial occurs 32 years after death. This last trial is presided over by King Houkai (whose true form is Kokūzō Bosatsu, or Akasagarbha). Those who fail all three of these final tests, either through their own faults or from lack of prayers by their living relatives, are damned to remain in hell for a very, very long time before they can be reborn into one of the five other realms.

ORIGIN: Like Meido, the Japanese concept of Jigoku derives from Chinese Buddhism—specifically the concept of Diyu, which is in turn derived from the Indian Buddhist concept of Naraka. After being imported to Japan from China, it developed other uniquely Japanese features, although it never merged with the native Shinto concept of hell, Yomi.

Ono no Takamura

Ono no Takamura小野篁

APPEARANCE: Ono no Takamura was a noble, scholar, poet, and government official who lived in the first half of the 9th century. He is famous for being clever, quick-witted, and somewhat insolent. But he is even more famous for his side job in hell as an attendant to Great King Enma.

LEGENDS: Near the temple Rokudōchinnō-ji in Kyōto, there is a spot where the boundary between the world of the dead and the world of the living can be crossed. There are many stories in that area of ghosts returning to this world and trying to buy candy from stores, or visiting lost relatives. Ono no Takamura knew of this, and discovered a way to travel freely between the world of the dead and the world of the living. He would enter the underworld every night by climbing down a well located in the garden of Rokudōchinnō-ji, and return every morning by climbing out of a well located in the temple Sagano Fukusei-ji.

According to one legend, a nobleman named Fujiwara no Yoshimi fell very ill and died soon after. His soul crossed the Sanzu River, and traveled to Meido to be judged. When he reached the court of King Enma, a familiar voice spoke up from the darkness next to the judge and said, “I know this soul. In life, he served as an imperial minister, and was a noble and virtuous man. Please trust my judgment and return him to life.” When Yoshimi raised his head, he saw that the voice belonged to Ono no Takamura—and he was serving as one of King Enma’s councilors! King Enma replied, “Well, if you say so I suppose it can’t be helped,” and ordered his hell-guards to return Yoshimi to the world of the living.

A few days later, Fujiwara no Yoshimi approached Ono no Takamura at the imperial court. When Yoshimi asked Takamura about what he saw in Meido, Takamura appeared troubled and replied, “My work there is actually a secret, so please don’t tell anybody else about what you saw…” Afterwards, Yoshimi began to grow more and more fearful of Takamura’s power and position. Rumors spread through the capital that Takamura was King Enma’s right hand man. Many feared him.

Rokudōchinnō-ji still stands in Kyōto today. In the Enma Hall, right next to the statue of Great King Enma is another statue—one of Ono no Takamura. The well which Takamura used to enter the world of the dead still remains on the temple garden; however Sagano Fukusei-ji no longer stands, and the place where Takamura’s exit well once stood is now a bamboo forest.



TRANSLATION: clothes-hanging old man
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: 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.

Enma Daiō

Enma Daiou閻魔大王

TRANSLATION: Great King Enma

HABITAT: Jigoku and Meido

APPEARANCE: Enma Daiō is the ruler of hell (both Jigoku and Meido) and the foremost of the 13 judges of the dead. He has dresses in the robes of an ancient government official from the Chinese Tang Dynasty, and wears a fearsome expression upon his face. He is served by two secretaries, Shiroku and Shimyō, as well as a number of other demonic servants—the chiefs of which are Gozu and Mezu. His name often is invoked by parents who scold their children, “If you tell a lie, Enma will rip out your tongue!”

BEHAVIOR: Enma’s chief duty is to judge the souls of the newly dead and send them on to their next location. He keeps a great scroll in which he records all of the good and evil deeds of each and every person to use as evidence against them when their time of judgment comes. He oversees the torturing and suffering in hell, making sure that each soul gets enough punishment.

ORIGIN: Like many demonic figures in Japanese folklore, Great King Enma has a honji, or “true form,” which is that of a Buddha or bodhisattva. Enma’s true form is Jizō Bosatsu, the guardian of the underworld, god of travelers, and protector of children. Jizō is a warm and compassionate, beloved across Japan, deity who made a solemn vow not to become a full Buddha until all souls have been freed from suffering in hell. It is not uncommon to see small, red-bibbed, stone Jizō statues along roads and paths, and in graveyards all over Japan. While Enma may seem fearsome and terrifying, at heart, he is a kind and compassionate god, and he truly wishes to save each soul from damnation—this may be why the souls of the dead are given so many tests and trials to avoid going to hell.

Enma’s origins lie in India. In Vedic mythology he is known as Yama, the god of death. From the Vedas, the idea of Yama spread into Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Buddhism traveled to China, bringing Yama with it, and mixed with local religions and superstitions before being brought to Japan during the Tang Dynasty. As Chinese Buddhism mixed with Japanese religions and superstitions, he gradually developed into the god known as Great King Enma.



TRANSLATION: dark way; the underworld

APPEARANCE: When someone dies, they either go to Tengoku (heaven) or Jigoku (hell). If they lived an exceptionally good or an exceptionally evil life, they may go straight to Tengoku or Jigoku. However, for most people—who have done both and good and evil in their lives—the soul travels to Meido. There they face a test by the judges of the dead, each of whose true form is that of a buddha or a god. They are then sent either to Tengoku or Jigoku. Meido is a terrible place—though nowhere near as terrible as Jigoku. It is dark, windy, and full of horrible sights, sounds, tests and trials. It is a long journey, with no place to rest or find comfort.

To enter the underworld, the soul much first find and cross the Sanzu River, the River of Three Crossings, which marks the boundary between this world and the world of the dead. The Sanzu River is said to be located somewhere on Mount Osore, literally Mount Fear, a desolate volcano located in northern Japan. Despite its appearance—covered in blasted rocks, bubbling pits of dark liquid, and open vents spewing out toxic gas—Mount Osore is one of the three holiest places in Japan. Itako, blind shamanesses, communicate with the dead as they approach the mountain. The itako take hallucinogenic mushrooms known as skull mushrooms (ōdokurodake—big skull mushrooms; himedokurodake—princess skull mushrooms; and onidokurodake—demon skull mushrooms) which sprout only on the crags of this caldera.

INTERACTIONS: There are many variations on what exactly happens after this life ends. These are often depicted in graphic hell scrolls kept at temples. The depictions differ greatly from tradition to tradition and place to place. A typical explanation may go like this:

Upon dying, souls are visited by three oni who escort them on a seven day journey to Meido. The journey is harsh and terrible. It is dark, and a strong, howling wind rages constantly. The corruption of the living world materializes into swords on this plane, which pierce the bodies of the travelers, turning the surrounding terrain into a sea of blood.

A few days along the way, the souls are assaulted by horrible birds, which tear at their skin and pluck out their eyes. All the while the birds taunt them and scream at them to hurry up. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I would have hurried from the start!” cry the souls of the dead. “What is this stupid soul saying!” cry the birds. “We were perched on his roof since three days before he died, warning him to start saying his prayers! That fool only said, ‘The crows are being extra noisy today. The old woman next door must be dying. Go bring her some sugar.’ Well the old woman is still alive, happily licking her sugar!”

Next, the souls come to an enormous mountain which scrapes the clouds, covered in sharp thorns. The path up the mountain is steep and impossibly long. The souls cry out, “I was sick and weak in life, how can you expect me to climb such a mountain now?” To which the oni reply, “What is this stupid soul saying! This is the mountain of your greed! Every time you wanted something your neighbor owned, or desired some earthly possession, you added to this mountain! You built it, now you can climb it!” Anyone who lags behind gets hit with the oni’s terrible iron club.

Finally, after seven days, the souls arrive at the Sanzu River and face the first trial put forth by the first judge, King Shinkō (whose true form is that of Fudō Myōō; who is known as Acala in English). Shinkō judges the souls on how much killing they have committed, down to every bug that was squashed and every fish that was caught. Those whom Shinkō judges to be wicked go straight to Jigoku. Others may cross the river depending on how well they fared in the trial. To cross the Sanzu River, a toll of 6 mon (an old form of currency) is required. This is buried with the deceased during the funeral. Those whose funerals were not properly performed and did not receive the 6 mon cannot cross. This is the reason that the seventh day after death is an important day in Japanese funerary services. The services and prayers performed for the deceased aid them in this trial and allow them to cross the river.

One part of the Sanzu River is crossed by a great bridge. Another part of the river is shallow and fordable. The rest of the river is wild and deep, and filled with poisonous snakes. The souls with the most good deeds are allowed to cross the bridge. Those with a mixture of both good and evil may ford the river in the shallow part. The worst of the souls may only cross by swimming through snake-filled rapids. The crossing of the Sanzu River takes seven days.

After crossing the river, the souls encounter Datsueba and Keneō. These two oni take the heavy clothes from each soul, wet from the crossing of the river, and hang them on a tree. The amount the branch bends under the weight of the clothes serves as a measure of the weight of the sin on each soul, to be used as evidence in the trials to come. If a soul arrives with no clothes—perhaps having discarded them while swimming in the river—Datsueba flays his or her skin and hangs it from the tree instead.

The second trial takes place fourteen days after death, and is overseen by King Shokō (whose true form is Shaka Nyōrai, or Siddhartha Gautama). Shokō judges the souls on how much they have stolen. As with the previous trial, he sends the most grievous offenders straight to hell, while allowing the good to pass on to the next trial. Again, the fourteenth day after death is an important day for family members to perform ceremonies in honor of the deceased, in order to help him or her pass this trial.

Before the third trial, each soul must pass through a fortified gate which is guarded by a fierce oni. The oni wields large blades, which he uses to haphazardly chop off the arms and legs of the souls, saying, “That hand helped you to sin. I’ll cut if off for you!” The souls must then cross an enormous bay, wider than the Sanzu River, and filled with boiling liquid. The river gives off foul smelling fumes in all directions for many miles.

The third trial takes place 21 days after death, and is overseen by King Sōtei (whose true form is Manji Bosatsu, or Manjusri). Sōtei judges the souls on their sins of lust and sexuality, using a cat and a snake. The cat judges the souls of men; it bites at their penises, and the degree of the injury—from a slight scratch to completely severed—is used as a measure of one’s sexual sin. The snake judges the souls of women; it is inserted into the woman, and the depth to which it can enter is used to determine the depth of her sin. As before, some will go on to hell, while others—with the aid of funerary services from their surviving family members—will pass on to the next trial.

The fourth trial, 28 days after death, is overseen by King Gokan (whose true form is Fugen Bosatsu, or Samantabhadra). Gokan judges the dead on the number of lies they told in life. He weighs each soul against a large, heavy stone. The number of stones it takes the balance the scale determines the weight of one’s sins. Excessive liars are damned—those who are not may continue on to be judged again. Once again, the family holds a funerary service to aid their beloved departed in this trial, hoping to sway the mercy of the judge.

Next, the souls must cross a vast blasted, desolate landscape of unfathomable length. Balls of red-hot iron fall constantly like rain from the sky, burning the skin of the souls and causing their feet to blister as they walk the path to the next trial.

The fifth trial, 35 days after death, is overseen by Great King Enma, the ruler of the underworld (whose true form is that of Jizō Bosatsu, or Ksitigarbha). Enma’s judgment is the final chance to appeal one’s fate through the prayers and memorial services performed by the living relatives. Enma shows each soul a large mirror, in which the individual’s former life is reflected back at them, with all of their sins and transgressions clearly laid out. Enma’s job is to decide, based on his and the previous trials, which of the six Buddhist realms each soul will be reborn into: the realm of heaven, the realm of humans, the realm of ashura, the realm of beasts, the realm of gaki (or hungry ghosts), or the realm of hell.

After 42 days, the souls which have made it this far now face the judgment of King Henjō (whose true form is Miroku Bosatsu, or Maitreya). Henjō decides the location of each soul’s rebirth based on the reports from Enma’s mirror and Gokan’s scale.

Next, the souls must cross a dark land, full of strange animals whose cries pierce the darkness and fill the atmosphere with dread. Strange birds attack the souls, breathing flames at them and piercing them with their sharp beaks.

On the 49th day after death, the souls reach the trial of King Taizan (whose true form is Yakushi Nyōrai, or Bhaisajyaguru). The 49th day memorial service is an important one, with many family members attending to pray for the deceased; Taizan’s trial is the final chance to avoid going to hell. He uses the information from the previous judges to determine the remaining conditions of each soul’s rebirth.

Upon completion of this trial, each soul moves on to a road with six unmarked torii gates, each representing one of the Buddhist realms. There is no way to tell which gate leads to which realm, and each soul must decide for him or herself which gate to choose. Upon passing through the gate, the soul travels along an enormous frozen river, and leaves Meido for the next world, whichever one it may be. For many, the journey ends here. Those who have been judged worthy may find themselves in Tengoku. Others are reborn as humans, animals, or worse. For those deemed unworthy for even the lowest forms of rebirth, more trials await in the realm of Jigoku.

ORIGIN: The origins of Meido are strongly rooted in Chinese Buddhism. When Buddhism was brought from India to China it took on a structure of its own, merging many aspects with Chinese philosophy and Taoism. This mixture of Chinese Taoism and Indian Buddhism was imported to Japan, after which it began to develop its own uniquely Japanese features as well.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




TRANSLATION: curse child
HABITAT: lives inside of owls
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: A tatarimokke is the spirit of a dead baby which inhabits the body of an owl. Visually they appear no different than ordinary owls. Tatarimokke remain near the homes of the families they once belonged to. The hooting of the owls is said to actually be the sound created by the spirit of the dead baby.

INTERACTIONS: Tatarimokke are treated with respect by the families which they haunt, just like zashiki warashi. Houses that have lost a child recently will take care of any owls that appear near their homes and treat them as if they are the spirit of the lost child. In most cases, these spirits are beloved by the families they haunt, and they do not cause any harm.

In some cases, however, tatarimokke can be dangerous to people. The souls of babies whose bodies were carelessly discarded into rivers, babies who were killed by their parents to reduce the number of mouths to feed, and even the spirits of aborted fetuses could retain a grudge against the living. People passing through the places where these resentful spirits haunt might hear eerie sounds and feel unsettling sensations, see strange phenomena like floating fireballs, or may stumble on a rock and hurt themselves.

In the most extreme cases, tatarimokke truly do bring terrible curses upon those who are perceived as having wronged them. Particularly in the case of people who were murdered in particularly violent and gruesome fashion. In these cases, the tatarimokke is not the spirit of a newborn baby, but instead is the spirit of the murder victim. These tatarimokke lay a curse their assailant so powerful that it not only brings ruin to the murderer, but to his entire family, for generations to come.

ORIGIN: Long ago in Japan, babies were not considered fully human until some time after they were born. Therefore, when a newborn died, it was not given a proper funeral and placed in a cemetery, but was usually buried quietly in or around the house. The spirits of these children would float out, and were believed to easily get “stuck” to owls, thus becoming a tatarimokke.

The name tatarimokke comes from tatari (curse) and moke, which means “infant” in some northern dialects. It is usually written phonetically, but is sometimes also written with characters that mean “curse” and “frog.” In this case, the character for frog is actually read as “moke,” and refers to the local word for a newborn baby.



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: white tiger
HABITAT: the western sky

APPEARANCE: Byakko is a celestial white tiger. His home is in the western sky. He spans seven of the twenty-eight Chinese constellations, taking up one quarter of the entire sky. The constellation which makes up the rear of the tiger is located in Andromeda and Pisces. The constellations which makes up the middle of the tiger are located in Ares and Taurus. The constellations which makes up his front legs and head are located in Orion.

INTERACTIONS: Byakko is one of the shijin, or Four Symbols, which are important mythological figures in Taoism. Byakko is the guardian of the west. He is associated with the Chinese element of metal, the season of autumn, the planet Venus, and the color white. He represents the virtue of righteousness. He controls the wind.

ORIGIN: Byakko and the other shijin were brought to Japan from China in the 7th century CE. They are strongly associated with Taoism, feng shui, astrology, the five element theory, and other forms of Chinese mysticism. Japan’s ancient capitals were built in correspondence to these beliefs, with each of the quadrants of the city dedicated to one of the Four Symbols. Excavations of ancient burial mounds in Nara has revealed paintings of Byakko and the other shijin on the tomb walls.

In later centuries, belief in astrology waned, and worship of the Four Symbols was gradually supplanted by worship of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. Their use as symbols, however, continued.



TRANSLATION: vermilion bird
ALTERNATE NAMES: sujaku, shujaku, chūchue
HABITAT: the southern sky

APPEARANCE: Suzaku is a large, scarlet, phoenix-like bird. His home is in the southern sky. He spans seven of the twenty-eight Chinese constellations, taking up one quarter of the entire sky. The constellation which makes up the left wing of the bird is located in Gemini. The constellation which makes up his head feathers or comb is located in Cancer. The constellations which make up his head, beak, and body are located in Hydra. The constellation which makes up his right wing is located in Hydra and Crater. The constellation which makes up his tail feathers is located in Corvus.

INTERACTIONS: Suzaku is one of the shijin, or Four Symbols, which are important mythological figures in Taoism. Suzaku is the guardian of the south. He is associated with the Chinese element of fire, the season of summer, the planet Mars, and the color red. He represents the virtue of propriety. He controls heat and flame. The ancient capitals of Fujiwara-kyō, Heijo-kyō and Heian-kyō were each guarded on the south by a large gate called Suzakumon (Suzaku Gate). Beyond Suzakumon was a wide avenue called Suzaku Boulevard, which served as the main north-south road. In Kyoto, this road ran from the Imperial Palace to the gate at the southern end of the city, Rashōmon. Today, though the gates are long gone, Suzaku Boulevard (now called Senbon Avenue) remains an important road in the city.

ORIGIN: Suzaku and the other shijin were brought to Japan from China in the 7th century CE. They are strongly associated with Taoism, feng shui, astrology, the five element theory, and other forms of Chinese mysticism. Japan’s ancient capitals were built in correspondence to these beliefs, with each of the quadrants of the city dedicated to one of the Four Symbols. Excavations of ancient burial mounds in Nara has revealed paintings of Suzaku and the other shijin on the tomb walls.

In later centuries, belief in astrology waned, and worship of the Four Symbols was gradually supplanted by worship of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. Their use as symbols, however, continued.

Because they look very similar, Suzaku is often confused with hōō, the Chinese pheonix. The attributes and symbolism of one are sometimes mixed or swapped with each other. Though it has been suggested that they may share a common origin—perhaps going back to the mythical bird Garuda in Indian mythology—there is no strong evidence linking these creatures to each other.



TRANSLATION: azure dragon
ALTERNATE NAMES: shōryū, seiryō, sōryū, chinron
HABITAT: the eastern sky

APPEARANCE: Seiryū is a large blue-green dragon with a long tongue. His home is in the eastern sky. He spans seven of the twenty-eight Chinese constellations, taking up one quarter of the entire sky. The constellations which make up the horn and neck of the dragon are located in Virgo. The constellation which makes up the chest of the dragon is located in Libra. The constellations which make up his heart, belly, and tail are located in Scorpius. The final constellation makes up his dung, and is located in Sagittarius.

INTERACTIONS: Seiryū is one of the shijin, or Four Symbols, which are important mythological figures in Taoism. Seiryū is the guardian of the east. He is associated with the Chinese element of wood, the season of spring, the planet Jupiter, and the colors blue and green. He represents the virtue of benevolence, and symbolizes creativity. He controls the rain. He is enshrined in Kyoto at Kiyomizu Temple, in the eastern part of the city.

ORIGIN: Seiryū and the other shijin were brought to Japan from China in the 7th century CE. They are strongly associated with Taoism, feng shui, astrology, the five element theory, and other forms of Chinese mysticism. The ancient capitals of Fujiwara-kyō, Heijo-kyō, and Heian-kyō were built in correspondence to these beliefs, with each of the quadrants of the city dedicated to one of the Four Symbols. Excavations of ancient burial mounds in Nara has revealed paintings of Seiryū and the other shijin on the tomb walls.

In later centuries, belief in astrology waned, and worship of the Four Symbols was gradually supplanted by worship of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. Their use as symbols, however, continued.



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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.




TRANSLATION: salt sprayer
HABITAT: oceans and coastal areas
DIET: unknown; probably fish

APPEARANCE: Shihofuki is an elusive aquatic yokai with elephantine ears and a trunk-like mouth. It has human-like arms, but its hands are webbed and resemble the fins of a fish. Its body is covered in fine hairs which the salt in the ocean sticks to.

BEHAVIOR: Shihofuki lives in the ocean far away from civilization. It is only seen when it rises up from the waves to spray salty water into the air. Everything else about the lifestyle and habits of this creature is a mystery.

ORIGIN: Shihofuki is not very well known. In fact, the only reference to it anywhere is the Bakemono tsukushi emaki, a yōkai scroll painted in 1820 by an anonymous author which depicts unique yōkai found nowhere else in folklore. No text accompanies its illustration, so everything about this yōkai is purely speculative.

Unagi hime

Unagihime, Takonyuudou


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tako nyūdō

Unagihime, Takonyuudou


TRANSLATION: octopus priest
HABITAT: Sea of Japan; particularly near Shimane Prefecture
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Tako nyūdō is an octopus yōkai which takes on a vaguely humanoid form. It has a bulbous octopus-like head with the face of a bearded old man. It has eight tentacles, and wears human clothing. It looks like an old, bald priest, hence the name.

BEHAVIOR: Little is known about the natural behavior of tako nyūdō. A famous scroll called the Bakemono Emaki, painted in 1666 by Kanō Munenobu, depicts a tako nyūdō dangling a fish above the head of an unagi hime. It appears to be teasing or perhaps seducing her, however no description or story accompanies the painting. Like the regular octopus, this yōkai octopus’s natural habitat is hidden from the human world, leaving its lifestyle a mystery.

INTERACTIONS: In Shimane Prefecture, tako nyūdō are feared by fishermen who live along the Sea of Japan. They are said to attack boats, grabbing fishermen off of them and dragging them down beneath the waves.

ORIGIN: The phrase tako nyūdō is sometimes used to mockingly refer to bald-headed old men, as their smooth scalps resemble the heads of octopuses.

Ushi no koku mairi


TRANSLATION: shrine visit at the hour of the ox
ALTERNATE NAMES: ushi no toki mairi

APPEARANCE: Ushi no koku mairi is one of the most famous and dreaded black magic spells. It takes place between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning, during the hour of the ox. This is the period of darkest night, when the border between the world of the living and the world of the dead is weakest. During this hour, evil spirits are at their greatest power.

INTERACTIONS: There are a number of complicated steps required to perform this curse ritual, and they vary from account to account. In general, you must first construct a wara ningyō containing a small piece of the intended target’s body—a piece of hair, blood, fingernails, or skin, for example. Alternatively, you may use an image of their target, or a piece of paper with the target’s name written on it. Then, you put on the ceremonial dress—a white kimono and obi, with thick white face powder. An upturned trivet is placed on your head, and you attach tapers to its legs and light them. Tall, single-toothed geta are worn on your feet. A mirror is carried over your breast, a dagger is tucked behind the obi, and a comb is held between your teeth.

Thus prepared, you must sneak into a shrine during the hour of the ox and approach the shrine’s sacred tree. Then, you hammer a long iron nail through the wara ningyō into the tree—symbolically breaking the barrier between the world of the living and the spirit world. You call out to evil spirits, demons, and yōkai to come into the world. This ritual must be repeated every night for many nights, and it is very important that the person performing the curse not be seen. If there are any witnesses, they must be killed immediately. Otherwise the evil of this curse will rebound onto the caster.

Once the ritual is completed, something—it is not clear what—terrible happens. According to some accounts, the curse victim dies an agonizing death upon completion of the ritual. In other accounts, the entire process is torture for the victim, causing days of suffering while the curse is being performed. In some stories, the curse summons yōkai which haunt the victim, and in other stories, the person performing the ritual transforms into a powerful oni or kijo.

LEGENDS: A few shrines are well-known for this sort of black magic. Kifune Shrine and Jishu Shrine in Kyōto, and Ikurei Shrine in Okayama Prefecture (old Bitchū Province) are the most famous ones. In the old days, these were popular locations for jealous lovers to perform this curse. Even today, every now and then, shrine officials find wara ningyō hammered into trees at these shrines.



TRANSLATION: human pillar
HABITAT: found in bridges, castles, dams, and other large constructions

APPEARANCE: Hitobashira refers to the gruesome practice of burying a living human being in the foundations of important buildings—bridges, dams, tunnels, and particularly castles. It was a common practice during large construction projects from ancient times through the 16th century. However there is evidence that hitobashira were still being used in some construction projects during the 20th century.

BEHAVIOR: This form of sacrifice was used as a magical ward for the building being constructed. It was believed that the sacrifice of a human soul would appease the nature spirits in an area—particularly the river spirits in areas where flooding was common. They were also used to ward castles against assault, fire, and other disasters both man-made and natural.

ORIGIN: Although hitobashira literally means human pillar, the actual meaning is more complicated. Pillars and Shinto have a long relationship—kami can be enshrined in pillar-like sacred trees, the oldest shrines were built upon pillars, and hashira, in addition to meaning pillar, is also used as the josūshi—Japanese counter word—for kami. The bashira in hitobashira refers not to a literal pillar, but actually to this counter word. The human was enshrined in a manner similar to a kami of the building to which he or she was sacrificed, becoming both a literal pillar and a connection to the gods. Very often, small stone memorials were erected in honor of the hitobashira who were sacrificed to a building. Some still stand today.

LEGENDS: A few famous castles in Japan are connected to legends of hitobashira. Maruoka Castle in Fukui Prefecture (old Echizen Province), one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan, is said to contain a hitobashira in the central pillar of the keep.

While Maruoka Castle was being constructed, its walls kept collapsing no matter how many times they were repaired. It was decided that a person should be sacrificed and made into a hitobashira in order to improve the stability of the castle. A poor, one-eyed woman named Oshizu was selected for the honor of becoming a hitobashira. As a reward for her sacrifice, she was promised that her son would be made a samurai. After she was sacrificed the castle was completed. However, before her son could be made a samurai, the castle’s lord was transferred to another province, and the promise was left unkept.

Every year thereafter, the castle’s moat overflowed when the heavy spring rains came. The people of Maruoka blamed this on Oshizu’s vengeance, and called this rain “tears of Oshizu’s sorrow.” Afterwards, a cenotaph was erected for Oshizu inside the castle grounds to calm her spirit.



TRANSLATION: unknown fire
HABITAT: along the shores of Kyūshū

APPEARANCE: Shiranui are a specific type of kaii known as a kaika, or mysterious fire. They appear in bodies of water around Kyūshū on dark, calm nights—particularly at the end of the 7th month according to the old lunar calendar. They are most visible during the strongest ebb tide, around 3 am, and appear roughly 8 to 12 kilometers off shore. They can be seen from elevated parts of the coast, but not from sea level.

BEHAVIOR: Shiranui begin with one or two distant fireballs, called oyabi, floating just above the surface of the sea. The oyabi sway left and right, splitting apart and multiplying until finally there are hundreds or thousands of fireballs swaying in the distance. This line of fireballs can stretch out for many kilometers.

ORIGIN: Shiranui were thought to be manifestations of the lanterns created by Ryūjin, the dragon god of the sea. On days that shiranui appeared, local villages were forbidden to catch fish in the same area as the kaika. Boats that tried approaching shiranui reported that no matter how long they sailed, the fireballs remained far away on the horizon.



TRANSLATION: dragon lights
HABITAT: oceans, coasts, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Ryūtō are kaika which appear just above the surface of the water on calm, peaceful nights. They create no heat, nor do they burn anything. They are only found in bodies of water which are home to dragons.

BEHAVIOR: Ryūtō start out as single orbs of flame which hover a few meters above the surface of the water. They soon begin to multiply, until there are countless orbs. These fireballs float about aimlessly along the water, stretching and shrinking and morphing their shapes. Some of them sink back into the water. Others float up into the sky or nestle into the treetops. At dawn, they merge back together into one orb before vanishing back into the sea.

INTERACTIONS: Ryūtō are considered by the Japanese to be a manifestation of light caused by the dragons which inhabit bodies of water. Areas where ryūtō routinely appear often have shrines near them, and the lights themselves are considered sacred. On nights that ryūtō appear, people gather along the shore to watch these dancing and changing holy flames.

LEGENDS: The Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture (old Bingo and Aki Provinces) is not only one of the most famous shrines in Japan, but also a popular sightseeing location for watching ryūtō. The lights appear on the tranquil surface of Hiroshima Bay for about a week starting on New Year’s Day. They are believed to appear because the Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to the gods of the sea and thus is connected with Ryūjin.




TRANSLATION: clam breath tower; mirage
HABITAT: open ocean

APPEARANCE: Shinkirō are not yōkai, but kaii—supernatural phenomenon. They take the appearance of distant, fantastic cities with tall towers and giant pagodas.

INTERACTIONS: Shinkirō appear out at sea on still nights, far off in the distance near the horizon. They only appear to sailors who are far from shore. Those who chase down these phantom cities never reach them. No matter how long they travel, the beautiful cities remain just as far away on the distant horizon.

ORIGIN: These mysterious illusions are caused by a legendary breed of giant clams, which breathe out fantastic images into the sky. These giant clams were known as shin, and were believed to be holy beasts related to dragons. Today, shinkirō remains a part of the Japanese lexicon as the word for mirage. While we understand the causes for this phenomenon today, its roots as a kaii are still preserved through the meaning of the kanji used to write the word: shin (clam), ki (breath), and (tower).

LEGENDS: According to legends, the mysterious cities that appears in these mirages are not just are illusory, but a vision of Ryūgū-jō, the mythical palace of Ryūjin—the dragon king who lives on the bottom of the sea.




TRANSLATION: high priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: Kurama tengu, Kurama sōjōbō

APPEARANCE: Sōjōbō is the name given to a daitengu who lives on Mount Kurama in the northern part of Kyōto. His home is in Sōjōgatani—”the valley of the high priest”—located deep within the interior of the mountain. He has long, white hair, an incredibly long nose, and possesses the strength of one thousand tengu. Sōjōbō is first in rank among the tengu, and is often referred to as their king.

ORIGIN: Sōjōbō is known through his connection to Kurama Temple, an isolated temple which practices a unique branch of esoteric Buddhism. Kurama Temple has long had a connection with yamabushi and ascetic mountain religions, and the tengu which these religions worship. Because Sōjōbō resides there, Mount Kurama is also considered to be the most important mountain to tengu. According to Kurama Temple, Sōjōbō is either one rank below Maō-son—one third of the holy trinity which is central to the Kurama faith—or is in fact another form of Mao-son.

LEGENDS: Not much is written about Sōjōbō, although his name is well known. The most famous legend about Sōjōbō is that he trained a young boy named Ushiwakamaru. As the king of the tengu, Sōjōbō possesses a knowledge of magic, military tactics, and swordsmanship unsurpassed by any other. The young Ushiwakamaru wished to learn from him, and traveled deep into Sōjōgatani to undergo a long and arduous training. This was a very dangerous quest, as tengu are fierce and unpredictable, and Sōjōbō was rumored to eat children who wandered too deep into the forest. However, Sōjōbō was impressed with the young boy’s bravery and agreed to train him.

Ushiwakamaru grew up to become Minamoto Yoshitsune, who lived from 1159-1189 CE. Yoshitsune remains of Japan’s most celebrated warriors, and is one of the main heroes in the Tale of the Heike. His umatched swordsmanship is credited to the training he received from the tengu of Mount Kurama.



TRANSLATION: none; just the name for this monster
ALTERNATE NAMES: ayakashi, ikuji
HABITAT: open seas
DIET: unknown; but it is big enough to eat anything it wants

APPEARANCE: Ikuchi are colossal sea monsters that roam the open seas off the coasts of Japan. They appear in numerous stories from the Edo period, where they are described as enormous fish or monstrous serpents of some kind. Their bodies are covered in a slippery oil, which sheds as they swim the ocean.

INTERACTIONS: When an ikuchi’s path crosses a boat’s, the sea monster envelopes the boat in its tentacle-like body. It slithers over the sides and across the deck, slowly sliding its whole body over the boat. Ikuchi are so long—many kilometers, by some accounts—that it can take hours for an entire one to slither over a boat. On a few occasions, boats have been tangled up in this monster for days. During this time, sailors must constantly bail the monster’s oily slime off of the deck to avoid being capsized by the heavy goo.

ORIGIN: An ikuchi is depicted in Toriyama Sekien’s bestiary Konjaku Hyakki Shūi, where it is called ayakashi. This yōkai is often referred to by that name. Ayakashi is more commonly used as a term for other strange creatures and supernatural phenomena and has nothing in particular to do with ikuchi. Toriyama Sekien may have just been listing the ikuchi as an example of an ayakashi. For whatever reason the name stuck.

Kawa akago


TRANSLATION: river baby
HABITAT: rivers, streams, ponds, swamps
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Kawa akago are cousins of the kappa, and trickster yōkai. They look like small, red-skinned babies.

INTERACTIONS: Kawa akago appear on riverbanks and call out to passersby, perfectly mimicking the sound of crying human babies: “Waah! Waah!” (Japanese: “Ogyaa! Ogyaa!”) When someone wanders down to the river’s edge, the kawa akago retreats further into the underbrush and calls out again. This continues with the yōkai leading its victim further and further into the river. Finally, it sneaks up under the unsuspecting human, pulls his legs out from under him, and sends him tumbling into the river. While this is only meant as a prank, some people drown in this manner. This makes kawa akago a fairly dangerous yōkai.

ORIGIN: Similar yōkai called yama akago (mountain baby) are found in Akita Prefecture (old Dewa Province). They hide in leaf piles in the mountains, and when people step on the leaves, they call out in a loud voice, “Ouch! That hurt!” Then they laugh and vanish into thin air.



TRANSLATION: one-legged bellows
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: unknown, but kills humans one day per year

APPEARANCE: Ippondatara has one thick, trunk-like leg and a single saucer-like eye. It lives deep in the mountains of Japan. It is especially well-known in the mountains bordering Wakayama and Nara Prefectures (old Kii and Yamato Provinces), though sightings have been reported in other neighboring prefectures as well.

BEHAVIOR: Ippondatara is a shy yōkai, and tends to stay away from inhabited areas. It moves about by hopping around and doing somersaults. It avoids humans, though on winter days it is not uncommon to find the unique prints of this yōkai’s large, single foot in the snow.

INTERACTIONS: While it is mostly harmless, once per year on December 20th, the ippondatara turns violent. Those entering the mountains on that day who run into the ippondatara are squashed flat under its powerful foot. Because of this, December 20th is considered an unlucky day in the areas where this yōkai lives. People stay out of the mountains then.

ORIGIN: The name ippondatara comes from tatara, the bellows that a blacksmith would use in the old days. This yōkai is said to resemble a master blacksmith who lost the use of one eye from years of starting at the intense flames, and lost the use of one leg from years of heavy work pumping the bellows.

There are many theories about the origin of this yōkai. In some villages, it is considered to be a cousin of a certain breed of kappa called gōrai which—every winter—transform from river spirits into mountain spirits called kashambo until they return to the rivers in spring. Ippondatara is said to be a kind of kashambo.

Other explanations describe the ippondatara as the ghost of a woodcutter who cut off one of his legs in penance for some crime. Or it may be the ghost of a famous one-legged, one-eyed robber named Hitotsudatara who lived in the mountains of Wakayama and had supernatural strength. It may even be the ghost of a giant boar who used to roam the mountains killing hunters. A high priest was able to bind the boar’s spirit and keep it from harming people, but the conditions of the magic that binds this ghost allow it to roam free one day per year—on December 20th.

It has also been suggested that it is a kind of mountain kami which was corrupted over the ages and became a yōkai. A single eye is a common feature among mountain spirits, and other one-eyed yōkai (such as hitotsume kozō) originated as mountain kami as well.




TRANSLATION: giant catfish
ALTERNAtE NAMES: jishin namazu (earthquake catfish)
HABITAT: rivers, seas, oceans, and subterranean caverns
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: As their name suggests, ōnamazu are gigantic catfish which live in the muck and slime of the waterways around Japan. They also inhabit large caverns deep underground.

BEHAVIOR: Ōnamazu behave much like their smaller cousins. They dig in the muck, and thrash about when disturbed or excited. Due to their titanic mass, the thrashing of ōnamazu is considerably more violent than ordinary catfish, to the point where they are dangerous to humans. When these monstrous fish get excited, they shake the earth with their violent thrashing, causing devastating earthquakes in the areas near where they live.

INTERACTIONS: Ōnamazu do not normally interact with people, however during the Edo period they were popularly depicted in newspaper illustrations. Usually these pictures showed a huge, grotesque catfish being subdued by a large number of people, gods, or even other yokai, desperately trying to calm its thrashing.

ORIGIN: Long ago, common belief was that earthquakes were caused by large dragons which lived deep in the earth. During the Edo period, the idea of catfish causing earthquakes gradually began to displace dragons in popular lore as the origin of seismic activity. By the 1855 Great Ansei Earthquake, the ōnamazu had become the popular culprit to blame for earthquakes. This was due mostly to the hundreds of illustrations of thrashing catfish which accompanied newspapers reporting the news of that disaster. They were so popular they spawned an entire genre of woodblock print: namazu-e (catfish pictures).

The reason catfish came to represent earthquakes was due to a large number of witnesses observing catfish behaving oddly—thrashing about violently for seemingly no reason—just before the earthquake. Rumor quickly spread that that catfish had some kind of ability to foresee the coming disaster. Since then, the catfish has regularly appeared as a symbol for earthquakes—either as the cause or as a warning sign of the coming disaster. Recent studies have shown that catfish are in fact very electrosensitive and do become significantly more active shortly before an earthquake hits—showing that there is more to this myth than meets the eye!

LEGENDS: The Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki prefecture is the source of a famous story about ōnamazu. The deity of the shrine, a patron deity of martial arts named Takemikazuchi, is said to have subdued an ōnamazu. He pinned it down underneath the shrine, piercing its head and tail with a sacred stone which still remains in the shrine today—the top of the stone protrudes from the ground. Earthquakes that take place during the 10th month of the lunar calendar—”the godless month,” when the gods all travel to Izumo—are said to be due to Takemikazuchi’s absence from the shrine.

During the 2011 Tōhoku disaster, the Kashima Shrine was badly damaged by an earthquake. The large stone gate was destroyed, stone lanterns were knocked down, and the water level in the reflecting pond changed. The gate was rebuilt in 2014.



TRANSLATION: riverbank priest boy
HABITAT: rivers and riverbanks
DIET: fish

APPEARANCE: Gangikozō are hairy, monkey-like water spirits which inhabit rivers. They live along the riverbanks, where they hunt fish. Their bodies are covered in hair, and the hair on their head resembles the the bobbed okappa hair style once popular among children in Japan. Their most notable features are their webbed hands and toes, and their long teeth which are sharp and jagged like files. They are close relatives of the much more well-known kappa.

BEHAVIOR: Gangikozō are not encountered outside of the riverbanks, and there may be a good reason for this; according to one theory, they are a transitional form of kappa. According to many legends, kappa transform from river spirits into hairy mountain spirits when the seasons change. The specific details differ quite a bit from place to place. However, in Yamaguchi prefecture, there is a hairy mountain spirit called a takiwaro which transforms into a water spirit called an enko (a variety of kappa). Some folklorists believe that the gangikozō is a kind of takiwaro, and thus is merely a transitional form of a kappa. This would explain why so little is known of them.

INTERACTIONS: Gangikozō normally stay away from people, but occasionally encounter fishermen along the rivers they inhabit. When meeting a gangikozō, fishermen often leave their largest, cheapest fish on the riverside as an offering.

ORIGIN: Gangikozō do not appear in any local legends, though stories of very similar-looking yokai do. The first and only written record of them is in Toriyama Sekien’s yokai encyclopedias. It is therefore possible that gangikozō was made up by Toriyama Sekien based on the numerous legends of transforming kappa.

According to Mizuki Shigeru, the name gangikozō can be written with another set of kanji, 雁木小僧. These characters can mean “stepped pier” or “gear tooth” depending on the context. This writing reflects both the habitat of the gangikozō as well as its mouth full of sharp teeth, which resembles a toothed gear.




TRANSLATION: none; this is the creature’s name
HABITAT: oceans, seas, and lakes
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Wani are sea monsters that live in deep bodies of water. They have long, serpentine bodies, fins, and can breathe both air and water. Wani are able to shapeshift into humans, and there are even tales of wani and humans falling in love.

BEHAVIOR: Wani are the rulers of the oceans and gods of the sea. They live in splendid coral palaces deep on the ocean floor. Wani have a complex political hierarchy which mirrors that of the surface world. There are kings and queens, princes and princess, courtesans, servants, and so on. Ōwatatsumi, also known as Ryūjin, is the greatest of them. He rules the sea from his palace Ryūgū-jō. He controls the ebb and flow of the ocean using the tide jewels kanju and manju.

ORIGIN: Wani appear in the earliest written records of Japanese myths, the Kojiki and Nihon shoki. Their stories almost certainly date back even further, into the mists of prehistory. Scholars disagree over whether the earliest legends of wani originated in Japan or were imported from other cultures, citing similarities between wani and the Chinese long or the Indian naga. Wani play an important role in Japanese mythology, including in the mythological founding of Japan.

The word wani first appears in the Kojiki written with man’yōgana (an archaic phonetic syllabary). Later it came to be written with the kanji . Wani came to refer to sharks and other “sea monsters” that sailors and fishermen might encounter out at sea. The sea was a dangerous and mysterious place, and sailors may have thought that sharks were the powerful serpents of legends. Over time, the meaning of the word expanded to include to crocodiles as well as sharks, and then shifted to refer only to crocodiles. Today both the kanji and the name wani mean “crocodile” and are rarely used to refer to sea dragons.

LEGENDS: One of the most famous wani legends is the story of Toyotama hime, the daughter of Ōwatatsumi. She married a surface dweller named Hoori. Hoori and his brother Hoderi were grandchildren of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. One day Hoori borrowed and lost Hoderi’s fish hook. Hoderi insisted that Hoori find and return the lost hook, so Hoori went into the ocean to look for it. He was unable to find the hook, but instead he discovered the palace where the dragon king of the sea, Ōwatatsumi, lived. Hoori visited the palace and asked Ōwatatsumi for help finding the hook. With the dragon god’s help, Hoori found the hook, but in the meantime, Hoori had fallen in love with Toyotama hime, the daughter of the dragon god.

Hoori and Toyotama hime were married, and they lived together at the bottom of the sea for three years. Eventually, Hoori became homesick and longed to see country again. Together, he and his wife returned to the surface world with Hoderi’s lost hook. While on land, Toyotami hime gave birth to a son. When she went into labor, she asked Hoori not to look upon her, because she had to change into her true form in order to bear her child. Hoori became curious and sneaked a peak at his wife while she gave birth. He was shocked to see, instead of his wife, a huge wani cradling their newborn son. The wani was, of course, Toyotama hime in her true form. Toyotama hime was unable to forgive his betrayal, and was so ashamed that she fled back into the ocean and never saw Hoori or her son again.

Although Toyotama hime abandoned her son, her sister Tamayori came to raise him in her absence. The boy, Ugayafukiaezu, grew up to marry Tamayori, and together they had a son. Their son was Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan.

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: weather priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: teruteru bōzu
HABITAT: mountains (only appearing on sunny days)
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Hiyoribō is a yōkai from Ibaraki prefecture who calls forth the sun and creates good weather. It lives deep in the mountains, and can only be seen on sunny days. During rain or in bad weather, this yōkai remains hidden.

ORIGIN: Hiyoribō strongly resembles another weather yōkai from China known as the hiderigami. It may be that hiyoribō is simply another form of the hiderigami.



TRANSLATION: wicked mountain spirit
DIET: varies

APPEARANCE: Jami is a general term for evil spirits. They are a subset of of chimi, or mountain spirit, though they are much more renowned for their nastiness. The term is not a clearly defined one, but in general they are manifestations of the ill will of the mountains and forests, awoken in order to do harm to humans.

INTERACTIONS: Jami are truly wicked and harmful towards people. Because there are so many different wicked spirits that can be considered to be jami, there isn’t one particular behavior or danger specifically ascribed to all jami. However, one common trait is that jami are accompanied by sickness. They are capable of possessing and inhabiting human bodies, infecting sickness and disease upon their human hosts.

ORIGIN: Along with chimi and mōryō, jami first appear in ancient Chinese histories describing the nature spirits that roam the land. As Chinese culture began to influence Japanese culture, these ancient books became known to Japanese scholars, who incorporated their teachings into their own works. When these creatures were included in Japanese bestiaries and records, they became associated with various Japanese evil spirits.

LEGENDS: In the ancient Chinese hagiography Biographies of Divine Transcendents, a wise sage named Ōyō was able to cure sick people by drawing an image of a prison on the ground. He would then call the evil spirits out of the body of his patients. When the spirit came out, it would become trapped in the prison and the patient would be instantly cured of his sickness. The evil spirits trapped this way were said to be jami.



TRANSLATION: mountains, trees, streams, and rocks spirits
HABITAT: streams, rivers, mountains, forests, graveyards, and wild areas all over Japan
DIET: humans, particularly corpses

APPEARANCE: Mōryō is a general term, like chimi, for a large number of nature spirits that live in the wilderness. In particular, while chimi refers to mountain and swamp spirits, mōryō refers to water spirits. They are said to look like children about three years old, with red or black skin, red eyes, long ears, and long, beautiful hair.

INTERACTIONS: Mōryō feed upon the bodies of dead humans. As such, they like to rob graves, digging corpses up out of the ground to feast upon the rotting innards. They also interrupt funerals, using magic to distract the attendees and stealing the corpses from their coffins while nobody is looking. Because of these behaviors, they are especially troublesome, and so special methods have been invented to prevent such disturbances to the deceased.

Mōryō are afraid of oak trees and tigers. As a result of this, in ancient China it was common to plant oak trees in graveyards, and to adorn the roads leading into and out of graveyards with stone tigers. Additionally, prior to interring a casket in the ground, a servant would enter the grave hold and prod around with a spear to make sure no mōryō were hiding in the grave. These practices did not catch on in Japan.

ORIGIN: Mōryō first appear in ancient Chinese records, where they are said to be minor nature spirits or demons. In Japan, they are said to be water kami, and cooperate alongside chimi, minor kami of the mountains. Many kinds of yokai can be classified as mōryō, one of the most famous examples being the kappa.

LEGENDS: In Mimibukuro, a collection of folktales collected during the Edo period, a story of a mōryō disguised as a human is recorded. A government official named Shibata had a very loyal servant, who one evening, out of the blue, informed Shibata that he would be leaving his service. When asked why, the man replied that he was not actually a human, but a mōryō in disguise, and his turn had come up to steal corpses; thus, the next day he would have to travel to a nearby village and due his duty as a mōryō. Sure enough, the next day, the servant had vanished, and at the same time, in the village he had mentioned, dark clouds suddenly descended upon a funeral service. When the clouds cleared away, the corpse was missing from the coffin!



TRANSLATION: mountain spirit
HABITAT: mountains, forests, and other wilderness across Japan
DIET: varies, includes humans

APPEARANCE: Chimi is a general term for the monsters that live in the mountains, forests, swamps, stones, and other parts of nature. They have human-like faces and bestial bodies. They feed on the bodies of the dead — particularly the innards — and sometimes bring disease and other evil things with them wherever they go.

INTERACTIONS: Chimi tend to be nasty, or at least mischievous, when it comes to humans. They trick humans who are wandering in the mountains, and cause them to lose their ways. Once isolated in this way, chimi can attack, often killing their victims.

ORIGIN: The name chimi is derived from the ancient Chinese history known as The Records of the Grand Historian: Chi is the name of a tiger-like mountain god, while Mi is a swamp god with the head of a boar and the body of a human. Over time, the names of these gods combined and became a term for all kinds of monstrously shaped nature spirits. In Japan, chimi are considered to be a kind of mountain kami.



TRANSLATION: crocodile mouth; shrine bell

APPEARANCE: Waniguchi is a tsukumogami which comes from the circular, hollow bells found at shrine entrances which are rung when praying to the shrine’s gods. When one of these bells becomes a yokai, it sprouts a reptilian body and tail, and the bell becomes the creature’s head, opening and closing just like a real crocodile’s mouth.

ORIGIN: The bells at shrines are called waniguchi due to the wide split along the bottom rim, which gives them the distinct look of an crocodile’s mouth. This yokai first appeared in tsukumogami picture scrolls as a pun based off of the word for shrine bell.



TRANSLATION: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: deep in the mountains
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: The hihi is a large, monkey-like beast which lives deep in the mountains. It has long, black hair and a wide mouth with long, flapping lips. Old legends say that a monkey which reaches a very old age will transform into a hihi.

BEHAVIOR: Hihi can run very fast and primarily feed on wild animals such as boars, battering them down and snatching them up just as a bird of prey snatches up small animals. The hihi gets its name from the sound of its laugh. When it sees a human it can’t help but burst into laughter. letting out a loud, “Hihihihi!” When it laughs, its long lips curl upwards and completely cover its eyes.

INTERACTIONS: While hihi primarily feed on wild beasts, they will also prey on humans if given the opportunity. They are known to catch and run off with human women in particular. If a hihi catches a human there is only one way to escape: by making it laugh. While it is laughing and blinded by its own lips, it can be taken down by striking it in the middle of the forehead with a sharp spike.

Hihi are sometimes confused with other monkey-like yokai that live in the mountains, such as yamawaro and satori. The hihi is much bigger, more violent, and far more dangerous than these. Some stories say that, like satori, hihi have the ability to speak human words and read human hearts and thoughts. They are valued for their blood, which is a vivid, bright red. If used as a dye, the bright red color will never fade or run. If drunk, the imbiber is said to gain the ability to see demons and spirits.

ORIGIN: The hihi’s origins lie in ancient Chinese mythology, where it was believed to be a supernatural monkey that lived in the mountains. It was brought over to Japan by folklorists during the middle ages. In modern Japanese, hihi is the word for baboon, which takes its name from its resemblance to this yokai.



TRANSLATION: none; just the name for this monster
ALTERNATE NAMES: yamajiji, satorikai
HABITAT: deep in secluded mountains
DIET: life force (in the form of the breath of sleeping humans)

APPEARANCE: Yamachichi live in northeastern Japan and originally come from bats. A long-lived bat transforms into a nobusuma, which then, after many more years, transforms into a yamachichi. These yokai resemble monkeys with pointed mouths and sucking lips.

BEHAVIOR: Yamachichi live deep in the mountains and pay visit to houses late at night. They steal the breath from their sleeping human victims, sucking it out of their mouths with their pointed lips. After sucking away all of their victim’s sleeping breath, the yamachichi taps its victim on the chest, and then flees into the night. A human who has had his or breath stolen this way will die the next day. However, if a yamachichi should be caught in the act of stealing someone’s breath (either by the victim or by another witness), it will flee, and their victim will actually have their life span greatly increased instead.

ORIGIN: The name yamachichi only appears in Ehon Hyakumonogatari, an Edo period yokai bestiary, and thus very little is known about them. The characters used to write the name literally mean “mountainous region” and “breast” or “milk,” but these are most likely ateji — characters assigned phonetically without regard to the original meaning of the word. The original meaning of the name is mysterious and the only explanation given is that they are called yamachichi because they live hidden away in the mountains.

Because they are very similar in shape to satori, yamachichi are often confused with this yokai, and have picked up the alternative name satorikai.



TRANSLATION: water tiger
ALTERNATE NAMES: sometimes mistakenly referred to as kappa
HABITAT: rivers, lakes, ponds and waterways; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; prefers human blood and souls

APPEARANCE: Suiko are found in both China and Japan and are often confused with kappa, which they closely resemble. However, suiko are far more dangerous, violent, and hot-tempered than their kappa cousins. Suiko have the body of a small child and are covered in extremely tough scales like a pangolin’s. They have sharp, hook-like growths on their kneecaps which resemble a tiger’s claws. They live near riverbanks and in large bodies of water.

BEHAVIOR: Suiko rank above kappa in the hierarchy of water goblins, and as such are sometimes placed in charge of them, with one suiko placed in charge of 48 kappa. (They are sometimes called the oyabun, or yakuza bosses, of kappa.) In turn, suiko report to the Ryū-ō, the dragon king, who lives in his palace, Ryū-gū, at the bottom of the sea. The reason suiko kill humans is to look tougher among the other suiko and increase their standing with the dragon king. (Likewise, when kappa attack humans, it is to make them look tougher and increase their standing with their suiko boss.)

INTERACTIONS: Suiko who live in inhabited areas like to sneak out of the water at night to play pranks oh humans, knocking on doors and running away, or possessing people and making them do strange things. Like kappa and other water spirits, suiko enjoy using their superior strength to pull humans into water and drown them, although unlike kappa they have no concern for the shirikodama. Instead, suiko drain their victims of blood like vampires, then eat their souls (reikon) and return the dead, drained body to the surface.

It is possible to keep suiko at bay by leaning a sickle against the side of a house and sprinkling flax seeds or black-eyed peas on the ground outside. Suiko are afraid of these and will keep away.

There is one known method to kill a suiko. It involves the corpse of a person who has had their blood drained by a suiko. First, a small hut made of grass and straw is built in a field. Then the body, instead of being buried, it is laid on a wooden plank and placed in the hut. The suiko who sucked that person’s blood will be drawn to the hut, where it will start running around and around in circles. (Suiko have to ability to become invisible, so it is likely that it will only be heard rather than seen; or else only its footprints will be visible.) As the dead body gradually decays, so will the suiko. By the time the body has rotted completely, the suiko will have died, its magic will have ceased, and the decayed corpse of the suiko will be visible on the ground near the body.



TRANSLATION: mountain sprite
ALTERNATE NAMES: sanki (mountain demon)
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: crabs and frogs

APPEARANCE: Sansei are small humanoid spirits that live deep in the mountains. They range in size anywhere from about one foot tall, to three or four feet tall. Sansei’s most noticeable trait is their single leg, which is turned around backwards. They are known as the leaders of all animals which live in the mountains, and their diet mainly consists of frogs and stone crabs, of which they are particularly fond and enjoy broiling with salt.

INTERACTIONS: Sansei occasionally sneak into woodcutters’ houses and mountain huts to steal salt, which they use to flavor the crabs that they eat. Though not very aggressive, they do sometimes attack humans. When this happens, if one calls out, “Hiderigami!” the sansei will flee in terror. However, if one calls out, “Sansei!” instead, that person will meet some horrible fate, such as falling ill or having their house catch on fire.



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.

Umi zatō


TRANSLATION: blind man of the sea
HABITAT: the waters surrounding Japan
DIET: ships and sailors

APPEARANCE: Umi zatō are mysterious, gigantic yokai which look like blind guilds-men, or zatō, who wander the seas at night, tapping the waves with their long canes.

INTERACTIONS: Very little is known about the mysterious umi zatō. They are usually considered to be harmless and leave people alone. However, according to some tales, umi zatō harass fishermen out at sea. They are said to beckon ships towards them, and when the ships draw close, they flip them over and capsize them. They also occasionally swallow entire boats whole. They do have a congenial side, however. If the people on a ship reply to an umi zatō in a polite and docile manner, the umi zatō will vanish and leave them alone.

ORIGIN: Because there are so few legends about the umi zatō, almost all of what we know about them is only speculation. They are sometimes considered to be cousins of the similar-looking umi-bōzu, but it is very likely that umi zatō is an invented yokai thought up by Edo-period artists solely for decorating old picture scrolls.



TRANSLATION: upside-down pillar
HABITAT: houses
DIET: resentment at being upside-down

APPEARANCE: Sakabashira are the angry spirits of tree leaves which manifest inside houses where one of the pillars has been placed upside-down — that is to say, in the opposite direction of the way the tree was pointing when it was living. These spirits manifest their grudge late at night, and bring misfortune upon those living in the house.

BEHAVIOR: Sakabashira are most well-known for making noises. They creak and moan, imitate the sounds of wooden beams cracking, and sometimes even speak in sentences like, “My neck hurts!” They can cause houses to shake, and the leaf-spirits residing in the tree can manifest as yanari, acting like poltergeists and breaking things around the house. Sakabashira can be so loud that families often move out of a house that is haunted by one, for these yokai cause not only strange noises, but also terrible luck. People who stay in a house haunted by a sakabashira often lose their family fortunes, or even lose all of their possessions to great conflagrations which consume and destroy the cursed house.

ORIGIN: It has long been a folk belief that a pillar erected in the upside-down position will bring misfortune to a family, and a sakabashira is usually the result of a careless mistake on the part of the construction crew. In order to prevent this yokai from appearing, folk superstition tells us that a pillar must be erected in the same orientation as the tree had when it was alive. However, sometimes support pillars are actually installed this way on purpose. The reason for this is another folk belief: “The moment a house is completed, it starts to fall apart.” As a kind of ward against bad luck, Japanese buildings were sometimes only almost completed, with the final step being left out, or purposefully made into a mistake. The famous Tosho-gu shrine at Nikko is such an example, having been built with just one pillar purposefully pointing in the opposite direction. This same superstition was followed when building the imperial palace — placing the final pillar in an upside-down position. During the Edo period, house builders commonly “forgot” to place the last three roof tiles for the same reason.



TRANSLATION: pillow flipper
ALTERNATE NAMES: makura kozō
HABITAT: bedrooms
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Makuragaeshi are a kind of zashiki-warashi: a child ghost which haunts specific rooms of a house. They are found all over Japan, though details about them vary from region to region. They take the form of a small child dressed as a Niō, a monk, or a samurai, and appear in bedrooms late at night.

BEHAVIOR: Makuragaeshi gets it is named for its primary activity: flipping pillows. People who sleep in a room haunted by a makuragaeshi often wake up to find that their pillow has been flipped and is now at their feet. Makuragaeshi are also known for other minor pranks, such as running through ashes and leaving dirty footprints around the rooms they haunt.

While most stories about makuragaeshi present them as harmless pranksters, there are a few stories that describe scarier powers. Some don’t flip the pillow, but lift up and flip people instead. Others pick up entire tatami mats that people are sleeping on and bounce them around.  Still others are said to sit on their victim’s chest while he or she sleeps, pressing down hard and squeezing the wind out of the lung. They occasionally cause kanashibari, or sleep paralysis. The most extreme stories say that anyone who sees a makuragaeshi loses consciousness, after which the makuragaeshi steals their soul, leaving them dead.

ORIGIN: There are as many theories as to where makuragaeshi come from as there are variants of zashiki-warashi. Most often they linked to the ghosts of people — particularly children — who died in the room they come to haunt. As makuragaeshi are generally lower in rank than zashiki-warashi, they are often the result of ghosts which died tragically, such as murder victims. However, some makuragaeshi have also been attributed to shape-shifting, prank-loving yokai such as tanuki or saru. Others still have attributed this spirit to the actions of monster cats such as kasha.



TRANSLATION: house squeaker
HABITAT: wooden houses, especially new construction
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Yanari are miniature oni which appear in houses late at night. They appear most often in wooden houses — especially those of cheap or new construction in which all of the parts have not had time to settle yet. They often carry miniature weapons or tools, such as mallets or iron clubs.

BEHAVIOR: Yanari only do one thing, and they love doing it: making noise. They come out from the floors, ceilings, and the woodwork late at night when everyone is in bed, and they run about the house performing mischief. Specifically, they bang the furniture, the walls, floors, ceilings, and anything else they can find. Occasionally they even break objects, although their activity is usually non-destructive. Yanari delight in the work, and take it very seriously. Although tiny, they have a strong work ethic and do their best to perform their duty of making noise to the fullest.

LEGENDS: Long ago, in what is now Hyogo, a group of ronin decided to test their courage by spending a night in a haunted house. Late at night, when they were all fast asleep, the entire house suddenly began to shake violently. The ronin, thinking it was an earthquake, dashed outside for safety, however they soon realized that it was only the house that was shaking…

The next day the group of ronin visited a wise man who lived nearby and told him of their experience at the haunted house. The wise man offered to stay with them that night to see for himself. Sure enough, late at night, the entire house began to shake violently just as before. The wise man looked carefully at the floor. Locating the area where the most violent shaking was originating, he stabbed his dagger deep into the tatami mat. Suddenly, the shaking stopped entirely.

The next morning, the ronin and the wise man examined the house. Under the floor where the wise man had stabbed his dagger, they found a strange gravestone dedicated to the memory of a bear. Where the knife had penetrated the stone tablet, blood was trickling out.

The wise man asked others in the neighborhood what the strange gravestone could mean, and they explain that some time ago, there was a bear in these parts who frequently broke into peoples’ houses at night. One night it broke into that particular house, and the man who lived in there killed it. In order to appease the spirit of the bear he killed and protect himself from the vengeful ghost of the bear, he had a gravestone placed in the house dedicated to the bear’s memory. The ghost of the bear must have possessed that gravestone, which is what had been causing the yanari to appear every night and shake the house for years.



TRANSLATION: enlightenment
ALTERNATE NAMES: kaku, yamako, kuronbō
HABITAT: deep in the mountains of central Japan
DIET: carnivorous; occasionally humans

APPEARANCE: Satori are strange, intelligent ape-men found in the mountains of Gifu. The are roughly man-sized, and appear similar to larger versions of the native monkeys found in the region.

INTERACTIONS: Satori appear to travelers on mountain roads, or folks living in mountain huts far from civilization. If the opportunity presents itself, they gladly dine on anyone they can get their hands on. In cases where they encounter a lone human female, they often take her away into the mountains and rape her. Satori are most well known for their uncanny ability to read people’s minds and then speak their thoughts faster than the individuals can get the words out themselves. This makes it very difficult to hunt, trick, or escape from a hungry satori. However, should something unforeseen happen, such as being unexpectedly hit by an object, satori grow very frightened and run away. One of the only ways to avoid being eaten by one of these yokai is to completely empty one’s mind; with no mind to read, the satori grows bored and wanders away.

ORIGIN: The name satori literally means “enlightenment” in the Buddhist sense. The satori, with its uncanny ability to read thoughts, comes across as a kind of enlightened being to scared travelers, which is how it got its name. This also relates to the method of escaping a satori — true enlightenment comes from emptying one’s mind of distracting, worldly thoughts, just as salvation from the hungry satori comes from an empty, zen-like mindset.

The origin of the satori is not entirely clear. Edo-period encyclopedias relate satori with yamako, apes from western China and captures women to rape or to eat. It has also been theorized that satori are cousins of yamabiko, a small monkey-like yokai. The satori’s ability to read people’s minds and the yamabiko’s ability to mimic their words are rooted in the same folklore. More recent folklorists have suggested that satori are fallen mountain gods of the ancient proto-Shinto religion which have been corrupted into yokai over the ages.



TRANSLATION: “Gong-goro,” or ghost gong, depending on the reading

APPEARANCE: A shōgorō is a kind of tsukumogami, a spirit which inhabits a household item. In this case, it is an animated shōgo (鉦吾) — a small, bowl-shaped gong that is struck with a mallet and used in Buddhist services. A shōgo gets a lot of use, being used multiple times every service. It is made of metal, and so can last a long time before breaking. A gong which has long worn out and stopped playing its note pleasantly, and gets put into storage until it is forgotten (or perhaps one is the witness to some horrible crime) is an ideal candidate for awakening into a yokai.

BEHAVIOR: Like nay tsukumogami, shōgorō are not dangerous. At most, they are startling, as they wander around at night like some kind of metal turtle, striking their bodies and ringing their notes out into the night. It is enough perhaps to cause loss of sleep, but not much else.

ORIGIN: The name shogorō is a pun. It is a combination of shōgo, the gong, and gorō, a very common part of a boy’s name. The word can also be read as a combination of shōgo and goryō (御霊), the ghost of a noble or an aristocrat from ages past. Goryō are a grade of ghost above yūrei, and play a large part in many Japanese ghost stories.

LEGENDS: In the early 18th century, there was a wealthy merchant family called Yodoya living in Osaka. For many generations, the Yodoya were the kings of the rice trade, raking in unbelievable amounts of cash. The 5th generation boss, Yodoya Tatsugorō, had so much money and lived a life of such extreme opulence that he attracted the attention of the bakufu (regional shogunate officials, something like military police).

The bakufu decided that the Yodoya family had accumulated too much wealth. They were only a merchant family, and it was improper for a lower class to hold so much wealth. Their economic power was above their station in life, and so the bakufu stripped Yodoya Tatsugorō of everything he had: his rice, his business, his house, his every last possession. The Yodoya family fell into ruin, and Tatsugorō became destitute. Even his favorite possession, an unbelievably rich and indescribably splendid golden chicken called kogane no niwatori (金の鶏, literally “golden chicken”), was taken from him. The loss of his precious golden chicken caused Tatsugorō so much grief that he died, and because of the unhappy circumstances of his death, his ghost was unable to pass on.

Normally, when a ghost lingers like this, it attaches itself to the object of its desire, be it a person, a place, or (in this case) a thing. Tatsugorō’s soul meant to attach itself to his precious kogane no niwatori. In Japanese, the words for “gong” and “golden” can both be read “kane.” Poor Tatsugorō’s ghost must have gotten confused and attached itself to a nearby shōgo instead of his chicken, and the instrument turn into a tsukumogami.



TRANSLATION: mountain geezer
ALTERNATE NAMES: yamanji, yamachichi (“mountain father”)
HABITAT: deep in the mountains of Shikoku
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Yamajijii look like eldery men about 3-4 feet tall, with only one leg and one eye. In actuality, they have two eyes, but one of them is so huge and the other so tiny that they appear to have only one eye. Their bodies are covered in fine gray hair, and they can be found wearing old clothes, tattered rags, or nothing at all. Their teeth are sharp and very powerful — a yamajijii’s bite is said to be strong enough to crush the bones of wild boars or monkeys.

BEHAVIOR: Yamajijii live in the mountains far from human settlements. They rarely appear before humans, but their tracks are easily recognizable. They leave deep, sunken footprints about 12 inches long every 6 to 7 feet (from their hopping about on one leg). Because their bite is so strong, hunters would sometimes tame yamajijii and use them to drive away wolves. They also have the uncanny ability to read peoples’ thoughts as they think of them. They are most well known, however, for their powerful voices. The cry of a yamajijii is so powerful it blows the leaves off of branches, splits trees and moves rocks, reverberates through the mountains, and shakes the heavens and the earth. They enjoy shouting contests, and will occasionally allow a human to challenge them; however, humans who are close to a yamajijii when it shouts sometimes have their eardrums burst, or even die.

LEGENDS: A legend from Shikoku tells of a brave hunter who challenged a yamajijii to a shouting contest. On the hunter’s turn, he fired his rifle when he shouted, winning the contest. Later, the yamajijii realized he had been tricked, shape-shifted into a spider, and sneaked into the hunter’s bed to attack him in his sleep. In some versions of the tale, the clever hunter prepares for the shouting contest by praying to the gods of Ise and crafting a special holy bullet inscribed with their names. This bullet had a very special power: when fired it would never miss its target. Because of its magic, whenever the hunter carried it with him it would invariably attract the attention of yokai; however, any time a yamajijii came near enough to threaten him, the hunter would display the bullet, and the yamajijii would flee in terror.

A tale from Tokushima tells of a group of woodcutters warming themselves by a fire in a cabin when yamajijii suddenly appeared to them. The woodcutters were terrified and all thought of the same idea: kill the yokai! The yamajijii read each one of their minds one by one and learned of their thoughts, when suddenly one of the logs in the fire split with a loud snap! The yamajijii thought that there must be a mind he could not read among the hunters, and he quickly fled the cabin in terror.

A story from Kochi tells of a kind yamajijii who gave a sorghum seed to a poor farmer as a gift. The farmer sowed the seed and that year was blessed with an incredible harvest. That winter, the yamajijii returned and asked for some mochi to eat. The grateful farmer gladly gave the yamajijii as much mochi as it could eat. The next year another great harvest followed, and again the yamajijii came back in the winter to ask for mochi. Each year, the yamajijii was able to eat more and more mochi, until it was able to eat 3 huge barrels-full. The farmer became afraid of losing his fortune, and gave the yamajijii a pile of burned stones, passing them off as yaki-mochi. The yamajijii ate them, but soon began to feel sick and hot. The farmer offered a cup of hot oil, passing it off as tea, but the yamajijii realized the farmer’s trick. Surprised and hurt, it fled into the woods, but died before it could get back to its home. Afterwards, the farmer’s family fell into ruin and was never rich again.



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.

Sazae oni


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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: drop-it-and-get-out-of-here canal

APPEARANCE: Oitekebori is a mysterious apparition that was seen in Honjo, Sumida ward, Tokyo. It takes the form of a human ghost, and haunts fishermen and others who stray too close to its home in the canals. Its name derives from a slang version of the phrase, “oite ike!” meaning, “drop it and get out of here!”

ORIGIN: Nobody really knows exactly what oitekebori was. The most likely explanation is that a kappa was responsible. Hungry and too lazy to fish on his own, he terrorized some innocent fishermen and stole their catch. Other explanations blame a tricky tanuki. Still other explanations exist, covering everything from a yūrei, a kawauso, a mujina, or a suppon (a soft-shelled turtle-turned-yokai).

LEGENDS: Long ago, Honjo was full of canals and waterways, and those canals were teaming with fish. It was common for people to make their living catching and selling fish caught in the moat system.

One night, two fishermen were fishing in a particular spot in Honjo at sunset. They noticed that they were catching many more fish than usual, and so they fished and fished, filling their baskets to the brim. After some time, when they could hold no more fish, they happily packed up their tackle and prepared to carry their large catches home. Just as they were about to leave, they heard an eerie, terrible voice come up from the canal: “Oiteke!”

What happens next depends on who is telling the story. Some say that both fishermen dropped their baskets and fled, and when they returned later that night, both baskets were empty. Others say that they fled home with their baskets, but when they got home and looked inside, there wasn’t even a single fish in the baskets. But the most chilling version goes like this:

Both fisherman turned and fled from the canal, one of them dropping his basket and the other taking his basket with him. The fisherman who dropped his basket ran all the way back to his house and bolted the door shut. The other fisherman didn’t get very far — a ghostly hand rose up out of the canal and dragged him down into the water, basket and all. And he was never seen again.

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: ghost whale
ALTERNATE NAMES: hone kujira (bone whale)
HABITAT: Sea of Japan
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Bakekujira are animated whale skeletons which sail near the surface of the sea, rising as they did in life when they would have had to breathe. They are followed by a host of eerie birds and strange fish. They appear on rainy nights near coastal whaling villages.

INTERACTIONS: In the old days, when whales were still plentiful in the Sea of Japan, a whale sighting was a blessing for the residents of a poor fishing village. A village could reap huge amounts of wealth from the meat and oil in a single whale. Such a bounty did not come without a price, however, and many fishermen claim that the souls of these whales live on as bakekujira, seeking revenge against the humans who took their lives. Those who witness a bakekujira are infected with its horrible curse, which they bring back to their villages when they return home. The whale’s curse brings famine, plague, fires, and other kinds of disasters to the villages it hits.

LEGENDS: One rainy night long ago, some fishers living on the Shimane peninsula witnessed an enormous white shape off the coast in the Sea of Japan. Squinting their eyes, it appeared to them to be a whale swimming offshore. Excited for the catch, they rallied the townspeople, who grabbed their spears and harpoons and took to their boats to hunt down and catch their quarry.

They soon reached the whale, but no matter how many times they hurled their weapons, not one of them struck true. When they looked closer, through the dark, rain-spattered water’s surface, they realized why: what they thought was a white whale was actually a humongous skeleton swimming in the sea, not a single bit of flesh on its entire body.

At that very moment, the sea became alive with a host strange fish that nobody had ever seen before, and the sky swarmed full of eerie birds which nobody could recognize and the likes of which had never been seen before. The ghost whale then turned sharply out to sea, and swiftly vanished into the current, taking all the strange fish and birds with it, never to be seen again.

The terrified villagers returned home, realizing that the skeletal whale must have been a bakekujira – the ghost of a whale turned into a vengeful ghost. While the ghost whale was never seen again, other villages in Shimane felt the whale’s curse, being consumed by conflagrations and plagued by infectious diseases following whale beachings.

Umi bōzu


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



TRANSLATION: beach stroker
ALTERNATE NAMES: ō-kuchi-wani (giant mouthed sea monster)
HABITAT: shallow seas and coastal waters of West Japan
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Isonade are mysterious shark-like sea monsters which scour the rocky coastlines searching for boats to scuttle and fishermen to snatch. Their bodies are enormous, and their fins are covered with countless tiny metallic barbs, like a grater. They use these to hook their prey, dragging it deep into the water to be eaten. They are said to appear when the north winds blow and the sea currents change.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their size, isonade are incredibly elusive. They move through the water with unparalleled grace. They can swim without creating so much as a splash, making them very difficult to notice. By the time most sailors have noticed that the winds have changed and a strange color is upon the sea, it is too late; a huge tail is already rising out of the water, above their heads. When isonade strike, they do not thrash about violently like a hungry shark, but instead hook their prey on their fins or tail with a gentle stroking motion, dragging them into the depths almost peacefully. They do this without a sound and without ever showing their bodies, making them all the more dangerous for their stealth.



TRANSLATION: human fish; mermaid, merman
HABITAT: seas, oceans, and other large bodies of water
DIET: omnivorous; fish, seaweed, and other aquatic foods

APPEARANCE: Mermaids are known as ningyo in Japanese, but they are very different from the mermaids of Western tradition. Ningyo more closely resemble fish than humans, with a varying level of human-like features, ranging from just an ugly, deformed fish-like face, to an entire human torso with long, bony fingers and sharp claws. They can range in size from the size of a human child to the size of a large seal. Unlike the mermaids of the Atlantic and Mediterranean legends, ningyo from the Pacific and the Sea of Japan are hideous to behold, resembling more of an otherworldly nightmare than a seductive siren.

Mermaids resembling the breeds known throughout the West – with an attractive human torso and a piscine lower body – are not unheard of in the Japanese islands. Particularly since the end of the Edo period and the opening of Japan to the West, more and more Western-style Atlantic mermaids have been seen in Japanese waters. However, the most common Japanese mermaid is more beast than beauty.

INTERACTIONS: Ningyo sightings go back to the earliest written histories of Japan. The first recorded mermaid sightings in Japan are found in the Nihon Shoki, one of the oldest books of classical Japanese history, dating back to 619 CE. The flesh of a ningyo is believed to grant eternal life and youth to those who eat it, and thus it is the subject of many folk tales. However, it carries with it a danger that most people are not willing to risk. Ningyo can place a powerful curse on humans who try to wound or capture them, and some legends tell of entire towns that were swallowed by earthquakes or tidal waves after a foolish fisherman brought home a ningyo in one of his catches. While their grotesque appearance and supernatural powers make them an intriguing subject, they are best avoided at all costs.



TRANSLATION: ship ghosts
HABITAT: seas, oceans, bays
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: When the ghosts of people who have died at sea transform into vengeful spirits, they become a particular type of ghost called a funayūrei. They are the shadows of drowned sailors, remaining in this world to find their former friends and comrades, to bring them down into the sea with them. Like many ghosts, funayūrei usually appear as dead bodies wearing white funerary robes. They can be seen at night, when the moon is new or full, or on particularly stormy or foggy nights, especially during Obon. They appear as an eerie, luminescent mist at first, which gets closer and closer until it forms into a ship with a ghostly crew.

INTERACTIONS: Funayūrei ghost ships attacks in different ways, sometimes charging headlong towards the other ship, causing it to steer away so sharply that it capsizes, other times carrying a ghostly crew who cling to the side of the other ship and try to drag it down under the water. The ghosts themselves carry large ladles and buckets which they use to fill ships with seawater, sinking them and adding more souls to their crew. Occasionally funayūrei strike not as a large crew of man-sized ghosts, but as one very large ghost who rises out of the water to capsize a ship immediately. This ghost often demands a barrel from the crew, which it uses to flood the deck and sink the ship. These giant funayūrei are often confused with umi-bōzu, which appear and attack in a similar manner.

It is said that a clever crew can outsmart the funayūrei by carrying buckets and ladles with holes in the bottom, so that despite their efforts the ghosts will not be able to flood the ship. Encounters with ghost ships can also be avoided by boldly sailing directly through the phantasm instead of turning to avoid a collision – though this runs the risk that the other ship may actually be a real one and not a phantasm. Some crews have also escaped the funayūrei’s wrath by throwing food and provisions overboard as offerings to the hungry ghosts, who chase after the food instead of the crew.

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.

Ushi oni


HABITAT: usually along the coast or near bodies of water; found in West Japan
DIET: varies from type to type, but always carnivorous

APPEARANCE: A terror from Western Japan, ushi oni is a class of monster that lives near water. The name literally means “ox demon,” and it can actually refer to a number of different monsters with bovine traits. Most ushi oni they resemble an ox from the head up, and a demonic horror below the head. Many forms are known to exist; the body of an ox with a head like an oni’s; the head of an ox on a body like a spider’s or a cat’s; or even an ox’s head on the body of a kimono-clad human (a Japanese version of the minotaur).

BEHAVIOR: Despite their unique and varying morphology, all ushioni share a number of characteristics, pointing to a common origin. They are exceedingly cruel and savage beasts, they breath toxic poison, and they like to eat humans. Some ushi oni are lurkers, attacking people who draw too close to their lairs; others are hunters, roaming the coasts seeking prey; the cruelest ones ravage the same towns over and over, inflicting terrible curses or bringing diseases with them. Most ushi oni live along the rocky coasts and beaches of Western Japan, although a few roam the mountains of Shikoku.

Ushi oni frequently work together cooperation with other yokai. The spider-like version from the coasts of northern Kyushu and western Honshu frequently partners with nure onna and iso onna, who use their charms to lure unsuspecting men towards the water’s edge. When they approach, the ushi oni pounces upon them and bites the victims to death, and the meal is shared between the yokai.



TRANSLATION: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: coasts, islands, and shallow waters; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; extremely fond of sake

APPEARANCE: Along the mountainous coasts of Japan lives a race of ape-like, intelligent, red-haired sea spirits known as shōjō. They look like man-sized apes, with long, shaggy red hair, and reddish faces blushed with alcohol. They are bipedal like humans, and occasionally wear clothes or skirts made of seaweed.

BEHAVIOR: Shōjō spend their lives playing in the sea and on the sand of secluded beaches, drinking large quantities of alcohol. They revel in drunken silliness, singing, dancing, and enjoying life. Despite their silly appearance and demeanor, they are said to be very wise. They are extremely fond of sake and other types of alcohol. In fact, they are excellent brewers themselves, and can distil a powerful brine wine from seawater. The taste of the wine varies depending on the imbiber; if he is a good person, the wine will be delicious, but if he is a wicked person it will taste like a foul poison, and even may kill him if he does not change his evil ways.

INTERACTIONS: Shōjō can understand human languages and even parrot a number of words, and they are curious and gentle towards friendly humans. They are generally gentle and peaceful, and keep to themselves, preferring to remain apart from the world of mankind. Occasionally there have been stories of groups of shōjō harassing sailors and ships which stray too close to their homes, but these stories are rarely violent. Usually the shōjō flee into the water after they have stolen a few barrels of sake from the ship.

ORIGIN: The name shōjō is the Japanese version of the Chinese name for these ape-like spirit. Its name connotes liveliness, a fitting match for the lively personality of this creature. These days, the name is applied to the orangutan in both Japan and China, due to the ape’s physical resemblance to this yokai. Additionally, the term shōjō can be used to refer to a person who is a heavy drinker. The famous artist and yokai painter Kawanabe Kyōsai jokingly referred to himself as a shōjō in this way.



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: mountain child
HABITAT: mountains; commonly found throughout Kyushu and West Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Yamawaro are minor deities of the mountains, closely related to other nature spirits such as kappa, garappa, and hyōsube. They are short creatures resembling boys of about 10 years of age. Their heads are covered in long brown hair and their bodies is covered in very fine, light hair. They have a short torso and two long legs, on which they walk upright. A yamawaro’s most distinguishing feature is the single eye in the middle of head. They are skillful mimics, copying the sound of falling rocks, wind, dynamite, tools, and can even learn to speak human languages and sing human songs.

INTERACTIONS: Like their cousins the kappa, yamawaro despise horses and cows, and often attack them on sight. They love the sport of sumo, which they are better at than any human. They also enjoy sneaking into homes to nap and take baths, leaving a thick film of grease and hair in the tub when they are done.

Yamawaro are frequently encountered in the mountains by woodcutters, and are known to help with work. If properly thanked, and offered food for their services, a yamawaro is likely to return to help again. However, care must be taken when feeding a yamawaro. If the amount of food is less than what was promised, the it will grow extremely angry and never return. If the food is offered before the work is performed, it will simply take the food and run away.

ORIGIN: One theory from Kumamoto says that yamawaro and garappa are actually different forms of the same yokai. During the cold months, these creatures live in the mountains as yamawarawa, while during the warm months, they live in lakes and rivers as garappa. Every year on the fall equinox, all of the country’s garappa transform into yamawaro and travel from the rivers to the mountains in a mass migration. They return on the spring equinox and transform back into garappa. Villagers who build their houses in the pathway of these massive yokai migrations are prone to find holes, gashes, and other damage caused by yamawaro angry at having their path blocked by a house. People who witness the springtime return of the yamawaro often catch deadly fevers.

This theory is supported by the fact that these creatures share so many traits in common with one another, and because it is extremely rare to see garappa in the winter. However, it is also possible that these aquatic yokai simply go into hibernation during the colder months, and that the similarities between garappa and yamawaro are simply coincidences.



TRANSLATION: echo; written with characters meaning mountain boy
HABITAT: forested mountains and valleys, inside camphor tress
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The wilds of Japan are full of strange phenomena, like echoes that bounce back with more delay than they should, or that come back slightly different from the original sound. When the false echo comes from the forest, it is usually attributed to a ko-dama. When it comes from the mountains, it is due to something called a yamabiko. They are very small, appearing like a cross between a dog and a wild monkey. Yamabiko are known almost exclusively by their voices alone, which are skilled at mimicking any sound, including natural sounds, human language, and more recently, trains and cars. They also occasionally unleash terrible and mysterious screams deep in the forests that can carry for very long distances.

BEHAVIOR: Little is known about these yokai due to their rarity and elusiveness. They live deep in the mountains and make their homes in camphor trees, living in close proximity to (and sharing a common ancestry with) the other tree and mountain spirits. For many centuries their calls were speculated to be a kind of rare bird, other kinds of yokai, or even natural phenomena. It wasn’t until the Edo period when determined yokai researchers like Sawaki Sūshi and Toriyama Sekien were able to confirm the creature’s existence and record its true shape.



TRANSLATION: a regional corruption of kappa
HABITAT: rivers, lakes, ponds, streams; found only on Kyushu
DIET: omnivorous; same as the kappa

APPEARANCE: Garappa are river spirits found on the islands of Kyushu in southern Japan. They are close relatives of kappa and resemble them in many ways, thus the two are often confused with each other. There are a number of important differences. Physically, garappa are almost identical to kappa, the most notable difference being that a garappa’s limbs are much longer than those of a kappa. When garappa sit down their knees rise high above their heads, while kappa’s knees do not. Because of these longer limbs, garappa are taller than kappa when standing upright. Garappa also have slightly longer and more streamlined faces.

BEHAVIOR: Garappa are much more shy and elusive than kappa, and tend to avoid populated areas. Instead, they wander back and forth between the rivers and mountains. They tend to live in smaller groups, or by themselves. Because of their shyness, garappa are more often heard than seen. They have two distinctive calls: “hyo– hyo–,” and, “foon-foon-foon.”

INTERACTIONS: While garappa encounters are much rarer than kappa, they share with kappa a similar relationship with humankind. They are extremely fond of pranks and mischief, and love to surprise people on mountain paths, or trick travelers into losing their way. Garappa are physically stronger than a human, and easily capable of overpowering grown men larger than them. They are extremely fond of sumo wrestling, at which they are highly skilled. Garappa are also very sexually aggressive and frequently assault and rape women.

Despite their reputation as tricksters, garappa are absolutely dedicated to keeping their word. When captured or bested in contest by humans, they are usually forced by their victors to promise to stop drowning people, playing pranks, making noises in the woods, or similar concessions. Over the centuries, Shinto sects which revere garappa have worked to earn promises from them to cease doing evil; as a result garappa attacks have become less and less common over time. Garappa also occasionally serve humans by catching fish or planting rice fields, and they are credited with teaching the ancient people of Kyushu the art of making poultices.



TRANSLATION: river child
ALTERNATE NAMES: kawatarō, kawako
HABITAT: rivers, lakes, ponds, waterways, cisterns, wells; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; prefers cucumbers and human entrails

APPEARANCE: Kappa are aquatic reptilian humanoids who inhabit the rivers and streams found all over Japan. Clumsy on land, they are at home in the water, where they thrive during the warm months. Kappa are generally the size and shape of a human child, with scaly skin ranging in earthy hues from deep green to bright red, even blue. Their bodies are built for swimming, with webbed, thumbless hands and feet, and a turtle-like beak and shell. Their elastic, waterproof skin reeks of fish, and is said to be removable. They possess three anuses, allowing them to pass three times as much gas as a human. Kappa forearms are attached to one another inside of their shells, and pulling on one arm will cause it to lengthen while the other one contracts. They are excellent swimmers, and despite their small size they are physically stronger than a grown man. A dish-like depression lies on top of their skulls. This dish is the source of a kappa’s power and must be kept wet at all times; should the water be spilled and the dish dry up, the kappa will be unable to move and may even die.

BEHAVIOR: Adult kappa often live solitary lives, although it is common for them to befriend other yokai and even humans. Younger kappa are frequently found in family groups. They will eat almost anything, but they are particularly fond of raw innards –particularly human anuses – and cucumbers. They love mischief, martial arts like sumo wrestling, and games of skill like shogi. Kappa are proud and stubborn, but also fiercely honorable; they never break any promises that they make. Kappa possess keen intelligence and they are one of the few yokai able to learn human languages. They are also highly knowledgeable about medicine and the art of setting bones; according to legend, these skills were first taught to humans by friendly kappa.

INTERACTIONS: Kappa are revered in Shinto as a kind of water god. It is not uncommon to see offerings of cucumbers made at riverbanks by devout humans; in return, kappa are known to help people by irrigating fields, befriending lonely children, competing with adults in sports and games, and so on.

Kappa can also be crass and violent. Mischievous by nature, they love to peek up women’s kimonos and loudly pass gas in public. Lakes and rivers where kappa live are often marked with warning signs. Their preferred method of attack is to drown or bite their opponent to death under water. They particularly despise cows and horses, and will attack the animals for no reason at all. They have been known to kidnap or rape swimming women, and to devour humans alive. Usually they go for the anus – in particular a mythical ball of flesh located just inside the anus, called the shirikodama. In the water, there is no escape for anyone who crosses a Kappa. On land, however, it is possible to outwit one: the honorable kappa will feel obliged to return a bow, and if it can be tricked into bowing so low that the water in its dish spills out, it can be easily overcome. Once bested, many kappa have been made to swear loyalty and friendship to their victor for the rest of their lives.