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Kenmun

Kenmun水蝹
けんむん

TRANSLATION: water spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: kenmon, kawataro, yamawaro
HABITAT: the Amami islands
DIET: primarily fish and shellfish
CRITICAL WEAKNESS: octopus and giant clams

APPEARANCE: Kenmun are hairy water and tree spirits from the Amami islands in southern Japan. They look like a cross between a kappa and a monkey. They also closely resemble their Okinawan cousins, kijimunā. Their bodies are covered in dark red or black hair, and they have long, thin legs and arms. They are slightly larger in size than a human child. They have pointed mouths, and on top of their heads is a saucer-like depression which holds a small amount of oil or water. Their bodies smell like yams, and their drool smells terrible.

BEHAVIOR: Kenmun make their homes in banyan trees and spend their days playing in the mountains or near the water in their family groups. They particularly enjoy sumo wrestling, at which they are very skilled. As the seasons change, they migrate back and forth from the mountains to the sea.

Kenmun have a number of strange abilities. They are able to change their shapes. They often disguise themselves as people, horses, or cows. They can change into plants and blend in with the surrounding vegetation, or even disappear entirely. Kenmun can also create light. Their drool glows eerily, as do their fingertips. They have the ability to create fire from the tips of their fingers. Sometimes they use this fire to light the oil in their head-dishes. When mysterious lights are seen in the mountains or on the shores of the Amami islands, it is called kenmun machi by locals.

Kenmun like to hunt at night, lighting up their fingertips to search for food in the dark. They primarily feed on fish and small shellfish. They also enjoy slugs and snails, pulling off the shells and rolling them up like rice balls. (It is possible to identify a banyan tree inhabited by a kenmun by the sheer amount of snail shells piled up among its roots.) They absolutely hate octopus and giant clams, and will have nothing to do with them.

INTERACTIONS: Kenmun stay away from inhabited areas and run away when large groups of people are nearby. They will occasionally aid lone woodcutters and people gathering firewood by carrying heavy loads for them. They remember those who treat them kindly or do them favors. A fisherman who saves a kenmun from being attacked by an octopus is sure to earn its eternal gratitude. Some elderly islanders who have befriended kenmun are to call friendly kenmun out from the mountains to show to their grandchildren.

In general, kenmun do not harm people. They do, however, love competition, and cannot resit the chance to challenge a human to a sumo match. When their head-dish is filled, they have supernatural strength and cannot be beaten. However, kenmun like to mimic people, so if a challenger stands on their head or bows very low, their head-dish will empty out and they can be beaten.

While kenmun are not evil, they do enjoy playing pranks on humans from time to time. They may shape shift into animals and try to scare humans, or offer directions to people that get them totally and helplessly lost. They also have no shame about stealing food or even utensils from humans. Kenmun are very sensitive about being insulted, particularly about their body odors. Because of this, if a person talks about bad smells or farting while in the mountains, any kenmun who overhear it will become upset.

Kenmun do occasionally do wicked things to humans. There are stories of children who wandered into the woods and had their souls stolen by kenmun. Afterwards, the children behaved like kenmun, living in banyan trees and leaping from tree to tree when the villagers tried to catch them. Adults can have their souls stolen by kenmun as well. Kenmun like to force feed them snails, or pull them into rivers. These people are often later found unconscious beneath a banyan tree. If a banyan tree in which a kenmun lives is cut, the kenmun will place a curse upon the woodcutter. The kenmun’s curse causes its victims eyes to swell up, and then go blind. Eventually the cursed person will die.

Some families hang pig foot bones or Japanese pittosporum branches from the eaves of their roofs in order to keep kenmun from coming close. To drive away a kenmun, all it takes is to threaten it with an octopus. Merely threatening to throw an octopus at them is enough to send them running. If an octopus is not available to throw at them, they will also run away from a giant clam, or anything else you throw at them as long as you pretend it’s an octopus.

Gangi kozō

Gangikozou岸涯小僧
がんぎこぞう

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

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

ORIGIN: Gangi kozō 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 gangi kozō was made up by Toriyama Sekien based on the numerous legends of transforming kappa.

According to Mizuki Shigeru, the name gangi kozō 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 gangi kozō as well as its mouth full of sharp teeth, which resembles a toothed gear.

Kurote

Kurote黒手
くろて

TRANSLATION: black hand
HABITAT: toilets
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: A kurote is a bizarre, hairy yōkai from the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.

LEGENDS: Long ago in the province of Noto, there was a samurai named Kasamatsu Jingobei. He lived in a nice house, as was typical of samurai at the time. One day, his wife went to use the bathroom, and something strange happened. While using the toilet, she felt a hand reach up from the darkness and stroke her behind. She told her husband, who suspected the work of a mischievous tanuki or kitsune. Jingobei drew his katana and entered the bathroom. Sure enough, as he stood over the toilet, something moved—an arm, covered in thick, black hair, reached up out of the darkness and began making a stroking motion. With one swing of his sword, Jingobei sliced the hand clean off. He put it into a box.

Several days later, three yōkai disguised as priests appeared at Jingobei’s house. Not realizing their true form, Jingobei invited them in. The first priest said, “There is a strange presence in this house…”

Jingobei brought out the box and showed them the hand. The second priest said, “This is the hand of a creature known as a kurote who lives in humans’ toilets.”

The third priest examined the hand closely and snarled, “This is my hand which you cut from my arm!” He immediately transformed into a 9-foot tall, black-haired monster. He snatched the hand away, and then all three priests vanished.

Sometime later, while Jingobei was walking home late at night, something like a quilt fell down from the sky on top of him. Wrapped up and unable to move, Jingobei was lifted up seven feet into the air and then violently slammed to the ground. When he came to, Jingobei noticed that the sword he was carrying on his belt—the one which he used to cut off the kurote’s hand—was missing.

Sanshi

Sanshi三尸
さんし

TRANSLATION: the three corpses; the three spirits
HABITAT: inside the human body
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The sanshi are three spiritual worms found inside of humans. Each is about 6 centimeters long. These worms live in their hosts from the moment they are born to the moment they die. They work hard to cause their hosts to do evil things.

INTERACTIONS: The names of the sanshi are Jōshi, Chūshi, and Geshi, meaning upper worm, middle worm, and lower worm.

Jōshi lives in your head and looks like a Taoist wise man. He is responsible for making your eyes grow weak, creating wrinkles, and growing white hairs. Chūshi lives in your torso and looks like a wild beast. He is responsible for damaging internal organs, making you overeat and overdrink, and causing bad dreams. Geshi lives in the lower half of your body and looks like a human foot with a cow’s head. He drains the will and shortens the life of his host.

The number 60 is an important number in Chinese astrology, and every sixty days the sanshi leave the body to visit the King of Heaven while their host human sleeps. They report their host’s wicked deeds for the year to king. Depending on this report, the King of Heaven shortens each human’s life span by a certain amount.

To escape the King of Heaven’s sentence, Kōshin practitioners do not sleep every 60th night, so the sanshi are never able to leave the body and give their report. Additionally, spells and charms are chanted to prevent any harm done by the sanshi. The following spell is said to defeat the sanshi’s power:

ホウコウシ、ホウジョウシ メイコシ シツニュウヨウメイイチュウ キョリガシン

Finally, if you find yourself drowsy and unable to stay awake, the following spell must be chanted before falling asleep to prevent harm:

シヤムシハ、イネヤサリネヤ ワガトコヲ ネタレゾネヌゾ ネネドネタレルゾ

Hihi

Hihi狒々
ひひ

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.

Momonjii

百々爺Momonjii
ももんじい

TRANSLATION: hundred hundred (i.e. really old) geezer
HABITAT: dark roads and mountain passes
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: A momonjii is born from a long-lived nobusuma, a yokai which was originally born from a long-lived bat. It is a mysterious yokai which takes the form of a hairy, bestial, old man who wanders the wilds and assaults passersby, particularly crying or misbehaving children. Momonjii appear late at night on the road, when the wind blows strongly, and those who meet them suddenly become very sick.

ORIGIN: The name momonjii was created by a very complicated combination of Japanese puns and wordplay. It is formed from the words momonga and gagoji. Momonga is the Japanese word for a small flying squirrel, but long ago the momonga and musasabi (the Japanese giant flying squirrel) were thought to be the same animal, so their names were used interchangeably. The yokai nobusuma (from which momonjii are created) very closely resembles a musasabi, and so the interchangeable name momonga was often used to refer to the nobusuma. Gagoji is a regional word that refers to a bogeyman-like monster who assaults children. The word comes from the legend of Gagoze, the demon of Gangō-ji; being a regional variation of the demon’s name. Thus, momonga and gagoji were combined to form momonjii, referring to a scary child-assaulting monster which is related to the nobusuma.

During the Edo period, there was a strict prohibition on eating meat from certain animals such as deer and boar. These forbidden animals were collectively referred to as momonjii. To get around this prohibition, shops began selling animal meat as “medicine” instead of food. These “medicine” shops were called momonji-ya, and the meat sold there was believed to ward off disease. The fact that this yokai resembles a wild animal and also brings disease is an ironic reference to momonjii and momonji-ya.

The “medicine” sold at momonji-ya was given nicknames in order to disguise its true contents. For instance, deer meat was called momiji, or maple leaves, and boar meat was referred to as botan, or peony. This secret imagery persists in things like hanafuda playing cards, where deer and maple leaves, and boar and peonies, are depicted together. When Toriyama Sekien, who was very aware of the imagery in hanafuda cards, first illustrated the momonjii, he drew him hiding in a pile of maple leaves — creating yet another connected between this yokai and the prohibition of animal meat.

Yamachichi

Yamachichi山地乳
やまちち

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.

Hiderigami

Hiderigami
ひでりがみ

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.

Tenjō kudari

Tenjoukudari天井下
てんじょうくだり

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.

Kejōrō

Kejourou毛倡妓
けじょうろう

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

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

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

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

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

Keukegen

Keukegen毛羽毛現
けうけげん

TRANSLATION: hairy, fluffy sight; alternatively, rare and dubious thing
HABITAT: damp homes, dirty gardens, moldy closets, under floorboards
DIET: mold, dirt, and garbage

APPEARANCE: Keukegen are particularly filthy monsters commonly found in populated areas. They are the size of a small dog, and appear simply as a mass of long, dirty hair. They make their homes in cool, damp, dark places, and are particularly fond of living under floorboards and around run-down homes, where stuffiness, moisture, and lack of human activity create the perfect breeding place for sickness.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their apparent cuteness, keukegen do not make good pets. They are actually a kind of minor spirit of bad luck, disease, and pestilence. They bring sickness and bad health to those whom they live near. Generally they try to avoid human contact, being shy by nature, and are rarely seen. However, their proximity is apparent when members of a household mysteriously begin to contract sickness or bad luck. They are easy to avoid, however, as keep away from clean, kempt houses.

ORIGIN: Keukegen’s name is a pun. It is commonly written with characters that mean “a hairy fluffy sight,” but can also be written with different characters that mean “rare and dubious.” Unsurprisingly, these creatures are rarely seen directly, and those who claim to have seen them are often accused of imagining it. Though while keukegen may be hard to see, the sickening effect of their presence is very obvious.

Hari onago

Harionago針女子
はりおなご

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

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

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

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

Hyōsube

Hyousube兵主部
ひょうすべ

TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; written with characters connoting warfare
ALTERNATE NAMES: hyōsue, hyōsubo, hyōsunbo, hyōsunbe
HABITAT: rivers and streams; found primarily on Kyushu and in West Japan
DIET: omnivorous; prefers eggplants

APPEARANCE: Hyōsube are squat, hairy humanoids found mostly in the southern and western parts of Japan. They are cousins of kappa and garappa, but much more savage and belligerent. They are short, with bald scalps, sharp claws, and a mouth full of sharp teeth which are prominently visible due to the malicious smile they wear. They are covered with a pelt of thick, greasy hair which gathers dust, oil, and dirt, and constantly sheds wherever they go. Their name is said to come from the “hyo- hyo-” call that they make; however, when written in kanji, the characters used have a martial connotation.

BEHAVIOR: Hyōsube live near rivers, where they enjoy catching wild fish and generally keep away from humans. Their favorite food is the eggplant, and they are capable of devouring whole patches very quickly. They share a love of mischief and a hatred of horses with their cousins the kappa, though they are generally more violent and malicious. Also like their cousins, hyōsube retain a strong sense of honor despite their love of mischief and violence.

INTERACTIONS: Hyōsube are capricious, insolent, and extremely dangerous. A person who simply looks at a hyōsube may be struck with a terrible and highly contagious fever, which can quickly spread and turn into an epidemic. Hyōsube cackle with an evil laughter which is also quite contagious; an unlucky person who hears a hyōsube laugh, and who laughs himself, will be struck with a sudden fever and die within hours.

A hyōsube’s thick hair builds up a lot of dirt and grime, and they love nothing more than to sneak into houses at night and slip into the bathtub. When a hyōsube finds a bathtub it likes, it will often return every night, leaving a thick scum of greasy body hair and a horrible stench to be found in the morning. Once, the unlucky owner of such a house emptied the bathwater and threw out the hair and grease. This angered the hyōsube so much that it slaughtered the owner’s horse the next night. In another story, some hyōsube hairs dumped from a bathtub landed on a nearby horse, and the animal promptly dropped dead. In yet another tale, a woman spied on a hyōsube ravaging her eggplant garden; the next morning her entire body had turned purple, and she died soon after that.

Hyōsube are occasionally honored at local Shinto shrines, usually as gods of war, for some form of military service they performed for villagers in the past. Farmers living in areas inhabited by hyōsube often leave offerings of the first eggplants harvested in hopes that the hyōsube will spare their fields for the remainder of the year. Those who do not leave offerings occasionally find their fields trampled in anger.