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TRANSLATION: hungry ghosts, preta; suffering spirits from Buddhist cosmology
HABITAT: Gakidō, a realm of suffering, starvation, and thirst
DIET: gaki will try to eat anything, but are never able to find nourishment

APPEARANCE: Gaki are spirits which live in horrible torment and are afflicted with constant suffering. They look vaguely human, but they have distended, bulging bellies and tiny, inefficient mouths and throats. They inhabit a parallel realm called Gakidō. It is a barren place, full of deserts, wastelands, and other inhospitable terrain.

BEHAVIOR: Gaki are eternally hungry and thirsty. There are many kinds of gaki, each of which suffers in a different way related to the sins he or she committed in a past life. Some are unable to eat or drink anything at all. Whenever they try to eat, the food instantly bursts into flames and vanishes. These gaki are only able to eat food which has been specially blessed for them in Buddhist services. Some gaki are able to eat only unclean things, such as feces, vomit, corpses, and so on. Others have no trouble eating anything they please. However, no matter how much they wolf down, their hunger and thirst are never sated.

INTERACTION: In some Buddhist traditions, a special ceremony called segaki is performed during the Obon season, to help ease the suffering of the gaki. In this ceremony, offerings of rice and water are laid out on special altars, out of sight of any statues of the gods or Buddha. The gaki are called to come and eat, while prayers are said to ease some of their suffering.

ORIGIN: The realm of the gaki is considered one of the four “unhappy” rebirths. In the cosmology of birth and rebirth, the realm of the gaki is only one step above the realm of Jigoku—the main difference between the inhabitants of Jigoku and the gaki being that those in Jigoku are confined to their prison. Gaki may roam free as they suffer.

Today, the word gaki is also a very nasty term for a child. This comes from the perception of children always wanting more food and never feeling satisfied with what they get.



TRANSLATION: strange fox person; origin of the word for “scary”
HABITAT: food stalls, garbage dumps
DIET: any scrap of food it can get its hands on

APPEARANCE: Kowai is the ghost of a gluttonous person who carried his or her obsession with food into the next life, transforming into this yokai after death. It takes the form of a grotesque human with fox-like features, blood-shot eyes, sharp teeth, and a long, drooling tongue. It appears at night outside of food stands and restaurants.

BEHAVIOR: Kowai is concerned with only one thing: eating. It is always suffering from hunger, and ravenously devours any bit of food it can get its claws on. It rifles through garbage pales, knocks down food stalls, and attacks food vendors late at night, picking up whatever scraps they leave behind. It will even pick at carrion in the streets. No matter how spoiled or how disgusting, if it can be eaten, kowai will go after it.

ORIGIN: Kowai first appears in the Ehon Hyakumonogatari, an encyclopedia of ghosts published in 1841. Its name is written with kanji meaning “fox,” “person,” and “strange,” and so can literally be translated as “weird fox person.” According to that book, this yokai is the origin of the word 怖い (kowai), which is the Japanese word for “scary.”