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Browsing all posts in: Ishikawa




TRANSLATION: from a phrase meaning “peeled blisters”
ALTERNATE NAMES: amahage, amamehagi, namomihagi, appossha
HABITAT: mountainous regions in northern Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Namahage are a frightful demon-like yōkai which live in the mountains along the northern coast of the Sea of Japan. They look like oni, with bright red or blue skin, wild hair and eyes, large mouths full of sharp teeth, and often have horns sprouting from their forehead. They wear straw leggings and raincoats, and carry large blades.

INTERACTIONS: Once a year, during koshōgatsu—the first full moon of the New Year—the namahage descend from the mountains to scare villagers. They go from door to and brandish their knives, saying things like, “Any bad kids here?” They particularly enjoy scaring small children and new brides. Despite their ferocious appearance and behavior, they are actually well-meaning yōkai. They are sent down from the mountain as messengers of the gods to warn and chastise those who have been lazy or wicked.

ORIGIN: The name namahage comes from another taunt the namahage use: “Have your blisters peeled yet?” In the cold winter months, a lazy person who spent all of his or her time in front of the fireplace would get blisters from being too close to the heat for too long. Namomi is a regional name for these heat blisters, and hagu means to peel. The combination of those words became namahage.

Today, the namahage play a major part in New Year’s festivities in Akita Prefecture (old Dewa Province). Villagers dress up in straw raincoats and leggings, don oni masks, and wield large knives. They go from house to house and play the part of namahage. Residents visited by these namahage give presents such as mochi to their “guests,” while the namahage chastise kids and warn them to be good. Newlywed couples are also harassed by these namahage. They are expected to give an account of all of the evil deeds they did during their first year together, as well as serve sake and food to the namahage before sending them off.

While the name namahage is unique to Akita Prefecture, very similar yōkai are known by many different local names in neighboring regions: in Yamagata Prefecture they are known as amahage, in Ishikawa Prefecture they are known as amamehagi, and in Fukui Prefecture they are known as appossha.



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.



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: bound up with metal

APPEARANCE: Kanashibari is the Japanese term for sleep paralysis, a phenomenon when REM sleep overlaps with waking consciousness. The victim’s body is still paralyzed in sleep, but the eyes are open and the mind is half-awake; and the real and dream worlds mix together. Stories about kanashibari go back all the way to ancient times, and it was attributed to a supernatural force enacted upon the body. There are a number of legends about kanashibari, and each one points at a different cause.

ORIGIN: The most common form of kanashibari comes from possession. When a person is possessed by inugami, kitsune, tanuki, or other kinds of tsukimono, one of the possible symptoms they can develop is immobility or sleep paralysis. This sort of possession could sometimes be overcome if a shugenja — a kind of priest — recited Buddhist sutras to drive out the possessing animal spirit. Once the spirit was driven out, the kanashibari would disappear, and all would be well again.

Other kinds of yokai can inflict kanashibari. The makura-gaeshi, a kind of zashiki-warashi from Ishikawa prefecture, haunts rooms at night, flipping over the pillows of the sleeping inhabitants. Victims sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, feeling a crushing weight on their chest, and find the ghost of a small child sitting on them. This can occur sporadically, or even every night, depending on the mood of the makura-gaeshi. Though not actually harmful, this is a terrifying experience for the victim.

Kanashibari can even be caused by humans — usually priests or sorcerers. The tale of Kiyohime features one passage where the jealous princess is chasing after her lover, Anchin. Trying to escape her advances, Anchin asks the priest at a Kumano shrine for help, and they are able to trap Kiyohime in kanashibari, giving Anchin time to flee.

Finally, kanashibari can be caused by ghosts. A famous account comes from a popular ghost story in Iwate prefecture. There are many variations, but generally what happens is this: during the middle of the night, a person wakes up with an ominous, foreboding sense of dread. He (or she) realizes that he can’t move, even though he is wide awake. It feels like powerful arms are gripping him tight, keeping him immobile. Suddenly, an invisible force tugs on his legs and drags him out from under his futon — usually in the direction of an open window, or a river, or some other dangerous place! After a desperate struggle, he finally snaps out of the sleep paralysis, and sees the ghost of a middle aged woman rising up into the ceiling.



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

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

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

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

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

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