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Amazake babā



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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

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: 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.

Azuki babā


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

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

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

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

Azuki arai


TRANSLATION: the bean washer
ALTERNATE NAMES: azuki togi (the bean grinder)
HABITAT: remote forests; found throughout Japan
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Azuki arai is a mysterious yokai encountered in mountainous regions all across Japan. It has many regional nicknames, another common one being azuki togi. This yokai lives deep in forests and mountains and spends its time near streams. Few actual sightings have been recorded, but it is said to be a short and squat, with big, round eyes, and overall resembling a Buddhist priest. It appears full of mirth with a silly smile and large hands with only three fingers.

BEHAVIOR: Azuki arai are more often heard than seen. Their main activity seems to be washing red azuki beans by the riverside, singing a dreadful song interspersed with the “shoki shoki” sound of beans being washed in a basket:

Azuki araou ka? Hito totte kuou ka? (shoki shoki)
Shall I wash my red beans, or shall I catch a human to eat? (shoki shoki)

INTERACTIONS: Passersby who hear azuki arai singing usually slip and fall into the river, the noise from the splash scaring the yokai away. Nearly all encounters with azuki arai are purely auditory; they are notoriously shy, and do all they can to avoid being seen. Their uncanny ability to mimic the sounds of nature and animals also help them to hide. Because of their elusiveness, spotting an azuki arai is supposed to bring good luck.

Kama itachi


TRANSLATION: sickle weasel
HABITAT: primarily the Japan Alps, but potentially anywhere that weasels are found
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals

APPEARANCE: The mountainous regions of Yamanashi, Nagano, and Niigata are known for a particularly dangerous kind of itachi. In these areas, grandparents warn their grandchildren to beware of kama itachi, or “sickle weasels.” These itachi have learned to ride the swirling whirlwinds of this cold region. They have claws that are as strong as steel and as sharp as razors. Their fur is spiny like a hedgehog, and they bark like a dog. They move so quickly that they are invisible to the naked eye, and they come and go with the wind.

INTERACTIONS: Kama itachi travel and attack in threes, striking out at people from thin air. The first kama itachi slices at its victim’s legs, knocking him to the ground. The second one uses its fore and hind legs to slice up the prone victim with thousands of dreadful cuts. The third one then applies a magical salve which heals up the majority of the wounds instantly, so that none of them proves fatal. It is said that the Kama itachi strikes with such precision that it can carve out entire chunks of flesh from its victims without causing even a drop of blood to be spilled. The attack and the healing happen so fast that the victim cannot perceive them; from his perspective he merely trips and gets up with a bit of pain and a few scratches here and there.

ORIGIN: One theory about the kama itachi’s origin is that it is only a joke: a play on words based on a sword fighting stance known as kamae tachi. However, legends of invisible beasts that ride the wind and attack humans in a similar manner are found in all regions of Japan, and the sickle weasel remains a popular explanation for these incidents throughout the country.