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Kosamebō

Kosamebou小雨坊
こさめぼう

TRANSLATION: light rain monk
HABITAT: mountain roads
DIET: as a human (likely follows a monk’s diet)

APPEARANCE: Kosamebō are yōkai which look like Buddhist monks. They loiter about on empty mountain roads at night. As their name implies, they only appear during nights when light rain is falling.

INTERACTIONS: Kosamebō accost travelers and beg for alms such as spare change or bits of millet to eat. Though frightening—and perhaps a bit annoying—they do not pose any real danger to humans.

ORIGIN: Kosamebō appears in Toriyama Sekien’s yokai encyclopedia Konjaku hyakki shūi. Sekien describes them as appearing on the roads going through Mount Omine and Mount Katsuragi, two holy mountains in Nara Prefecture which have popular pilgrimage trails. They are also part of the local folklore of the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture.

Gagoze

Gagoze元興寺
がごぜ

TRANSLATION: none; named for the temple which he haunted
ALTERNATE NAMES: gangōji no oni, gagoji, guwagoze, gangō, gango
DIET: children

APPEARANCE: Gagoze is a reiki, or demon ghost, who haunted the temple Gangō-ji many centuries ago. He appears as a hideous demon dressed in monks robes, crawling about on all fours. His legend is preserved at Gangō-ji, which was founded in 593 by Soga no Umako.

LEGENDS: Long ago in Owari Province, during the time of Emperor Bidatsu, a thunder god fell out of the sky in bolt of lightning. A peasant investigated the spot where the bolt struck, and discovered the thunder god in the form of a young boy. The peasant raised his cane with the intention to kill the creature, but the god pleaded to spare his life. The thunder god promised to give the peasant and his wife a young boy as strong as a god if the peasant would help him. The peasant agreed, and helped the thunder god to build a boat which allowed him to return to heaven.

Shortly after, the peasant and his wife had a child. Just as promised the child was as strong as a thunder god. As the boy grew, he became renowned far and wide for his superhuman strength. By the time he turned 10, he had grown so powerful and boastful that he challenged a prince to a contest of strength and won. This attracted attention of the imperial court, and the boy was apprenticed to Gangō-ji.

Shortly after he joined Gangō-ji, the temple’s young apprentices began dying strange deaths one by one. Every morning, the fresh corpse of one of the boys would be found by the temple’s bell tower. The monks decided that an evil spirit was infiltrating the temple at night and committing the murders. The peasant’s son resolved to solve the mystery. He volunteered to catch whatever was killing the boys.

That night, the boy placed covered lanterns in the four corners of the bell tower. He instructed an older monk to wait by the lanterns and uncover them once he grabbed the evil spirit. The boy waited by the bell tower. At midnight a hunched creature came crawling towards the tower. It saw the boy, however, and ran away.

A few hours later, hunger got the better of the creature and it slinked back. The boy sprang and caught it by the hair, but the monk was too scared to uncover the lanterns. Summoning his superhuman strength, the boy dragged the creature to each corner of the tower and uncovered the lights. In the lamplight, he could see that the creature was a reiki—the ghost of an oni.

The reiki pulled back so hard that it ripped off its own scalp. Once free, it scampered away into the darkness, leaving its hair in the boy’s hand. When morning came, the priests followed the bloody trail left by the creature. They found the grave of a lazy, wicked servant formerly employed by the temple. The servant’s spirit had transformed into the demon ghost that was responsible for the murders.

After that, the reiki never returned to the temple again. The monster’s scalp became one of the holy treasures of Gangō-ji. The boy became famous far and wide. He used his superhuman strength to irrigate the temple’s fields, and eventually took the name Dōjō and became a splendid priest. After he died, he was enshrined as one of the gods of Gangō-ji.

Genbu

Genbu玄武
げんぶ

TRANSLATION: dark warrior
ALTERNATE NAMES: genten jōtei (dark emperor of the heavens), showan’ū
HABITAT: the northern sky

APPEARANCE: Genbu is a large tortoise or turtle combined with a snake. Sometimes he is represented as two creatures—a snake wrapped around a tortoise—and sometimes he is represented as a single creature—a tortoise-snake chimera. His home is in the northern sky. He spans seven of the twenty-eight Chinese constellations, taking up one quarter of the entire sky. The constellation which makes up the snake’s neck is located in Sagittarius. The constellations which makes up the tortoise’s shell are located in Capricornus, Aquarius, and Pegasus. The constellations which make up the snake’s tail are located in PEgasus and Andromeda.

INTERACTIONS: Genbu is one of the shijin, or Four Symbols, which are important mythological figures in Taoism. Genbu is the guardian of the north. He is associated with the Chinese element of water, the season of winter, the planet Mercury, and the color black. He represents the virtue of knowledge. He controls the cold. He is enshrined in the Genbu Shrine, north of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace.

ORIGIN: Genbu is named differently than the other shijin; rather than directly describing a color and animal, i.e. Black Tortoise, his name is written as gen, meaning dark, occult, or mysterious, and bu, meaning warrior. The word tortoise is not used for his name, because it was also used as a slur in China. So this euphemistic name was used to refer to the Black Tortoise. His name comes from Chinese mythology, where it is with the Taoist god Xuan Wu (the Chinese pronunciation of Genbu). Xuan Wu was a prince who lived in prehistoric northern China. He lived in the mountains, far from civilization, where he studied Taoism as an ascetic. He learned that to achieve full divinity, he would have to purge both his mind and body of all impurities. While his mind had become enlightened, he still had to eat earthly food, and so sin remained in his stomach and his intestines. So he cut them out and washed them in a river to purify them. When he did this, his stomach turned into a large demon tortoise and his intestines into a demon snake. The demons began to terrorize the countryside. Xuan Wu subdued them, and instead of destroying them he allowed them to atone for their sins by serving him. They became his generals: a snake and a tortoise. It is these two generals which became Xuan Wu’s—and Genbu’s—symbols.

Genbu is associated with yin energy—the forces of darkness and shadow—and in ancient China was worshipped as a god of the moon (another strong yin force) in addition to being the god of the north. Because the shell of a tortoise is like a suit of armor, Genbu is also viewed as a warrior deity. The tortoise shell is a symbol of heaven and earth, with the flat part of the lower shell representing the world and the dome of the upper shell representing the heavens. As tortoise shells were a popular tool in divination, Genbu was also viewed as having soothsaying powers and the ability to travel between the lands of the living and the dead. The tortoise is a symbol of longevity and immortality, while the snake is a symbol of reproduction and multiplication. It was believed that all tortoises were female and had to mate with a snake to reproduce. The intertwining of the two was a symbol not only of long life and fertility, but also of the balance of yin and yang.

In later centuries, as belief in onmyōdō waned, the Four Symbols were gradually replaced by the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. Genbu and his symbols were largly absorbed and supplanted by the Buddhist king Tamonten.

Suzaku

Suzaku朱雀
すざく

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.

Seiryū

Seiryuu青竜
せいりゅう

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.

Yatagarasu

Kinu八咫烏
やたがらす

TRANSLATION: eight-span (i.e. giant) crow
ALTERNATE NAMES: sansokuu (three-legged crow), kin’u (golden crow)
HABITAT: the sun
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Yatagarasu is a three-legged which inhabits the sun. It is found across East Asian folklore.

ORIGIN: A three-legged crow has been used as a symbol of the sun since neolithic times in China. It may have originated as a personification of sunspots by ancient astronomers. In Japan, the crow has also been a symbol of the sun since ancient times, appearing in Japan’s earliest written works. It is a holy creature and a servant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. The name Yatagarasu means “eight span crow.” One “span” was the length between the outstretched thumb and middle finger—roughly 18 centimeters—but this moniker is mainly just a poetic way to say “very large.” Originally Yatagarasu was depicted with two legs, but in the 930’s CE, the Chinese myth of the three-legged crow was merged into the story of Yatagarasu. Since then, Yatagarasu and the three-legged crow have been synonymous with each other.

The three-legged crow has long been used in religious and astrological symbolism across China and Japan, particularly among those involved with sun worship and onmyōdō. The three legs of the bird represent heaven, the earth, and humanity, while the crow itself represents the sun. This symbolizes that heaven, earth, and mankind all come from the same sun, and are like brothers to each other. They are also said to represent the three virtues of the gods: wisdom, benevolence, and valor. The three legs may also represent the three powerful clans of ancient Kumano—Ui, Suzuki, and Enomoto—who use a three-legged crow as their clan crest.

LEGENDS: Yatagarasu is an important figure in the mythical history of Japanese. According to the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest written history, Yatagarasu is an incarnation of the god Kamo Taketsunumi—today enshrined in Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine. As Yatagarasu, he led Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, through the mountains to establish his country.

Jimmu’s clan originated in Kyushu, in present-day Miyazaki Prefecture. He and his brothers led an eastward migration from along the Seto Insland Sea, looking for a better homeland, and subduing the various tribes they encountered along the way. They suffered many hardships. When they reached Naniwa (present-day Osaka), Jimmu’s older brother Itsuse, leader of the expedition, was killed in battle. Jimmu realized that they had lost because they were fighting facing eastwards, fighting against the sun. He led his troops around the Kii peninsula, to Kumano (present-day Mie Prefecture), and began a westward push. His expedition became lost in the mountains of Kumano. Seeing this, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and Takamimusubi, one of the creator gods, ordered Kamo Taketsunumi to act as a guide to Jimmu. Kamo Taketsunumi took the form of a giant crow, and flew to Jimmu’s side to show him the way. With Yatagarasu leading the way, Jimmu was able to navigate the mountains of Kumano and reach Yamato (in present-day Nara Prefecture), where he would found his capital and become Japan’s first emperor.

According to legend, Jimmu’s great-grandfather Ninigi was the grandson of Amaterasu. Thus, Jimmu, and the entire Japanese imperial line are the direct descendants of the sun goddess. Yatagarasu, as a guide to Jimmu, played a small roll with a very big impact on the future of the imperial dynasty.

Ippondatara

Ippondatara一本踏鞴
いっぽんだたら

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.

Dodomeki

Dodomeki百々目鬼
どどめき

TRANSLATION: hundred hundred eye (i.e. many-eyed) demon
HABITAT: cities, towns, and especially marketplaces
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: Dodomeki are cursed women with very long arms covered in tiny bird eyes. They were once human girls who developed a penchant for stealing money. Because of their wicked actions, one day hundreds of tiny bird eyeballs sprout out of their arms and they transform into this monster.

ORIGIN: When Toriyama Sekien first described this yokai, he inserted a number of puns. The dodomeki is described as being a woman with long arms — having “long arms” in Japanese is a figure of speech meaning somebody who likes to steal a lot. Thus, the dodomeki has long arms, both figuratively and literally.

The copper coin, or dōsen, had a hole in the middle of it, and was colloquially known as a chōmoku, or “bird’s eye,” due to its shape. This play on words is the reason that this yokai grew birds’ eyes as a result of stealing copper coins. Money was also sometimes referred to as oashi, or “feet,” because it comes and goes as if it had its own feet.

The phrase ashi ga tsuku is a common idiom which means “to catch someone who has committed a crime.” Very clever readers would have noticed that if the word ashi, which can also mean money, is replaced with chōmoku, which can also mean money, the phrase changes to mean “covered in bird eyes.”

LEGENDS: Long ago, in what is now Tochigi prefecture, lived a nobleman named Fujiwara no Hidesato. He had just been granted the title of kokushi of Shimotsuke province for his valor in defeating the rebel Taira no Masakado. One day while hunting in his newly acquired countryside, Hidesato was approached by an old man, who warned him that some kind of oni had been sighted at the horse graveyard at Utsunomiya. Hidesato grabbed his bow and arrow and went to investigate.

Hidesato reached the horse graveyard and waited until nightfall. When the hour of the ox came, an enormous demon appeared and ravenously began devouring horse carcasses. The demon stood over ten feet tall, had sharp, spiked hair, and was covered in glowing eyes all over its body. Hidesato carefully aimed an arrow at the brightest glowing eyeball and fired. The arrow hit its mark, and the demon roared in pain, fleeing into the woods until it finally collapsed at the foot of Mount Myōjin.

The battle was not over, for although the demon was near-fatally wounded, it still had power left. From its body erupted a torrent of flame. Its mouth split open and poisonous fumes spewed forth. The toxic air and intense heat proved too much for Fujiwara no Hidesato, who had to give up and return to his palace. When Hidesato returned the next day, the ground was blackened and burnt over a large area, but there was no sign of the demon.

400 years later, during the Muromachi period, the dodomeki finally reappeared. A village had sprung up on the northern slope of Mount Myōjin, and strange things had begun happening. The temple’s head priest had been suffering mysterious injuries and unexplained fires began to break out at the temple. A new head priest, the virtuous and holy Saint Chitoku, was called to discover what the cause of the strange problems was.

Saint Chitoku noticed that one young woman stopped by the temple frequently whenever he preached his sermons, and recognized it as the dodomeki in disguise. The demon, terribly wounded, had retreated into some caves nearby to heal. It transformed into a young woman, and had been visiting the site where it fell, gradually sucking back up all of the noxious fumes that it had breathed out, and collecting all of the blood that it had bled in the battle with Fujiwara no Hidesato. The village temple had been built on top of the battle site, and the dodomeki caused the fires and attacked the priest to scare them away.

One day, Saint Chitoku confronted the demon in disguise, and she finally revealed her true form was a dodomeki. She did not attack him, however; while frequenting the temple, she had overheard Chitoku’s powerful sermons, and they had stuck with her. The dodomeki promised that she would never again commit any act of evil. Since then, the area around Mount Myōjin has come to be known as Dodomeki.

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.

Teratsutsuki

Teratsutsuki寺つつき
てらつつき

TRANSLATION: temple-pecker
HABITAT: Buddhist temples
DIET: rage

APPEARANCE: Teratsutsuki is the onryō of a man who lived in the 6th century CE, Mononobe no Moriya. It was sighted at Hōryū-ji and Shitennō-ji temples, where it took the form of ghostly woodpecker and tried to destroy the temples until it was driven away by Prince Shōtoku.

LEGENDS: Long long ago, when Japan was still called Yamato and the capital was located in what is today Nara, the nobility was divided into two different types: shinbetsu, clans that claimed to be descended from the gods, and kōbetsu, clans that claimed to be descended from the imperial family. The highest ranking titles in these groups were Muraji, for the shinbetsu clans, and Omi, for the kōbetsu clans. In the 6th century CE, when Buddhism was brought to Yamato from China, it caused a great deal of rivalry between the shinbetsu and kōbetsu nobility.

Mononobe no Moriya was the leader of the Mononobe clan and a Muraji. The Mononobes, a shinbetsu clan, strongly supported the old Shinto religion. His rival, Soga no Umako, was an Omi, and supported the promotion of Buddhism throughout Yamato. Mononobe no Moriya and Soga no Umako held considerable power in the imperial court. During the reign of Emperor Bidatsu (572-585), Mononobe no Moriya held higher favor with the emperor, but when Emperor Yōmei took power in 585, Moriya’s favor fell and Soga no Umako’s rose, as the new emperor was a Buddhist.

Emperor Yōmei died in 587, after which the Mononobe clan and Soga clan tried their best to influence the succession of the imperial title. Each of them supported a different prince to become emperor, and they fought bitterly for their clans’ interests. Finally, war broke out between the two rival clans. Mononobe no Moriya set fire to Buddhist temples and tossed the first statues of the Buddha brought to Yamato into the canals in his fight to purge the foreign religion from his homeland. Moriya and Umako mustered their armies and met on the battlefield in Kawachi. There, at the Battle of Mount Shigi, Mononobe no Moriya was killed by Soga no Umako and Prince Shōtoku, and the Mononobe clan was almost completely exterminated. Afterwards, the Soga clan rose to even higher prominence, and Prince Shōtoku, a devout Buddhist, began the construction many new Buddhist temples.

The spirit of defeated Mononobe no Moriya did not rest, though. As he lay dying in hatred and resent, Moriya transformed into an onryō. His ghost took the form of a ghostly woodpecker, which would later be seen at the temples built by Prince Shōtoku. The bird pecked furiously at the wooden buildings, determined even in death to destroy the heretical new religion. Prince Shōtoku was finally able to drive away this teratsutsuki by magically transforming into a hawk and attacking it. After that, the ghost of Mononobe no Moriya was never seen again.

Betobetosan

Betobetosanべとべとさん

TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; from the sound of footsteps
ALTERNATE NAMES: bishagatsuku
HABITAT: alleys and narrow, sloped roads; only appears at night
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: Betobetosan is a formless specter, and is only recognizable by the telltale sound it makes – the “beto beto” sound of wooden sandals clacking on the ground.

INTERACTIONS: People who walk the streets alone at night sometimes encounter this harmless but nonetheless disturbing yokai. It synchronizes its pace with walkers and follows them as long as it can, getting closer and closer with each step. For the victims, this can be quite traumatic. The haunting sound of footsteps follows them wherever they go, but every time they turn around to see what is following them, they find nothing.

Though betobetosan can be quite disconcerting, it is not dangerous. Once someone realizes he or she is being followed by a betobetosan, simply stepping to the side of the road and saying, “After you, betobetosan,” is enough to escape from this yokai. The footsteps will carry on ahead and soon vanish from earshot, allowing the walker to continue in peace.

In northern Fukui, a betobetosan which appears during cold winter sleet storms is known as bishagatsuku. Its name comes from the “bisha bisha” sound its phantom feet make in the slush-filled streets.

Reiki

Reiki霊鬼
れいき

TRANSLATION: ogre spirit, demon ghost
HABITAT: any; usually haunts the area near its body
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Though some oni can be killed by man-made weapons and others die of natural causes, they do not always peacefully pass on to the next life. Some still have unfinished business or karma left to burn off, while others die such violent or passionate deaths that the soul becomes disjointed at the moment of death and they remain in the human world as a demon ghost. Reiki, written by combining the characters for “spirit” and “demon,” are the ghosts of oni unable to pass on to the afterlife. Reiki appear as they did before death, though they are often accompanied by an aura or an eerie glow. They are semi-transparent like ghosts, and they often gain additional supernatural powers in addition to the magic they knew in life.

BEHAVIOR: Reiki have only one motivation: revenge. They seek to bring suffering to the person or people they feel are responsible for their death, or to those who stood against them in life. They can haunt for centuries, following a target, or else attaching themselves to a particular area – often their own grave site – and assaulting those who come near. These hauntings usually persist until exorcised by a powerful Buddhist priest.

LEGENDS: There are fewer stories about reiki than about oni, but the stories that exist tell of powerful spirits even more fearsome than their living counterparts. One of the most well-known reiki legends takes place at Gangō-ji, a temple in Nara. A mysterious force was haunting the temple’s bell tower and murdering children every night. The force was so powerful that not even the most powerful priests could identify it, let alone exorcise it. In a story reminiscent of the adventures of Hercules, only the son of a god was strong enough to track down and defeat the demon ghost, saving the children of the temple.

Aosagibi

Aosagibi青鷺火
あおさぎび

TRANSLATION: blue heron fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: goi no hikari (night heron light)
HABITAT: rivers, wetlands; wherever herons and other waterbirds can be found

APPEARANCE: Many birds transform into magical yokai with eerie powers when they reach an advanced age. Aosagibi is the name for a bizarre phenomenon caused by transformed herons – particularly the black-crowned night heron. Other herons and wild birds, such as ducks and pheasants, are able to develop this ability as well, though it is most commonly attributed to the nocturnal night heron. This heron is found all along the islands and coasts, preferring remote areas with heavy reeds and thick woods. Aosagibi is most commonly seen at night in the trees where the herons roost, by the rivers where they hunt, or as the birds fly in the twilight sky.

BEHAVIOR: Long-lived herons begin to develop shining scales on their breasts, which are fused together from their feathers. They begin blow a yellow iridescent powder from their beaks with each breath, which scatters into the wind. During the fall, their bodies begin to radiate a bluish-white glow at night. Their powdery breath ignites into bright blue fireballs, which they blow across the water or high in the trees. These fireballs possess no heat and do not ignite anything else, eventually evaporating in the wind.

INTERACTIONS: Like most wild birds, night herons are very shy and usually flee from humans. Even after transforming into yokai, they retain their shyness. While the sight of a colony of wild birds breathing blue flames and making strange calls on a cool autumn night can be rather disconcerting, aosagibi does not post any threat to humans. However, because it appears very similar to other fireball-like phenomena, caution should be taken to avoid confusing aosagibi with oni-bi or other supernatural lights.

Tsuchigumo

Tsuchigumo土蜘蛛
つちぐも

TRANSLATION: ground spider
ALTERNATE NAMES: yatsukahagi, ōgumo (giant spider)
HABITAT: rural areas, mountains, forests, and caves
DIET: humans, animals; anything that it can trap

APPEARANCE: The tsuchigumo, known as the purseweb spider in English, can be found all over the Japanese islands and throughout much of the world. Long-lived tsuchigumo can transform into yokai, and grow to a monstrous size, able to catch much larger prey (particularly humans).

BEHAVIOR: Tsuchigumo live in the forests and mountains, making their homes in silk tubes from which they ambush prey that passes by. Like other spider yokai, they rely on illusion and trickery to deceive humans into letting down their guard. While the jorōgumo uses her sexuality to seduce young men, the tsuchigumo has a wider selection forms of deception, and often has bigger ambitions in mind.

LEGENDS: The accounts of the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu contain numerous encounters with tsuchigumo. In one, a tsuchigumo changed itself into a servant boy to administer venom in the form of medicine to the famed warrior. When his wounds were not healing and the medicine didn’t seem to be working, Yorimitsu suspected foul play. He slashed with his sword at the boy, who then fled into the forest. The attack broke a powerful illusion which the spider had laid on the Yorimitsu, and he found that he was covered in spider webs. Yorimitsu and his retainers followed the trail of spider’s blood into the mountains, where they discovered a gigantic monstrous arachnid, dead from the wound Yorimitsu had inflicted.

In another legend, a tsuchigumo took the form of a beautiful warrior woman and lead an army of yokai against Japan. Yorimitsu and his men met the yokai army on the battlefield. Yorimitsu struck at the woman general first, and suddenly her army vanished; it was merely an illusion. The warriors followed the woman to a cave in the mountains, where she morphed into a giant spider. With one swing of his sword, Yorimitsu sliced her abdomen open. Thousands of baby spiders the size of human infants swarmed out from her belly. Yorimitsu and his retainers slew every one of the spiders and returned home victorious.

Nozuchi

Nozuchi野槌
のづち

TRANSLATION: wild mallet (named for its mallet-like shape)
HABITAT: fields and grasslands; found all across Japan
DIET: carnivorous; usually feeds on small animals like rats, mice, rabbits, birds

APPEARANCE: Nozuchi are one of the earliest known yokai recorded in Japan histories. They are powerful and ancient snake-like spirits of the fields known for their bizarre shape and habits. They are short, fat creatures shaped like mallets, about fifteen centimeters in diameter and just over one meter long. They have no eyes, nose, or any other facial features save for a large mouth located on the top of their head, pointing towards the sky. Their bodies are covered in a bristly fur, much like a hairy caterpillar.

BEHAVIOR: Nozuchi make their homes inside of large trees, particularly on the tops of hills. They are slow movers, and move about by rolling and tumbling down slopes, then slowly inching their way back up. They most often feed on wildlife – mice, rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals – however they are able to eat things much larger than they are. In Nara, they are known to feed on deer, which they can devour in a single bite, pulling the whole animal into their small, stumpy frame.

INTERACTIONS: Nozuchi have been known to attack humans who come near their nests, rolling downhill and snapping at their feet. Their bites are very dangerous to humans, resulting in terrible, mangled wounds which quickly lead to a high fever and death in most cases. A person who is touched or even merely seen by a tumbling nozuchi can contract this fever and possibly die. Fortunately, nozuchi attacks are easily avoided by sticking to higher ground where they cannot tumble, or by climbing a tree quickly if no other high ground is available.

OTHER FORMS: Nozuchi can transform into a humanoid shape, though they rarely are seen in this alternate form. They take the shape of a human priest, but with no eyes, nose, hair, or ears. The only feature on the head is a large gaping mouth pointing upwards towards the sky. Wicked monks who are banished from their temples to live in the wilds sometimes gradually turn into nozuchi, and are more likely to maintain a humanoid form than a serpentine one. Care should be taken not to confuse a shape-changed nozuchi with a nopperabō, which has a similar appearance but poses a different threat.