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TRANSLATION: shark person
HABITAT: oceans; particularly the South China Sea
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Kōjin are aquatic humanoids that closely resemble ningyo. Unlike the merfolk of Western legends, Asian merfolk are monstrous in appearance. Kōjin have black, scaly shark-like bodies, and ugly, human-like facial features and arms.

BEHAVIOR: Kōjin are native to the South China Sea, where they live a life similar to other merfolk. They are well known for their skill at weaving, and they spend much of their lives working on their looms. The sea silk that they weave is of the finest quality and doesn’t get wet even in the water. They are very emotional, and cry frequently. When they cry, pearls (or precious gems, by some accounts) fall from their eyes instead of tears.

ORIGIN: The kōjin is better known in the West by the alternate reading of its kanji—samebito. This is because of Lafcadio Hearn, who included a story about a samebito in his book of Japanese folk tales, Shadowings.

LEGENDS: Long ago, a man named Tawaraya Tōtarō lived on the shore of Lake Biwa. One day, he came across a strange looking creature crouching near the base of a bridge. It resembled a man, but its body was inky black, it had the face of a demon and the beard of a dragon, and its eyes were like green emeralds. Although Tōtarō was scared, the green eyes seemed gentle to him, and so he approached the creature. The creature introduced himself as a samebito. He had served as an officer under the Eight Great Dragon Kings in the dragon palace of Ryūgū-jō, but was banished from the palace and exiled from the sea due to a small mistake he had made. Since then, he had been wandering, unable to find food or shelter. He begged Tōtarō for help.

Tōtarō pitied the samebito. He took the samebito back to his home, where he had a small garden with a pond. He told the samebito that he could live there for as long as he wanted, and he could have as much food as he wanted to eat. For six months they lived together, and every day Tōtarō brought the samebito fresh food fit for a sea creature.

During the seventh month, Tōtarō went to a festival at Mii-dera, where a great pilgrimage of women had come. There, he met a woman of extraordinary beauty and refinement, with skin as white as snow, and a voice like a nightingale. Her name was Tamana, and Tōtarō fell in love with her at first sight. Totaro followed Tamana home, and discovered that she lived in the same town in which he had met the samebito. He also learned that she was unmarried, and that her family wanted her to marry a man of rank. They demanded as a betrothal gift a casket of ten thousand jewels from whomever wished to marry Tamana.

Tōtarō fell into despair, knowing that even if there were ten thousand jewels in all of Japan, he would never be able to procure them. Though it seemed impossible that he could ever make Tamana his wife, he could not get her lovely face and sweet voice out of his mind. It haunted him so much that he refused to eat or sleep, and became so ill that he could not even lift his head from his pillow. It seemed that he would die of a broken heart. The samebito, whom Tōtarō had cared for in his time of despair, entered the house to care for Tōtarō in his last days. Tōtarō apologized to the samebito, fearing that after his death, the samebito would lose his home and his means of survival, and would die as well. The samebito was so touched by Tōtarō’s compassion that he began to cry. Great tears of blood spilled from his green eyes and down his black cheeks, but by the time they hit the floor they had hardened into splendid rubies.

At this sight, Tōtarō instantly found new strength, and began to gather the jewels. The samebito, astonished at Tōtarō’s recovery, stopped crying. Of course, the flow of jewels also stopped. Tōtarō begged the samebito to continue crying until he had ten thousand jewels, but the samebito regretfully replied that he could only weep when he felt true grief in his heart. Seeing that Tōtarō’s sickness was cured, the samebito was filled with nothing but relief, and thus could not cry anymore. The samebito suggested that they visit the bridge where they had first met to reminisce, and perhaps he could cry again.

The next day, Tōtarō and the samebito visited the bridge. They ate fish and drank wine, and watched the setting sun. Seeing the sun set over the sparkling sea, and with a little help from the wine, the samebito thought about his former life in the sea and his happy days in the dragon palace. He was overcome with homesickness and began to weep profusely. A great shower of jewels covered the bridge. Tōtarō began gathering them up. When he had collected ten thousand jewels he shouted for joy. At the same moment, a delightful song was heard far away in the sea. Like a cloud, a glorious palace made of coral the color of the setting sun rose out of the water. The samebito leaped with joy. He explained to Tōtarō that the Eight Great Dragon Kings must have granted him amnesty and were calling him back home. He bade his farewell to Tōtarō, thankful for his kindness and their friendship, and then dove into the sea.

Tōtarō never saw the samebito again. He brought the casket of ten thousand jewels to Tamana’s family and presented them as a betrothal gift. Shortly after, Tōtarō and Tamana were married.

Abura akago


HABITAT: human-inhabited areas
DIET: lamp oil

APPEARANCE: Abura akago are yōkai from Ōmi Province. They are a type of hi no tama, or fireball, but can also take on the shape of a baby.

BEHAVIOR: Abura akago first appear as mysterious orbs of fire which float aimlessly through the night sky. They drift from house to house and—upon entering one—transform into small babies. In this baby form, they lick the oil from oil lamps and paper lanterns, known as andon. They then turn back into orbs and fly away.

ORIGIN: Like many other oil-related yōkai, abura akago are said to originate from oil thieves. While the particular circumstances of these oil thieves are lost to time, they mirror so many other yōkai that we can infer that these thieves died and—instead of passing on to the next life—turned into yōkai as a penalty for their sins.



TRANSLATION: water tiger
ALTERNATE NAMES: sometimes mistakenly referred to as kappa
HABITAT: rivers, lakes, ponds and waterways; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; prefers human blood and souls

APPEARANCE: Suiko are found in both China and Japan and are often confused with kappa, which they closely resemble. However, suiko are far more dangerous, violent, and hot-tempered than their kappa cousins. Suiko have the body of a small child and are covered in extremely tough scales like a pangolin’s. They have sharp, hook-like growths on their kneecaps which resemble a tiger’s claws. They live near riverbanks and in large bodies of water.

BEHAVIOR: Suiko rank above kappa in the hierarchy of water goblins, and as such are sometimes placed in charge of them, with one suiko placed in charge of 48 kappa. (They are sometimes called the oyabun, or yakuza bosses, of kappa.) In turn, suiko report to the Ryū-ō, the dragon king, who lives in his palace, Ryū-gū, at the bottom of the sea. The reason suiko kill humans is to look tougher among the other suiko and increase their standing with the dragon king. (Likewise, when kappa attack humans, it is to make them look tougher and increase their standing with their suiko boss.)

INTERACTIONS: Suiko who live in inhabited areas like to sneak out of the water at night to play pranks oh humans, knocking on doors and running away, or possessing people and making them do strange things. Like kappa and other water spirits, suiko enjoy using their superior strength to pull humans into water and drown them, although unlike kappa they have no concern for the shirikodama. Instead, suiko drain their victims of blood like vampires, then eat their souls (reikon) and return the dead, drained body to the surface.

It is possible to keep suiko at bay by leaning a sickle against the side of a house and sprinkling flax seeds or black-eyed peas on the ground outside. Suiko are afraid of these and will keep away.

There is one known method to kill a suiko. It involves the corpse of a person who has had their blood drained by a suiko. First, a small hut made of grass and straw is built in a field. Then the body, instead of being buried, it is laid on a wooden plank and placed in the hut. The suiko who sucked that person’s blood will be drawn to the hut, where it will start running around and around in circles. (Suiko have to ability to become invisible, so it is likely that it will only be heard rather than seen; or else only its footprints will be visible.) As the dead body gradually decays, so will the suiko. By the time the body has rotted completely, the suiko will have died, its magic will have ceased, and the decayed corpse of the suiko will be visible on the ground near the body.




LEGENDS: Long ago, during the reign of Emperor Shirakawa (1073-1087 CE), there lived a monk named Raigō. Raigō was the abbot of Mii-dera, a monastery in Shiga prefecture at the foot of Mount Hiei, and well known for his piety.

The Emperor, having no heir, was concerned about his line of succession. One day, he approached Raigō and asked him to pray to the gods and Buddha in his place for an heir. Raigō prayed long and hard, and finally in 1074 a royal son, Prince Taruhito, was born. The grateful Emperor promised to give the abbot anything he wished in return for his prayers. Raigō asked that a splendid new ordination building be constructed at Mii-dera so he could train new priests. The Emperor gladly agreed, however Mii-dera had a powerful rival temple — Enryaku-ji, on top of Mt. Hiei — which wielded great political power as well as having a powerful army of warrior monks at its disposal. Enryaku-ji could not abide such a gift being granted to a rival temple, and so it exerted its great pressure on the Emperor. Bowing to Enryaku-ji, the Emperor reneged on his promise to Raigō.

Raigō began a hunger strike in protest of the Emperor’s broken promise, but the Emperor would not, or could not, go against Enryaku-ji’s will. On the 100th day of his hunger strike, Raigō passed away, his heart full of rage towards the unfaithful Emperor and the rival monastery of Enryaku-ji. So great was the hatred in Raigō’s heart when he died that he transformed into an onryō, a ghost driven by pure vengeance. Shortly after Raigō’s death, a ghostly vision of the abbot was seen hovering near young Prince Taruhito’s bed. A few days later the young prince died, leaving the Emperor heir-less once again. But Raigo’s vengeance did not end there.

Raigō’s twisted spirit transformed into a gigantic rat. Its body was as hard as stone and its teeth and claws as strong as iron. The monstrous spirit, Tesso as it came to be called, summoned a massive army of rats which poured through Kyoto, up Mt. Hiei, and arrived at Enryaku-ji. There, the rat wreaked Raigō’s vengeance upon the monks. The army of rats poured through the monastery complex, chewing through the walls and doors, tearing up the roofs and floors, and attacking the monks. They devoured Enryaku-ji’s precious sutras, scrolls, and books, eating and despoiling everything they found — they even ate the precious statues of the Buddha.

Nothing could stop Tesso and the army of rats until finally a shrine was built at Mii-dera to appease Raigō’s spirit, and Raigō’s shrine still stands at Mii-dera today. An interesting footnote to the story: while Buddhist buildings are typically built facing the east, Raigo’s shrine is built facing the north. It points to the top of Mt. Hiei, directy at Enryaku-ji, the target of his rage.



TRANSLATION: lady of the bridge
HABITAT: very old, very long bridges
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Hashihime are intensely jealous goddesses who inhabit bridges — in particular, very old and very long bridges. As goddesses, hashihime may take different forms depending on occasion, however they are commonly depicted wearing white robes, white face-paint, an iron trivet, and carrying five candles. This is a ceremonial outfit used to perform curses.

INTERACTIONS: Hashihime ferociously guard the bridges they inhabit. As with most gods connected to a location, they are very competitive and jealous.  If one praises or speaks positively about another bridge while on top of a hashihime’s bridge, or if one recites lines from certain Noh plays that feature a woman’s wrath as the main theme, something terrible is likely to happen to that person.

Despite their fearsome nature, they are highly honored by the people who live nearby, and shrines are established in their honor near the bridges they inhabit. In times of war, residents will beseech their local hashihime to guard the bridge against invaders. In times of peace, hashihime are goddess of separation and severing, and are asked to aid people in things such as break-ups, divorce, and severing bad luck. So strong is their power of severing that it is considered taboo for lovers to pass in front of a hashihime shrine together, or for wedding processions to pass in front of one. If newlyweds need to cross a bridge inhabited by a hashihime, they will instead pass underneath it on a boat rather than risk cursing their marriage.

LEGENDS: The most famous hashihime story comes from Tsurugi no Maki, in The Tale of the Heike, and is retold in the noh play Kanawa.

A woman visited the the Kifune-jinja in Kyoto at the hour of the ox (roughly 2 am), filled with rage and jealousy towards her ex-husband who had thrown her away for another woman. Night after night she visited the shrine, praying to the gods enshrined there to turn her into a powerful demon. The woman wanted nothing else other than to see her ex-husband destroyed, even at the cost of her own life. After seven nights of pilgrimage, her prayers were answered: the gods told her that if she immersed herself in the Uji river for twenty-one nights, she would become a living demon.

The woman did as she was bid. She donned a white robe and tied her hair up into five horns. She painted her face and covered her body in crimson dye. She placed an upturned trivet on her head and attached torches to each foot. She lit a torch on both ends and placed it in her mouth. She immersed herself in the Uji river and for twenty-one days she kindled the hatred in her heart. Then, just as the gods told her, after twenty-one days she transformed into a terrible kijo with supreme power. She had become the hashihime of Uji.

That night, her husband awoke from a horrible dream with a premonition of danger. He quickly sought out the famous onmyōji, Abe-no-Seimei. Seimei recognized the dream as a sign that the man’s former wife would come and destroy the couple that very night, and promised to save them. He went to their house, recited magical prayers, and crafted two katashiro — magical paper doll representations of the man and his wife, meant to be used as substitutionary targets for the kijo’s rage. That night, as Seimei had predicted, the demon appeared. She attacked the two katashiro instead of the real couple, and Seimei’s magic worked: her power was reflected back upon her and she was driven away. The demon woman, realizing that she could not overcome Abe-no-Seimei’s magic, vanished, threatening that she would come back  another time.

Hitotsume kozō


TRANSLATION: one-eyed priest boy
HABITAT: found all throughout Japan; often encounters on dark streets
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Child-like and mischievous, hitotsume kozō are little one-eyed goblins who are well-known in all parts of Japan. They have a single, enormous eye, a long red tongue, and wear shaved heads and robes, like tiny Buddhist monks.

BEHAVIOR: Hitotsume kozō are relatively harmless as far as yokai go; their most alarming trait is appearing suddenly and surprising people on dark streets, which they seem to enjoy doing. Hundreds of encounters have been reported over the years, most of them very similar to each other, and they simply detail a mischievous spirit who likes to spook people late at night.

INTERACTIONS: In East Japan, it is said that every year on the 8th of December, hitotsume kozō travel the land, recording in ledgers the families who have been bad that year in order to decide each family’s fortunes for the next year. They take their reports to the god of pestilence and bad luck, who brings misfortune on those bad families in the coming year. However, they leave their ledgers with the guardian deity of travels for safekeeping until February 8th. In a mid-January ceremony, local villagers burn down and rebuild that deity’s roadside way-shrines in hopes that the fires will also burn the hitotsume kozō’s ledgers before they come to pick them up (thus escaping disaster that year).

ORIGIN: Though similar in name to other one-eyed monsters like hitotsu-me-nyūdō, there is little evidence suggesting a relation between the two. Many believe that hitotsume kozō’s origins are connected in some way with Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Others believe that they were once local mountain deities who over time became corrupted and changed into yokai.

LEGENDS: A man named visited a friend on business. While waiting in the reception room, a young boy of about 10 appeared and began to mischievously roll and unroll the hanging scroll in the room’s alcove. When the man scolded the boy for being mischievous, the boy turned around and squawked, “Be quiet!” However, the boy’s face had only one eye! The man screamed and fainted, and had to be carried back to his own home. He was bed-ridden for 20 days, but made a full recovery.

In an account from Fukushima, a young lady was walking the street at night. A little boy approached her from behind and asked, “Ma’am, would you like some money?” She laughed and sweetly replied yes, and turned to face the boy. He was a hitotsume kozō, and he was grinning staring so intensely at her with his single eye that she fainted in shock on the spot.

A similar tale from Okayama tells of a particular street where an eerie, pale blue glow was seen one night. A man went to investigate and witnessed a ghostly one-eyed boy playing around. The man collapsed, paralyzed with fear, and was unable to move. The apparition approached the helpless man and licked him from head to toe with his long, slobbery tongue.



TRANSLATION: human fish; mermaid, merman
HABITAT: seas, oceans, and other large bodies of water
DIET: omnivorous; fish, seaweed, and other aquatic foods

APPEARANCE: Mermaids are known as ningyo in Japanese, but they are very different from the mermaids of Western tradition. Ningyo more closely resemble fish than humans, with a varying level of human-like features, ranging from just an ugly, deformed fish-like face, to an entire human torso with long, bony fingers and sharp claws. They can range in size from the size of a human child to the size of a large seal. Unlike the mermaids of the Atlantic and Mediterranean legends, ningyo from the Pacific and the Sea of Japan are hideous to behold, resembling more of an otherworldly nightmare than a seductive siren.

Mermaids resembling the breeds known throughout the West – with an attractive human torso and a piscine lower body – are not unheard of in the Japanese islands. Particularly since the end of the Edo period and the opening of Japan to the West, more and more Western-style Atlantic mermaids have been seen in Japanese waters. However, the most common Japanese mermaid is more beast than beauty.

INTERACTIONS: Ningyo sightings go back to the earliest written histories of Japan. The first recorded mermaid sightings in Japan are found in the Nihon Shoki, one of the oldest books of classical Japanese history, dating back to 619 CE. The flesh of a ningyo is believed to grant eternal life and youth to those who eat it, and thus it is the subject of many folk tales. However, it carries with it a danger that most people are not willing to risk. Ningyo can place a powerful curse on humans who try to wound or capture them, and some legends tell of entire towns that were swallowed by earthquakes or tidal waves after a foolish fisherman brought home a ningyo in one of his catches. While their grotesque appearance and supernatural powers make them an intriguing subject, they are best avoided at all costs.



TRANSLATION: giant priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: many variations and different kinds exist
HABITAT: any; usually found in mountainous regions
DIET: varies; most commonly livestock or humans

APPEARANCE: Ōnyūdō is a catch-all term for a number of kinds of giants found throughout Japan. While some ōnyūdō bear a strong resemblance to Buddhist priests and monks, the name is used in a euphemistic way; most ōnyūdō have no actual relation to the clergy. Size, appearance, and mannerisms vary from region to region and account to account; some giants are only slightly larger than a human, while others are as big as a mountain; some are saviors of men while others are man-eaters.

BEHAVIOR: Ōnyūdō can be separated into four general groups: those that harm humans; those that help humans; transformations of other yokai; and other truly unique ōnyūdō that do not fit into any of these categories.

Ōnyūdō that harm humans are by far the broadest category. Among them are many well-known yokai, such as Hitotsume nyūdōu, Mikoshi nyūdō, and Umi bōzu. These giants delight in terrorizing humans – sometimes hunting them to eat, sometimes pillaging and destroying villages out of rage, and other times terrifying lone travelers just for the fun of it.

Ōnyūdō that help humans are much rarer. They sometimes perform good deeds such as turning stuck waterwheels, moving heavy objects, or doing other things that require incredible amounts of strength. Though helpful, they are not always friendly, and can change from benevolent to violent or angry with little warning.

True ōnyūdō are actually fairly rare; transformed yokai – especially tanuki and itachi – make up a large percentage of the giant population. Shape-shifting yokai often take on giant form in order to scare people and cause mischief, though they rarely kill. As there is no easy way to identify if a giant is a true ōnyūdō or just a shape-shifter, the two are functionally indistinguishable.

The remainder of ōnyūdō are enigmatic and mysterious. Often they are only evidenced by their footprints or discarded trash – and it is generally wise to leave them be at that. Regardless of how good or evil at heart a particular ōnyūdō is, they are by nature extremely dangerous. It is better to avoid all contact with them than risk enraging them and potentially bringing destruction upon the nearby villages.



TRANSLATION: crippled wheel
HABITAT: Hell; encountered on roads and mountain passes, and occasionally villages
DIET: souls

APPEARANCE: Instead of a giant monk’s head stuck in a wheel, katawaguruma appears as a tormented naked woman riding a single, flaming ox-cart wheel, eternally suffering and burning with pain.

BEHAVIOR: Katawaguruma looks and acts in much the same manner as wa-nyūdō, rolling along the roads of Japan, occasionally stopping in towns to hunt for impure souls to drag back to her hellish masters.

INTERACTIONS: These demons bestow powerful curses on any who see them, and this curse spreads rapidly through town, by the sharing of news and gossip about the katawaguruma. Eventually this can bringing calamity upon an entire village. Despite this, there is evidence that the katawaguruma has a capacity for mercy alien to its male counterpart.

LEGENDS: In a 17th century record, when a katawaguruma attacked a village in what is now Shiga, she abducted the child of a woman who dared to peek at her through a crack in her door, saying “Instead of watching me you should have been watching your child!” The woman was distraught and realized her own curiosity was responsible for the loss of her child. She composed a poem expressing her faults, and displayed it all around town, warning others to watch their children more carefully. The next night, the katawaguruma returned and saw that the woman was truly regretful, and returned the child unharmed. The katawaguruma was never seen in that village again.