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Browsing all posts in: Wakayama



TRANSLATION: white-spotted char; literally “rain trout”
HABITAT: cold streams and lakes, occasionally seagoing
DIET: carnivorous, ranging from small fish and plankton up to and including large boats

APPEARANCE: Amemasu is the Japanese name for the white-spotted char (Salvelinus leucomaenis leucomaenis), a species of trout which is found in Northeast Asia. They are a popular target of game fishing and are also raised in fisheries.

BEHAVIOR: Amemasu spend most of their lives in the water, away from humans. They are found mostly in rivers and streams, but seagoing varieties exist as well. They are more common in Hokkaido, the northern parts of Honshu, and along the Sea of Japan—however legends of amemasu are occasionally found in the southern parts of Japan as well. They feed on whatever they can eat—from plankton to insects, to fish and any other aquatic lifeforms they can fit into their mouths. Yōkai amemasu can grow to colossal sizes, sometimes spanning an entire lake from head to tail. These giant amemasu also occasionally thrash and sink ships, devouring any poor souls who happened to be on the ship. In Ainu folklore, the wild thrashing of giant amemasu is believed to be what causes earthquakes—much like giant catfish are thought to cause earthquakes in the rest of Japan.

INTERACTIONS:  Amemasu can transform into human shape and walk about on land. They usually take the form of young, beautiful women in order to seduce young men. Shape-changed amemasu can be identified by their skin, which feels cold and clammy like that of a fish.

LEGENDS: A number of lakes in Hokkaido are believed to be the home of giant amemasu. According to Ainu folklore, these amemasu are thought to be the guardian deities of their respective lakes. Lake Mashū is home to an amemasu the size of a whale. Lake Shikotsu contains an amemasu so large that its head touches one end of the lake and its tail touches the other.

A legend from Minabe, Wakayama Prefecture tells of a mysterious whirlpool that appeared in a deep pond. A giant amemasu lived in the pond. Every spring, she would emerge from the pond in the form of a beautiful woman. For two or three days she would catch young men and take them away—where to nobody knows, but they were never seen again. The only way to know that it was a fish and not a woman was from her cold, clammy skin. One day, a cormorant dove into the pond to go hunting. The giant amemasu swallowed the bird in a single gulp. However, after a short time, the amemasu’s body floated up to the surface of the pond, dead. The cormorant burst out of its stomach. A shrine was built at that spot to honor Konpira-san, which still stands today.



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.

Kiyo hime


TRANSLATION: Princess Kiyo

APPEARANCE: Kiyo hime is one of the most famous antagonists in Japanese literature, and an example of a honnari hannya—a demon woman who has attained the maximum level of power. She appears in The Legend of Anchin and Kiyo hime, or Princess Kiyo, an ancient tale from Wakayama prefecture. Versions of the story appear in a number of ancient books. Her tale is retold in the famous noh play Dōjō-ji.

LEGENDS: Long ago, during the reign of Emperor Daigo, the young priest named Anchin was traveling from Mutsu to Kumano on a pilgrimage. Every year he made the journey, and every year he would lodge at the manor of the Masago no Shōji family. He was an incredibly good looking young man, and he caught the eye of Kiyo hime, the manor lord’s daughter. She was a troublesome young girl. Anchin joked to her that if she were a good girl and behaved herself, he would marry her and take her back to Mutsu.

Every year Kiyo hime waited for Anchin to come again for his pilgrimage. When she came of age arrived, she reminded him of his promise and asked him to marry her. Anchin, embarrassed that she had taken his word seriously, lied that he would come for her as soon as he finished his pilgrimage. On his return, he avoided the Masago no Shōji manor and headed straight for Mutsu.

When Kiyo hime heard of Anchin’s deception, she was overcome with grief. She ran after the young priest, barefoot, determined to marry him. Anchin fled as fast as he could, but Kiyo hime caught him on the road to the temple Dōjō-ji. There, instead of greeting her, Anchin lied again. He pretended not to know her and protested that he was late for a meeting somewhere else. Kiyo hime’s sadness turned into furious rage. She attacked, moving to punish the lying priest. Anchin prayed to Kumano Gongen to save him. A divine light dazzled Kiyo hime’s eyes and paralyzed her body, giving Anchin just enough time to escape.

Kiyo hime’s rage exploded to its limits—the divine intervention had pushed her over the edge. She transformed into a giant, fire-breathing serpent. When Anchin reached the Hidaka River, he paid the boatman and begged him not to allow his pursuer to cross. Then, he ran to Dojō-ji for safety. Ignoring the boatman entirely, Kiyo hime swam across the river after Anchin.

Seeing the monstrous serpent, the priests of Dōjō-ji hid Anchin inside of the large, bronze temple bell. However, Kiyo hime could smell Anchin inside. Overcome with rage and despair, she wrapped herself around the bell and breathed fire until the bronze became white hot. She roasted Anchin alive inside the bell. With Anchin dead, the demon Kiyo hime threw herself into the river and drowned.

Katsura otoko


TRANSLATION: katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) man
HABITAT: the moon
DIET: vampiric

APPEARANCE: Katsura otoko is an incomparably beautiful man who lives in the face of the moon. He appears on moonlit nights as gazes back down at those who gaze up at him. His beauty is said to be so enchanting that those who gaze at him find it difficult to turn away, even to their own peril.

INTERACTIONS: If one gazes long enough at a katsura otoko, he will extend his hand and beckon, calling the moon-gazer towards him. With each shake of his beckoning hand, his viewer’s lifespan shrinks. If one stares long enough at katsura otoko, he or she may drop dead right on the spot!

ORIGIN: Katsura otoko originates in Chinese mythology, where there is said to be a man who lives in a great palace on the moon and spends his time pruning and chopping away at a gigantic katsura tree which grows there. As he prunes the tree, the shape of the moon grows smaller and less round until there is almost nothing left, and then the tree slowly grows its branches back — sort of a just-so-story to explain the waxing and waning of the moon.

Sazae oni


TRANSLATION: turban snail demon
HABITAT: oceans, seas, and coastal areas
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Sazae oni are monstrous turban snails which haunt the seas. They appear on moonlit nights, dancing on the water’s surface like exotic dancers or dragons.

BEHAVIOR: Sazae oni are monstrous and deadly creatures, fully deserving the “demon” moniker. They are powerful shape-changers, often taking the form of beautiful women in order to lure seamen into trouble. At sea, they pretend to be drowning victims and cry out to be rescued, only to turn on their would-be saviors once brought aboard. When encountered on land, sazae oni often travel disguised as lone, wandering women who stop at inns and eat the innkeepers during the night.

ORIGIN: Sazae oni can be born a few different ways. According to ancient lore, when animals reach a certain age, they gain the ability to transform. It was thought that when a turban snail reaches 30 years old, it would turn into a yokai with all kinds of magical powers. Another way that sazae oni come to be is when a lustful young woman is thrown into the sea. Such a woman would transform into a sea snail, and if she happens to live a very long time she will transform into a sazae oni as well.

LEGENDS: On the Kii penninsula, legend tells of a band of pirates who spotted a woman drowning in the water one night. They rescued her, though not out of the goodness in their hearts; they had more nefarious reasons to wanting a woman aboard their ship. That night every pirate on the ship had their way with her. Unfortunately for the pirates, the woman was actually a shape-changed sazae oni, and during the night, she visited each pirate on the boat one by one and bit off their testicles. At the end of the night she had all of their testicles, and demanded treasure for their return. The desperate pirates traded away all of their ill-gotten gold to the sazae oni to buy back their “golden balls,” as they are called in Japanese.



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: night sparrow
ALTERNATE NAMES: tamoto suzume, okuri suzume
HABITAT: remote mountain passes and roads
DIET: seeds and insects

APPEARANCE: The yosuzume is a rare bird yokai found on Shikoku and in neighboring prefectures. As their name suggests, they are nocturnal, appearing on remote mountain passes and forested roads late at night. Like ordinary sparrows, they are usually found in large flocks, and are very noisy.

INTERACTIONS: Yosuzume appear to travelers at night, swirling around them in a creepy, unnatural swarm. By themselves they don’t do any particular harm other than startling people; however they are a sign of very bad luck and are thought to bring terrible evil to those whom they swarm around. Because of this, many locals have superstitious chants which one is supposed to say at night to keep the yosuzume away. Roughly translated, one of them goes: “Chi, chi, chi calls the bird / maybe it wants a branch / if it does, hit it with one.” Another one goes, “Chi, chi, chi calls the bird / please blow soon / divine wind of Ise.”

In some places, yosuzume are known as tamoto suzume, or “sleeve sparrows,” and their appearance was a sign that wolves, wild dogs, or other yokai were nearby. Their call is mysteriously only ever heard by a single individual, even when traveling in groups. It was considered very bad luck if a tamoto suzume should jump into one’s sleeve while walking, and so travelers would hold their sleeves tightly shut when traveling in areas inhabited by these birds.

In other areas, yosuzume are not seen as bad omens, but as warning signs that a more dangerous yokai, the okuri inu, is nearby. For this reason, the yosuzume is also known as the okuri suzume, or “sending sparrow,” and its call is said to be a reminder to travelers to watch their footing on the dangerous mountain paths and to not fall down.



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.

Hitotsume nyūdō


TRANSLATION: one-eyed priest
HABITAT: roads and highways
DIET: omnivorous; occasionally humans

APPEARANCE: Hitotsume nyūdō could pass for human priests if not for the large single eye in the center of their faces. They dress in luxurious robes and travel in enormous, ornate palanquins carried by lesser yokai – or sometimes human slaves – surrounded by a splendid precession fit for a corrupt abbot or a rich lord. The fantastic procession is enough to make most travelers stop and stare, wondering what nobleman or lady might be riding inside; but when the palanquin stops and hitotsume nyūdō comes out, it means trouble for any who happen to be nearby.

BEHAVIOR: Hitotsume nyūdō are one of the most demonic types of ō-nyūdō. They roams the roads and highways outside of the cities, assaulting lone travelers unfortunate enough to get in their way. With their long legs they are faster than most humans, so running away from them is impossible. Like many giants, they are able to increase and decrease their size at will, growing taller than the highest trees and trampling them to crush any who might be hiding among them.

Hitotsume nyūdō attacks are occasionally blamed on mischievous kitsune or tanuki disguised by transformation magic.

LEGENDS: A legend from Wakayama tells how a man, traveling along a wooded road, came across a splendid procession unlike any he had ever seen. He climbed a tree to get a better look, and as the procession approached, it stopped just as it reached his tree. There was a frighteningly large palanquin, and out from it stepped a giant, one-eyed monster. The creature chased after the man, climbing the tree he was hiding in. In a panic the man swung his sword at the creature. At the very moment he did so, the hitotsume nyūdō and the entire procession vanished.

One hitotsume nyūdō frequently seen outside of Kyoto was said to be a reincarnation of a particularly fierce abbot of Enryaku-ji, renowned for his strict discipline. In life he was known for expelling lazy monks from his temple. He saw the world as growing increasingly secular and wicked, and he constantly lamented and criticized the corruption and sin of the monks of his day. After his death, it is said he was reincarnated into a yokai to continue punishing the wicked and impious clergy.