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Kasane

Kasane
かさね

TRANSLATION: a girls’ name meaning “to pile up; to overlap; to add on;” an alternate reading of the kanji for her original name: Rui

APPEARANCE: Kasane is the ghost from Kasane ga fuchi—The Pool of Kasane. It is based on true events which happened in the 17th century in what is now Ibaraki Prefecture, although the story has changed quite a bit from the original incident. Her tale is one of the most famous Edo period ghost stories, and she is often held up with Oiwa and Okiku as a prime example of the grudge-bearing Japanese woman ghost. Her story was later adapted into rakugo and kabuki theater, as well as numerous films.

LEGENDS: Long ago in the village of Hanyū in Shimosa Provence lived a farmer named Yoemon and his wife Osugi. Osugi had a child from a previous relationship. The child’s name was Suke, and he was terribly ugly. His face was disfigured and his leg was malformed. Yoemon hated Suke. One day, Yoemon decided to dispose of Suke. While crossing a bridge over a deep pool, Yoemon knocked Suki into the pool. Suke was unable to swim, and drowned.

The following year, Yoemon and Osugi had a baby girl. They named her Rui. Rui looked so much like her half-brother Suke did that the villagers all believed she was haunted by his spirit. Instead of Rui, they referred to her as Kasane—an alternate reading of her name which implied that the ugly Suke had been born once again in her.

Both of Kasane’s parents died while she was young, and so she lived alone. She became very sick, when a wandering stranger named Yagorō came to her house and nursed her back to health. Out of gratitude, Kasane offered to marry Yagorō and make him the inheritor of her father’s property. Although Yagorō found Kasane repulsive, he wanted her land and inheritance, and so he agreed to marry her.

Not long after they were married, Yagorō had had enough of Kasane’s ugliness. He took her out to their fields to collect beans. On the way home made Kasane carry all of the beans herself, so that she could barely walk. Just as they were crossing the pool, Yagorō pushed the overburdened Kasane into the water. Yagorō jumped in after her. He stepped on her chest, pinning her to the riverbed. He crushed and squeezed the air out of her lungs. He shoved rocks and river sand into her mouth. He stabbed her eyes with his thumbs. Then he wrung her neck until she could struggle no longer. Several townspeople witnessed Yagorō murder Kasane, but nobody moved to help her. After all, she was so ugly—there seemed to be an unspoken agreement to just leave it be.

Yagorō continued on as if nothing was different, living in Kasane’s home and maintaining her family’s lands. He remarried very quickly, and for a while was happy. However, Yagorō’s new wife died suddenly, not long after they were married. Yagorō remarried again, and again his wife died suddenly. This happened over and over again. When Yagorō had remarried six times, his wife managed to survive long enough to bear him a daughter. They named their daughter Kiku, and for a while they were happy.

When Kiku was thirteen, Yagorō’s sixth wife died. Yagorō married Kiku to a man named Kingorō and named him the successor to the Yoemon family. All of a sudden Kiku became extremely sick and collapsed to the floor. Foaming and frothing at the mouth, tears streaming from her eyes, Kiku cried that she couldn’t bear the pain. She begged for someone to help her. Suddenly, a different voice came forth from her body:

“I am not Kiku! I am your wife! The wife you murdered! You overburdened me, you threw me into the pool, you crushed me and made me drown! Don’t tell me you don’t remember me! I cursed you and all six of your wives! I am the one who killed them! I am Kasane!”

Kingorō fled the village, never to return. Kiku’s body stood up and lunged at Yagorō, but he managed to escape to the village temple. Yagorō told everyone that he had no idea what Kiku was saying; that he would never murder his own wife. The villagers, wanting to save poor Kiku, dragged Yagorō out from the temple to confront Kasane. Even as Kasane’s spirit threatened and cursed Yagorō, he defiantly proclaimed his innocence. Kasane’s spirit began naming and cursing the villagers who witnessed her murder and yet did nothing. Finally Yagorō and the others confessed their crime. Rui was such an unattractive and unpleasant person that the whole village had neglected her. Though Yagorō had performed the deed, the whole village was guilty of her murder. The villagers who didn’t witness the murder, but never bothered to ask about Rui were partially responsible too. It was their fault that Rui’s rage had created this ghost, and it was their fault that poor Kiku was suffering.

Kasane continued: “All of your ancestors are here with me in Hell!” She then proceeded to name each of their ancestors, and list their crimes. Then Kasane listed all of the crimes of the living villagers. The entire village’s pride was shattered as their sins were made public. Kasane demanded that the villagers hold a lavish memorial service and erect a beautiful stone buddha in her honor to end her suffering. However, the villagers balked at the cost to cover such a funeral. Kasane told them, “My father owned many farms around here. Sell them, and use the money to perform the services!” The villagers confessed to Kasane that her family’s lands had already been sold and distributed. Kasane’s wrath exploded. Kiku’s body twisted and floated high up into the air, and the poor girl lost consciousness.

Word of Kiku’s possession and Kasane’s curse spread far and wide. It caught the ear of a traveling priest, Saint Yūten. Yūten visited the Yoemon household to offer his prayers and try to save Kiku. He chanted the sutras and prayed and prayed with all his effort, but it had no effect. Kasane’s grudge was too powerful. Kasane’s voice taunted Yūten from Kiku’s mouth. Yūten then tried to have Kiku recite the prayers, but Kasane’s spirit interrupted and Kiku was unable to speak. Finally, Yūten grabbed Kiku’s hair with all his strength, forcing her face down onto the floor. He make Kiku bow, and demanded that she pray. Kiku was finally able to recite the sutra, and suddenly the spirit of Kasane left from her body. She was saved.

As Saint Yūten was preparing to leave Hanyū, Yagorō suddenly came to him with dire news: Kiku’s possession had returned. Yūten once again traveled to the Yoemon household, this time determined to subdue the curse no matter what the cost. When he encountered Kiku, he grabbed her hair and with all of his strength, forced her down onto the floor. As he held her down, demanding she pray, Kiku’s voice could be heard faintly mumbling. Yūten bent down close to her mouth and and listened. Then he turned to Yagorō: “Does the name Suke mean anything to you?”

Yagorō had never heard of Suke, nor had anybody else present. Saint Yūten asked the villagers, and finally an elderly man came forward. “Some sixty years ago there was a rumor that the first Yoemon’s wife had a son who was murdered and thrown into the pool. I think his name was Suke.”

“Are you Suke?” Saint Yūten asked Kiku. Kiku’s voice replied, “Yes. When you saved Rui you left me behind, and now I possess her.” Yūten wasted no item. He immediately gave Suke a kaimyō—a posthumous Buddhist name—and wrote it down on the family altar. Suke’s spirit left Kiku’s body and entered the altar. Everyone present dropped to the floor and prayed. Kiku eventually remarried, and lived a happy and prosperous life. The spirits of Kasane and Suke were never heard from again.

Daidarabotchi

Daidarabotchi大太郎法師
だいだらぼっち

TRANSLATION: giant priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: daidarabō, daidabō, daidara hōshi, daitarōbō, deidarabotchi, dairanbō, dendenbome, reirabotchi, ōki bochabocha
HABITAT: mountains all over Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Daidarabotchi are colossal humanoids which resemble bald-headed priests. They have big, rolling eyes, long, lolling tongues, and pitch black skin. They share a lot of similarities with other giants, like ōnyūdō and umi bōzu, but they are by far the largest giants found in yōkai folklore.

BEHAVIOR: Daidarabotchi are so large that their movements shape the world. They build mountains by piling up rocks and dirt. They even pick up and move mountains to other places. When they walk, they leave lakes and valleys behind in their footprints. Because of this, many places across Japan are believed to have been made by daidarabotchi. Some are even named after them.

ORIGIN: Because daidarabotchi legends are found all over Japan, they have countless local name variations.

LEGENDS: Mount Fuji is sometimes said to have been made by a daidarabotchi. The giant scooped and dug up all of the dirt in Kai Province (Yamanashi Prefecture) to make the mountain, and that is why the area around Mount Fuji is a large basin. He gathered more dirt for the mountain by digging in Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture), and the area he dug became Lake Biwa.

The towns of Daita in Setagaya ward of Tōkyō and Daitakubo in Saitama are named after daidarabotchi. These towns are said to have been created by daidarabotchi.

Daizahōshi Pond in Nagano Prefecture is named after a daidarabotchi, and is believed to have been created by one. Senba Lake in Ibaraki Prefecture is also said to fill the footprint of a particularly large daidarabotchi.

The Takabocchi Plateau in Nagano’s Yatsugatake quasi-national park is said to have been formed when a daidarabotchi lay down to rest his back for a bit.

Ōnamazu

Oonamazu

大鯰
おおなまず

TRANSLATION: giant catfish
ALTERNATE NAMES: jishin namazu (earthquake catfish)
HABITAT: rivers, seas, oceans, and subterranean caverns
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: As their name suggests, ōnamazu are gigantic catfish which live in the muck and slime of the waterways around Japan. They also inhabit large caverns deep underground.

BEHAVIOR: Ōnamazu behave much like their smaller cousins. They dig in the muck, and thrash about when disturbed or excited. Due to their titanic mass, the thrashing of ōnamazu is considerably more violent than ordinary catfish, to the point where they are dangerous to humans. When these monstrous fish get excited, they shake the earth with their violent thrashing, causing devastating earthquakes in the areas near where they live.

INTERACTIONS: Ōnamazu do not normally interact with people, however during the Edo period they were popularly depicted in newspaper illustrations. Usually these pictures showed a huge, grotesque catfish being subdued by a large number of people, gods, or even other yokai, desperately trying to calm its thrashing.

ORIGIN: Long ago, common belief was that earthquakes were caused by large dragons which lived deep in the earth. During the Edo period, the idea of catfish causing earthquakes gradually began to displace dragons in popular lore as the origin of seismic activity. By the 1855 Great Ansei Earthquake, the ōnamazu had become the popular culprit to blame for earthquakes. This was due mostly to the hundreds of illustrations of thrashing catfish which accompanied newspapers reporting the news of that disaster. They were so popular they spawned an entire genre of woodblock print: namazu-e (catfish pictures).

The reason catfish came to represent earthquakes was due to a large number of witnesses observing catfish behaving oddly—thrashing about violently for seemingly no reason—just before the earthquake. Rumor quickly spread that that catfish had some kind of ability to foresee the coming disaster. Since then, the catfish has regularly appeared as a symbol for earthquakes—either as the cause or as a warning sign of the coming disaster. Recent studies have shown that catfish are in fact very electrosensitive and do become significantly more active shortly before an earthquake hits—showing that there is more to this myth than meets the eye!

LEGENDS: The Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki prefecture is the source of a famous story about ōnamazu. The deity of the shrine, a patron deity of martial arts named Takemikazuchi, is said to have subdued an ōnamazu. He pinned it down underneath the shrine, piercing its head and tail with a sacred stone which still remains in the shrine today—the top of the stone protrudes from the ground. Earthquakes that take place during the 10th month of the lunar calendar—”the godless month,” when the gods all travel to Izumo—are said to be due to Takemikazuchi’s absence from the shrine.

During the 2011 Tōhoku disaster, the Kashima Shrine was badly damaged by an earthquake. The large stone gate was destroyed, stone lanterns were knocked down, and the water level in the reflecting pond changed. The gate was rebuilt in 2014.

Takiyasha hime

Takiyashahime滝夜叉姫
たきやしゃひめ

TRANSLATION: Princess/Lady Takiyasha; literally “waterfall demon princess”

APPEARANCE: Takiyasha hime is the daughter of Taira no Masakado and a sorceress who raised an army of yōkai and attempted to conquer Japan. Her story became popular in the Edo period, and is depicted in novels, woodblock prints, and kabuki. The details of her story vary quite a bit from version to version.

LEGENDS: After Taira no Masakado was defeated and his rebellion quashed, the imperial court declared Masakado’s entire family to be traitors and ordered their execution. Two of Masakado’s children, Yoshikado and Satsuki hime, somehow managed to escape their execution. They remained in hiding at a temple at the base of Mount Tsukuba for years. Satsuki hime became a devoted nun, but her brother was not interested in religion. He spent his time exploring the mountain and playing at being a samurai.

One day while exploring Mount Tsukuba, Yoshikado encountered a mysterious wizard named Nikushisen. Nikushisen informed Yoshikado that he was the heir of Taira no Masakado, and gave him a magic scroll containing the secrets of frog magic. Yoshikado returned to his sister, and told her everything Nikushisen had said. He gave her the scroll. She studied it and also became a master of frog magic, and took the name Takiyasha hime. The two of them decided to fulfill their father’s dream of overthrowing the emperor and ushering in a new order.

In a different version of the story, instead of Yoshikado meeting Nikushisen, Satsuki hime secretly began to perform the dreaded curse ushi no koku mairi—the shrine visit at the hour of the ox. Every night, she snuck into the Kifune Shrine and performed the ritual. After twenty-one nights, she awakened the aramitama—the violent, wicked spirit—of the Kifune Shrine. The aramitama spoke to her, granting her the knowledge of onmyōdō, and instructing her to take the name Takiyasha hime.

Takiyasha hime and Yoshikado returned to their father’s fortress of Sōma Castle in Shimosa province. They called on the surviving soldiers who remained loyal to their father’s cause. Using her newly acquired black magic, Takiyasha hime raised an army of yōkai to continue her father’s rebellion against the emperor.

Ōya no Tarō Mitsukuni, a warrior who was knowledgeable about onmyōdō, had heard of Takiyasha hime’s plans and set out to Sōma Castle to investigate if the rumors were true. When he arrived, Takiyasha hime disguised herself as a prostitute and tried to seduce Mitsukuni. However, Mitsukuni suspected a trap and told her about the brutal death of Taira no Masakado. Takiyasha hime could not contain her emotion, and she fled from Mitsukuni. That night, she ambushed him with an army of skeletons and yōkai. According to Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s famous ukiyoe print, Takiyasha hime unleashed a gashadokuro upon him—a gigantic skeleton as tall as a castle.

Riding into battle on top of a giant toad, Takiyasha hime assaulted the brave warrior Mitsukuni. In the end, despite her magic, she was defeated just as her father was. Her short rebellion was snuffed out just as his was.

Today, many statues of frogs decorate Taira no Masakado’s gravesite in Kubizuka. The Japanese word for frog, kaeru, is a homophone of the word meaning “return.” Masakado’s severed head longed to return to his hometown, and patrons hope that Masakado’s spirit will “kaeru,” return, to heaven—and not cause any more harm on Earth. It is also said that this reflects the “frog magic” that Nikushisen taught to his daughter, Takiyasha hime.

Hiyoribō

Hiyoribou日和坊
ひよりぼう

TRANSLATION: weather priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: teruteru bōzu
HABITAT: mountains (only appearing on sunny days)
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Hiyoribō is a yōkai from Ibaraki prefecture who calls forth the sun and creates good weather. It lives deep in the mountains, and can only be seen on sunny days. During rain or in bad weather, this yōkai remains hidden.

ORIGIN: Hiyoribō strongly resembles another weather yōkai from China known as the hiderigami. It may be that hiyoribō is simply another form of the hiderigami.

Waira

Wairaわいら

TRANSLATION: a regional corruption of kowai, meaning “scary”
HABITAT: forests, mountains, shrines, and temples
DIET: small animals and wicked people

APPEARANCE: The waira is a rare and reclusive yokai, of which very few have ever been encountered. It is an ugly beast with a large body similar to that of a cow, bearing a single sharp claw on each of its four long limbs. According to the few accounts that exist, males of the species are mottled in earthy brown colors, while females are red.

BEHAVIOR: Waira live deep in the mountains, near heavily wooded temples and shrines. They are usually found near otoroshi, and are believed to guard temples and shrines in a similar manner. They uses their tough claws to dig up and catch small animals, such as moles, mice, and rabbits.

ORIGIN: From the colorings and environments where they are found, it is believed that waira are transformed yokai, born from the common toad after it reaches an advanced age. It has also been speculated that the waira is closely related to the otoroshi, as they share the same habitat and are occasionally seen together.

The waira’s name, as with the otoroshi’s, is a subject of some confusion. However, the most commonly accepted theory is that it is a corruption of a variant of the word kowai, meaning “scary.” This further supports the contention that the waira and the otoroshi may be somehow related.

Nukekubi

Nukekubi抜け首
ぬけくび

TRANSLATION: removable neck
ALTERNATE NAMES: frequently referred to as rokurokubi
HABITAT: occurs in ordinary women
DIET: regular food by day, blood by night

APPEARANCE: This variant type of rokurokubi, known as the nukekubi, is similar in most respects to the first type, except that the head detaches itself completely from the body rather than stretching out on an elongated neck.

BEHAVIOR: Nukekubi are often much more violent than rokurokubi. Because their heads are detached, they can travel farther distances than the rokurokubi’s head can. Additionally they often possess a thirst for blood. The flying head usually sucks the blood of its victims like a vampire, but occasionally brutally bites humans and animals to death.

ORIGIN: Uncured, this curse has the potential to tear a family apart, particularly due to the more violent nature of this variant. A diagnosis reveals that nukekubi suffer from an infliction similar to somnambulism; only instead of walking about at night, the patient’s entire soul and head depart from the body. Treatments for the curse of the rokurokubi and nukekubi have been long sought after, particularly because these women can often pass their curse on to their daughters, who begin to shows signs of it as they mature. Girls afflicted with this curse were usually sold off to live in brothels or human circuses, or else forced submit to an honorable death by suicide to preserve their families’ honor.

LEGENDS: A famous account from Echizen tells of a young woman afflicted with the curse of the nukekubi. Her head flew about the capital city at night, chasing young men through the street and all the way back to their houses. Locked out, the head would scratch and bite their doors and gates during the night, leaving deep gashes in the wood. When the young girl eventually discovered her curse, she was so ashamed that she asked her husband to divorce her. She ritually cut off all of her hair in repentance for her curse, and then committed suicide, believing it was better to die than to live the rest of her life as a monster.

According to lore from Hitachi, a man married to a nukekubi heard from a peddler that the liver of a white-haired dog can remove the curse. He killed his dog and fed its liver to his wife, and sure enough she was cured of the affliction. However, her curse had been passed on to her daughter, whose flying head took to biting white dogs to death. Other accounts claim that by removing the sleeping body to a safe place during the night, the head will not be able return, and will eventually die – however this is not a cure that most families are happy to try.

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.