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Umi zatō


TRANSLATION: blind man of the sea
HABITAT: the waters surrounding Japan
DIET: ships and sailors

APPEARANCE: Umi zatō are mysterious, gigantic yokai which look like blind guilds-men, or zatō, who wander the seas at night, tapping the waves with their long canes.

INTERACTIONS: Very little is known about the mysterious umi zatō. They are usually considered to be harmless and leave people alone. However, according to some tales, umi zatō harass fishermen out at sea. They are said to beckon ships towards them, and when the ships draw close, they flip them over and capsize them. They also occasionally swallow entire boats whole. They do have a congenial side, however. If the people on a ship reply to an umi zatō in a polite and docile manner, the umi zatō will vanish and leave them alone.

ORIGIN: Because there are so few legends about the umi zatō, almost all of what we know about them is only speculation. They are sometimes considered to be cousins of the similar-looking umi-bōzu, but it is very likely that umi zatō is an invented yokai thought up by Edo-period artists solely for decorating old picture scrolls.



TRANSLATION: fire cart
HABITAT: populated areas
DIET: fresh human corpses

APPEARANCE: Kasha are a type of bake-neko, or monster cat. They are large, bipedal felines as large as or larger than a human. They are often accompanied by hellish flames or lightning. They like to appear during rainy or stormy weather, and most often during the night. Their name sometimes causes confusion with other yokai; while their name means “fire cart,” they do not use vehicles of any kind.

INTERACTIONS: Kasha, being bake-neko, often live among humans, disguised as ordinary house cats or strays. However, they reveal their true forms during funeral services, when they leap down from rooftops to snatch corpses out of their coffins. Kasha are occasionally employed as messengers or servants of hell, in which case they are tasked with collecting the corpses of wicked humans spiriting them off to hell for punishment. Other times, they steal corpses for their own uses — either to animate as puppets or to eat.

It is nearly impossible to retrieve a person’s remains after they have been snatched by a kasha. This makes passing on to the next life difficult. The best defense is to be prepared; temples in areas where kasha are said to prowl have devised unique ways of defending against these monster cats. In Yamagata, clever priests have taken to holding two funeral ceremonies for the deceased. The first ceremony is a fake — the casket is filled only with rocks, so if a kasha comes for the body it will end up with nothing. The real ceremony takes place afterwards, when the risk of a kasha encounter is lessened. In Ehime, a head shaving razor may be placed on top of the coffin as against kasha. In Miyazaki, priests chant, “baku ni wa kuwasen” and “kasha ni wa kuwasen” (“don’t be eaten by a baku, don’t be eaten by a kasha”) twice times in front of the funeral procession in order to keeps evil spirits away. In Okayama, the priests play a myōhachi — a type of cymbal used in religious ceremonies — in order to keep the kasha away.

ORIGIN: Kasha were once ordinary house cats. Like other animals, as they age in years and their tails grow longer, cats begin to develop magical powers. Some turn into bake-neko, more powerful cats turn into neko-mata, and beyond that some turn into kasha. Fear of such demonic cats has long existed in Japan, and since ancient times, folk wisdom tells us, “Don’t let cats near dead bodies,” and, “If a cat jumps over the coffin, the corpse inside the coffin will rise.” Fears such as these have given rise to superstitious traditions such as cutting a cat’s tail short in order to prevent it from learning magic.

Tōfu kozō


TRANSLATION: little tofu boy
HABITAT: urban areas
DIET: omnivorous; loves tofu

APPEARANCE: Tōfu kozō are small yokai who closely resemble human children except for their large heads and clawed fingers and toes. They wear little boys’ kimonos and wide-brimmed hats — the typical outfit of a tōfu-selling young boy of the Edo period. They are usually depicted with two eyes, but in some illustrations they appear as having only one eye. They are usually found in urban areas in close proximity to people.

BEHAVIOR: Tōfu kozō are timid and weak yokai, and are not known to be aggressive towards humans. On rare occasions, a tōfu kozō may follow a human home on a rainy night, but for the most part they shy away from any confrontation.

INTERACTIONS: Tōfu kozō are first and foremost servant yokai. Even among other yokai, they are often bullied and teased for their lack of strength. They get no respect from those above them; at most, they act as menial servants to more powerful yokai.

ORIGIN: Prior to the Edo period there are no known stories about tōfu kozō, and so their origin is a mystery. Some say that they are just one of many forms taken by an itachi, a shape-shifting weasel yokai. Others say that they are the offspring of a mikoshi-nyūdō and a rokuro-kubi. Another possibility is that they are an invention of a creative artist looking to sell illustrated storybooks. Stories of tōfu kozō first appeared in the penny-novels and pulp fiction of Edo in the 1770’s, and became incredibly popular among the Edo upper class. These silly stories helped to spawn the explosion of yokai-related fiction that appeared in the later half of the 18th century.

Tōfu kozō bears a very strong resemblance to another yokai called hitotsume kozō — the chief difference being that hitotsume kozō has only one eye and a very large tongue, while tōfu kozō has two eyes and carries a plate of tofu. Both of these yokai are somewhat weak, child-like creatures who act as messengers to more powerful monsters. In some literature the two yokai are used interchangeably for each other, therefore it has been suggested that tōfu kozō may be closely related to, or may even have been copied from hitotsume kozō. However, there is not enough evidence either way to say where this yokai comes from.

Ittan momen

Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai一反木綿

TRANSLATION: one tan (about 28.8 cm by 10 m) of cotton

APPEARANCE: Ittan momen is a long, narrow sheet of cloth normally used to make clothes, but reanimated with the spirit of a tsukumogami. They are native to Kagoshima, and can be seen flying through the sky at night, occasionally attacking people.

BEHAVIOR: Ittan momen attack by wrapping their bodies around a person’s face and neck, strangling or smothering them to death. As far as tsukumogami go, they are fairly malicious and often dangerous or deadly instead of simply mischievous.

Iso onna


TRANSLATION: coast woman
HABITAT: coasts, particularly rocky ones; native to Kyushu
DIET: blood

APPEARANCE: Iso onna are dangerous vampires from Kyushu and Western Japan looking for fisherman and travelers to feed upon. They are closely related to nure onna, despite having no serpentine features at all. Iso onna wander rocky beaches, hunting for prey.

Individual accounts of iso onna vary quite a bit when it comes to their appearance. In most cases, they appear as beautiful women who have just come out of the water, dripping wet. Their hair is long and matted, reaching almost all the way down to the sand. Their eyes are heavy with sultry, sexual energy, and their wet clothes stick, nearly transparent, to their skin. From the waist up, they appear like ordinary human women, albeit soaking wet, while from the waist down, they are slightly blurry and transparent, betraying their ghostly nature. In some regions, iso onna are said to have serpentine bodies like nure onna, while in other regions they are said to be large enough to crush ships out at sea, like umi-bōzu. They also have the ability to disguise themselves perfectly as large beach rocks when they don’t want to be seen.

INTERACTIONS: When Iso onna appear to humans on sandy beaches, they look like beautiful women, staring far out to sea. When somebody approaches and tries speak to them, they turn around and let out an ear-piercing shriek, which stuns their victim. Then they lashes out with their long hair and drag their prey into the sea, where they drains their victim’s blood with their hair.

On rocky coasts without sandy beaches, iso onna appear sitting on the cliffs and calling out to passersby in an eerie voice. Their victims are mesmerized into walking straight towards them, ignoring the dangers posed by the rocky cliffs. They walk off the cliffs and fall to their deaths, leaving the iso onna free to feed on their bodies.

Iso onna are occasionally encountered far out at sea, but they otherwise act the same as they do on land, capturing their human prey and draining their victims’ blood using their long hair.

Iso onna are most commonly encountered during the holiday seasons of Obon and New Years Eve, when the border between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead can be more easily crossed. They occasionally cooperate with ushi oni to catch their prey.