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Akateko

Akateko赤手児
あかてこ

TRANSLATION: red child’s hand
HABITAT:  Japanese honey locust (Gleditsia japonica) trees
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The akateko appears—just as the name implies—as a red, disembodied hand belonging to a child. It is found hanging in Japanese honey locust trees.

INTERACTIONS: Akateko drops down from trees as people pass underneath them. Aside from giving its victims a nasty surprise and the general creepiness of a disembodied red child’s hand, it is not known for causing any great harm.

Some people have seen the figure of a furisode-wearing beautiful girl of 17 or 18 years standing underneath an akateko’s tree. Those who witness her are immediately struck with a powerful fever. It is not clear what relationship she has to the akateko, if she is part of the same apparition or another spirit entirely.

ORIGIN: The origin of akateko is usually given as a certain tree in front of an elementary school in the city of Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture. However, there are local versions of it in Fukushima and Kagawa Prefectures as well. In these prefectures, akateko sometimes work together with another yokai called aka ashi. They grab at the feet of pedestrians, causing them to stumble and fall. It has also been suggested that akateko and aka ashi are two forms of the same yokai.

Tanuki tsuki

Tanukitsuki

狸憑き
たぬきつき

TRANSLATION: tanuki (raccoon dog) possession

APPEARANCE: Spirit possession can be caused by humans and ghosts, but frequently it is the work of animals with supernatural powers. One of the most common animal possessions is called tanuki tsuki—possession by tanuki spirits.

INTERACTIONS: When tanuki possess human beings, their victims develop strange new personality traits. One of the most common changes is gluttony. Victims become intensely hungry and eat and eat, even going so far as to eat spoiled and ruined food. Although possessed humans grow vast waists from this gluttony, all of the nutrition goes to the tanuki spirits. Victims only grow weaker and weaker until finally they die from malnutrition. Other common symptoms of tanuki possession include unexplained illness, melancholy, becoming overly talkative, sudden outbursts of violence, or abnormally increased libido.

Tanuki possess humans for various reasons, but common ones include revenge for destroying the tanuki’s den, or simply just as a prank. In rare cases, some human families have harnessed the power of animal possession for their own use. Some legends tell of people offering food to old, wild tanuki, taming them, and then using their spirits to possess their enemies.

Because tanuki are powerful yōkai, it is difficult to escape tanuki tsuki. Either the tanuki must leave of its own will, or it must be driven out by a powerful yamabushi, priest, or onmyōji. Another solution is to deify the tanuki. A tanuki elevated to the level of a kami will no longer possess humans. Many villages—particularly in Shikoku—have built shrines to worship particularly troublesome tanuki.

Kudan

Kudan


くだん

TRANSLATION: none; written with characters that mean “human” and “cow”
HABITAT: farms across Japan, but particularly in Kyushu and western Japan
DIET: milk; rarely lives long enough to eat anything else

APPEARANCE: Kudan are prophetic creatures that take the form of baby cows with human faces. Very rarely, they are also said to take the reverse appearance: a cow’s face on a human body. They are born from cows, and their birth is often said to be an omen of some significant historical event. A kudan never lives for more than a few days.

BEHAVIOR: Kudan are able to speak human languages from the day they are born. Immediately upon being born, a kudan gives one or more prophecies. The content of their prophecies varies. Some kudan have spoken of great harvests or terrible famines, some have foretold plagues and droughts, while others have predicted wars. The prediction of a kudan never fails to come true. Upon delivering its prophecy, a kudan immediately dies.

ORIGIN: Kudan are a relatively recent yokai, having entered the public zeitgeist during the end of the Edo period. This was a period of great social and political upheaval. The fall of the shogunate and the return of imperial authority, combined with the rapid changes brought about by the opening of trade with the West were responsible for a lot of uncertainly and turmoil throughout Japan. During this time, stories of kudan being born popped up up in newspapers all across the country.

Kudan sightings continued through the end of the Edo period until after World War 2. Among some of the events supposedly predicted by kudan are the Russo-Japanese War and the Pacific War. Because of their uncanny ability to predict the future, the word of a kudan was viewed as absolute truth. During the Edo period, newspapers looking to add credibility to a story would include the words “kudan no gotoshi,” or, “as if a kudan had said it” to their articles. This phrase remains in use in the Japanese language today as a way of assuring the reader of the truth of a story.

Because of its reputation for honesty, images of kudan were used as talismans for good luck, prosperity, and protection from sickness and disaster. Newspapers advised their readers to hang the printed images of kudan on their houses for protection and good fortune. Kudan were such popular yokai that their mummified remains were often carted around in traveling sideshows. These “kudan” could be made of stillborn deformed calves, or of different animal parts stitched together to create a chimera-like stuffed animal. Visitors paid a small fee to gawk at these specimens and hopefully receive some of their good luck. A few of these mummified remains survive in museums today.

Mōryō

Mouryou魍魎
もうりょう

TRANSLATION: mountains, trees, streams, and rocks spirits
ALTERNATE NAMES: mizuha
HABITAT: streams, rivers, mountains, forests, graveyards, and wild areas all over Japan
DIET: humans, particularly corpses

APPEARANCE: Mōryō is a general term, like chimi, for a large number of nature spirits that live in the wilderness. In particular, while chimi refers to mountain and swamp spirits, mōryō refers to water spirits. They are said to look like children about three years old, with red or black skin, red eyes, long ears, and long, beautiful hair.

INTERACTIONS: Mōryō feed upon the bodies of dead humans. As such, they like to rob graves, digging corpses up out of the ground to feast upon the rotting innards. They also interrupt funerals, using magic to distract the attendees and stealing the corpses from their coffins while nobody is looking. Because of these behaviors, they are especially troublesome, and so special methods have been invented to prevent such disturbances to the deceased.

Mōryō are afraid of oak trees and tigers. As a result of this, in ancient China it was common to plant oak trees in graveyards, and to adorn the roads leading into and out of graveyards with stone tigers. Additionally, prior to interring a casket in the ground, a servant would enter the grave hold and prod around with a spear to make sure no mōryō were hiding in the grave. These practices did not catch on in Japan.

ORIGIN: Mōryō first appear in ancient Chinese records, where they are said to be minor nature spirits or demons. In Japan, they are said to be water kami, and cooperate alongside chimi, minor kami of the mountains. Many kinds of yokai can be classified as mōryō, one of the most famous examples being the kappa.

LEGENDS: In Mimibukuro, a collection of folktales collected during the Edo period, a story of a mōryō disguised as a human is recorded. A government official named Shibata had a very loyal servant, who one evening, out of the blue, informed Shibata that he would be leaving his service. When asked why, the man replied that he was not actually a human, but a mōryō in disguise, and his turn had come up to steal corpses; thus, the next day he would have to travel to a nearby village and due his duty as a mōryō. Sure enough, the next day, the servant had vanished, and at the same time, in the village he had mentioned, dark clouds suddenly descended upon a funeral service. When the clouds cleared away, the corpse was missing from the coffin!

Kasha

Kasha火車
かしゃ

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.

Tsurubebi

Tsurubebi釣瓶火
つるべび

TRANSLATION: well bucket fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: tsurube otoshi, tsurube oroshi
HABITAT: coniferous trees deep in the forests of Shikoku and Kyushu
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Tsurubebi are small tree spirits which appear at night, deep in coniferous forests. They take the form of blueish-white orbs of fire which bob up and down in the branches, occasionally dropping to the forest floor and floating back up into the trees. Their name comes from the way they bob about in the trees, which is supposed to resemble a well bucket swinging back and forth. Sometimes the vague shape of a human or bestial face can be seen in the flames.

BEHAVIOR: Tsurubebi do very little other than bob up and down or drop from branches. Their flames produce no heat and do not burn the trees that they live in; nor do these yokai pose any other known threat. While tsurubebi is most often considered to be a tree spirit, it has also been suggested that it is closely related to another yokai named tsurube otoshi. These two yokai share many similarities, including their names, coniferous habitat, and dropping-down behavior. However, while tsurube otoshi is malevolent and dangerous, tsurubebi appears to be entirely benign and uninterested in humans.

Yamajijii

Yamajijii山爺
やまじじい

TRANSLATION: mountain geezer
ALTERNATE NAMES: yamanji, yamachichi (“mountain father”)
HABITAT: deep in the mountains of Shikoku
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Yamajijii look like eldery men about 3-4 feet tall, with only one leg and one eye. In actuality, they have two eyes, but one of them is so huge and the other so tiny that they appear to have only one eye. Their bodies are covered in fine gray hair, and they can be found wearing old clothes, tattered rags, or nothing at all. Their teeth are sharp and very powerful — a yamajijii’s bite is said to be strong enough to crush the bones of wild boars or monkeys.

BEHAVIOR: Yamajijii live in the mountains far from human settlements. They rarely appear before humans, but their tracks are easily recognizable. They leave deep, sunken footprints about 12 inches long every 6 to 7 feet (from their hopping about on one leg). Because their bite is so strong, hunters would sometimes tame yamajijii and use them to drive away wolves. They also have the uncanny ability to read peoples’ thoughts as they think of them. They are most well known, however, for their powerful voices. The cry of a yamajijii is so powerful it blows the leaves off of branches, splits trees and moves rocks, reverberates through the mountains, and shakes the heavens and the earth. They enjoy shouting contests, and will occasionally allow a human to challenge them; however, humans who are close to a yamajijii when it shouts sometimes have their eardrums burst, or even die.

LEGENDS: A legend from Shikoku tells of a brave hunter who challenged a yamajijii to a shouting contest. On the hunter’s turn, he fired his rifle when he shouted, winning the contest. Later, the yamajijii realized he had been tricked, shape-shifted into a spider, and sneaked into the hunter’s bed to attack him in his sleep. In some versions of the tale, the clever hunter prepares for the shouting contest by praying to the gods of Ise and crafting a special holy bullet inscribed with their names. This bullet had a very special power: when fired it would never miss its target. Because of its magic, whenever the hunter carried it with him it would invariably attract the attention of yokai; however, any time a yamajijii came near enough to threaten him, the hunter would display the bullet, and the yamajijii would flee in terror.

A tale from Tokushima tells of a group of woodcutters warming themselves by a fire in a cabin when yamajijii suddenly appeared to them. The woodcutters were terrified and all thought of the same idea: kill the yokai! The yamajijii read each one of their minds one by one and learned of their thoughts, when suddenly one of the logs in the fire split with a loud snap! The yamajijii thought that there must be a mind he could not read among the hunters, and he quickly fled the cabin in terror.

A story from Kochi tells of a kind yamajijii who gave a sorghum seed to a poor farmer as a gift. The farmer sowed the seed and that year was blessed with an incredible harvest. That winter, the yamajijii returned and asked for some mochi to eat. The grateful farmer gladly gave the yamajijii as much mochi as it could eat. The next year another great harvest followed, and again the yamajijii came back in the winter to ask for mochi. Each year, the yamajijii was able to eat more and more mochi, until it was able to eat 3 huge barrels-full. The farmer became afraid of losing his fortune, and gave the yamajijii a pile of burned stones, passing them off as yaki-mochi. The yamajijii ate them, but soon began to feel sick and hot. The farmer offered a cup of hot oil, passing it off as tea, but the yamajijii realized the farmer’s trick. Surprised and hurt, it fled into the woods, but died before it could get back to its home. Afterwards, the farmer’s family fell into ruin and was never rich again.

Yosuzume

Yosuzume夜雀
よすずめ

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.

Nurikabe

Nurikabe塗壁
ぬりかべ

TRANSLATION: painted wall
HABITAT: coastal areas; encountered on dark streets and alleys
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Little is known about the true appearance of nurikabe because these yokai are usually said to be invisible. During the Edo period, however, artists began to illustrate this creature, giving it an appearance somewhere between a grotesque, fantastic beast and a flat, white wall. Modern representations of the nurikabe depict it as a plain, gray, bipedal wall with vague face-like features.

BEHAVIOR: Nurikabe appear mysteriously on roads late at night. As a traveler is walking, right before his or her eyes, an enormous, invisible wall materializes and blocks the way. There is no way to slip around this yokai; it extends itself as far as to the left and right as one might try to go. There is no way over it either, nor can it be knocked down. However, it is said that if one taps it near the ground with a stick, it will vanish, allowing the traveler to continue on his or her way.

ORIGIN: The true nature of the nurikabe is surrounded in mystery. Based on its name, it seems to be related to other household spirits known as tsukimogami. It has also been suggested that the nurikabe is simply another manifestation of a shape-shifting itachi or tanuki. Mischievous tanuki are said to enlarge their magical scrotums into an invisible wall in order to play pranks on unsuspecting humans.

Ao bōzu

Aobouzu青坊主
あおぼうず

TRANSLATION: blue monk
HABITAT: wheat and barley fields, uninhabited homes, lonely roads
DIET: varies from region to region; commonly children

APPEARANCE: Ao bōzu are generally depicted as large, one-eyed, blue-skinned priests with a strong connection to magic. However, local accounts vary greatly in details such as size, number of eyes, and habitat. In Okayama, they are described as two-eyed giants who take up residence in abandoned or uninhabited homes. In other stories, they appear in wheat fields, or on dark, lonely roads.

INTERACTIONS: In Shizuoka, ao bōzu are said to appear on spring evenings at sunset in the wheat and barley fields. The transition from night to day is a popular theme in the tradition of in-yō sorcery. Further, the still blue-green leaves of the young barley also have powerful connections to in-yō. Children who go running and playing through the fields in the evening might be snatched up and taken away by an ao bōzu. Thus, good children must go straight home after school and not go tramping through the fields!

In Kagawa, ao bōzu appear late at night to young women and ask them, “Would you like to hang by your neck?” If the woman says no, the ao bōzu disappears without a word. However, if she ignores him or says nothing, he attacks her with lightning speed, knocks her out, and hangs her by the neck.

In Yamaguchi, they are considered minor deities. They appear before humans on the road and challenge them to sumo matches. Because Yamaguchi’s ao bōzu are only as big as children, many a person has foolishly accepted the challenge, only to find himself flung to the ground with god-like strength and potentially lethal speed.

ORIGIN: Very little is known about this yokai. Toriyama Sekien was the first to record the ao bōzu, and his illustration came with not a single word of description other than its name. From its name, we can glean a little bit of information; the word ao means blue or green, and can denote immaturity and inexperience. (Another well-known yokai — ao-nyōbō — uses this color in a similar manner.) As the original illustration was black-and-white, it may even be that this yokai was never intended to be colored blue or green, but rather just as a mockery of what Toriyama Sekien saw as a corrupt and unskilled priesthood. Nonetheless, thanks to its name, it is usually depicted in a sickly shade of ao.

The fact that ao bōzu has only one eye and is revered as a minor god in some places draws a strong parallel with another yokai, the hitotsume-kozō. Because of his similarity, there are theories suggesting a connection to the ancient spirit worship of old Japan. In these shamanistic proto-religions, one-eyed monsters often originated as fallen mountain gods and bringers of evil, sent to do the bidding of larger deities. They could be kept at bay with woven baskets, or other objects with many holes, which the monsters would view as hundreds of eyes and avoid, either out of fear or jealousy.

Because there are so many different accounts, and because there are so many different kinds of nasty priest yokai, it’s impossible to tell which, if any, is the real ao bōzu, and which are variations of other kinds of yokai.

Inugami

Inugami犬神
いぬがみ

TRANSLATION: dog god, dog spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: in-game, irigami
HABITAT: towns and cities; usually in the service of wealthy families
DIET: carnivorous, though they are usually starved on purpose

APPEARANCE: Inugami are a kind of familiar, or spirit of possession, which are found in Kyushu, Shikoku, and elsewhere in West Japan. In public, an inugami looks identical to an ordinary dog in order to blend in with society. However, its true form is that of a desiccated, mummified dog’s head, often dressed up in ceremonial trappings. This is kept safe (and away from prying eyes) in a secret shrine in its owner’s house.

BEHAVIOR: Inugami have much in common with other familiars, such as shikigami and kitsune-tsuki. Inugami are more commonly used in areas where foxes are not found, such as major population centers. There is even evidence of an ancient tradition of Inugami worship stretching from Western Japan down to Okinawa. Powerful sorcerers were said to be able to create these spirits through monstrous ceremonies and use them to all sorts of nefarious deeds. Inugami serve their masters loyally, performing tasks just like a faithful dog. They are loyal to one person or one family only, and unless seriously mistreated they remain loyal forever; these spirits can be passed down from generation to generation like an heirloom.

The technique for creating these fetishes was passed down along bloodlines, and such families are known as inugami-mochi. These families would keep their inugami hidden in the back rooms of their houses, under their beds, in dressers, or hidden among water jars. It is said that a family owned as many inugami as there were members of the household, and when a new person joined the family, they too received their own familiar. Inugami were treated like family members by inugami-mochi families, and most of the time would quickly run out to do their master’s bidding any time their master wanted something. However, like living dogs, occasionally a resentful inugami might betray a master that grew too abusive or domineering, savagely biting him to death. And while inugami, like other familiar spirits, were created to bring wealth and prosperity to their families, occasionally they might also cause a family to fall into ruin.

INTERACTIONS: Like other tsukimono, or possession spirits, inugami are beings of powerful emotion and are very good at possessing emotionally unstable or weak people. They do so usually by entering through the ears and settling into the internal organs. People who have found themselves possessed by an inugami — or even if it was only suspected that a person might be possessed — were in for some serious misfortune. The only way to be cured of inugami-tsuki is to hire another sorcerer to remove it. This could take a very, very long time and involve a lot of money. Signs of inugami possession include chest pain, pain in the hands, feet, or shoulders, feelings of deep jealousy, and suddenly barking like a dog. Some victims develop intense hunger and turn into gluttons, and it is said that people who die while possessed by an inugami are found with markings all over their body resembling the teeth and claw marks of a dog. Not only humans, but animals like cows and horses, or even inanimate objects, can be possessed by inugami. Tools possessed by such a spirit become totally and completely unusable.

Practicing this sort of black magic was illegal and strongly frowned upon, although that didn’t stop the aristocracy from dabbling in sorcery, known as onmyōdō. If an inugami-mochi family was even suspected of cursing another family, the accused person would be forced to apologize and leave his comfortable estate to live on the outskirts of town, secluded from family, friends, and the comfortable aristocratic life. Even if the alleged victim was eventually cured of his possession, the accused (and all of his offspring for all generations to follow) usually had to maintain a solitary lifestyle, outcast from the rest of society, to be viewed by others as wicked and tainted.

ORIGIN: How long the practice of creating inugami begun is unknown. However, by the Heian period (some 1000 years ago, at the height of classical Japanese civilization) the practice had already been outlawed along with the use of other animal spirits as tools of sorcery. According to legend, the creation of an inugami is accomplished like this: the head of a starved dog must be cut off (often this was accomplished by chaining a dog up just out of reach of some food, or else burying it up to its neck, so that it would go berserk out of desperate hunger and its head could be cut off at the point of greatest desperation). Then, the severed head is buried in the street — usually a crossroads where many people pass. The trampling of hundreds or thousands of people over this buried head would add to its stress and cause the animal’s spirit to transform into an onryō (a powerful maleficent spirit). Occasionally these severed heads were said to escape and fly about, chasing after food, animated solely by the onryō’s anger — such was the power of the dog’s hunger. The head was then baked or dried and enshrined in a bowl, after which the spirit could be used as a kind of fetish by a wicked sorcerer, doing whatever he or she commanded for the rest of time.

Hari onago

Harionago針女子
はりおなご

TRANSLATION: hook girl
ALTERNATE NAMES: hari onna (hook woman)
HABITAT: streets and alleys; found on Shikoku
DIET: young, virile men

APPEARANCE: A fearsome yokai known as hari onago appears at night on the roads of Shikoku, and is indistinguishable in the dark from an ordinary young woman with loose and disheveled hair. Upon closer look, however, the tip of each of her hairs is fitted with a needle-like, barbed hook – though if one is close enough to notice these hooks, it is probably already too late.

INTERACTIONS: Hari onago wanders the streets searching for victims – usually young, single men walking by themselves. When she comes across a suitable man, she smiles coyly at him. If the smile is returned, she attacks: she lets all of her hair down, and the barbed ends lash out with blinding speed and a will of their own, sinking deep into her victim’s flesh. Her strength is so great that even the strongest man can be overpowered by her hooks. Once her victim is ensnared and rendered helpless, she rips him into pieces with her hooks and devours the remains.

It is technically possible for a very fast runner to escape a hari onago, providing his home is close enough and has a sturdy door or gate. If he can get himself safely indoors before her hooks catch him, he may be able to survive until sunrise, when these yokai vanish. The scars and gouges she leaves in the wooden door frame remain as a testament to her viciousness, and as a cautionary tale to young men not to pick up strange girls.

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.

Ushi oni

Ushioni牛鬼
うしおに

TRANSLATION: ox demon
ALTERNATE NAMES: gyūki
HABITAT: usually along the coast or near bodies of water; found in West Japan
DIET: varies from type to type, but always carnivorous

APPEARANCE: A terror from Western Japan, ushi oni is a class of monster that lives near water. The name literally means “ox demon,” and it can actually refer to a number of different monsters with bovine traits. Most ushi oni they resemble an ox from the head up, and a demonic horror below the head. Many forms are known to exist; the body of an ox with a head like an oni’s; the head of an ox on a body like a spider’s or a cat’s; or even an ox’s head on the body of a kimono-clad human (a Japanese version of the minotaur).

BEHAVIOR: Despite their unique and varying morphology, all ushioni share a number of characteristics, pointing to a common origin. They are exceedingly cruel and savage beasts, they breath toxic poison, and they like to eat humans. Some ushi oni are lurkers, attacking people who draw too close to their lairs; others are hunters, roaming the coasts seeking prey; the cruelest ones ravage the same towns over and over, inflicting terrible curses or bringing diseases with them. Most ushi oni live along the rocky coasts and beaches of Western Japan, although a few roam the mountains of Shikoku.

Ushi oni frequently work together cooperation with other yokai. The spider-like version from the coasts of northern Kyushu and western Honshu frequently partners with nure onna and iso onna, who use their charms to lure unsuspecting men towards the water’s edge. When they approach, the ushi oni pounces upon them and bites the victims to death, and the meal is shared between the yokai.

Taka nyūdō

Takanyuudou高入道
たかにゅうどう

TRANSLATION: tall priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: frequently confused with mikoshi nyūdō
HABITAT: alleys, roads, mountains; native to Shikoku and the Kinki region
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: The taka nyūdō is a close relative of the mikoshi nyūdō. It is usually encountered in alleyways, suddenly appearing before unsuspecting humans, and increasing its height at the same speed that its victim looks up at it.

Because of the similarity in regional names and appearance, taka nyūdō and mikoshi nyūdō are often confused with one another.

INTERACTIONS: Taka nyūdō can be defeated in a similar manner as the mikoshi nyūdō–by demonstrating courage in the face of death and showing no fear, refusing to raise one’s head and denying it the chance to grow. Some say it can also be outsmarted by carrying a ruler or other measuring utensils and attempting to calculate its height before it can react. The confused giant usually leaves in disgust and will not bother the same person again.

Taka nyūdō is generally less violent than other giants, often content with simply scaring its victims instead of ripping their throats out or crushing them with trees. Its true form is often a tanuki, kitsune, or kawauso.

Tsurube otoshi

Tsurubeotoshi釣瓶落とし
つるべおとし

TRANSLATION: dropping like a well bucket
HABITAT: heavily wooded areas; particularly coniferous trees
DIET: carnivorous; large ones prefer humans, crushed or mashed

APPEARANCE: Tsurube otoshi are a gigantic disembodied heads of either a human, tengu, or oni. Sometimes they appear wreathed in flames and look like large fireballs with facial features. They live deep along paths in the forest, or just outside of town where travelers are likely to pass, spending most of their lives high in the trees (preferring pine, kaya, and other conifers for their height). They range in size from an ordinary head’s width to two meters in diameter.

BEHAVIOR: Tsurube otoshi lurk in the treetops late at night and wait for unsuspecting creatures to pass underneath. When they need to feed, they drop quickly to the ground like a stone (the reason for its name, which means “falling well bucket”). The goal is to trap an animal (a human, if the head is large enough) and eat it up. Then they slip back up into the trees, sometimes singing a monstrous taunt, challenging others to try to pass underneath. They enjoy this style of killing, letting out a horrible, guffawing laugh as they hunt and devour their prey. When they are not hungry, tsurube otoshi will sometimes drop down and crush people just for fun instead of eating them. They also else drop large rocks or even well buckets (they have a sense of humor) on their victims from up high, laughing at the damage they inflict. Travelers passing under tall trees late at night would be wise to keep their heads up, or else they may be crushed by a falling tsurube otoshi.

Tsurube otoshi encountered in Kansai usually are most often solitary, gargantuan heads. In Tohoku, however, tsurube otoshi are usually encountered in larger groups of slightly smaller heads.

Basan

Basan波山
ばさん

TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; the sound of its flapping wings
ALTERNATE NAMES: basabasa, inu-hō-ō (dox phoenix)
HABITAT: mountainous forests; found only on Shikoku
DIET: charred wood and embers

APPEARANCE: Basan are very rare birds found only in the mountains of Ehime, on the island of Shikoku. They are roughly the size of a turkey, and shaped like a chicken. They are easily recognized by their brilliantly colored plumage and bright red comb, which appears like tongues of flame. Their most notable feature is their breath, which flows visibly from their mouth just as a dragon’s fire; however, the flame gives off no heat, nor does it ignite combustible material.

BEHAVIOR: Basan are very rare and entirely nocturnal, thus little is known about their behavior. They make their homes in remote bamboo groves, far from human activity. Their diet consists of charred wood and embers, and they have been known to occasionally wander into remote villages at night to feast on the remains of bonfires or charcoal. When pleased or startled, basan beat their wings, creating the distinctive rustling “basabasa” sound from which they get their name. People who have witnessed this action report that the birds vanish into thin air when they realize they have been noticed.

Itachi

Itachi
いたち

TRANSLATION: weasel
ALTERNATE NAMES: often referred to as ten, the Japanese marten
HABITAT: found all across Japan, particularly in mountainous areas
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals

APPEARANCE: Like birds and spiders, many other animals also develop into yokai when they reach a certain age. Japanese weasels, known as itachi, are seen as disconcerting animals and bringers of ill omens for the particular brand of magic that yokai weasels perform. Like most animals-turned-yokai, they possess shape-shifting abilities in addition to a number of magical powers.

In the old days, weasels were believed to trasform into ten (martens) or mujina (badgers or tanuki, depending on the region) after reaching a very old age. Additionally, the names ten and itachi were often used interchangeably. As a result, there is often a lot of confusion over which animal is specifically being referred to in many stories.

INTERACTIONS: Itachi are tricksters and pranksters, but generally shy away from interaction with humans when they can. As a result, they are more mistrusted and disliked than most animals. Though they can transform, they prefer to use other kinds of magic, usually with unfortunate results for their targets. When an itachi is seen standing on its hind legs, it is said to be bewitching a human– perhaps hypnotizing them into leaving food out, or performing some other task for the weasel’s benefit. Itachi are said to be particularly dangerous in groups. When they gather together at night, they have the power to summon fire, climbing up onto each other’s shoulders and creating huge columns of fire which erupt into whirlwinds. These are frequently blamed for starting conflagrations which can burn down entire towns. In central Japan, the kama-itachi is another common and dangerous form. Their calls are also considered to be ill omens, for after the yelping cries of a group of itachi is heard, misfortune and despair always follows. For this reason, they are seen not only as dangerous yokai themselves, but as harbingers of greater evil.

OTHER FORMS: Itachi are often considered to be the most skilled shape-changing animals of all, possessing more alternative forms than any other shape-changer. An old phrase about animal yokai goes, “Kitsune nana-bake, tanuki hachi-bake, ten ku-bake” – foxes seven forms, tanuki eight forms, martens nine forms. When an itachi changes its shape, it usually adopts the form of a young priest boy dressed in clothes that are too big for him. This form is used chiefly to acquire alcohol, which the weasels cannot brew themselves. Itachi also frequently adopt the forms of other yokai in order to scare humans. One of their favorites is the ō-nyūdō: a colossal, bald-headed giant who terrorizes villages, destroys houses, devours livestock and sometimes even eats people.

Jorōgumo

Jorougumo絡新婦
じょろうぐも

TRANSLATION: entangling bride; alternatively whore spider
HABITAT: cities, towns, rural areas, forests, and caves
DIET: young, virile men

APPEARANCE: In Japan, some spiders are known to possess amazing supernatural powers. One of these, the jorōgumo, known as the golden orb-weaver in English, is the most well-known of the arachnid yokai. Jorōgumo are found all over the Japanese archipelago, except for Hokkaido. Their body size averages between two to three centimeters long, but they can grow much larger as they age; some are large enough to catch and eat small birds. These spiders are renowned for their large size, their vividly beautiful colors, the large and strong webs they weave, and for the cruel destruction they wreak on young men. Their name is written with kanji that mean “entangling bride.” However, these characters were added on to her name much later to cover up the original meaning of the name: “whore spider.”

BEHAVIOR: Jorōgumo live solitary lives, both as spiders and as yokai. When a golden orb-weaver reaches 400 years of age, it develops magical powers and begins to feed on human prey instead of insects. They make their nests in caves, forests, or empty houses in towns. They possess a cunning intelligence and a cold heart, and see humans as nothing more than insects to feed on. They are skillful deceivers and powerful shapeshifters, usually spending their lives appearing as young, sexy, and stunningly beautiful women.

INTERACTIONS: Jorōgumo’s favorite prey is young, handsome men who are looking for love. When a jorōgumo spots a man she desires, she invites him into her home, and he is usually never seen again. They can spin silk threads strong enough to ensnare a grown man so that he cannot escape. They also have a powerful venom that can slowly weaken a man day by day, allowing the spider to savor the long and painful death her victim suffers. They can control other, lesser spiders, even employing fire-breathing spiders to burn down the homes of any who grow suspicious of them. A jorōgumo can operate like this for years and years, even in the middle of a busy city, while the desiccated skeletons of hundreds of youth build up in her home.

Nure onago

Nureonago濡女子
ぬれおなご

TRANSLATION: wet girl
ALTERNATE NAMES: nure hanayome (wet bride)
HABITAT: watersides, wetlands, fishing villages; anywhere near water
DIET: attention

APPEARANCE: Nure onago appear as disheveled-looking young girls with matted, wet hair. As the name implies, they are soaked with water from head to toe. Often they are covered with dead leaves and things which have stuck to their dripping bodies. They are often encountered on roads near swamps, rivers, and coasts, or during nights of heavy rain, wandering about, dripping and sopping wet.

INTERACTIONS: Travelers along the coasts and rivers of Shikoku and Kyushu occasionally encounter these (apparent) young girls, lost, and soaked to the bone with water. Most people who witness such a pathetic sight rush over quickly to help the poor lost girl. When a human draws close to a nure onago, she looks up into their eyes and smiles. If the smile is returned, she will follow the helpful stranger human, sticking by him forever, wherever he goes, always dripping and stinking of mildew and swamp water. Although she causes no particular harm, her constant presence is often enough to ruin the rest of a person’s life.

Ignoring a nure onago and refusing to return her smile before attracting her attention is the only way to avoid this yokai. Unfortunately by the time her true nature is discovered, it is often too late.

ORIGIN: Nure onago come from the strong feelings of loss and sadness shared by widows of drowning victims – particular those widows of sailors lost at sea. These feelings build up and materialize into a nure onago, whose desire for attention is the amplified desire of heartbroken widows to see their husbands again.

Nure onago have very similar behavior to hari onago, and the two are sometimes grouped together as warai onago, smiling girls. Both are also found in Shikoku, suggesting a possible relation between the two. They should not, however, be confused with the similarly named nure-onna, which is much larger and more dangerous.

Yamabiko

Yamabiko山彦
やまびこ

TRANSLATION: echo; written with characters meaning mountain boy
HABITAT: forested mountains and valleys, inside camphor tress
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The wilds of Japan are full of strange phenomena, like echoes that bounce back with more delay than they should, or that come back slightly different from the original sound. When the false echo comes from the forest, it is usually attributed to a ko-dama. When it comes from the mountains, it is due to something called a yamabiko. They are very small, appearing like a cross between a dog and a wild monkey. Yamabiko are known almost exclusively by their voices alone, which are skilled at mimicking any sound, including natural sounds, human language, and more recently, trains and cars. They also occasionally unleash terrible and mysterious screams deep in the forests that can carry for very long distances.

BEHAVIOR: Little is known about these yokai due to their rarity and elusiveness. They live deep in the mountains and make their homes in camphor trees, living in close proximity to (and sharing a common ancestry with) the other tree and mountain spirits. For many centuries their calls were speculated to be a kind of rare bird, other kinds of yokai, or even natural phenomena. It wasn’t until the Edo period when determined yokai researchers like Sawaki Sūshi and Toriyama Sekien were able to confirm the creature’s existence and record its true shape.