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TRANSLATION: the hour of meeting evil spirits

APPEARANCE: Ōmagatoki is the twilight hour between when the sun sets and the sky goes dark. It is not quite day, but not quite night. Shadows swallow everything. Your eyes start to play tricks on your mind. The border thins between sekai—the world we live in, belong to, and recognize—and ikai, the “other” world. Ikai is where the spirits live, a world about which we humans know next to nothing. During ōmagatoki, the evil spirits, the chimimōryō, wake up and move about freely. This is the hour when yōkai, yūrei, and other dark things cross over into our world.

The appearance of yōkai during ōmagatoki is said to be accompanied by a few telltale signs: a cold wind blowing; a strange smell in the air, like that of fish or blood; a sudden onset of darkness; a sudden chill that causes one’s hairs standing on end.

Interactions: Humans and spirits normally have separate existences in different worlds. When those worlds come together, things become chaotic—particularly for humans. In order to avoid meeting the things that prowl the night, people would head home as the sun set and stay inside until morning. Woodcutters sleeping in mountain huts something heard the cutting down of trees at night, but found no evidence of it in the morning. Phantom waterfalls could be heard where there was no waterfall for miles around. Strange laughter and voices of inhuman things echoed throughout the forests. Children who wandered away from the village and got lost in the mountains could be spirited away by otherworldly things and taken to another world. Sometimes they would return years later, changed in some way.

ORIGIN: The first tales of encounters between humans and spirits came from woodsmen, travelers, criminals, and people whose livelihoods forced them away from the safety of their homes and villages at night. These men would return to their villages in the morning with stories of eerie experiences after twilight. Over time, these stories developed into the earliest superstitions, helping shape Japanese folklore, religion, and society into what they are today.

Ōmagatoki can be written two different ways: 逢魔時 literally means the hour of meeting evil spirits; 大禍時 literally means the hour of great calamity. Both of these readings illustrate the fear and apprehension that the ancient Japanese people felt towards the things that came at twilight.




APPEARANCE: Hinode, the break of dawn, signals the end of the power of evil spirits over the waking world. The holy light of the sun banishes yōkai, ghosts, and demons back to the places from which they came. As the morning light fills the shadows, unknown things no longer lurk. As the sun’s rays pierce the dark forests, strange shapes no longer hide among the trees. The time of meeting evil spirits is over. Once again the world is safe for humans.

ORIGIN: The sun has always been a central part of Japanese religion. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is the most important deity in Shinto and is worshipped across Japan. The importance of the sun in Japanese culture can be seen in Japan’s nickname—the land of the rising sun—on the Japanese flag, and in the native word for Japan itself: Nihon, “the origin of the sun.”

In Japanese artwork, the sun often appears as the final scene in picture scrolls depicting yōkai and the night parade of one hundred demons. Similarly, Toriyama Sekien’s second illustrated yōkai encyclopedia, Konjaku gazu zoku hyakki, opens with ōmagatoki and closes with hinode, depicting the monsters that rule the world from dusk until dawn.



TRANSLATION: horse head
ALTERNATE NAMES: mezuki (horse head demon)
HABITAT: Meido and Jigoku

APPEARANCE: In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu and Mezu are the demon generals who guard the gates of hell. They appear as terrible oni with animal heads; an ox head for Gozu, and a horse head for Mezu. They are extremely powerful and have the strength to move mountains. They are servants of Great King Enma, the ruler of hell, and are among the chief torturers and punishers of the wicked.

INTERNACTIONS: Gozu and Mezu are the first demons that one encounters upon entering hell. Should a person manage to escape from hell, Gozu and Mezu are sent out to bring them back.

ORIGIN: Though Gozu and Mezu are the most famous and most commonly depicted in story and art, they are not the only animal-headed demons in Great King Enma’s employ. Deer, tiger, lion, and boar-headed demons are also said to serve among the upper ranks of the guardians of hell. They operate the great torture chambers of Jigoku and oversee the torment of countless souls. Gozu, Mezu, and other animal-headed demons originate in Indian mythology, which was imported along with Buddhism to Japan by way of China.



ALTERNATE NAMES: gozuki (ox head demon)
HABITAT: Meido and Jigoku

APPEARANCE: In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu and Mezu are the demon generals who guard the gates of hell. They appear as terrible oni with animal heads; an ox head for Gozu, and a horse head for Mezu. They are extremely powerful and have the strength to move mountains. They are servants of Great King Enma, the ruler of hell, and are among the chief torturers and punishers of the wicked.

INTERNACTIONS: Gozu and Mezu are the first demons that one encounters upon entering hell. Should a person manage to escape from hell, Gozu and Mezu are sent out to bring them back.

ORIGIN: Though Gozu and Mezu are the most famous and most commonly depicted in story and art, they are not the only animal-headed demons in Great King Enma’s employ. Deer, tiger, lion, and boar-headed demons are also said to serve among the upper ranks of the guardians of hell. They operate the great torture chambers of Jigoku and oversee the torment of countless souls. Gozu, Mezu, and other animal-headed demons originate in Indian mythology, which was imported along with Buddhism to Japan by way of China.



TRANSLATION: clothes-stealing old woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: sōzukaba, ubason
HABITAT: Meido, along the banks of the Sanzu River

APPEARANCE: Datsueba and Keneō are a terrifying pair of elderly oni. They guard the bridge and the banks of the Sanzu River. All souls must pass by them before moving on to Meido to be judged.

INTERACTION: During a Japanese funeral, 6 mon (and old form of currency) are placed in the coffin to be used as a toll to enter the underworld. Upon reaching the Sanzu River, the souls must cross either by bridge (if they were good in life), by wading in the shallows (if they were only somewhat good), or by swimming across the deepest part of the river (if they were wicked).

After crossing the river, each soul encounters Datsueba, who accepts the toll and strips the souls of the clothes on their backs. Datsueba hands the clothing to her partner, Keneō, who hangs it from a tree by the riverside. The amount that the branch bends under the weight of the clothes serves as a measure of the weight of the sin each soul carries, and is used as evidence in the trials to come. Of course, the clothes of those who had to ford the river or swim across are heavy and wet, which only makes the branches of the tree sag lower. If a soul arrives with no clothes, Keneō flays his or her skin and hangs it from the tree instead.

Datsueba and Keneō perform a little bit of torture themselves, breaking the fingers of those guilty of theft, and so on. They also roam the banks of the river, tormenting the souls of children who are too young to cross the river and must wait for salvation to come to them instead.

According to some accounts, Datsueba is the wife of King Enma. In the Edo period, she became a popular object of folk worship, and temples dedicated to her began to spring up around Japan. Prayers and charms dedicated to Datsueba were used as wards against disease and coughs, in particular for children’s coughs.

Enma Daiō

Enma Daiou閻魔大王

TRANSLATION: Great King Enma

HABITAT: Jigoku and Meido

APPEARANCE: Enma Daiō is the ruler of hell (both Jigoku and Meido) and the foremost of the 13 judges of the dead. He has dresses in the robes of an ancient government official from the Chinese Tang Dynasty, and wears a fearsome expression upon his face. He is served by two secretaries, Shiroku and Shimyō, as well as a number of other demonic servants—the chiefs of which are Gozu and Mezu. His name often is invoked by parents who scold their children, “If you tell a lie, Enma will rip out your tongue!”

BEHAVIOR: Enma’s chief duty is to judge the souls of the newly dead and send them on to their next location. He keeps a great scroll in which he records all of the good and evil deeds of each and every person to use as evidence against them when their time of judgment comes. He oversees the torturing and suffering in hell, making sure that each soul gets enough punishment.

ORIGIN: Like many demonic figures in Japanese folklore, Great King Enma has a honji, or “true form,” which is that of a Buddha or bodhisattva. Enma’s true form is Jizō Bosatsu, the guardian of the underworld, god of travelers, and protector of children. Jizō is a warm and compassionate, beloved across Japan, deity who made a solemn vow not to become a full Buddha until all souls have been freed from suffering in hell. It is not uncommon to see small, red-bibbed, stone Jizō statues along roads and paths, and in graveyards all over Japan. While Enma may seem fearsome and terrifying, at heart, he is a kind and compassionate god, and he truly wishes to save each soul from damnation—this may be why the souls of the dead are given so many tests and trials to avoid going to hell.

Enma’s origins lie in India. In Vedic mythology he is known as Yama, the god of death. From the Vedas, the idea of Yama spread into Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Buddhism traveled to China, bringing Yama with it, and mixed with local religions and superstitions before being brought to Japan during the Tang Dynasty. As Chinese Buddhism mixed with Japanese religions and superstitions, he gradually developed into the god known as Great King Enma.

Taizan Fukun no Sai

Taizan Fukun no sai泰山府君祭

TRANSLATION: the Taizan Fukun (Lord Taizan) ceremony

APPEARANCE: Taizan Fukun no Sai is one of the most secret and powerful onmyōdō rituals. It is jealously guarded by the few who know it, and strongly coveted by those who don’t.

ORIGIN: This spell was developed in ancient China by Taoist philosophers. It is named for Lord Taizan, the god of the mountain Taishan in Shandong, China and one of the kings of hell. He is one of the most important deities in Onmyōdō. In this ritual, the supplicant beseeches Lord Taizan, Great King Enma, and the other judges of Meido and Jigoku to lengthen a person’s life span, save someone from death, or even restore life to the dead. Gold, silver, silk, saddled horses, and human life—usually substitutes in the form of katashiro, or paper dolls—are offered to the gods. No mantras or magical worlds are spoken; the gods are simply invited to sit down and participate. A formal letter of request is read to them, detailing the offerings and the virtues of the supplicants, and the precise divine intervention desired.

The Abe clan was famous for their knowledge of this spell. It is one of the reasons they were able to maintain a monopoly on the imperial Bureau of Onmyōdō. Under their offices, this spell was routinely performed for the emperors in order to increase their life spans and protect the country.

LEGENDS: Abe no Seimei is particularly famous for his use of Taizan Fukun no Sai. He resurrected his father, who was murdered by Ashiya Dōman, and used it many other times in the service of the emperor and country.

Once, a high ranking monk of Mii-dera known as Chikō fell gravely ill. It was determined that his illness was the result of karma, and thus could not be cured with medicine. Abe no Seimei was summoned. He divined Chikō’s fortune, and discovered that death was imminent. However, Abe no Seimei said that if someone was willing to trade life spans with Chikō, he could perform the Taizan Fukun no Sai and save the priest’s life.

The priests all looked at each other uncomfortably. As much as they loved and admired Chikō, nobody was willing to sacrifice his own life in order to save him. Finally, a young man named Shōkū—an average pupil who had been studying for many years yet had never attracted the attention of Chikō or the other teachers—stepped forward and offered his own life.

Abe no Seimei accepted the offer. He immediately performed the Taizan Fukun no Sai. Shōkū writhed in anguish, his life span shrinking away, while Chikō rapidly began to recover. Finally, Chikō was cured, and Shōkū lay on death’s door. As the young pupil’s last breath left his body, he prayed with all his heart to a nearby painting of Fudō Myōō. Just then, tears poured from the painted eyes of Fudō Myōō, and the god’s voice was heard:

“If you would take the place of your teacher, then let me take your place instead.”

Suddenly, Shōkū and Chikō sat up, both of then restored to life.



TRANSLATION: living evil spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: ichimabui, ikimaburi
HABITAT: Okinawa and islands in southern Kyūshū

APPEARANCE: Ichijama is a curse from Okinawa. It is a type of ikiryō—a spirit of a still-living person which leaves the body to haunt its victim. The magic which summons this spirit, the person who casts the spell, and the family line of that person are all referred to as ichijama. Not only people, but cows, pigs, horses and other livestock, as well as crops can be cursed by an ichijama.

INTERACTIONS: An ichijama is summoned by praying to a special doll known as an ichijama butokii. The ichijama butokii is boiled in a pot while reciting the name of the body part which is to be cursed. After the ritual is performed, a spirit which looks exactly like the person casting the spell visits the home of the intended victim. It delivers a gift to its target—usually fruit or vegetables such as bananas, garlic, or wild onions. After receiving the gift, the target develops an unidentifiable sickness in whichever body part was chanted during the spell. If untreated, the victim will die.

Omyōdō did not exist in Okinawa, so this curse could only be overcome with the help of Okinawan magic, by shamans known as yuta. This was accomplished by performing yet another curse. The yuta would bind the victim’s thumbs together and hit them with a nail while chanting bad things about the curse victim. Performing this curse would drive out the ichijama from its victim.

ORIGIN: The ability to summon an ichijama is a hereditary secret passed down from mother to daughter. Families with such magical power are said to be very beautiful and have a sharp look in their eyes. The ability to use black magic carries a strong social stigma in Okinawa. Marrying into one of these families should be avoided at all costs. But it is difficult to tell; ichijama clans are often careful about hiding their family secret.




TRANSLATION: ceremonial spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: shikijin, shiki no kami
DIET: varies

APPEARANCE: Shikigami are servant spirits used by onmyōji in rituals for various purposes. Some are used as charms for good fortune, some are used as amulets for protection, and some are used as curses. To call a shikigami means to call a god, a demon, a yōkai, or a ghost and to utilize its power for some deed or another.

INTERACTIONS: Shikigami can be powerful and dangerous. They come in many forms. The most common are enshrined in small objects, such as strips of paper or amulets. Others may come in the form of animal possessions, using the bodies of chickens, cows, or dogs as vessels. The most dreadful shikigami take the form of humans, ghosts, yōkai, or oni.

While shikigami are powerful and terrifying, perhaps their most horrifying aspect is that they never act under their own will; they are slaves in the service of human magic users who tell them what to do.

Wara ningyō


TRANSLATION: straw doll
ALTERNATE NAMES: suge ningyō (sedge doll)

APPEARANCE: Wara ningyō are a popular kind of katashiro made of straw. Wara ningyō most commonly depict humans, but they are occasionally made in the shape of horses or other animals too.

INTERACTIONS: Wara ningyō are used extensively as wards against evil. During the Heian period, wara ningyō would be placed along the sides of the roads for protection against plague. It was hoped that the evil spirits which brought disease would nest in the straw bodies instead of living human bodies. Afterwards, the straw dolls would be discarded into a river, which would also purify the evil spirits.

Wara ningyō are popular devices in a number of dark rituals. They are combined with something from the recipient of the curse, such as a piece of hair. This transforms the doll into a substitute for the intended target. Long nails are pushed through the wara ningyō, harming the subject as well as the doll.

There are specific rules for creating different types of wara ningyō. These detail the materials to be used, the way the dolls are constructed, and the objects to be inserted into them. It can be difficult to find the materials needed to perform curses. The required items are not sold in most stores. However, some websites sell premade curse kits that contain all of the items you might need to perform a specific curse, including a wara ningyō, long nails, a mallet, pre-written curses with blanks for the recipient’s name, and other accessories. Of course, performing such rituals is illegal.



TRANSLATION: form substitution

APPEARANCE: Katashiro are human-shaped dolls. They are usually made of paper, but sometimes of wood, straw, or metal. There are different shapes and designs of katashiro to suit the many purposes they serve.

INTERACTIONS: Katashiro are a type of yorishiro—ceremonial objects used as a substitution for someone or something. Specifically they are used as a substitution for a person during a ritual. They are commonly used in purification rituals, where a person’s sins are transferred into the katashiro. The karashiro is then discarded into a river or body of water, taking the sin away with it.

Katashiro are also frequently used to ward off evil in a similar fashion. If you are suffering bad luck, a katashiro can be used to absorb the bad luck from you or prevent bad things from occurring. If you suspect that you are going to be targeted by a curse, a katashiro can be prepared as a substitute target for your person. The doll will receive all of the evil effects in place of the intended target.

Katashiro can even be used in spells or curses as a substitution for a real human target. Usually this involves inscribing the name, birthdate, and other personal information on the paper doll. The spell is performed on the doll, after which the intended effects happen to the actual person.

Abe no Seimei

Abe no Seimei安倍晴明

APPEARANCE: Abe no Seimei is perhaps the most famous onmyōji in Japanese history. A descendent of the famous poet Abe no Nakamaro, he lived from 921 to 1005 CE. Due to his success as an astrologer and diviner, he was widely believed to be a genius—and a wielder of magical powers and secret knowledge.

ORIGIN: Abe no Seimei’s fame comes from the success he had as an onmyōji in the 10th century. He was a student of Kamo no Tadayuki and Kamo no Yasunori, and succeeded Yasunori as astrologer and diviner for the imperial court. Seimei’s duties included foreseeing the gender of unborn babies, diving the location of objects, advising on matters of personal conduct, conducting exorcisms and crafting wards against dark magic and evil spirits, and analyzing and interpreting events such as celestial phenomena. He wrote numerous books on divination and fortune telling, including Senji Ryakketsu, containing six thousand forecast and thirty-six fortune telling techniques using shikigami, and a translation of Hoki Naiden, detailing secret divination techniques.

Abe no Seimei was so renowned that the Abe family remained in control of the Bureau of Onmyō until it was shut down in 1869. After his death, stories about Seimei began to spread rapidly and continued to do so for hundreds of years. Eventually, the details of his life became so intertwined with countless legends that the truth was no longer distinguishable from myth.

LEGENDS: It was believed that Abe no Seimei’s magical aptitude derived from a supernatural lineage. His mother was said to be a kitsune, making him half-yōkai. Seimei’s father, Abe no Yasuna, saved a white fox which was being chased by hunters. The fox transformed into a beautiful human woman and said her name was Kuzunoha. Out of thanks for saving her life, Kuzunoha became Yasuna’s wife and bore him a son, Seimei.

By age five, Abe no Seimei’s yōkai lineage was becoming apparent. He was able to command weak oni and force them to do his bidding. One day, he witnessed his mother in her fox form. Kuzunoha explained to Seimei that she was the white fox his father once saved. She then fled into the forest, never to return again. Kuzunoha entrusted her son to the onmyōji Kamo no Tadayuki in order to ensure that he would not grow up to be evil.

Abe no Seimei had many rivals. One of them was a famous priest from Harima named Chitoku Hōshi. Chitoku was a skilled sorcerer, and wanted to test Seimei to see if he was truly as great as people said he was. Chitoku disguised himself as a traveler and visited Seimei’s house, and asked Seimei to teach him magic. Seimei saw through the disguise instantly. Even more, he saw that the two servants Chitoku had brought with him were shikigami—summoned servant spirits—in disguise.

Seimei decided to have a little bit of fun with Chitoku. He agreed to train him, but said that it was not a good day, and that he should come back tomorrow. Chitoku went back to his home, while unbeknownst to him, Seimei unsummoned both of the shikigami. The next day, Chitoku realized that his servants were gone, and he approached Seimei to ask him to return his shikigami. Seimei laughed at him, angrily scolding him for trying to trick him. Any other person, he said, would not be so kind to return shikigami that were employed against him! Chitoku realized that he was in way over his head; not only could Seimei see through his disguise, but he was able to manipulate all of his spells as well. He bowed low, begged for forgiveness, and offered to become Seimei’s servant.

Abe no Seimei’s chief rival was a sorcerer from Harima named Ashiya Dōman. Dōman was much older than Seimei, and believed that there was no one in the land who was a better onmyōji than he was. Upon hearing of Seimei’s genius, he challenged him to a magical duel.

On the day of the competition, many officials and witnesses came to watch. The two sorcerers met in the imperial gardens for the contest. First, Dōman picked up a handful of sand, concentrated over it for a moment, and threw it into the air. The particles of sand turned into countless swallows which began to flit around the garden. Seimei waved his folding fan one time, and all of the swallows turned back into grits of sand.

Next, Seimei recited a spell. A dragon appeared in the sky above. Rain began to fall all around them. Dōman recited his spell, however as hard as he tried, he could not cause the dragon to vanish. Instead, the rain grew fiercer and fiercer, filling the garden with water up to Dōman’s waist. Finally, Seimei cast his spell again. The rain stopped, and the dragon vanished.

The third and final contest was a divination challenge: the contestants had to guess the contents of a wooden box. Dōman, indignant at having lost the previous round, challenged Seimei: “Whoever loses this round will become the other’s servant!” Dōman confidently declared that there were 15 oranges inside of the box. Seimei contradicted him, saying that there were 15 rats in the box. The emperor and his attendants who had prepared the test shook their heads, for they had put 15 oranges in the box. They announced that Seimei had lost. However, when they opened the box, 15 rats leaped out! Not only had Seimei divined the contents of the box, he had transformed the oranges into rats, tricking Dōman and the entire court. Victory went to Seimei.

Ashiya Dōman continued to hold a grudge against Abe no Seimei, and continued to plot against him. He seduced Seimei’s wife and convinced her to tell him Seimei’s magical secrets. She showed him the stone box in which Seimei kept Hoki Naiden, his book of spells. Hoki Naiden was a book of secrets which had been passed down since time immemorial from India to Tang, China. It came into the possession of the Japanese envoy, Kibi no Makibi. When Kibi no Makibi returned to Japan from Tang, he presented the secret book to the relatives of his friend Abe no Nakamaro, who remained in China. From there it was passed down and eventually inherited by Abe no Seimei.

One night when Seimei returned home, Dōman boasted that he had acquired Seimei’s secret magic book. Seimei scolded him, saying that was impossible. So impossible, in fact, that if Dōman did have the book, he could cut Seimei’s throat. Dōman triumphantly presented the book, and Seimei, realizing that he had been betrayed by his wife, offered his throat to Dōman. Dōman gladly cut it open. Seimei died.

When Seimei was murdered, Saint Hokudō—the Chinese wizard who had given Hoki Naiden to Kibi no Makibi—sensed the loss of a great sorcerer. He traveled across the sea to Japan, collected Seimei’s bones, and restored Abe no Seimei to life. The pair of them set out to get revenge on Dōman and Seimei’s ex-wife, who was now married to Dōman.

Saint Hokudō paid a visit to Seimei’s home, where Dōman and his wife were now living. He asked if Abe no Seimei was home, to which Dōman replied that, unfortunately, Abe no Seimei had been murdered some time ago. Saint Hokudō said that was impossible, for he had just seen Seimei earlier that day. Dōman laughed at him, saying that was impossible. So impossible, in fact, that if Seimei was actually alive, he could cut Dōman’s throat. Saint Hokudō called out to Abe no Seimei, who presented himself. He then promptly cut open the throats of Ashiya Dōman and his wife.

Today, Abe no Seimei is worshipped as a god at many shrines throughout Japan. His main shrine is located in Kyōto, and sits on the site of his former house.

Sutoku Tennō

Sutoku Tennou崇徳天皇

TRANSLATION: Emperor Sutoku

APPEARANCE: Sutoku Tennō is one of the three most famous yōkai to ever haunt Japan. After he died, he transformed—some say into a terrible onryō, some say into a great tengu—and inflicted his wrath upon the imperial court at Kyōto. Along with Tamamo no Mae and Shuten dōji, Emperor Sutoku is one of the legendary Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai—the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan. Along with Sugawara no Michizane and Taira no Masakado, he is one of the legendary Nihon San Dai Onryō—the Three Great Onryō of Japan.

ORIGIN: Prince Akihito was born in 1119 CE, the first son of Emperor Toba. At least that was on the official registry. It was an open secret, known by everyone in the court, that Akihito was actually sired by the retired former Emperor Shirakawa. Akihito was not well liked by his “father,” who constantly referred to him as a bastard. His true father Shirakawa may have been the former emperor, but he still wielded considerable power in his retirement. When Prince Akihito was 5 and Emperor Toba was 21, Shirakawa forced Toba into retirement. Akihito became Emperor Sutoku.

After Shirakawa died in 1129, retired Emperor Toba began orchestrating his trap against Emperor Sutoku. He convinced him that the cloistered life of retired emperor was much better than being the actual emperor. He suggested that Sutoku adopt Toba’s son Prince Narihito, and retire. In 1142, Sutoku finally did so. Toba oversaw the process, and made sure to record that the emperor was retiring and passing the throne on to Narihito instead of his own progeny. This ensured that Sutoku would wield no power over the young emperor, nor would any future son ever become emperor. The 3-year old Narihito became Emperor Konoe, and the retired Emperor Toba wielded all of the power behind the throne. Toba sent Sutoku’s allies to distant provinces, and filled the capital with his own allies. There was nothing Sutoku could do.

Emperor Konoe remained sickly and childless his whole life. He passed away without an heir in 1155 at the age of 17. By this time, Sutoku had his own son. He saw an opportunity to recover his standing. Sutoku and his allies claimed that the throne should pass on to Sutoku’s son. Instead the imperial court declared that Toba’s fourth son would become Emperor Go-Shirakawa. When Toba died the following year, this dispute escalated into a miniature civil war known as the Hōgen Rebellion. The war was decided in a single battle. The forces of Go-Shirakawa were victorious.

After the Hōgen Rebellion, Go-Shirakawa’s forces were merciless. Those who fought against the emperor were executed, along with their entire families. Former Emperor Sutoku was banished from Kyōto and forced to spend the rest of his days exiled to Sanuki Province. He shaved his head and became a monk, devoting himself copying holy manuscripts to send back to Kyōto. The court feared that the deposed Sutoku would attempt to curse them. It was rumored that he had bitten off his own tongue and wrote the manuscripts in his own blood, imbuing them with his hatred for the merciless imperial court. The court added insult to injury by refusing to accept any of his manuscripts.

In 1164, Sutoku passed away, defeated, deposed, and humiliated—and most importantly full of rage for the imperial court. When news of his death reached Emperor Go-Shirakawa, the emperor ignored it. He ordered that nobody should go into mourning, and that no state funeral would be held for such a criminal.

LEGENDS: After his death, strange things began to happen. Sutoku’s body was set aside while its caretakers awaited funeral instructions from the emperor. After 20 days, his body was still as fresh as it had been on the day he died. While his coffin was taken to be cremated, a terrible storm rolled in. The caretakers placed the casket on the ground to take shelter. After the storm passed, the stones around the casket were soaked with fresh blood. When his body was finally cremated, the ashes descended upon Kyōto in a dark cloud.

Afterwards, for many years, disaster upon disaster struck the capital. Go-Shirakawa’s successor, Emperor Nijo, died suddenly at age 23. Storms, plagues, fires, droughts, and earthquakes all pounded the capital. Imperial power weakened. Clan rivalries set into motion by the Hōgen Rebellion escalated. Many of Go-Shirakawa’s allies were killed in battles, and the country stepped closer and closer to all-out civil war. In 1180, the Genpei War broke out. In 5 bloody years, the power of the imperial court had vanished, and the Kamakura shogunate took over Japan. All of this was attributed to Emperor Sutoku’s vengeance.

Sutoku finally returned to the capital during the Meiji era. In 1868, he was enshrined as a kami in the Shiramine Shrine in Kyōto. The Takaya Shrine in Kagawa also enshrines one of the stones onto which Sutoku’s blood flowed during the rainstorm before his cremation. Despite this, there are still rumors that his curse might still linger. In 2012, when NHK broadcast the drama Taira no Kiyomori, an earthquake struck the Kanto region right at the moment when Emperor Sutoku transformed into an onryō.



TRANSLATION: curse god, curse spirit
DIET: vengeance

APPEARANCE: Tatarigami are powerful spirits which bring death and destruction, fire and famine, plague, war, and all forms of calamity. They are some of the most powerful evil spirits that haunt Japan, and have done much to shape the culture and politics over the country’s long history. Tatarigami can refer to powerful gods of destruction, or to the ghosts of powerful people. Famous tatarigami include gods such as Emperor Gozu, the bull-headed demon god, and Yamata no Orochi, the eight-headed eight-tailed dragon. Also included are the onryō of important historical figures such as Mononobe no Moriya, Emperor Sutoku, Sugawara no Michizane, and Taira no Masakado. In the case of historical figures, they are almost always ancient nobles who died in anguish and transformed into onryō.

INTERACTIONS: Tatarigami wreak havoc upon those who wronged them—usually other nobles. In order to appease their vengeful spirits, shrines honoring them have been built across Japan. Through proper appeasement, their curses can be lifted, or at least abated.

The Gion Matsuri in Kyōto, one of the most famous festivals in Japan, is an example of a ceremony initially designed to appease a tatarigami. During the Heian period, Kyōto suffered a number of outbreaks which were thought to be caused by Susanoo and Gozu tennō—two powerful gods of disease and destruction. In order to appease their wrath, a festival was held in their honor at the Yasaka Shrine in Gion. To keep the city free from disease, the festival was repeated every year. Eventually the connection to Susanoo and Emperor Gozu was lost, but the festival traditions remain to this day.

The appeasement of tatarigami remained an important part of religious life throughout the Heian period and beyond. The duty of pacifying these curse spirits fell to the onmyōji, and popular belief in this superstition helped onmyōdō rise in power.

Ushi no koku mairi


TRANSLATION: shrine visit at the hour of the ox
ALTERNATE NAMES: ushi no toki mairi

APPEARANCE: Ushi no koku mairi is one of the most famous and dreaded black magic spells. It takes place between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning, during the hour of the ox. This is the period of darkest night, when the border between the world of the living and the world of the dead is weakest. During this hour, evil spirits are at their greatest power.

INTERACTIONS: There are a number of complicated steps required to perform this curse ritual, and they vary from account to account. In general, you must first construct a wara ningyō containing a small piece of the intended target’s body—a piece of hair, blood, fingernails, or skin, for example. Alternatively, you may use an image of their target, or a piece of paper with the target’s name written on it. Then, you put on the ceremonial dress—a white kimono and obi, with thick white face powder. An upturned trivet is placed on your head, and you attach tapers to its legs and light them. Tall, single-toothed geta are worn on your feet. A mirror is carried over your breast, a dagger is tucked behind the obi, and a comb is held between your teeth.

Thus prepared, you must sneak into a shrine during the hour of the ox and approach the shrine’s sacred tree. Then, you hammer a long iron nail through the wara ningyō into the tree—symbolically breaking the barrier between the world of the living and the spirit world. You call out to evil spirits, demons, and yōkai to come into the world. This ritual must be repeated every night for many nights, and it is very important that the person performing the curse not be seen. If there are any witnesses, they must be killed immediately. Otherwise the evil of this curse will rebound onto the caster.

Once the ritual is completed, something—it is not clear what—terrible happens. According to some accounts, the curse victim dies an agonizing death upon completion of the ritual. In other accounts, the entire process is torture for the victim, causing days of suffering while the curse is being performed. In some stories, the curse summons yōkai which haunt the victim, and in other stories, the person performing the ritual transforms into a powerful oni or kijo.

LEGENDS: A few shrines are well-known for this sort of black magic. Kifune Shrine and Jishu Shrine in Kyōto, and Ikurei Shrine in Okayama Prefecture (old Bitchū Province) are the most famous ones. In the old days, these were popular locations for jealous lovers to perform this curse. Even today, every now and then, shrine officials find wara ningyō hammered into trees at these shrines.



TRANSLATION: human pillar
HABITAT: found in bridges, castles, dams, and other large constructions

APPEARANCE: Hitobashira refers to the gruesome practice of burying a living human being in the foundations of important buildings—bridges, dams, tunnels, and particularly castles. It was a common practice during large construction projects from ancient times through the 16th century. However there is evidence that hitobashira were still being used in some construction projects during the 20th century.

BEHAVIOR: This form of sacrifice was used as a magical ward for the building being constructed. It was believed that the sacrifice of a human soul would appease the nature spirits in an area—particularly the river spirits in areas where flooding was common. They were also used to ward castles against assault, fire, and other disasters both man-made and natural.

ORIGIN: Although hitobashira literally means human pillar, the actual meaning is more complicated. Pillars and Shinto have a long relationship—kami can be enshrined in pillar-like sacred trees, the oldest shrines were built upon pillars, and hashira, in addition to meaning pillar, is also used as the josūshi—Japanese counter word—for kami. The bashira in hitobashira refers not to a literal pillar, but actually to this counter word. The human was enshrined in a manner similar to a kami of the building to which he or she was sacrificed, becoming both a literal pillar and a connection to the gods. Very often, small stone memorials were erected in honor of the hitobashira who were sacrificed to a building. Some still stand today.

LEGENDS: A few famous castles in Japan are connected to legends of hitobashira. Maruoka Castle in Fukui Prefecture (old Echizen Province), one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan, is said to contain a hitobashira in the central pillar of the keep.

While Maruoka Castle was being constructed, its walls kept collapsing no matter how many times they were repaired. It was decided that a person should be sacrificed and made into a hitobashira in order to improve the stability of the castle. A poor, one-eyed woman named Oshizu was selected for the honor of becoming a hitobashira. As a reward for her sacrifice, she was promised that her son would be made a samurai. After she was sacrificed the castle was completed. However, before her son could be made a samurai, the castle’s lord was transferred to another province, and the promise was left unkept.

Every year thereafter, the castle’s moat overflowed when the heavy spring rains came. The people of Maruoka blamed this on Oshizu’s vengeance, and called this rain “tears of Oshizu’s sorrow.” Afterwards, a cenotaph was erected for Oshizu inside the castle grounds to calm her spirit.



TRANSLATION: hazy cart
HABITAT: city streets, late at night
DIET: the lingering anger of ancient nobles

APPEARANCE: On misty, moonlit nights, residents of Kyōto occasionally hear the squeak of an oxcart in the street. Stepping outside to check and see, they discover a half-transparent, ghost-like oxcart with an enormous, grotesque face parked outside of their home.

ORIGIN: Carriage yōkai have existed in picture scrolls for hundreds of years. They may originally have been a kind of tsukumogami, or object-turned-yōkai. Most of these scrolls were created for their vivid imagery rather than for any particular story. Oboroguruma may have initially been created without any backstory. When Toriyama Sekien published his yōkai bestiaries, he included the oboroguruma and gave a description. He linked it to a famous scene in The Tale of Genji when Lady Rokujō and her rival Lady Aoi competed for a parking space and got into a carriage fight.

Long ago, sightseeing in the capital was accomplished by means of oxcart taxis. When it got crowded—particularly during festival seasons—the taxi drivers got into carriage fights. They slammed their carriages against each other to grab the best spots for sightseeing. Just like parking can be a problem in cities today, parking in ancient Kyōto was a huge source of frustration.

The resentment of nobles who didn’t get the prime sightseeing spot they wanted was something to be feared. The negative feelings could build up and become a powerful force of their own, which is where these yōkai come from. Oboroguruma materialized out of the wrath of nobles who lost these carriage fights and were not able to reserve the sightseeing spots that they wanted.

Haka no hi


TRANSLATION: grave fire
HABITAT: tombs, graveyards, and burial grounds
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Haka no hi are mysterious, supernatural fires, or kaika. They spout forth from the base of graves.

ORIGIN: The cause of haka no hi is unknown. It is commonly believed to be a result of failure on the part of the grave’s owner to reach enlightenment and pass on to Nirvana. The flames are thought to be residual energy from worldly attachments, or else feelings of grudge or resentment, coming from the remains interred in the grave.

Kanbari nyūdō


TRANSLATION: kanbari priest; the meaning is unknown
ALTERNATE NAMES: ganbari nyūdō
HABITAT: bathrooms
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Kanbari nyūdō is a perverted ghost-like yōkai which lurks outside of bathrooms on New Year’s Eve. It has a roughly priest-like appearance, with robes and a tonsured haircut. Its body is covered in thick hairs. Kanbari nyūdō blows a cuckoo out of its mouth. As it only comes out once per year, very little is known about this yōkai.

INTERACTIONS: There are many conflicting accounts about what kanbari nyūdō actually does. What is certain is that it lurks outside of bathrooms on New Year’s Eve, and peeks into the window at people using the toilet. What happens next varies from place to place. In general, this yōkai brings bad luck in the coming year. In more recent stories, kanbari nyūdō tries to stroke or lick the person using the toilet. Sometimes, it inflicts constipation upon those who see it.

ORIGIN: Kanbari nyūdō’s history and origins are confused and convoluted. According to Toriyama Sekien, this yōkai originally comes from the Chinese god of the toilet, Kakutō. Because the characters used to write Kakutō are similar to the characters used to write the Japanese word for cuckoo, this may have been intended as a pun on Sekien’s part. However, Kakutō was not, in fact, a Chinese toilet god. He was actually a 15th century Ming general.

The cuckoo connection does actually trace back to China. It was considered bad luck to hear a cuckoo’s call in the toilet—if you hear a cuckoo while using the toilet, you have to bark like a dog to counter the curse.

This yōkai’s name is also a mystery. It can be written in many different ways using many different kanji, although none of them have a particular meaning. They appear to be ateji—kanji chosen solely for their phonetic readings. Jippensha Ikku, an Edo period author, wrote about ganbari nyūdō using kanji meaning “stretched eyes”—very appropriate considering this yōkai’s propensity for peeping. However, as no earlier stories use those kanji for the name, it is certainly his own (very clever) fabrication. Ganbari may also be connected to the word ganbaru, which means to try hard and persevere—which may or may not be related to certain bathroom activities. But this is almost certainly a connection made after the fact, rather than being the origin of this yōkai’s name.

LEGENDS: Stories about kanbari nyūdō differ wildly from region to region. According to some local legends, if you enter an outhouse on New Year’s Eve at the hour of the ox, between 1 and 3 am, and peer down into the hole and chant “ganbari nyūdō” three times, a human head will appear in the hole. If you then take that head and insert it into your left kimono sleeve and then take it back out, it will turn into a koban—an oval-shaped gold coin. In other regions, the human head must instead be wrapped up inside of a silk cloth and taken back to one’s room. When the cloth is unwrapped, it will be filled with gold.

In most areas, kanbari nyūdō are thought to be bringers of bad luck. If one enters the toilet on New Year’s Eve and chants the spell, “ganbari nyūdō, hototogisu!” (“ganbari priest, cuckoo!”) this yōkai will not appear, and thus the following year will not be unlucky. On the other hand, in other areas, chanting the same phrase or even remembering those magic words is unlucky enough to guarantee an entire year of bad luck.



TRANSLATION: hungry ghosts, preta; suffering spirits from Buddhist cosmology
HABITAT: Gakidō, a realm of suffering, starvation, and thirst
DIET: gaki will try to eat anything, but are never able to find nourishment

APPEARANCE: Gaki are spirits which live in horrible torment and are afflicted with constant suffering. They look vaguely human, but they have distended, bulging bellies and tiny, inefficient mouths and throats. They inhabit a parallel realm called Gakidō. It is a barren place, full of deserts, wastelands, and other inhospitable terrain.

BEHAVIOR: Gaki are eternally hungry and thirsty. There are many kinds of gaki, each of which suffers in a different way related to the sins he or she committed in a past life. Some are unable to eat or drink anything at all. Whenever they try to eat, the food instantly bursts into flames and vanishes. These gaki are only able to eat food which has been specially blessed for them in Buddhist services. Some gaki are able to eat only unclean things, such as feces, vomit, corpses, and so on. Others have no trouble eating anything they please. However, no matter how much they wolf down, their hunger and thirst are never sated.

INTERACTION: In some Buddhist traditions, a special ceremony called segaki is performed during the Obon season, to help ease the suffering of the gaki. In this ceremony, offerings of rice and water are laid out on special altars, out of sight of any statues of the gods or Buddha. The gaki are called to come and eat, while prayers are said to ease some of their suffering.

ORIGIN: The realm of the gaki is considered one of the four “unhappy” rebirths. In the cosmology of birth and rebirth, the realm of the gaki is only one step above the realm of Jigoku—the main difference between the inhabitants of Jigoku and the gaki being that those in Jigoku are confined to their prison. Gaki may roam free as they suffer.

Today, the word gaki is also a very nasty term for a child. This comes from the perception of children always wanting more food and never feeling satisfied with what they get.



TRANSLATION: asura; warrior demons from Buddhist cosmology
HABITAT: Ashuradō, one of the celestial realms
DIET: carnivorous; they thrive on violence and destruction

APPEARANCE: Ashura are fearsome demon gods with multiple faces and arms. They are roughly human-like in appearance, though their size, strength, and numerous appendages distinguish them from mere mortals.

BEHAVIOR: Ashura are warriors above all else, and live for battle. They love combat, war, and destroying things. They have enormous egos; ashura always desire to be better than others, have no patience for those weaker than they are, and prefer to solve any problem with violence.

There are many different kinds of ashura. Some are considered to be gods and others demons. Ashura are strong, powerful, and magical. In many ways they are far superior to humans. They experience more pleasure than those in the human realm, and live much longer. However, they are controlled by such intense passions—wrath, pride, violence, and greed—that despite their pleasure-filled existence they are constantly fighting and never at peace. Ashura are also wracked with jealousy; to be reborn as an ashura means to be constantly reminded how much better life would have been if you had been reborn in a heavenly realm instead of Ashuradō.

ORIGIN: In Japanese Buddhism, after someone dies, they are eventually reborn in one of the 6 Buddhist realms: Tendō, the realm of heaven; Ningendō, the realm of humans; Ashuradō, the realm of ashura, Chikushōdō, the realm of animals; Gakidō, the realm of hungry ghosts; and Jigokudō, the realm of hell. Of these, only two realms are considered to be “happy” rebirths—the heavenly realm and the human realm. Of the remaining realms, the realm of Jigoku is the worst, followed by Gakidō. The realm of animals is not a good rebirth because animals are ruled by their desires and thus cannot obtain enlightenment. Ashuradō, the realm of the ashura, is the least unpleasant of the “unhappy” rebirths.

In some Buddhist traditions, the realm of ashura is considered to be the lowest level of heaven, and gets included among the “happy” rebirths. However, because ashura are so controlled by their emotions, it is almost impossible for them to achieve enlightenment, become buddhas, and escape the cycle of endless reincarnation. Souls who are reborn here are usually humans who lived good lives up to a point, but committed some wicked deed which prevents them from being reborn in the realm of heaven.



TRANSLATION: heavenly evil spirits

APPEARANCE: Amanojaku are wicked monsters which have been known since before written history in Japan. They are described as evil kami, minor oni, or yōkai who cause mischief and perform evil deeds. In particular, they are known for provoking humans into acting upon the wicked, impious desires buried deep within their hearts. They spread spiritual pollution wherever they go.

ORIGIN: Although they predate Buddhism in Japan, amanojaku are frequently depicted in Buddhist imagery as symbols of wickedness being defeated by righteousness. In particular, the Four Heavenly Kings are depicted as standing on top of demons, squashing them—those squashed demons are said to be amanojaku. The god Bishamonten’s armor is also decorated with demonic faces, which are said to be this evil spirit.

Amanojaku originate in ancient mythology. Though their true origins are a mystery, they appear to have developed out of ancient myths of wicked Shinto deities. Amanozako, Amenosagume, and Amenowakahiko all share aspects of this spirit’s undermining nature. It is widely believed that amanojaku originated from one or even all of them.

LEGENDS: The most well-known tale about amanojaku is the story of Uriko hime. In this story, a childless elderly couple discovered a baby girl inside of a melon. They took her home and raised her as their own, and named her Uriko hime. She grew into a beautiful young woman, and one day a request for her hand in marriage arrived. Delighted, her parents went off to town to purchase her dowry and prepare for her wedding. Before leaving, they warned her not to open the door for anybody, no matter what!

Shortly afterwards, Uriko hime heard a knock at the door. “Uriko hime, please let me in!” She refused to open the door. The voice replied, “If you won’t open the door, then at least open the window a crack…”

Reluctantly, Uriko hime opened the window just a crack. As soon as she had done so, a long, clawed finger slipped into the crack and smashed the window open. It was an amanojaku! The amanojaku leaped at Uriko hime, tearing at her clothes. The young woman fought for her life, biting and kicking at the demon, but she was not strong enough. The amanojaku snapped her neck, and she died.

The amanojaku didn’t stop there, however. It flayed Uriko hime’s skin and wore it like a suit, hiding itself in her clothes and disguising itself as the young girl. When the girl’s parents came home, they were fooled into thinking their daughter was still alive.

Finally the wedding day arrived. The elderly couple brought the amanojaku-in-disguise to its husband-to-be. However, a crow in a nearby tree called out, warning the couple that their daughter was not what she seemed. They grabbed the bride tight and held her down. They washed her body until the flayed skin sloughed off, and the amanojaku was revealed.

The amanojaku ran for its life, but the elderly couple chased after it. More and more people joined them, until a whole host of villagers chased the demon through the village. Finally, the townspeople caught up to the amanojaku and hit it with sticks, stones, and tools. They beat the demon into a bloody mess, and it died.



TRANSLATION: she who opposes everything in heaven
ALTERNATE NAMES: amanozako hime, onna tengu, metengu, tengu kami
HABITAT: heaven

APPEARANCE: Amanozako is a terrifying and powerful demon goddess. She is roughly human in appearance, but has a bestial face with a long, tengu-like nose, dangling ears, sharp teeth, and protruding tusks.

BEHAVIOR: Amanozako’s hideous appearance is matched only by her foul, contrarian temper. She loves to go against the crowd, and does exactly the opposite of what is expected. She frequently possesses the hearts of humans, causing clever people to become overly proud and haughty, or foolish people to lose control over their tempers.

Amanozako is extremely picky and particular. When things do not go exactly the way she wants them to, she flies into a horrible rage. When angered, she can hurl even the most powerful gods distances of over one thousand villages in a single throw. Her powerful teeth can tear apart even the strongest blades. Nobody can stop her wrath.

ORIGIN: Amanozako was born from the temperamental storm god Susanoo. He had let his ferocious spirit and bad feelings build up inside of him until they formed into a large ball, which he eventually vomited up. That ball of ill-feeling became this goddess.

Stories about her are ancient, going back to long before recorded history. She is thought to be the ancestor deity of tengu, amanojaku, and other yōkai which share her penchant for disagreeability and short temper.

Amanozako has one son, Amanosaku. In keeping with her obstinate nature, she spawned him all by herself without any partner. Her son proved to be just as obstinate as she, and was such trouble that all eight million gods in heaven could not put up with him. Amanosaku was so terrible and disobedient that he was eventually made ruler over all the disobedient and malevolent kami.



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.

Yamata no Orochi

Yamata no Orochi


TRANSLATION: eight-branched serpent
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Yamata no Orochi is a gigantic serpent with eight heads and eight tails. It has bright red eyes and a red belly. The beast is so large that its body covers the distance of eight valleys and eight hills. Fir and cypress trees grow on its back, and its body is covered in moss.

ORIGIN: Yamata no Orochi appears in the earliest written Japanese documents, the Kojiki and the Nihongi. Without a doubt, the legend goes back even farther into pre-history.

LEGENDS: Ages ago, the storm god, Susanoo, was thrown out of heaven and descended to earth at Mount Torikama near the Hi River in Izumo Province. There, he came upon an elderly couple of gods named Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi, who were weeping. When Susanoo asked why they were crying, they explained that they once had eight daughters, but every year the eight-headed-eight-tailed serpent Yamata no Orochi demanded one as a sacrifice. They were now down to their eighth and final daughter, Kushinada hime. Soon it would be time for Yamata no Orochi to demand a sacrifice.

Susanoo explained that he was the elder brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and offered to slay the beast in return for Kushinada hime’s hand in marriage. The elderly couple agreed, and Susanoo set in motion his plan to defeat the serpent.

First, Susanoo transformed Kushinada hime into a comb, which he placed in his hair. Then, he had Ashinazuchi and Tenazuchi build a large fence with eight gates. On each gate they raised a platform and on each platform they placed a vat. They poured extremely strong sake into each vat. When this was finished, everyone waited for the serpent to arrive.

When Yamata no Orochi appeared, the great serpent slithered into the fence and noticed the powerful sake. It dipped its eight heads into the vats and drank the alcohol. Soon, the monster fell into a deep, drunken sleep. Susanoo used this chance to make his attack. He sliced the enormous beast into tiny pieces with his sword. The carnage was so great that the Hi River flowed with blood. When Susanoo had cut the creature down to its fourth tail, his sword shattered into pieces. Examining the part of Yamata no Orochi’s tail which broke his sword, Susanoo discovered another sword within the creature’s flesh: the legendary katana Kusanagi no Tsurugi.

Susanoo eventually offered Kusanagi as a gift to his sister, Amaterasu, and was allowed to return to heaven. The sword was passed down through the generations in the imperial line of Japan. It is one of the three pieces of imperial regalia, along with the mirror Yata no Kagami and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama. Today, the sword which came from Yamata no Orochi’s tail is said to be safeguarded in the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya.

Tamamo no Mae

Tamamo no Mae


TRANSLATION: a nickname literally meaning “Lady Duckweed”

APPEARANCE: Tamamo no Mae is one of the most famous kitsune in Japanese mythology. A nine-tailed magical fox, she is also one of the most powerful yōkai that has ever lived. Her magical abilities were matched only by her trickiness and lust for power. Tamamo no Mae lived during the Heian period, and though she may not have succeeded in her plan to kill the emperor and take his place, her actions destabilized the country and lead it towards one of the most important civil wars in Japanese history. For that reason, Tamamo no Mae is considered one of the Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai—the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan.

ORIGIN: Tamamo no Mae appears in numerous texts and has been a popular subject throughout Japanese history. Her story is portrayed in literature, noh, kabuki, bunraku, and other forms of art. There are several variations on her story.

LEGENDS: Tamamo no Mae was born some 3,500 years ago in what is now China. Her early life is a mystery, but she eventually became a powerful sorceress. After hundreds of more years she became a white faced, golden furred kyūbi no kitsune—a nine-tailed fox with supreme magical power. In addition, she was an expert at manipulation. She used her charms and wit to advance her standing and influence world affairs.

During the Shang Dynasty Tamamo no Mae was known as Daji. She disguised herself as a beautiful woman and became the favorite concubine of King Zhou of Shang. Daji was a model of human depravity. She held orgies in the palace gardens. Her fondness for watching and inventing new forms of torture are legendary. Daji eventually brought about the fall of the entire Shang Dynasty. She managed to escape execution, and fled to the Magadha kingdom in India in 1046 BCE.

In Magadha, she was known as Lady Kayō, and became a consort of King Kalmashapada, known in Japan as Hanzoku. She used her beauty and charms to dominate the king, causing him to devour children, murder priests, and commit other unspeakable horrors. Eventually—whether because she ran out children to eat or because Kalmashapada began to turn away from her and towards Buddhism—she fled back to China.

During the Zhou Dynasty she called herself Bao Si, and was known as one of the most desirable women in all of China. In 779 BCE she became a concubine of King You. Not satisfied as just a mistress, she manipulated the king into deposing his wife Queen Shen and making Bao Si his new queen. Though she was beautiful, Bao Si rarely ever smiled. In order to please his beautiful new wife, King You committed acts of such evil and atrocity that eventually all of his nobles abandoned and betrayed him. Eventually, King You was killed and Bao Si captured and the Western Zhou Dynasty was brought to an end in 771 BCE. Somehow Bao Si managed to escape again; she went into hiding for many years.

Little is known of her activities until the 700s, when she resurfaced disguised as a 16-year old girl named Wakamo. She tricked the leaders of the 10th Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty—Kibi no Makibi, Abe no Nakamaro, and Ganjin—as they were preparing to return home to Japan. Wakamo joined their crew and took the ship to Japan, where she hid herself away for over 300 years.

In the 1090s, she resurfaced once again. This time she transformed herself into a human baby and hid by the side of the road. A married couple found the baby and rescued it, taking her in as their daughter and naming her Mizukume. She proved to be an exceedingly intelligent and talented young girl, and was so beautiful that she attracted to attention of everyone around her. When she was 7 years old, Mizukume recited poetry before the emperor. His imperial majesty immediately took a liking to her and employed her as a servant in his court.

Mizukume excelled at court, absorbing knowledge like a sponge. There was no question she could not answer, whether it was about music, history, astronomy, religion, or Chinese classics. Her clothes were always clean and unwrinkled. She always smelled pleasant. Mizukume had the most beautiful face in all of Japan, and everyone who saw her loved her.

During the summer of her 18th year, a poetry and instrument recital was held in Mizukume’s honor. During the recital, an unexpected storm fell upon the palace. All of the candles in the recital room were snuffed, leaving the participants in the dark. Suddenly, a bright light emanated from Mizukume’s body, illuminating the room. Everybody at court was so impressed by her genius and declared that she must have had an exceedingly good and holy previous life. She was given the name Tamamo no Mae. Emperor Toba, already exceedingly fond of her, made her his consort.

Almost immediately after she became the emperor’s consort, the emperor fell deathly ill. None of the court physicians could determine the cause, and so the onmyōji Abe no Yasunari was called in. Abe no Yasunari read the emperor’s fortune and divined that he was marked by a bad omen. After that, the highest priests and monks were summoned to the palace to pray for the emperor’s health.

The best prayers of the highest priests had no effect, however. The emperor continued to grow worse. Abe no Yasunari was summoned again to read the emperor’s fortune. This time, to his horror the onmyōji discovered that the emperor’s beloved Tamamo no Mae was the cause of his illness. She was a kitsune in disguise, and was shortening the emperor’s life span in order to take over as ruler of Japan. Emperor Toba was reluctant to believe the diviner’s words, but agreed to test Tamamo no Mae just to be sure.

To save the emperor’s life, Abe no Yasunari prepared the Taizan Fukun no Sai, the most secret and most powerful spell known to onmyōdō. Tamamo no Mae was ordered to perform part of the ritual. They reasoned that an evil spirit would not be able to participate in such a holy ritual. Though she was reluctant to participate, the emperor’s ministers persuaded her. They told her that it would increase her standing an admiration among the court. She had little choice but to accept.

When the ritual was performed, Tamamo no Mae dressed even more beautifully than normal. She recited the holy worlds as expected and played her part extremely well. But just as she prepared to wave the ceremonial staff, she vanished. Abe no Yasunari’s divination was confirmed. The court flew into an uproar.

Soon after, word arrived that women and children were disappearing near Nasuno in Shimotsuke Province. The court sorcerers determined that Tamamo no Mae was the cause, and it was decided that she must be destroyed once and for all. The emperor summoned the best warriors in all of the land and then charged the most superb of them, Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke, to find Tamamo no Mae. The warriors gladly accepted the honor. They purified themselves and set out with an army of 80,000 men to slay the nine-tailed kitsune.

Upon reaching Nasuno the army quickly found the kitsune. The warriors chased her for days and days, but the fox used her magical powers and outsmarted them time and time again, easily escaping. The army grew weary, and frustration set in. It seemed that nothing they did was working. However, Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke would not accept the shame of defeat and vowed to press on. They practiced harder, honing their tactics, and eventually picked up the kitsune’s trail.

One night, Miuranosuke had a prophetic dream. A beautiful young girl appeared before him, crying. She begged: “Tomorrow I will lose my life to you. Please save me.” Miuranosuke adamantly refused, and upon waking the warriors set out again to find Tamamo no Mae. Sure enough, the next day they caught her. Miuranosuke fired two arrows, one through the fox’s flank and one through its neck. Kazusanosuke swung his blade. It was over, just as the dream had said.

However, Tamamo no Mae’s evil did not end with her death. One year after she died, Emperor Konoe died, heirless. The following year, her lover and former Emperor Toba died as well. A succession crisis ignited between forces loyal to Emperor Go-Shirakawa and forces loyal to former Emperor Sutoku. This crisis started the Fujiwara-Minamoto rivalry that led to the Genpei War, the end of the Heian period, and the rise of the first shoguns. As if that were not enough, Tamamo no Mae’s spirit haunted a massive boulder which killed every living thing that touched it.

Tanuki tsuki



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.

Taira no Masakado

Taira no Masakado平将門

APPEARANCE: Taira no Masakado was a samurai of the Heian period, a powerful warrior, and a great leader. He was born either in the late 800s or early 900s CE and was killed in 940. After his death, his spirit is said to have returned as a vengeful ghost and brought destruction across the country. Along with Emperor Sutoku and Sugawara no Michizane, he is one of the Nihon San Dai Onryō—Three Great Onryō of Japan.

Though Taira no Masakado’s birth date is unknown, he is believed to have been born sometime around when Sugawara no Michizane died. A Meiji period biography of Taira no Masakado suggests that he may have been Sugawara no Michizane’s reincarnation; his revolt against the emperor may actually have been a continuation of Michizane’s curse.

ORIGIN: Taira no Masakado was born into the Kanmu Heishi, the clan of Taira descended from Emperor Kanmu. It was an elite family. Masakado had a privileged childhood in the capital, after which he settled down in Shimosa Province in Eastern Japan, northeast of modern day Tokyo. His troubles only began after his father died. Inheritance laws at this time were not firmly established, and his uncles tried to steal most of his father’s land. They claimed their royal lineage gave them the right to do so.

In 935 CE, the dispute with his family members broke into outright battle. Masakado was ambushed by one of his uncles and a number of Minamoto warriors. But Masakado was a powerful warrior. He quickly defeated them, and then took his revenge by burning their lands, ravaging the countryside, and slaughtering thousands. This brought him into conflict with other relatives by blood and by marriage, who brought their dispute to the emperor.

Taira no Masakado was summoned to court to answer charges of the relatives of the dead Minamoto warriors. Masakado was not only brave, he was also smart. He had taken great pains to remain within the law and proved that he had good reason for his killings. After only a few months, he was fully pardoned when the court offered a general amnesty in commemoration of Emperor Suzaku’s coming of age.

Taira no Masakado returned to his home, but soon found himself under attack. This time, it was his father-in-law and his relatives. Again, Masakado quickly defeated them. To avoid stirring up more political trouble, Masakado received a warrant to apprehend his attackers. Now, with legal sanction for his military action, he stormed into their lands on a quest for revenge.

In 938 CE, Taira no Masakado received another court summons for questioning about a quarrel with one of the cousins who had attacked him. This time, Masakado ignored the summons. He raised a large force and invaded Hitachi Province. He conquered eight provinces: Shimotsuke, Kozuke, Musashi, Kazusa, Awa, Sagami, Izu, and Shimosa. The whole time, he maintained his innocence, insisting that his campaign was legal under the terms of his warrant.

The government was seen as ineffectual and the nobles as abusive by the peasants of the time. Taira no Masakado, on the other hand, treated the peasants of his conquered domains much better than their former masters did. His insurrection was seen as a salvation by many peasants. They welcomed him gladly. The court feared that Taira no Masakado was preparing to overthrow the government and declare himself the new Emperor of Japan. He was condemned as a rebel and a traitor.

A number of warriors—including Masakado’s ally Fujiwara no Hidesato and some his own relatives—were commissioned by the government to take his head. They caught up with Masakado’s army in Shimosa province on the fourteenth day of the second month of 940 CE. They attacked during a night ambush and quickly defeated the rebels. Masakado’s men were outnumbered ten to one. Masakado was beheaded, betrayed by his friends and family. The head was brought back to Kyoto to be displayed in the east market as a message to would-be rebels.

LEGENDS: Strangely, Taira no Masakado’s head did not decompose. Many months after it was first displayed in the east market, it still looked as fresh as the day it was severed. The eyes had grown fiercer, and the mouth twisted up into a hideous grimace. Night after night the head would call out, “Where is my murdered body!? Come here! Reattach my head and let me fight once again!” And then things got really strange.

One night the head began to glow. It flew off into the sky, across the country, towards Shimosa. The head eventually grew tired and landed to rest in a fishing village called Shibazaki (which would one day grow into the city of Edo). The villagers who found the head cleaned it and buried it. A shrine was erected over the grave and named Kubizuka—the mound of the head. Masakado was honored and worshipped by the peasants as a true warrior, a symbol of justice who stood in heroic defiance of a corrupt and lazy nobility. He was seen as an underdog who was repeatedly betrayed and eventually murdered by those he should have been able to trust. Despite his deification and popularity among the lower classes, his ghost was not appeased. A few years after his head was buried, the ghost of a samurai began to be seen in the neighborhood of his shrine.

In the early 1300s, a great plague struck Edo. Many people died. The plague was attributed to Taira no Masakado’s anger. In order to appease him, his spirit was moved from his small shrine to the larger and more prestigious Kanda Shrine. He was designated one of the main gods, and his spirit was placated—for a while. In 1874, Emperor Meiji visited the Kanda Shrine. It was viewed as inappropriate for an enemy of the imperial family like Masakado to be honored when the emperor was visiting, and so his deity status was revoked. His shrine was moved to a smaller building outside of the main shrine.

Taira no Masakado’s anger returned in 1928. After the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed much of the city, the site of his Kubizuka was chosen as the temporary location for the Ministry of Finance. Shortly afterwards, the Minister of Finance became sick and died. Over a dozen other employees died, and even more became sick or were injured in falls and accidents in the building. Rumors about the curse ran began to spread. The Ministry of Finance building was demolished and a memorial service for Masakado was held at the Kanda Shrine.

Throughout the 20th century, a number of other accidents, fires, sicknesses, and mysterious sightings were attributed to the curse of Taira no Masakado. Each time, purification rituals were performed. Finally, in 1984, in response to public pressure, his deity status was reinstated. Today, great pains are taken not to anger his ghost. For example, it is common practice for television stations to visit the grave of his head, still located in what is now Otemachi, Tokyo. They pay their respects to him before his character appears on any show. The Kubizuka is maintained by an organization of local businesses and volunteers who have taken on the responsibility of upkeeping of his grave.

Takiyasha hime


TRANSLATION: Princess 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.



TRANSLATION: honored ghost
Diet: none; exists solely for vengeance

APPEARANCE: Goryō are the ghosts of ancient warriors and nobles who died horrible, agonizing deaths and returned to haunt their enemies as dreadful ghosts of vengeance called onryō.

INTERACTIONS: These terrible ghosts bring calamity and destruction to those who wronged them in life. Their revenge is often in the form of fires, wars, plagues, droughts, floods, storms, the deaths of imperial family members, and other disasters which the ancient nobility viewed as curses. Because ghosts cannot be killed, the only way to end their wrath was to transform them into peaceful, benevolent spirits. This was done with the help of priests and onmyōji, through the religion known as goryō shinkō—the religion of ghosts.



TRANSLATION: big kamuro (an apprentice oiran)
HABITAT: brothels
DIET: herbs and dew from chrysanthemums

APPEARANCE: Ōkaburo are cross-dressing yōkai found in brothels. They take the appearance of oversized kamuro, little girls employed as a servants in brothels. Only they are much larger than a typical girl of 5.

ORIGIN: The origins of this yōkai are vague. Ōkaburo are best known for their depiction by Toriyama Sekien. His ōkaburo is actually a male yōkai dressed up as a young kamuro, wearing a chrysanthemum-patterned kimono. His description makes an allusion to Peng Zu, a legendary Taoist wizard from China. Peng Zu lived past the age of 700 by having lots of sex with both women and men, and keeping a strict herbal diet which included licking the dew off of chrysanthemums. For this Peng Zu took the nickname Kiku-jidō, or chrysanthemum boy. Sekien likely intended his ōkaburo to be a pun referring to homosexual brothels in which young boys were dressed up as kamuro and offered to male patrons. Aside from the obvious connotations of having a young boy dressed up as a kamuro, the chrysanthemum was used as a secret symbol for homosexuality; the shape of the petals was supposed to represent an anus. The nickname chrysanthemum boy, the chrysanthemums on the kimono, and the image of licking the dew off of “chrysanthemums” leave little to the imagination as to what Sekien was alluding to with this yōkai.

A story of an ōkamuro with very different origins comes from a pleasure house in Hiroshima, where a particularly short-tempered oiran was employed. One day, her ohaguro (a tea-like mixture of hot water and iron filings used to blacken the teeth of courtesans) had been improperly prepared. The color would not stick to her teeth. Enraged, she grabbed the nearest kamuro and poured the entire pot of boiling liquid down the little girl’s throat. The girl, vomiting up her insides, smeared her bloody handprints along the wall as she died in anguish. Ever since, it was said that the voice of that young kamuro could be heard at night, calling out for vengeance against the oiran.



TRANSLATION: ancient battlefield fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: kosenjō no hi
HABITAT: ancient battlefields
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kosenjōbi are a type of onibi, or demon fire. They gather in places were bloody battles have been fought. Kosenjōbi appear as countless orbs of flame which float about aimlessly through the air.

BEHAVIOR: Kosenjōbi are formed from the blood of the countless warriors and animals which died in battle and never passed on to Nirvana. The blood soaks into the earth and rises up into the air at night. It creates fiery shapes. Kosenjōbi occasionally take on the form of wounded warriors and animals. These phantoms search for their missing body parts or just wander forlornly across the battlefield.

Though eerie to look at, kosenjōbi do not harm the living.



TRANSLATION: “until when?”
DIET: the lamentation of the dead

APPEARANCE: Itsumade are kaichō, or strange birds. They have the face of a human with a pointed beak, and the body of a snake with wings, and terrible claws. Their wingspan is 4.8 meters.

BEHAVIOR: Itsumade appear in the night sky during times of trouble—such as plagues and disasters, or flying over battlegrounds where many have died. In particular, they fly over places where there is suffering or death, yet little has been done to alleviate the pain of the living or pacify the spirits of the dead. The strange birds fly about in circles all night long, crying out in a terrible voice.

ORIGIN: Itsumade make their first recorded appearance in the Taiheiki, a fictional history of Japan written in the 14th century. According to the Taiheiki, a terrible plague spread during the fall of 1334. The suffering of the plague victims is what summoned the itsumade.

Itsumade’s name is not written in the Taiheiki; it was added later by Toriyama Sekien. He named this yōkai for its horrible cry of “Itsumademo?” which means, “Until when?” The birds appear to be asking those below how long will this suffering go unnoticed. It is thought that the spirits of the dead and suffering form into onryō which take the shape of these birds. They demand recognition of their suffering and torment.

LEGENDS: One night during the fall of 1334, the itsumade suddenly appeared above the hall for state ceremonies, crying out, “Itsumademo? Itsumademo?” Panic erupted amongst the people of the capital. The same creature came back the next night, and every night thereafter. Finally, the imperial court decided that something had to be done. They recalled Minamoto no Yorimasa’s triumph against the nue many years earlier, and decided to summon the warrior Oki no Jirouzaemon Hiroari. Hiroari was an expert archer. He used a signal arrow that let off a loud whistle as it flew, and shot the monster out of the sky. Afterwards, Hiroari was given the name Mayumi, meaning true bow.

Mayumi Hiroari went on to become a famous warrior, and settled down in what is now Mayumi, Miyama City, Fukuoka Prefecture, where his grave still stands. The area was renamed in his honor after he died.



TRANSLATION: shadowy unpious demon
HABITAT: temples and places where people have recently died
DIET: impiety

APPEARANCE: Onmoraki are bird-like monsters with black feathers, bright eyes that shine like lanterns, and a ghastly human face. They are skilled mimics, and shake their feathers as they give off their shrill, terrifying call.

INTERACTIONS: Onmoraki appear near temples, particularly in the presence of neglectful priests. They sneak up on sleeping priests and surprise them, scolding them in a perfect imitation of their own voices. When the priest wakes up and flees in terror, the onmoraki vanishes into the shadows.

ORIGIN: Onmoraki come from the bodies of the recently deceased. When people die but do not receive enough memorial prayer, their life energy can transform into this grotesque, bird-like demon. The name onmoraki comes from a play on words emphasizing demonic interference with achieving Buddhist enlightenment. The first part of the name, on, comes from onmyō, the Japanese word for yin and yang. On represents yin, the shadow, the unseen, and hidden, secret things—in this case it refers to demons which live in the shadows and in the hidden parts of the world. The second part of the name, mora, refers to Mara, a Buddhist demon who personifies unskillfulness, impiety, and the death of the spirit—a reference to the poor quality of memorial services which cause this yōkai to come forth. The last part of the name, ki, simply means demon—emphasizing the fact that this monster truly is a demon.

Hikeshi baba


TRANSLATION: fire extinguishing old woman
HABITAT: human-inhabited areas
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Hikeshi baba takes the form of a white-haired, grotesque-looking, old woman. She wanders from house to house blowing out lanterns.

INTERACTIONS: Hikeshi baba is not a dangerous yōkai herself, although her actions can indirectly harm people. Her purpose is to make the world a gloomier place by extinguishing the cheerful, beautiful paper lanterns that decorate Japanese homes. Yōkai, by nature, are not accustomed to bright lights or cheery atmospheres. Her work is intended to make conditions more suitable for other yōkai to come out and do their own misdeeds.



TRANSLATION: black hand
HABITAT: toilets
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: A kurote is a bizarre, hairy yōkai from the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.

LEGENDS: Long ago in the province of Noto, there was a samurai named Kasamatsu Jingobei. He lived in a nice house, as was typical of samurai at the time. One day, his wife went to use the bathroom, and something strange happened. While using the toilet, she felt a hand reach up from the darkness and stroke her behind. She told her husband, who suspected the work of a mischievous tanuki or kitsune. Jingobei drew his katana and entered the bathroom. Sure enough, as he stood over the toilet, something moved—an arm, covered in thick, black hair, reached up out of the darkness and began making a stroking motion. With one swing of his sword, Jingobei sliced the hand clean off. He put it into a box.

Several days later, three yōkai disguised as priests appeared at Jingobei’s house. Not realizing their true form, Jingobei invited them in. The first priest said, “There is a strange presence in this house…”

Jingobei brought out the box and showed them the hand. The second priest said, “This is the hand of a creature known as a kurote who lives in humans’ toilets.”

The third priest examined the hand closely and snarled, “This is my hand which you cut from my arm!” He immediately transformed into a 9-foot tall, black-haired monster. He snatched the hand away, and then all three priests vanished.

Sometime later, while Jingobei was walking home late at night, something like a quilt fell down from the sky on top of him. Wrapped up and unable to move, Jingobei was lifted up seven feet into the air and then violently slammed to the ground. When he came to, Jingobei noticed that the sword he was carrying on his belt—the one which he used to cut off the kurote’s hand—was missing.



TRANSLATION: a slang expression meaning “No way!”
HABITAT: dark streets
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: From the back, iyaya look like attractive young women wearing beautiful clothing. When somebody calls out to them to get their attention, they turn around and reveal ugly, wrinkly faces like those of old men!

BEHAVIOR: Iyaya can be found anywhere. They prefer towns and roads at night where they are more likely to surprise lone travelers. They don’t do anything harmful. Like many yōkai, they live just to shock people. That done, they wander off to find new victims.

Yama oroshi


TRANSLATION: mountain wind

APPEARANCE: The yama oroshi is a metal grater which has been improperly cared for and has grown too dull to grate anything. It sprouts a body, and the dull slicers on the grater stick out like wild spines from its head.

ORIGIN: Yama oroshi’s name contains a double pun. First, the Japanese word for grater is oroshi, which is found in this tsukumogami’s name. Second, its name sounds like yamaarashi, the Japanese word for porcupine. This yōkai resembles a porcupine with its spines.

Amefuri kozō


TRANSLATION: rainfall priest boy
HABITAT: found throughout Japan; appears during rainy weather
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Amefuri kozō resemble young boys. They wear children’s kimonos, wooden clogs, and wide-brimmed straw hats or umbrellas on their heads. They are not particularly cute, and have pudgy, upturned noses.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their childish appearance, amefuri kozō are charged with the very important task of causing rainfall. Wherever they go, they cause clouds to form and rain to come down. In ancient China, amefuri kozō were thought to be the servants of the god of rainfall, who is known as Ushi in Japanese.

INTERACTIONS: Amefuri kozō are shy and rarely interact directly with people. However, they enjoy stealing people’s umbrellas and wearing them as hats. They then cause rain showers to fall upon their victims.

ORIGIN: Amefuri kozō became widely known thanks to the printing boom during the Edo period. They were common characters in the cheap, pocket-sized publications sold by street vendors known as kibyōshi, or yellow covers. Kibyōshi were satirical comics, heavy on illustrations, depicting urban life with easy-to-read prose. Amefuri kozō and other priest boy yōkai became popular in these adult-oriented comic books. People enjoyed their grotesque, silly, yet somewhat cute appearance.

LEGENDS: Rain that falls while the sun is out is known in Japan as kitsune no yomeiri—fox weddings. Kitsune (fox yōkai) hold their weddings during sun showers. Before getting married, kitsune will say a prayer to the amefuri kozō for rain on their wedding day.



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.



TRANSLATION: the three corpses; the three spirits
HABITAT: inside the human body
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The sanshi are three spiritual worms found inside of humans. Each is about 6 centimeters long. These worms live in their hosts from the moment they are born to the moment they die. They work hard to cause their hosts to do evil things.

INTERACTIONS: The names of the sanshi are Jōshi, Chūshi, and Geshi, meaning upper worm, middle worm, and lower worm.

Jōshi lives in your head and looks like a Taoist wise man. He is responsible for making your eyes grow weak, creating wrinkles, and growing white hairs. Chūshi lives in your torso and looks like a wild beast. He is responsible for damaging internal organs, making you overeat and overdrink, and causing bad dreams. Geshi lives in the lower half of your body and looks like a human foot with a cow’s head. He drains the will and shortens the life of his host.

The number 60 is an important number in Chinese astrology, and every sixty days the sanshi leave the body to visit the King of Heaven while their host human sleeps. They report their host’s wicked deeds for the year to king. Depending on this report, the King of Heaven shortens each human’s life span by a certain amount.

To escape the King of Heaven’s sentence, Kōshin practitioners do not sleep every 60th night, so the sanshi are never able to leave the body and give their report. Additionally, spells and charms are chanted to prevent any harm done by the sanshi. The following spell is said to defeat the sanshi’s power:

ホウコウシ、ホウジョウシ メイコシ シツニュウヨウメイイチュウ キョリガシン

Finally, if you find yourself drowsy and unable to stay awake, the following spell must be chanted before falling asleep to prevent harm:

シヤムシハ、イネヤサリネヤ ワガトコヲ ネタレゾネヌゾ ネネドネタレルゾ



TRANSLATION: giant head
HABITAT: hiding in large barns, or flying around in the sky
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Ōkubi appear as enormous, severed heads, which fly through the sky. In most accounts they are female in appearance. Quite commonly they have blackened teeth.

INTERACTIONS: Ōkubi are little threat to humans. Their most common activity is to fly about harassing people: grinning at them, blowing away their umbrellas, or otherwise scaring them. According to some accounts, if an ōkubi breaths on any body part, that part will become inflamed. However, stories about serious injuries or deaths are rare to nonexistent.

LEGENDS: Eyewitness accounts of ōkubi were common during the Edo period. In a story from Inou Mononoke Roku, the protagonist Inou Heitarō opens the door to his storage house. He discovers that an enormous head of an old woman—the size of the entire storage house—has taken up residence inside. Curious, he pokes at the head with a long chopstick. Instead of bumping against the forehead of the ōkubi, the head is sticky and mushy and the chopstick slides right in.



TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; the sound of shivering
HABITAT: human-inhabited areas
DIET: cowardice

APPEARANCE: Buruburu are sometimes referred to as the spirit of cowardice. They follow people and cause them to shudder in fear.

INTERACTIONS: Buruburu are born when humans perform acts of cowardice, such as running away from battle. They possess people by clinging to their shirt collars and touching the backs of their necks. This causes their hair to stand on end and sends shivers down their bodies.

ORIGIN: The words buruburu and zo are Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of shivering and the chill of fear. This spirit’s name comes from the sound of the shivers that it causes to run down people’s spines.

Rokujō no Miyasundokoro

Rokujou no Miyasundokoro六条御息所

TRANSLATION: Lady Rokujō; Miyasundokoro is her given name
ALTERNATE NAMES: Rokujō Miyasudokoro

ORIGIN: Lady Rokujō is a woman who appears in the noh play Aoi no Ue, which is based on the 11th century novel The Tale of Genji. The novel revolves around the life of Hikaru Genji, a noble living in the height of the Heian period. Lady Rokujō’s transformation from noblewoman to demoness has made her one of the most well-known monsters in Japanese theater. Her name comes from Rokujō, the area of Kyoto in which she lived.

LEGENDS: Lady Rokujō was the daughter of a minister living in the capital during the Heian period. She was high ranking, extremely beautiful, elegant, sophisticated, and intelligent. She had been married to the crown prince and would have become empress upon his ascension. However, when her husband passed away Lady Rokujō lost much of her power and standing among the court, robbing her of her ambitions. She sent their daughter away to Ise to become a shrine princess, and became a courtesan of the imperial court.

The widowed Lady Rokujō soon became one of the mistresses of an aspiring nobleman named Hikaru Genji. She fell deeply in love with him. But because of her age, rank, beauty, and refinement, Genji was reluctant to return her affections. Lady Rokujō also could not express her true feelings as she wished without breaking court decorum. Instead, she repressed her feelings of jealousy, which began to transform her into a demon.

One night, while sightseeing during the Hollyhock Festival, Lady Rokujō’s carriage collided with the carriage belonging to Genji’s rightful wife Lady Aoi. After already losing her place to Genji’s wife, Lady Rokujō discovered that Lady Aoi was pregnant with Genji’s child. The insult was too much. Her repressed jealousy escaped from her body and transformed into an ikiryō, which haunted Lady Aoi every night. Eventually, the ikiryō was witnessed by Genji, who purchased herbal charms for his wife to protect her against evil spirits.

Lady Aoi gave birth to Genji’s son, but shortly afterwards became possessed by Lady Rokujō’s vengeful spirit. (This possession is the subject of the noh play Aoi no Ue.) The ikiryō was finally exorcised by a shugenja, but the possession took its tool of Lady Aoi and she passed away.

Lady Rokujō had hoped to become Genji’s next wife, but she discovered that her own hair and clothes carried the odor of Genji’s herbal charms. She realized that she had been responsible for the hauntings. Thinking that Genji could never love her after murdering his wife, Lady Rokujō left the capital and joined her daughter at the Ise Shrine.

Six years later, Lady Rokujō returned to Kyoto with her daughter and became a nun. Shortly afterwards, she fell very ill. Genji came to visit her, and was stricken with her daughter. Lady Rokujō, still deeply in love with Genji, begged him not to take her daughter as a lover. Lady Rokujō passed away, and Genji adopted her daughter as his ward. They moved into her old villa at Rokujō.

Even in death, Lady Rokujō’s jealousy remained as a vengeful shiryō, which appeared at the Rokujō villa. It haunted Genji, attacking his new wife Lady Murasaki and the other ladies of the house. Upon hearing of the hauntings, Lady Rokujō’s daughter became sad that her mother had still not found peace in death. She performed the necessary memorial services to finally put her ghost at ease.

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.



TRANSLATION: wisdom; specifically the Buddhist concept of Perfect Wisdom

APPEARANCE: Hannya refers to demons or oni; more specifically to female demons called kijo—even more specifically to those kijo which appear in noh theater. They were once human women who were consumed by jealousy and transformed into demonesses. The name hannya also refers to a specific type of demon mask used in noh theater.

There are three grades of hannya: namanari, chūnari, and honnari. Namanari hannya are kijo that still resemble human women. They have small horns and use dark magic to perform their evil deeds, such as summoning ikiryō to attack their enemies. They are not completely evil; there remains a chance for these beginner demons to return to humanity. Chūnari hannya are mid-level demons. They have long, sharp horns, tusk-like fangs, and more powerful magic. However, they are still vulnerable to Buddhist prayers. Honnari hannya are true demons and the most powerful of the three. They have serpentine bodies and breathe fire. Honnari hannya have embraced their jealousy so deeply that there is no calming their fury.

ORIGIN: Hannya originate from the Sanskrit term for wisdom—specifically Prajñāpāramitā, the highest form of Buddhist wisdom which leads to enlightenment. The juxtaposition of the highest form of wisdom and creatures who represent direct opposition to that wisdom comes from the use of the hannya mask in noh. In the play Aoi no Ue, a shugenja (an ascetic mystic) exorcises the spirit of the hannya Lady Rokujō from Lady Aoi. As it is driven away, the evil spirit cries out, “Oh, how horrible! The voice of wisdom is like a demon!” Since then, demon masks and wisdom have been associated with each other.

The three most famous hannya from Japanese literature are Lady Rokujō from Aoi no Ue, Kurozuka from Kurozuka, and Kiyo-hime from Dōjō-ji.

Nyūnai suzume


TRANSLATION: imperial palace-penetrating sparrow
ALTERNATE NAMES: sanekata suzume (Sanekata sparrow)
HABITAT: the imperial palace of ancient Kyoto
DIET: all of the emperor’s breakfast

APPEARANCE: Nyūnai suzume has the appearance of an ordinary russet sparrow, but in reality it is the ghost of an imperial attendant named Fujiwara no Sanekata.

LEGENDS: During the reign of Emperor Ichijō (960-1011 CE) lived a nobleman named Fujiwara no Sanekata. One day he got into a quarrel over some gossip started by Fujiwara no Yukinari, and in a rage, Sanekata snatched Yukinari’s hat and threw it away. For his bad temper, Sanekata was demoted and exiled far away to a solitary island in Mutsu province in the northeast. There, Sanekata nursed his resentment towards those back in the court at Kyoto, growing ever more resentful of them. Three years into his exile, he died, with thoughts of vengeance poisoning his heart.

When the news of Sanekata’s death reached Kyoto, a strange thing began to happen: every morning, when the servants would place food out for the imperial court to eat at the Seiryōden palace, the nyūnai suzume would swoop in and gobble up all of the food in an instant, and then fly off. No matter how much food was laid out, the sparrow would devour every grain of rice, leaving nothing for the palace inhabitants.

It was not long before the court began to grow very scared of this bird. It began destroy all of the crops in the fields, as well, and nobody knew how to stop the sparrow’s attacks.Rumors began to spread that the sparrow could only be the vengeful ghost, or onryō, of Fujiwara no Sanekata, desperate to return and take revenge upon the imperial court.

At the same time, the high priest of Kangaku-in, Saint Kanshi, had a sparrow visit him in a dream. The sparrow identified itself as the spirit of Sanekata, desperately longing to return to his beloved Kyoto, and asked the priest to chant and pray for him. The next morning, Kanshi discovered the body of a single sparrow lying dead at the base of a tree on the temple grounds. He recognized the sparrow as the transformed spirit of Fujiwara no Sanekata, and built a small grave for the sparrow, mourning it and praying for its soul.

After the sparrow’s grave was built, the attacks stopped. Years later, Kangaku-in’s name changed to Kyōjaku-ji, or Sparrow Temple, and while the Kyoto has changed dramatically since that time, the little grave where the sparrow was buried still remains to this day.

Fujiwara no Sanekata’s legacy lives on, too, in the common Japanese name for the russet sparrow: nyūnai suzume.



TRANSLATION: hundred hundred eye (i.e. many-eyed) demon
HABITAT: cities, towns, and especially marketplaces
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: Dodomeki are cursed women with very long arms covered in tiny bird eyes. They were once human girls who developed a penchant for stealing money. Because of their wicked actions, one day hundreds of tiny bird eyeballs sprout out of their arms and they transform into this monster.

ORIGIN: When Toriyama Sekien first described this yokai, he inserted a number of puns. The dodomeki is described as being a woman with long arms — having “long arms” in Japanese is a figure of speech meaning somebody who likes to steal a lot. Thus, the dodomeki has long arms, both figuratively and literally.

The copper coin, or dōsen, had a hole in the middle of it, and was colloquially known as a chōmoku, or “bird’s eye,” due to its shape. This play on words is the reason that this yokai grew birds’ eyes as a result of stealing copper coins. Money was also sometimes referred to as oashi, or “feet,” because it comes and goes as if it had its own feet.

The phrase ashi ga tsuku is a common idiom which means “to catch someone who has committed a crime.” Very clever readers would have noticed that if the word ashi, which can also mean money, is replaced with chōmoku, which can also mean money, the phrase changes to mean “covered in bird eyes.”

LEGENDS: Long ago, in what is now Tochigi prefecture, lived a nobleman named Fujiwara no Hidesato. He had just been granted the title of kokushi of Shimotsuke province for his valor in defeating the rebel Taira no Masakado. One day while hunting in his newly acquired countryside, Hidesato was approached by an old man, who warned him that some kind of oni had been sighted at the horse graveyard at Utsunomiya. Hidesato grabbed his bow and arrow and went to investigate.

Hidesato reached the horse graveyard and waited until nightfall. When the hour of the ox came, an enormous demon appeared and ravenously began devouring horse carcasses. The demon stood over ten feet tall, had sharp, spiked hair, and was covered in glowing eyes all over its body. Hidesato carefully aimed an arrow at the brightest glowing eyeball and fired. The arrow hit its mark, and the demon roared in pain, fleeing into the woods until it finally collapsed at the foot of Mount Myōjin.

The battle was not over, for although the demon was near-fatally wounded, it still had power left. From its body erupted a torrent of flame. Its mouth split open and poisonous fumes spewed forth. The toxic air and intense heat proved too much for Fujiwara no Hidesato, who had to give up and return to his palace. When Hidesato returned the next day, the ground was blackened and burnt over a large area, but there was no sign of the demon.

400 years later, during the Muromachi period, the dodomeki finally reappeared. A village had sprung up on the northern slope of Mount Myōjin, and strange things had begun happening. The temple’s head priest had been suffering mysterious injuries and unexplained fires began to break out at the temple. A new head priest, the virtuous and holy Saint Chitoku, was called to discover what the cause of the strange problems was.

Saint Chitoku noticed that one young woman stopped by the temple frequently whenever he preached his sermons, and recognized it as the dodomeki in disguise. The demon, terribly wounded, had retreated into some caves nearby to heal. It transformed into a young woman, and had been visiting the site where it fell, gradually sucking back up all of the noxious fumes that it had breathed out, and collecting all of the blood that it had bled in the battle with Fujiwara no Hidesato. The village temple had been built on top of the battle site, and the dodomeki caused the fires and attacked the priest to scare them away.

One day, Saint Chitoku confronted the demon in disguise, and she finally revealed her true form was a dodomeki. She did not attack him, however; while frequenting the temple, she had overheard Chitoku’s powerful sermons, and they had stuck with her. The dodomeki promised that she would never again commit any act of evil. Since then, the area around Mount Myōjin has come to be known as Dodomeki.

Furutsubaki no Rei

Furutsubaki no Rei古椿の霊

TRANSLATION: old tsubaki spirit
HABITAT: tsubaki trees
DIET: water, soil, and sunlight

APPEARANCE: In Japanese folklore, almost anything, upon reaching an old age, can develop a spirit and become a yokai. When a tsubaki tree (Camellia japonica, or the rose of winter) reaches an old age, it’s spirit gains the ability to separate itself from its host tree, along with other strange and mysterious powers, which it uses to bewitch and trick humans.

ORIGIN: The tsubaki is an evergreen tree which has the strange behavior of not losing its flowers gradually, petal by petal, but dropping them all at once to the ground. As a result, it long been associated with death and strangeness in Japan (and is also taboo to bring as gifts to hospitals or sick people).

LEGENDS: Long ago in Yamagata prefecture, two merchants were walking along a mountain road when they passed a tsubaki tree. Suddenly a beautiful young woman appeared from out of nowhere on the road beside one of the merchants. She breathed on him, and instantly he transformed into a bee. She then disappeared into the tsubaki tree, and the bee followed her and landed on a flower. The fragrance of the tree had turned into poison, however, and as soon as the bee smelled it, it dropped to the ground. The flower soon fell off of the tree too. The other merchant picked up both the bee and the flower and rushed to a nearby temple to save his friend. The priest recited prayers and read the sutras over the bee, but it sadly did not return to life or to its former human form. Afterwards, the surviving merchant buried the bee and the flower together.

In Akita prefecture, long ago, a man heard a sad and lonely voice coming from the tree one night. A few days later, a disaster befell the temple. This happened again and again, and soon the priests at the temple realized that the tsubaki would cry a warning every time something bad was going to happen. The tree was dubbed Yonaki Tsubaki, or “night-crying tsubaki,” and still stands today in the temple Kanman-ji, where it has stood for over 700 years.

In Ōgaki, Gifu, there is an ancient burial mound. One year, historians excavated the burial mound and discovered some ancient artifacts, including a mirror and some bones; however, shortly after the man who discovered the artifacts died. The locals blamed it on a curse, and returned the artifacts to the mound, planting a tsubaki on top of it. When the tsubaki grew old, it transformed into a yokai tree. Since then, the glowing figure of a young, beautiful woman has been seen by the roadside near the burial mound at night.



TRANSLATION: wicked mountain spirit
DIET: varies

APPEARANCE: Jami is a general term for evil spirits. They are a subset of of chimi, or mountain spirit, though they are much more renowned for their nastiness. The term is not a clearly defined one, but in general they are manifestations of the ill will of the mountains and forests, awoken in order to do harm to humans.

INTERACTIONS: Jami are truly wicked and harmful towards people. Because there are so many different wicked spirits that can be considered to be jami, there isn’t one particular behavior or danger specifically ascribed to all jami. However, one common trait is that jami are accompanied by sickness. They are capable of possessing and inhabiting human bodies, infecting sickness and disease upon their human hosts.

ORIGIN: Along with chimi and mōryō, jami first appear in ancient Chinese histories describing the nature spirits that roam the land. As Chinese culture began to influence Japanese culture, these ancient books became known to Japanese scholars, who incorporated their teachings into their own works. When these creatures were included in Japanese bestiaries and records, they became associated with various Japanese evil spirits.

LEGENDS: In the ancient Chinese hagiography Biographies of Divine Transcendents, a wise sage named Ōyō was able to cure sick people by drawing an image of a prison on the ground. He would then call the evil spirits out of the body of his patients. When the spirit came out, it would become trapped in the prison and the patient would be instantly cured of his sickness. The evil spirits trapped this way were said to be jami.



TRANSLATION: mountains, trees, streams, and rocks spirits
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!



TRANSLATION: mountain spirit
HABITAT: mountains, forests, and other wilderness across Japan
DIET: varies, includes humans

APPEARANCE: Chimi is a general term for the monsters that live in the mountains, forests, swamps, stones, and other parts of nature. They have human-like faces and bestial bodies. They feed on the bodies of the dead — particularly the innards — and sometimes bring disease and other evil things with them wherever they go.

INTERACTIONS: Chimi tend to be nasty, or at least mischievous, when it comes to humans. They trick humans who are wandering in the mountains, and cause them to lose their ways. Once isolated in this way, chimi can attack, often killing their victims.

ORIGIN: The name chimi is derived from the ancient Chinese history known as The Records of the Grand Historian: Chi is the name of a tiger-like mountain god, while Mi is a swamp god with the head of a boar and the body of a human. Over time, the names of these gods combined and became a term for all kinds of monstrously shaped nature spirits. In Japan, chimi are considered to be a kind of mountain kami.

Hone karakasa


TRANSLATION: skeletal umbrella
HABITAT: anywhere humans live
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Hone karakasa is a tsukumogami born from an tattered and torn up old Chinese-style paper umbrella. The “hone,” or bone, part of their name comes from the fact that without the paper covering, the wooden tines on this kind of umbrella look something like fish bones. They spring into life on wet, windy days, and dance through the sky like wild birds. Their appearance is a sure sign that bad weather is coming.

Hone karakasa are closely related to the much better-known umbrella tsukumogami karakasa-kozō.



TRANSLATION: crocodile mouth; shrine bell

APPEARANCE: Waniguchi is a tsukumogami which comes from the circular, hollow bells found at shrine entrances which are rung when praying to the shrine’s gods. When one of these bells becomes a yokai, it sprouts a reptilian body and tail, and the bell becomes the creature’s head, opening and closing just like a real crocodile’s mouth.

ORIGIN: The bells at shrines are called waniguchi due to the wide split along the bottom rim, which gives them the distinct look of an crocodile’s mouth. This yokai first appeared in tsukumogami picture scrolls as a pun based off of the word for shrine bell.



TRANSLATION: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: deep in the mountains
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: The hihi is a large, monkey-like beast which lives deep in the mountains. It has long, black hair and a wide mouth with long, flapping lips. Old legends say that a monkey which reaches a very old age will transform into a hihi.

BEHAVIOR: Hihi can run very fast and primarily feed on wild animals such as boars, battering them down and snatching them up just as a bird of prey snatches up small animals. The hihi gets its name from the sound of its laugh. When it sees a human it can’t help but burst into laughter. letting out a loud, “Hihihihi!” When it laughs, its long lips curl upwards and completely cover its eyes.

INTERACTIONS: While hihi primarily feed on wild beasts, they will also prey on humans if given the opportunity. They are known to catch and run off with human women in particular. If a hihi catches a human there is only one way to escape: by making it laugh. While it is laughing and blinded by its own lips, it can be taken down by striking it in the middle of the forehead with a sharp spike.

Hihi are sometimes confused with other monkey-like yokai that live in the mountains, such as yamawaro and satori. The hihi is much bigger, more violent, and far more dangerous than these. Some stories say that, like satori, hihi have the ability to speak human words and read human hearts and thoughts. They are valued for their blood, which is a vivid, bright red. If used as a dye, the bright red color will never fade or run. If drunk, the imbiber is said to gain the ability to see demons and spirits.

ORIGIN: The hihi’s origins lie in ancient Chinese mythology, where it was believed to be a supernatural monkey that lived in the mountains. It was brought over to Japan by folklorists during the middle ages. In modern Japanese, hihi is the word for baboon, which takes its name from its resemblance to this yokai.



TRANSLATION: hundred hundred (i.e. really old) geezer
HABITAT: dark roads and mountain passes
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: A momonjii is born from a long-lived nobusuma, a yokai which was originally born from a long-lived bat. It is a mysterious yokai which takes the form of a hairy, bestial, old man who wanders the wilds and assaults passersby, particularly crying or misbehaving children. Momonjii appear late at night on the road, when the wind blows strongly, and those who meet them suddenly become very sick.

ORIGIN: The name momonjii was created by a very complicated combination of Japanese puns and wordplay. It is formed from the words momonga and gagoji. Momonga is the Japanese word for a small flying squirrel, but long ago the momonga and musasabi (the Japanese giant flying squirrel) were thought to be the same animal, so their names were used interchangeably. The yokai nobusuma (from which momonjii are created) very closely resembles a musasabi, and so the interchangeable name momonga was often used to refer to the nobusuma. Gagoji is a regional word that refers to a bogeyman-like monster who assaults children. The word comes from the legend of Gagoze, the demon of Gangō-ji; being a regional variation of the demon’s name. Thus, momonga and gagoji were combined to form momonjii, referring to a scary child-assaulting monster which is related to the nobusuma.

During the Edo period, there was a strict prohibition on eating meat from certain animals such as deer and boar. These forbidden animals were collectively referred to as momonjii. To get around this prohibition, shops began selling animal meat as “medicine” instead of food. These “medicine” shops were called momonji-ya, and the meat sold there was believed to ward off disease. The fact that this yokai resembles a wild animal and also brings disease is an ironic reference to momonjii and momonji-ya.

The “medicine” sold at momonji-ya was given nicknames in order to disguise its true contents. For instance, deer meat was called momiji, or maple leaves, and boar meat was referred to as botan, or peony. This secret imagery persists in things like hanafuda playing cards, where deer and maple leaves, and boar and peonies, are depicted together. When Toriyama Sekien, who was very aware of the imagery in hanafuda cards, first illustrated the momonjii, he drew him hiding in a pile of maple leaves — creating yet another connected between this yokai and the prohibition of animal meat.



TRANSLATION: none; just the name for this monster
ALTERNATE NAMES: yamajiji, satorikai
HABITAT: deep in secluded mountains
DIET: life force (in the form of the breath of sleeping humans)

APPEARANCE: Yamachichi live in northeastern Japan and originally come from bats. A long-lived bat transforms into a nobusuma, which then, after many more years, transforms into a yamachichi. These yokai resemble monkeys with pointed mouths and sucking lips.

BEHAVIOR: Yamachichi live deep in the mountains and pay visit to houses late at night. They steal the breath from their sleeping human victims, sucking it out of their mouths with their pointed lips. After sucking away all of their victim’s sleeping breath, the yamachichi taps its victim on the chest, and then flees into the night. A human who has had his or breath stolen this way will die the next day. However, if a yamachichi should be caught in the act of stealing someone’s breath (either by the victim or by another witness), it will flee, and their victim will actually have their life span greatly increased instead.

ORIGIN: The name yamachichi only appears in Ehon Hyakumonogatari, an Edo period yokai bestiary, and thus very little is known about them. The characters used to write the name literally mean “mountainous region” and “breast” or “milk,” but these are most likely ateji — characters assigned phonetically without regard to the original meaning of the word. The original meaning of the name is mysterious and the only explanation given is that they are called yamachichi because they live hidden away in the mountains.

Because they are very similar in shape to satori, yamachichi are often confused with this yokai, and have picked up the alternative name satorikai.



TRANSLATION: wild quilt
ALTERNATE NAMES: tobikura (flying warehouse)
HABITAT: forests and mountains
DIET: primarily blood; also fire, nuts, fruit and berries

APPEARANCE: A bat which lives to a very old age develops magical powers and changes into a yokai known as a nobusuma. They look almost identical to musasabi, or Japanese giant flying squirrels, although they are much more dangerous.

BEHAVIOR: Nobusuma eat nuts, fruit, and berries, but also feed on fire, and by sucking blood from humans and small animals (such as cats). They attack travelers walking the roads at night. They swoop down from the trees onto the faces of their unsuspecting victims, latch on, and begin sucking blood. When they do not need to feed, they simply swoop down and blow out lanterns and torches, flying back up into the night sky with a creepy cry that goes, “gaa gaa!”

ORIGIN: While nobusuma are born from long-lived bats, the transformation does not stop there. Once a nobusuma reaches a very old age, it transforms again, either into a yamachichi or a momonjii.

This yokai should not be confused with the nobusuma (野襖) from Kochi prefecture, whose name is pronounced the same but is actually a variety of a different yokai called nurikabe.



HABITAT: mountains and forests
DIET: blood

APPEARANCE: The nodeppō is an animal yokai which lives in northern Japan, deep in forested mountain valleys. Nodeppō resemble flying squirrels, but are actually born from an animal called a mami, which resembles a badger. When a mami reaches a very old age, it transforms into a nodeppō.

BEHAVIOR: Nodeppō very closely resembles nobusuma in appearance and behavior. They swoop down from trees at night, extinguishing flames. They latch on to humans’ faces, smothering them and sucking out their blood, and in many places they are considered to be the same creature.

While both nodeppō and nobusuma like to smother people’s faces and blind them with their webbed arms and legs, the feature which most distinguishes the nodeppō from the nobusuma is also its namesake: the ability to shoot bats out of its mouth, like bullets from a gun. The nodeppō is able to spit a stream of bats out of its mouth towards the faces of its victims, blinding them in a cloud of angry bats.



TRANSLATION: dead ghost
HABITAT: inhabited areas
DIET: none; thrives solely on its emotions

APPEARANCE: Shiryō are the ghosts of the dead, and are contrasted with ikiryō, the ghosts of the living. The word is generally synonymous with yūrei (“faint spirit”), as they both refer to the classic Japanese ghost. However while yūrei can be creepy sometimes and beautifully mysterious at other times, shiryō is almost exclusively used to refer to unpleasant, malevolent spirits. The inclusion of the kanji for “death” in the name is the clue that this ghost is not to be romanticised.

INTERACTIONS: Shiryō act in similar ways to ikiryō, appearing to relatives or close friends of the deceased. While ikiryō usually appear in the moments just before death, a shiryō appears in the moments just after death. When one appears, it is most often to give one last goodbye to its loved ones before departing… however, shiryō do not always appear in order to say goodbye; sometimes they come to take their loved ones away with them into the world of the dead.

LEGENDS: Belief in shiryō goes back to before recorded history, and has long been a staple of Japanese folk superstition. One famous account is recorded in the Tōno Monogatari, a 1910 collection of folk beliefs which gave birth to the field of academic folklore research in Japan. In this story, there was a young girl who lived together with her father. After her father died, his shiryō appeared before the young girl and tried to take her with him into the world of the dead. The girl narrowly escaped and fled from the house to ask for help. Every night, various friends and distant family members agreed to stay overnight in the house with her and watch over her, and every night without fail, her father’s shiryō came looking for her, to try to take her away. Only after a whole month of sleepless, terrifying nights did the ghost stop appearing, and finally the girl was left in peace.



TRANSLATION: living ghost
ALTERNATE NAMES: shōryō, seirei, ikisudama
HABITAT: inhabited areas
DIET: none; lives off its owner’s emotions

APPEARANCE: Ikiryō are the souls of still-living people which have temporarily left their bodies and move about on their own. They appear just as the living person from which they spawn; sometimes they take on a ghostly, translucent form, while other times they are indistinguishable from a living person.

INTERACTIONS: There are a number of common ways for ikiryō to appear: during a near-death-experience, fainting, intense passion or desire, intense hatred, or even as part of a curse. Ikiryō most commonly appear due to some intense emotion or trauma, and the owner of the soul is almost always unaware of the ikiryō’s existence. This can lead to some very awkward situations and misunderstandings.

Folk superstitions about ikiryō go back to before recorded history. According to ancient superstition, just before death the soul leaves the body and is able to walk around, making strange noises and doing other things outside of the body. This is especially common during wartime, and the ikiryō of soldiers even in far off lands are said to appear to their friends and loved ones moments before or after their deaths, in their war uniforms, to give one last goodbye. The souls of the soon-to-die and recently-deceased are also sometimes seen visiting nearby temples and praying for a few days after their deaths.

During the Heian period, ikiryō were a popular subject of stories. They were sometimes attributed to intense feelings of love. When a person (usually a woman) felt such intense passion and love, her spirit would detach from her body and haunt the object of her affection, whispering sweet things into his ears. Depending on the strength of her feelings, the ikiryō could even physically move her lover around. This was not romantic, however — people haunted in this way were often tormented to the point of extreme sickness by these ghosts.

The most common form on ikiryō is one born of rage and vengeance. Just as the ghosts of the dead can go after those who wrong them in life, an ikiryō can manifest from one living person to curse another. These are also usually unconscious manifestations, however a few famous examples of conscious manifestations of ikiryō curses exist. The pilgrimage of the hour of the ox (ushi no koku mairi) and ichijama (from Okinawa) are ceremonial curses in which a person consciously sends their soul from their body to hurt or to kill their enemies. Of course, this sort of black magic often has dire consequences for the performer as well as the target.

During the Edo period, ikiryō were considered a symptom of certain illnesses, such as the aptly-named rikonbyō, or “detached soul syndrome,” and kage no yamai, or “shadow illness.” These horrifyingly-named diseases were Edo period terms for sleepwalking and out-of-body experiences. For carriers of these illnesses, it was said that the soul could depart from the body at night, taking the person’s consciousness along with it. This would cause them to experience things from the ikiryō’s perspective as if they were actually doing it. A person might have false memories of things he didn’t do, or be accused of things he didn’t remember. Some people even experienced meeting their own selves, as if they had a doppelganger.

Superstitions about ikiryō have persisted into modern times, particularly those dealing with people appearing to family members and friends on or around the times of their deaths. The idea of the soul leaving the body and experiencing things during out of body experiences persists as well, and remains an unexplained phenomenon.



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

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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: mountain sprite
ALTERNATE NAMES: sanki (mountain demon)
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: crabs and frogs

APPEARANCE: Sansei are small humanoid spirits that live deep in the mountains. They range in size anywhere from about one foot tall, to three or four feet tall. Sansei’s most noticeable trait is their single leg, which is turned around backwards. They are known as the leaders of all animals which live in the mountains, and their diet mainly consists of frogs and stone crabs, of which they are particularly fond and enjoy broiling with salt.

INTERACTIONS: Sansei occasionally sneak into woodcutters’ houses and mountain huts to steal salt, which they use to flavor the crabs that they eat. Though not very aggressive, they do sometimes attack humans. When this happens, if one calls out, “Hiderigami!” the sansei will flee in terror. However, if one calls out, “Sansei!” instead, that person will meet some horrible fate, such as falling ill or having their house catch on fire.



TRANSLATION: drought spirit
ALTERNATE NAMES: batsu, kanbo (“drought mother”), shinchi
HABITAT: mountains
DIET: moisture

APPEARANCE: Hiderigami is a grotesque, hairy humanoid which stands between two and three feet tall. It has a single eye on the top of its head. It only has a single arm and a single leg, although it can run as fast as the wind. All hiderigami are female.

BEHAVIOR: Hiderigami are rarely encountered by humans. They live deep in the mountains and only rarely travel out into human-inhabited lands, but when they do their presence can be strongly felt over a wide area. A hiderigami’s body exerts such a strong heat that everywhere it goes the ground dries up, clouds fail to form, and rain cannot fall. Despite the incredible danger that they pose, it is said that throwing a hiderigami into a toilet will kill it.

ORIGIN: Hiderigami originated in southern China, and come from a goddess. Their origin is recorded in some of the oldest ancient Chinese records. When the legendary Yellow Emperor of China fought the warlord Chi You, he summon a powerful goddess named Batsu to aid him in battle. Batsu contained an supernatural heat inside of her, and when she released her power, the battle was quickly and decisively won in the emperor’s favor; however, she had used so much of her power up that she was unable to return to Heaven or contain her heat. While Batsu was nearby, the waters all dried up and rain would not fall, and so her presence became a terrible problem for the emperor. Unable to kill her or to send her back to heaven, the emperor exiled the goddess to a far-away mountain and forbade her to return. Whether Batsu became the mother of the hiderigami or became corrupted and transformed into this yokai herself is unknown.



TRANSLATION: a pun meaning both “free staff” and “exactly as you please”

APPEARANCE: Nyoijizai is a nyoi, a kind of priest’s staff, which has turned into a yokai after existing for many many years. It also bears a very strong resemblance to a mago-no-te, (literally “granchild’s hand”) a backscratcher. Its only power is its ability to scratch that itchy spot on your back which you just can’t seem to reach, no matter how hard you try.

ORIGIN: Nyoijizai’s name is a play on words. While nyoi is a term for a priest’s staff, it can also mean “as you wish;” and jizai means “freely” or “at will.” While this name evokes an animated staff, its also literally means, “exactly as you please.” Thus, nyoijizai is an animated back-scratching staff that allows you to freely scratch any place you wish, exactly as you please.



TRANSLATION: standing-collar clothes

APPEARANCE: Eritategoromo is a a Buddhist high priest’s kimono that has transformed into a yokai. It still looks mostly like the high-collared ceremonial robes of a priest, however the long, pointed collar has transformed into a long, pointed nose, and it has sprouted eyes and a beard.

ORIGIN: Eritategoromo was once the kimono which was worn by Sōjōbō, King of the Tengu, who lives on Mount Kurama, north of Kyoto. Sōjōbō is a fearsome, powerful, wise, god-like monster, with the strength of 1000 ordinary tengu. He is a master swordsman, and was responsible for training a number of famous legendary heroes of Japan, such as Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Though he is an ascetic yamabushi and great teacher, like any tengu, Sōjōbō has an evil side too: he is said to feed on children who wander too deep into the mountains.

Sōjōbō was not always a tengu. He was born a human, and became a well respected high priest. He was also proud, and he mistakenly believed that he had achieved satori, or enlightenment. Though he expected to become a Buddha when he died, he transformed instead into a demonic tengu. Even as a tengu, the proud Sōjōbō continued to live as a Buddhist priest, training daily, and wearing his ornate priestly vestments. Either due to Sōjōbō’s extreme pride, or due to being worn by a magical tengu, some spirit became attached to his high-collared robes and they transformed into this yokai.



TRANSLATION: ramie peat (named for her resemblance to these plants)
HABITAT: deep in the mountains
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Ouni looks like an ugly old woman with an angry face and a body covered in long, black hair. She is a kind of yamauba, or mountain hag. She lives deep in the mountains, away from civilization, and only occasionally appears before humans.

INTERACTIONS: Unlike most yamauba, ouni are friendly towards humans who treat them kindly. They occasionally visit rural houses or mountain huts late at night. When this happens, the ouni asks the owners of the house to give her free lodging and a meal for the night. If they are kind and invite her in, during the night she spins an enormous amount of thread for the family and then vanishes without a trace.

ORIGIN: Ouni’s name comes from the Japanese word for ramie, a fibrous plant that is used to make thread, and peat, the rotten muck found in swamps that comes from rotting plant matter. The first part of her name comes from the thread which she spins at night, usually in the form of ramie, as well as the long, black hair which covers her body and resembles thick threads. The second part refers to her filthy, black, hairy body, which makes her look like she is covered in dead vegetation.



TRANSLATION: strange fox person; origin of the word for “scary”
HABITAT: food stalls, garbage dumps
DIET: any scrap of food it can get its hands on

APPEARANCE: Kowai is the ghost of a gluttonous person who carried his or her obsession with food into the next life, transforming into this yokai after death. It takes the form of a grotesque human with fox-like features, blood-shot eyes, sharp teeth, and a long, drooling tongue. It appears at night outside of food stands and restaurants.

BEHAVIOR: Kowai is concerned with only one thing: eating. It is always suffering from hunger, and ravenously devours any bit of food it can get its claws on. It rifles through garbage pales, knocks down food stalls, and attacks food vendors late at night, picking up whatever scraps they leave behind. It will even pick at carrion in the streets. No matter how spoiled or how disgusting, if it can be eaten, kowai will go after it.

ORIGIN: Kowai first appears in the Ehon Hyakumonogatari, an encyclopedia of ghosts published in 1841. Its name is written with kanji meaning “fox,” “person,” and “strange,” and so can literally be translated as “weird fox person.” According to that book, this yokai is the origin of the word 怖い (kowai), which is the Japanese word for “scary.”

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: upside-down pillar
HABITAT: houses
DIET: resentment at being upside-down

APPEARANCE: Sakabashira are the angry spirits of tree leaves which manifest inside houses where one of the pillars has been placed upside-down — that is to say, in the opposite direction of the way the tree was pointing when it was living. These spirits manifest their grudge late at night, and bring misfortune upon those living in the house.

BEHAVIOR: Sakabashira are most well-known for making noises. They creak and moan, imitate the sounds of wooden beams cracking, and sometimes even speak in sentences like, “My neck hurts!” They can cause houses to shake, and the leaf-spirits residing in the tree can manifest as yanari, acting like poltergeists and breaking things around the house. Sakabashira can be so loud that families often move out of a house that is haunted by one, for these yokai cause not only strange noises, but also terrible luck. People who stay in a house haunted by a sakabashira often lose their family fortunes, or even lose all of their possessions to great conflagrations which consume and destroy the cursed house.

ORIGIN: It has long been a folk belief that a pillar erected in the upside-down position will bring misfortune to a family, and a sakabashira is usually the result of a careless mistake on the part of the construction crew. In order to prevent this yokai from appearing, folk superstition tells us that a pillar must be erected in the same orientation as the tree had when it was alive. However, sometimes support pillars are actually installed this way on purpose. The reason for this is another folk belief: “The moment a house is completed, it starts to fall apart.” As a kind of ward against bad luck, Japanese buildings were sometimes only almost completed, with the final step being left out, or purposefully made into a mistake. The famous Tosho-gu shrine at Nikko is such an example, having been built with just one pillar purposefully pointing in the opposite direction. This same superstition was followed when building the imperial palace — placing the final pillar in an upside-down position. During the Edo period, house builders commonly “forgot” to place the last three roof tiles for the same reason.



TRANSLATION: pillow flipper
ALTERNATE NAMES: makura kozō
HABITAT: bedrooms
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Makuragaeshi are a kind of zashiki-warashi: a child ghost which haunts specific rooms of a house. They are found all over Japan, though details about them vary from region to region. They take the form of a small child dressed as a Niō, a monk, or a samurai, and appear in bedrooms late at night.

BEHAVIOR: Makuragaeshi gets it is named for its primary activity: flipping pillows. People who sleep in a room haunted by a makuragaeshi often wake up to find that their pillow has been flipped and is now at their feet. Makuragaeshi are also known for other minor pranks, such as running through ashes and leaving dirty footprints around the rooms they haunt.

While most stories about makuragaeshi present them as harmless pranksters, there are a few stories that describe scarier powers. Some don’t flip the pillow, but lift up and flip people instead. Others pick up entire tatami mats that people are sleeping on and bounce them around.  Still others are said to sit on their victim’s chest while he or she sleeps, pressing down hard and squeezing the wind out of the lung. They occasionally cause kanashibari, or sleep paralysis. The most extreme stories say that anyone who sees a makuragaeshi loses consciousness, after which the makuragaeshi steals their soul, leaving them dead.

ORIGIN: There are as many theories as to where makuragaeshi come from as there are variants of zashiki-warashi. Most often they linked to the ghosts of people — particularly children — who died in the room they come to haunt. As makuragaeshi are generally lower in rank than zashiki-warashi, they are often the result of ghosts which died tragically, such as murder victims. However, some makuragaeshi have also been attributed to shape-shifting, prank-loving yokai such as tanuki or saru. Others still have attributed this spirit to the actions of monster cats such as kasha.



TRANSLATION: house squeaker
HABITAT: wooden houses, especially new construction
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Yanari are miniature oni which appear in houses late at night. They appear most often in wooden houses — especially those of cheap or new construction in which all of the parts have not had time to settle yet. They often carry miniature weapons or tools, such as mallets or iron clubs.

BEHAVIOR: Yanari only do one thing, and they love doing it: making noise. They come out from the floors, ceilings, and the woodwork late at night when everyone is in bed, and they run about the house performing mischief. Specifically, they bang the furniture, the walls, floors, ceilings, and anything else they can find. Occasionally they even break objects, although their activity is usually non-destructive. Yanari delight in the work, and take it very seriously. Although tiny, they have a strong work ethic and do their best to perform their duty of making noise to the fullest.

LEGENDS: Long ago, in what is now Hyogo, a group of ronin decided to test their courage by spending a night in a haunted house. Late at night, when they were all fast asleep, the entire house suddenly began to shake violently. The ronin, thinking it was an earthquake, dashed outside for safety, however they soon realized that it was only the house that was shaking…

The next day the group of ronin visited a wise man who lived nearby and told him of their experience at the haunted house. The wise man offered to stay with them that night to see for himself. Sure enough, late at night, the entire house began to shake violently just as before. The wise man looked carefully at the floor. Locating the area where the most violent shaking was originating, he stabbed his dagger deep into the tatami mat. Suddenly, the shaking stopped entirely.

The next morning, the ronin and the wise man examined the house. Under the floor where the wise man had stabbed his dagger, they found a strange gravestone dedicated to the memory of a bear. Where the knife had penetrated the stone tablet, blood was trickling out.

The wise man asked others in the neighborhood what the strange gravestone could mean, and they explain that some time ago, there was a bear in these parts who frequently broke into peoples’ houses at night. One night it broke into that particular house, and the man who lived in there killed it. In order to appease the spirit of the bear he killed and protect himself from the vengeful ghost of the bear, he had a gravestone placed in the house dedicated to the bear’s memory. The ghost of the bear must have possessed that gravestone, which is what had been causing the yanari to appear every night and shake the house for years.



TRANSLATION: wild temple priest
HABITAT: abandoned, ruined temples
DIET: sadness

APPEARANCE: Noderabō are forlorn, grotesque ghosts of fallen priests dressed in tattered rags. They appear late at night in abandoned, overgrown, ruined temples, forlornly haunting the temple grounds and occasionally ringing the large temple bells.

ORIGIN: Noderabō were once priests who committed some kind of sin and died in dishonor. Most often they are those who fell to vices forbidden to priests, such as attachment to women or money. No longer welcome in towns and cities, they flee to abandoned temple ruins located out in depressed rural areas and transform into yokai.

LEGENDS: In Saitama there is a place called Nodera. Long ago, a prankster decided to steal the large bronze bell from the town’s temple. However, he was spotted in the act by one of the local townspeople and fled, dropping the bell into a pond, where it got stuck. The pond became known as Kanegaike (“Bell Pond”). Some time later a lazy monk-boy was given a job by the high priest of the temple, but instead of doing what he was bid he spent the day playing with other neighborhood children. When it came time for him to face the high priest, he was so ashamed that he became depressed and threw himself into Kanegaike and drowned. After that, every night the villagers could hear the sound of crying echoing off of the great bronze bell, coming from deep within Kanegaike pond. The monk-boy became known as the ghost of Nodera, or the noderabō.



TRANSLATION: enlightenment
ALTERNATE NAMES: kaku, yamako, kuronbō
HABITAT: deep in the mountains of central Japan
DIET: carnivorous; occasionally humans

APPEARANCE: Satori are strange, intelligent ape-men found in the mountains of Gifu. The are roughly man-sized, and appear similar to larger versions of the native monkeys found in the region.

INTERACTIONS: Satori appear to travelers on mountain roads, or folks living in mountain huts far from civilization. If the opportunity presents itself, they gladly dine on anyone they can get their hands on. In cases where they encounter a lone human female, they often take her away into the mountains and rape her. Satori are most well known for their uncanny ability to read people’s minds and then speak their thoughts faster than the individuals can get the words out themselves. This makes it very difficult to hunt, trick, or escape from a hungry satori. However, should something unforeseen happen, such as being unexpectedly hit by an object, satori grow very frightened and run away. One of the only ways to avoid being eaten by one of these yokai is to completely empty one’s mind; with no mind to read, the satori grows bored and wanders away.

ORIGIN: The name satori literally means “enlightenment” in the Buddhist sense. The satori, with its uncanny ability to read thoughts, comes across as a kind of enlightened being to scared travelers, which is how it got its name. This also relates to the method of escaping a satori — true enlightenment comes from emptying one’s mind of distracting, worldly thoughts, just as salvation from the hungry satori comes from an empty, zen-like mindset.

The origin of the satori is not entirely clear. Edo-period encyclopedias relate satori with yamako, apes from western China and captures women to rape or to eat. It has also been theorized that satori are cousins of yamabiko, a small monkey-like yokai. The satori’s ability to read people’s minds and the yamabiko’s ability to mimic their words are rooted in the same folklore. More recent folklorists have suggested that satori are fallen mountain gods of the ancient proto-Shinto religion which have been corrupted into yokai over the ages.

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.



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.



TRANSLATION: old hag fire
HABITAT: riverbanks

APPEARANCE: Ubagabi is a kind of hi-no-tama, or fireball yokai. It appears on rainy nights near riverbanks, and takes the form of a 1 foot diameter ball of flame with the face of an old woman in it. It can also appear as a chicken, but does not remain in this form for long. They are created out of the ghosts of old women who were caught stealing oil and died of shame.

BEHAVIOR: Ubagabi have the uncanny ability to fly long distances — up to 4 kilometers — in the blink of an eye. Occasionally they graze a person’s shoulder and then continue off into the darkness. The unfortunate people whom they bounce off of invariably end up dying somehow within three years. However, if one is quick enough and shouts, “Abura-sashi!” (oil thief) just as an ubagabi comes flying towards him or her, the yokai will vanish. The shame at being called out as an oil thief is too much to bear even in death, apparently.

LEGENDS: Long ago in Osaka there lived an old woman who was very poor. In order to make ends meet, she resorted to stealing oil from the lamps at Hiraoka shrine — a terrible crime in an age when oil was so rare and precious. Eventually she was caught by the shrine’s priests and her crime was exposed. From then on, the people of her village shunned her, and would shout out at her for being an oil thief. So great was the old woman’s shame that she went to the pond behind the shrine and committed suicide. Such unclean deaths never turn out well, and instead of dying properly she turned into an yokai. To this day, the pond behind Hiraoka shrine is known by locals as “Ubagabi-ike” (the pond of the ubagabi).



TRANSLATION: aimless fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: buraribi, sayuribi
HABITAT: riverbanks
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Furaribi is a small, flying creature wreathed in flames. It appears late at night near riverbanks. It has the body of a bird, and its face is somewhat dog-like. It is a type of hi-no-tama, or fireball yokai. It does very little except for float about aimlessly, which is how it got its name.

ORIGIN: Furaribi are created from the remains of a soul which has not properly passed on to the next life. This is most often due to not receiving proper ceremonial services after dying. In Japan there are a number of important ceremonies performed at fixed intervals which occur for many years after someone’s death — missing even one of these could cause a soul to become lost and be unable to rest. Furaru-bi is one of these lost souls.

LEGENDS: In the late 16th century, Toyama was ruled by a samurai named Sassa Narimasa. Narimasa kept a very beautiful concubine named Sayuri in his household. Sayuri was not well liked by the female servants and other women in Sassa Narimasa’s household. They were jealous of her beauty and of Narimasa’s love for her. One day, these women conspired against Sayuri and started a rumor that she had been unfaithful to Narimasa with one of his own men. Narimasa flew in a fit of jealous rage, murdered Sayuri, then took her body down to the Jinzū river. He hung her corpse from a tree and proceeded to carve it into pieces with his sword. Then he captured Sayuri’s entire extended family — 18 people in all — and executed them in the same manner. Afterwards, their tortured souls aimlessly wandered the riverbanks every night as furaribi.

It is said if you go down to the riverside and call out, “Sayuri, Sayuri!” late at night, the floating, severed head of a woman will appear, pulling and tearing at her hair in a vengeful fury. As for Sassa Narimasa, he was later defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Some have attributed his defeat by Hideyoshi to the vengeful curse of Sayuri’s ghost.



ALTERNATE NAMES: nuppori-bōzu
HABITAT: city streets, late at night
DIET: none; it just enjoys scaring people

APPEARANCE: From a distance, shirime appears to be a normal human being. When close enough, however, it becomes apparent that it is a yokai. It has no facial features, but located in its butt hole is a large eye which shines like lightning.

BEHAVIOR: Shirime approaches travelers on the road late at night, looking like a man wearing a kimono. Once it has their attention, it asks them if they have a moment to spare. Before they can answer, the shirime drops its kimono to the ground and bends over, spreading its butt cheeks and revealing the giant, shining eye located inside of its butt hole.

Other than its very startling behavior, shirime does not do anything harmful. It appears to thrive solely on the joy of scaring people.

ORIGIN: Although there are very few documented encounters, because of its alternate name (nuppori-bōzu) and its shocking behavior, it is very likely that shirime is a close relative of the noppera-bō, another faceless ghost. In this case, shirime’s true form may simply be a shapeshifted animal playing a practical joke on humans.



TRANSLATION: broom spirit

APPEARANCE: A hahakigami is a tsukumogami which takes up residence in a broom. They can sometimes be seen on cold, windy late autumn mornings, sweeping wildly at the blowing leaves.

ORIGIN: Long ago, brooms were not household cleaning tools, but actually holy instruments used in ritual purification ceremonies. They were used to on the air in a room or area in order to purify it and sweep out any evil spirits and negative energy that might be lingering there. Like any tool used for many years, a broom which reaches a very old age becomes a perfect home for a spirit — perhaps even moreso in the case of a hahakigami because of the ritual nature of its origin.

Hahakigami are used also as magical charms for safe and quick childbirth. Because brooms are used to “sweep out” evil energy, a hahakigami acts as a sort of totem to “sweep out” the baby from its mother safely. They are also used as charms to keep guests from overstaying their visit. Anyone who has stayed beyond their welcome might also be “swept out” by the power of the hahakigami.



TRANSLATION: “Gong-goro,” or ghost gong, depending on the reading

APPEARANCE: A shōgorō is a kind of tsukumogami, a spirit which inhabits a household item. In this case, it is an animated shōgo (鉦吾) — a small, bowl-shaped gong that is struck with a mallet and used in Buddhist services. A shōgo gets a lot of use, being used multiple times every service. It is made of metal, and so can last a long time before breaking. A gong which has long worn out and stopped playing its note pleasantly, and gets put into storage until it is forgotten (or perhaps one is the witness to some horrible crime) is an ideal candidate for awakening into a yokai.

BEHAVIOR: Like nay tsukumogami, shōgorō are not dangerous. At most, they are startling, as they wander around at night like some kind of metal turtle, striking their bodies and ringing their notes out into the night. It is enough perhaps to cause loss of sleep, but not much else.

ORIGIN: The name shogorō is a pun. It is a combination of shōgo, the gong, and gorō, a very common part of a boy’s name. The word can also be read as a combination of shōgo and goryō (御霊), the ghost of a noble or an aristocrat from ages past. Goryō are a grade of ghost above yūrei, and play a large part in many Japanese ghost stories.

LEGENDS: In the early 18th century, there was a wealthy merchant family called Yodoya living in Osaka. For many generations, the Yodoya were the kings of the rice trade, raking in unbelievable amounts of cash. The 5th generation boss, Yodoya Tatsugorō, had so much money and lived a life of such extreme opulence that he attracted the attention of the bakufu (regional shogunate officials, something like military police).

The bakufu decided that the Yodoya family had accumulated too much wealth. They were only a merchant family, and it was improper for a lower class to hold so much wealth. Their economic power was above their station in life, and so the bakufu stripped Yodoya Tatsugorō of everything he had: his rice, his business, his house, his every last possession. The Yodoya family fell into ruin, and Tatsugorō became destitute. Even his favorite possession, an unbelievably rich and indescribably splendid golden chicken called kogane no niwatori (金の鶏, literally “golden chicken”), was taken from him. The loss of his precious golden chicken caused Tatsugorō so much grief that he died, and because of the unhappy circumstances of his death, his ghost was unable to pass on.

Normally, when a ghost lingers like this, it attaches itself to the object of its desire, be it a person, a place, or (in this case) a thing. Tatsugorō’s soul meant to attach itself to his precious kogane no niwatori. In Japanese, the words for “gong” and “golden” can both be read “kane.” Poor Tatsugorō’s ghost must have gotten confused and attached itself to a nearby shōgo instead of his chicken, and the instrument turn into a tsukumogami.



TRANSLATION: temple-pecker
HABITAT: Buddhist temples
DIET: rage

APPEARANCE: Teratsutsuki is the onryō of a man who lived in the 6th century CE, Mononobe no Moriya. It was sighted at Hōryū-ji and Shitennō-ji temples, where it took the form of ghostly woodpecker and tried to destroy the temples until it was driven away by Prince Shōtoku.

LEGENDS: Long long ago, when Japan was still called Yamato and the capital was located in what is today Nara, the nobility was divided into two different types: shinbetsu, clans that claimed to be descended from the gods, and kōbetsu, clans that claimed to be descended from the imperial family. The highest ranking titles in these groups were Muraji, for the shinbetsu clans, and Omi, for the kōbetsu clans. In the 6th century CE, when Buddhism was brought to Yamato from China, it caused a great deal of rivalry between the shinbetsu and kōbetsu nobility.

Mononobe no Moriya was the leader of the Mononobe clan and a Muraji. The Mononobes, a shinbetsu clan, strongly supported the old Shinto religion. His rival, Soga no Umako, was an Omi, and supported the promotion of Buddhism throughout Yamato. Mononobe no Moriya and Soga no Umako held considerable power in the imperial court. During the reign of Emperor Bidatsu (572-585), Mononobe no Moriya held higher favor with the emperor, but when Emperor Yōmei took power in 585, Moriya’s favor fell and Soga no Umako’s rose, as the new emperor was a Buddhist.

Emperor Yōmei died in 587, after which the Mononobe clan and Soga clan tried their best to influence the succession of the imperial title. Each of them supported a different prince to become emperor, and they fought bitterly for their clans’ interests. Finally, war broke out between the two rival clans. Mononobe no Moriya set fire to Buddhist temples and tossed the first statues of the Buddha brought to Yamato into the canals in his fight to purge the foreign religion from his homeland. Moriya and Umako mustered their armies and met on the battlefield in Kawachi. There, at the Battle of Mount Shigi, Mononobe no Moriya was killed by Soga no Umako and Prince Shōtoku, and the Mononobe clan was almost completely exterminated. Afterwards, the Soga clan rose to even higher prominence, and Prince Shōtoku, a devout Buddhist, began the construction many new Buddhist temples.

The spirit of defeated Mononobe no Moriya did not rest, though. As he lay dying in hatred and resent, Moriya transformed into an onryō. His ghost took the form of a ghostly woodpecker, which would later be seen at the temples built by Prince Shōtoku. The bird pecked furiously at the wooden buildings, determined even in death to destroy the heretical new religion. Prince Shōtoku was finally able to drive away this teratsutsuki by magically transforming into a hawk and attacking it. After that, the ghost of Mononobe no Moriya was never seen again.



TRANSLATION: eyes on hands
HABITAT: open fields and gravyards at night
DIET: human bones, fresh from the body

APPEARANCE: Tenome takes the appearance of an elderly zato, a kind of blind guildsman. Its face has no eyes at all; instead, it has eyes on the palms of its hands.

BEHAVIOR: Tenome wander through open fields or graveyards at night, hunting for tasty humans. They wait until their prey is very close before attacking. By the time one is able to recognize that they are face-to-face with not a zato but a yokai, it is often too late to escape. Tenome can run very quickly, and while their vision is not particularly strong, they have a powerful sense of smell which helps them follow their victims in the dark.

ORIGIN: Tenome’s true nature is not known, but they are most likely the ghosts of blind men who were robbed and murdered by thugs. This explanation can be traced to a folk tale, in which a man is attacked at night by a monster with eyes on its palms but none on its face. The man flees to a nearby inn for shelter. He tells the innkeeper what he saw, and the innkeeper replies that a few days ago, a blind man was attacked and robbed out in that field. As the man lay dying in the grass, he cried out with his last breath, “If only I could have had once glace at their faces! If I only had eyes that worked — even if only on the palms of my hands…!” The old blind man’s resent-filled death caused him to be reborn as a yokai — with eyes on the palms of its hands, just as he wished.

LEGENDS: In Shichi-jo, Kyoto, a young man entered the graveyard at night as a test of his courage. From out of the darkness, a blind old man approached the young man. When the elderly figure got close enough to be seen in detail, the young man saw that it had eyeballs on the palms of his hands, and it was coming after him!

The young man ran as fast as he could to a nearby temple and begged the priest for sanctuary. The priest hid the man inside of a long chest and locked the lid. Shortly afterwards, the monster entered the temple, sniffing loudly as if it was hunting. The young man could hear he sniffing noise getting closer and closer, until it stopped right next to the chest he was hiding in. Then, there was a strange slurping sound, like the sound of a dog sucking on an animal’s bones. A little while later, the eerie sounds vanished, and all was quiet. The priest opened up the chest to let the young man out, but all that was inside of the chest was the loose, empty skin of the young man. His bones had been completely sucked out of his body!



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.




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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: 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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sougenbi叢原火 or 宗源火

TRANSLATION: Sōgen’s fire
HABITAT: spotted at Mibu-dera in Kyoto
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Sōgenbi is a type of hi no tama, or fireball yokai. It appears as the anguished head of an old monk, covered in flame, and flying about the sky.

LEGENDS: Long ago, at the temple of Mibu-dera in southern Kyoto there lived a monk named Sōgen. Sōgen was a wicked monk, for he would steal money out of the temple’s saisen bako, a large wooden box which holds offerings. He also made off with precious oil, which was to be used as an offering for the gods, and sold it in secret, keeping the money for himself. This went on for many years, until eventually Sōgen grew old and died. Because of his wickedness, he was reborn in hell to pay for his sins. Shortly after his death, it was said that the flaming head of old Sōgen could be seen floating about in the vicinity of Mibu-dera.

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.



TRANSLATION: net cutter
HABITAT: villages and towns, particularly fishing villages
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Amikiri are small, crustacean-like yokai which resemble shrimp or lobsters. They have a long body, a red, segmented shell, a bird-like beak, and two scissor-like claws on their forearms. They fly through the air as a fish swims in water, and are quite shy, rarely appearing before humans.

BEHAVIOR: Amikiri don’t interact with humans very much, except for one particular activity which is the reason that they are called “net cutters.” For some strange reason, amikiri love to cut nets, whether it be a fishing net, a screen door or window, or a kaya — a Japanese hanging mosquito net. While they are not directly harmful, this mischief is not entirely benign either: the life of a fisherman is tough, and a fisherman whose nets have been shredded by an amikiri could find his livelihood ruined.

ORIGIN: It’s unclear where amikiri come from, although they bear a very strong resemblance both in name and shape to an arthropod-like yokai called kamikiri. Stories about amikiri are rare, and their name and shape may actually be a pun; the word ami means net in Japanese, but it also is the name of a type of tiny shrimp.

LEGENDS: A story from Yamagata prefecture tells of a fisherman who one day found that his fishing net had been shredded to the point of worthlessness. He suspected the work of an amikiri. The next day, he took special care to hide his nets at his home where they could not be found by any wandering yokai. That night, however, the amikiri snuck into his room while he slept and cut up the kaya covering his bed. The man woke up with his entire body covered in painful, itchy mosquito bites.



TRANSLATION: literally “maple leaves;” used as a name

ORIGIN: The tale of Princess Sarashina/Momiji is famous in Japanese theater. The noh play Momijigari (“Hunting Momiji” or “Fall-Leaf Hunting”) first appeared hundreds of years ago, during the Muromachi period. During the Meiji period it was remade as a kabuki play. Momijigari was made into a film in 1899, becoming the first narrative film in Japan. It was designated an Important Culture Property in 2009.

LEGENDS: Long ago a powerful witch named Momiji lived in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. Her story takes place during the season of fall-leaf-viewing, when groups of people would gather in the mountains for festivals and parties under the falling red, orange, and gold leaves.

During this time, a samurai named Taira no Koremochi was charged by a local Hachiman shrine with hunting oni. His hunt had taken him to Togakushi mountain, where a particularly nasty kijo was said to live.

Koremochi and his retainers climbed the beautiful mountain, and they came upon a small group of aristocrats having a leaf-viewing party. Koremochi sent one of his retainer ahead to investigate. The retainer approached to inquire about the party, and was told that a noble princess was hosting it; however the ladies in waiting would not tell him the princess’ name. Just as Koremochi and his retainers decided to continue on their mission, one of the ladies-in-waiting approached and told them that her mistress had heard of Koremochi before, and she wanted to invite them to her party. Despite his mission Koremochi could not rudely turn down a princess, so he and his companions agreed.

At the party, the warriors were introduced to Princess Sarashina, an extremely beautiful young woman. They all sat and enjoyed watching the leaves, drinking sake, and dancing. Koremochi asked the princess if she would dance for him, and she did. Soon the men became drunk and sleepy, and dozed off under the beautiful trees.

As he slept, Koremochi dreamed of Hachiman and his mission. The god told him that Princess Sarashina was actually the kijo Momiji in disguise, and that he must kill her with the holy katana, Kogarasumaru (“Little Crow”). When Koremochi woke up, the sword he dreamed of was in his hand — a gift from Hachiman — and he knew that what he dreamed had been real. He chased after the women, and all of a sudden a huge firestorm broke out. Flame and wind lit up the mountain. Suddenly a ten foot tall kijo with horns made of burning trees appeared, and an intense battle between the samurai and the demoness took place. In the end, thanks to his magical sword, Koremochi was successful, and slew the Witch of Togakushi Mountain.

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: drop-it-and-get-out-of-here canal

APPEARANCE: Oitekebori is a mysterious apparition that was seen in Honjo, Sumida ward, Tokyo. It takes the form of a human ghost, and haunts fishermen and others who stray too close to its home in the canals. Its name derives from a slang version of the phrase, “oite ike!” meaning, “drop it and get out of here!”

ORIGIN: Nobody really knows exactly what oitekebori was. The most likely explanation is that a kappa was responsible. Hungry and too lazy to fish on his own, he terrorized some innocent fishermen and stole their catch. Other explanations blame a tricky tanuki. Still other explanations exist, covering everything from a yūrei, a kawauso, a mujina, or a suppon (a soft-shelled turtle-turned-yokai).

LEGENDS: Long ago, Honjo was full of canals and waterways, and those canals were teaming with fish. It was common for people to make their living catching and selling fish caught in the moat system.

One night, two fishermen were fishing in a particular spot in Honjo at sunset. They noticed that they were catching many more fish than usual, and so they fished and fished, filling their baskets to the brim. After some time, when they could hold no more fish, they happily packed up their tackle and prepared to carry their large catches home. Just as they were about to leave, they heard an eerie, terrible voice come up from the canal: “Oiteke!”

What happens next depends on who is telling the story. Some say that both fishermen dropped their baskets and fled, and when they returned later that night, both baskets were empty. Others say that they fled home with their baskets, but when they got home and looked inside, there wasn’t even a single fish in the baskets. But the most chilling version goes like this:

Both fisherman turned and fled from the canal, one of them dropping his basket and the other taking his basket with him. The fisherman who dropped his basket ran all the way back to his house and bolted the door shut. The other fisherman didn’t get very far — a ghostly hand rose up out of the canal and dragged him down into the water, basket and all. And he was never seen again.



HABITAT: hackberry trees
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Sagari is a strange apparition from West Japan and Kyushu, particularly Okayama and Kumamoto prefectures. It takes the form of a grotesque horse’s head, which drops down from hackberry trees to startle travelers on the road.

BEHAVIOR: Sagari don’t do very much other than dropping down right in front of someone’s face and screaming their unholy cry. However, those who hear a sagari’s whinnying and screaming may be stricken with a terrible fever.

ORIGIN: Sagari come from the spirits of horses which die on the road and are discarded and left to rot where they fall. The horses’ souls sometimes get caught in the trees as they rise from the bodies. The ones that stick in the trees cannot pass on to the next word and transform into these yokai.

Ibaraki dōji


TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “thorn tree child”

ORIGIN: Ibaraki dōji was one of the most famous and most feared demons to wreck havoc on Japan. She was the chief deputy to Shuten dōji, the greated oni of all. Not very much is known about Ibaraki dōji’s life; it isn’t even known if Ibaraki dōji was male or female. Most stories and illustrations depict Ibaraki dōji as a kijo, or a female oni; yet there are other stories which refer to Shuten dōji’s deputy as a male. There is also a possibility that not only were the two partners in crime, but also lovers. What is known is that Ibaraki dōji was a wholly terrible and fearsome monster, bent of wreaking as much havoc in the human world as possible.

LEGENDS: Ibaraki dōji’s most famous story takes place at Rashōmon, the southern gate of old Kyotos city walls. Rashōmon was built in 789, but after the Heian period it fell into serious disrepair and became known as an unsavory place. It was overgrown and unkempt. Thieves and bandits hung out near it. It even served as a dumping point for unwanted babies, and a spot to dispose of murder victims. But the scariest part of its haunted reputation was the legend of Rashōmon no oni — the demon of Rashōmon.

After his celebrated victory over Shuten dōji, the hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu returned triumphant to Kyoto. He was celebrating at his home with his deputies — Sakata no Kintoki, Urabe no Suetake, Usui Sadamitsu, and Watanabe no Tsuna — when Fujiwara no Yasumasa, a noble, informed them that an oni was seen haunting Rashōmon gate. Watanabe no Tsuna, having just returned from a great battle with Shuten dōji’s clan, could not believe that there were any oni left, and single-handedly went out to investigate. He mounted his horse and went south.

When Tsuna arrived at the gate, a great howling wind broke out and his horse could travel no further. He dismounted and went on foot. Approaching the gate in the fierce gale, he noticed an enormous hand suddenly reach out of the dark to grab his helmet. Tsuna wasted no time, and swung his great katana around, severing the arm of an enormous demon: it was Ibaraki dōji, coming to avenge the murder of Shuten dōji. The injured demon ran away, leaving her arm behind, and Rashōmon was no longer haunted.

Ibaraki dōji later returned to Rashōmon, looking for her arm. She disguised herself as Watanabe no Tsuna’s wetnurse, and was able to steal back her severed arm and flee. After that, her whereabouts were never known again, though for many years after, occasionally in some town or another, villagers would claim that they had seen Ibaraki dōji coming or going, always in connection with some kind of mischief.



TRANSLATION: the black mounds; named for the area she haunted

LEGENDS: Kurozuka is the most well-known demon woman in Japanese folklore, and a very popular subject in the arts, starring in everything from paintings to ukiyoe prints to noh plays. She has gone by many names. Kurozuka, or the witch of “the black mounds,” is the most famous one, but she is also known as the Demon of Adachigahara, or even just simply Onibaba, “the demon hag.”

Her story has changed over the years and through various adaptations. A popular version of the story goes like this:

Long ago, a wealthy noble couple had a daughter whom they loved very much. However, their daughter was sickly, and by the age of five she had still never spoken a single word. The worried couple consulted with priests and doctors, until finally one doctor told them that the only way to cure their daughter was to feed her a fresh liver from an unborn fetus.

The couple summoned their daughter’s nanny and put the task of retrieving the liver to her. Expecting that it would take some time to find someone willing to give up their baby’s liver, the nanny prepared for a long journey. She gave the daughter a protection charm and promised not to return without the liver, then left.

The nanny traveled for days, months, and eventually years without finding any family willing to give up their baby’s life. Eventually, her travels brought her to the moors of Adachigahara, in Fukushima. Despondent, she decided that if nobody would give her a liver, she would have to take one. She made camp in a cave off of the toad and decided to wait for a pregnant woman to pass by.

Many more years passed, and finally a lone pregnant woman came walking by on the road. The nanny leaped out of the cave and slew the traveler with her knife, carving her belly open, killing the fetus, and taking its fresh liver. Only after the deed was done, the nanny looked down at her victim, and noticed the young woman was wearing a very old but very familiar protection charm: the very same one that she had given the daughter so many years ago! The knowledge of what she had done weighed so heavily on her that the nanny went insane, and transformed into a yokai.

The demon of Adachigahara developed fearsome magical powers. She learned to lure travelers into her shelter and invite them to spend the night, after which she would murder them in their sleep. She remained there on the moors of Adachigahara for many many years, murdering any lone travelers who passed by her cave and eating their remains.

In the noh version of her story, the demon woman is eventually visited by traveling Buddhist priests, whom she plans to kill. While she is out gathering firewood, the priests find a room full of dead bodies and bones, and they recognize her as the Demon of Adachigahara. She chases after them, but they are able to hold her back with their Buddhist prayers, and drive the evil spirit from her, banishing it forever. When the demon spirit is driven from her body, she becomes an old woman and dies. The monks bury her remains and build a grave among the black mounds where she haunted.

Shuten dōji


TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “little drunkard”

LEGENDS: There are three monsters who are considered the greatest and most evil yokai in all of Japanese folklore: the ghost of Emperor Sutoku, the nine-tailed kitsune Tamamo no Mae, and the dreaded king of the oni, Shuten dōji.

Shuten dōji was not born an oni. There are many stories about how he came to be, but most of them say that he was originally a human boy who was born over a thousand years ago either in present-day Shiga or Toyama. His mother was a human woman and his father was the great dragon Yamata-no-Orochi. How he changed from boy to demon varies greatly from story to story, but the one popular version goes like this: There was a young boy who was supernaturally strong and abnormally intelligent for his age. Everyone around him constantly called him a demon child due to his incredible strength and wit, and he gradually became terribly anti-social and resentful of others. At age six, even his own mother abandoned him. Orphaned, he became an apprentice priest at Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. Naturally, he was the strongest and smartest of the young acolytes, and he grew resentful of them as well. He slacked off on his studies as a result and got into fights. He also fell into drinking, which was forbidden to monks; however he could out-drink anyone and everyone who was willing to sit down and drink against him. Because of his fondness for alcohol, he became known as Shuten dōji, “the little drunkard.”

One night there was a festival at the temple, and Shuten dōji showed up very drunk. He put on an oni mask and went around playing pranks on his fellow priests, jumping out from the darkness to scare them and such. At the end of the night, he tried to take off his mask but found he couldn’t — to his horror, it had fused to his body! Ashamed, scared, and scolded by his masters for being drunk, he fled into the mountains where he would no longer have to interact with other humans, whom he saw as weak, foolish, and hypocritical. He lived there on the outskirts of Kyoto for many years, stealing food and alcohol from villagers, and drinking vast quantities of alcohol. His banditry eventually attracted groups of thieves and criminals, who stuck with him loyally and became the foundation for his gang.

Living in exile, Shuten dōji grew in power and knowledge. He mastered strange, dark magic, and taught it to his thugs. He met another demon child like him, named Ibaraki dōji, who became his chief servant. Over time, the young man and his gang gradually transformed into oni, and eventually he had a whole clan of oni and yokai thugs who prowled the highways, terrorizing the people of Kyoto in a drunken rage. He and his gang eventually settled on Mount Ōe, where, in a dark castle, he plotted to conquer the capital and rule as emperor.

Shuten dōji and his gang rampaged through Kyoto, capturing noble virgins, drinking their blood and eating their organs raw. Finally, a band of heroes led by the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu assaulted Shuten dōji’s palace, and with the help of some magical poison, were able to assault the oni band during a bout of heavy drinking. They cut off the drunken Shuten dōji’s head, but even after cutting it off, the head continued to bite at Minamoto no Yorimitsu.

Because the head belonged to an oni and was unholy, it was buried it outside of the city limits, at a mountain pass called Oinosaka. The cup and bottle of poison that Minamoto no Yorimitsu used are said to be kept at Nariai-ji temple in Kyoto.



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.

Tenjō kudari


TRANSLATION: ceiling hanger
ALTERNATE NAMES: tenjō-sagari, tenzurushi
HABITAT: attics
DIET: unknown; possibly humans

APPEARANCE: Tenjō kudari has the appearance of a naked, ugly, old woman with a long tongue, and long, disheveled hair. This yokai was first documented by Toriyama Sekien, and aside from his illustration, little else is known about it.

BEHAVIOR: Tenjō kudari spends most of its time in hiding, living in the narrow crawlspace between the ceiling and the roof. Every so often, in the middle of the night, it crawls out from the ceiling, upside-down, to scare people.

ORIGIN: In old Japan, the space above the ceiling was connected with a lot of superstitions about dead bodies rolling about or women being confined like prisoners. Tenjō kudari seems to have been something Toriyama inventioned based on those myths. Fittingly, during his time, the phrase “to show someone the ceiling” was a colloquial expression for causing trouble — which tenjō kudari certainly does.

A few possible connections to origins outside of Toriyama’s imagination exist. One involves the story of a yokai that moved into the roof crawlspace of an inn in Yamanashi. During the night, it would descend from the ceiling and snatch up travelers to eat. However, it’s not sure whether this myth inspired Toriyama Sekien or rather was inspired by his work.

Okuri inu


TRANSLATION: sending-off dog
ALTERNATE NAMES: okuri ōkami (sending-off wolf)
HABITAT: dark mountain passes, forested roads
DIET: carnivorous; particularly fond of humans

APPEARANCE: The okuri inu is a nocturnal dog- or wolf-like yokai which haunts mountain passes, forested roads, and similar locations. They resemble ordinary dogs and wolves in all but their ferocity; for their are much more dangerous than their mortal counterparts.

BEHAVIOR: The okuri inu follows lone travelers late on the road at night. It stalks them, keeping a safe distance, but following footstep for footstep, as long as they keep walking. If the traveler should trip or stumble, the okuri inu will pounce on them and rip them to shreds. The “sending-off” part of its name comes from the fact that this yokai follows closely behind travelers, trailing behind them as if it were a friend sending them off on their way.

The okuri inu is somewhat of a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, if one should trip and fall, it will pounce with supernatural speed and gobble him or her up. On the other hand, they are so ferocious that while they are following someone, no other dangerous yokai or wild animals will come close. As long as one keeps his footing, he is safe… but traveling in the dark over root-infested, rocky mountain footpaths, especially for merchants carrying large packs of whatever it is they are going to sell does not make for easy footing!

INTERACTIONS: The okuri inu has a special relationship with another yokai, the yosuzume. This eerie bird’s nocturnal song is often a warning that an okuri inu is following you. If one hears the yosuzume’s “chi, chi, chi” song, it is a sign to take extra care to watch one’s footing so that the okuri inu doesn’t have dinner that night.

In the unfortunate case that one should stumble on the road, there is one chance for survival: if you fake it so it looks like you did it on purpose, the okuri inu will be tricked into thinking you were just taking a short rest, and it won’t pursue. You do this by saying, “Dokkoisho!” (“Heave-ho!”) or, “Shindoi wa!” (“This is exhausting!”) and quickly fixing yourself into a sitting position. Sigh, sit for a bit, then continue on your way. The okuri inu will wait patiently for you.

If you should make it out of the mountains safely, you should turn around and call out, “Thanks for seeing me off!” Afterwards, that okuri inu will never follow you again. Further, when you get home, you should wash your feet and leave out a dish of something for the okuri inu to show your gratitude for it watching over you.

ORIGIN: Superstition related to the okuri inu are extremely old, and are found in all parts of Japan. Wolves and wild dogs have existed on the Japanese isles for as long as humans have, and the legend of the okuri inu must have originated in the mists of pre-history.

In modern Japanese, the word okuri ōkami also applies to predatory men who go after young women, pretending to be sweet and helpful but with ulterior motives. That word comes straight from this yokai.

In Izu and Saitama, their is a similar yokai known as the okuri itachi. This is a weasel that works in roughly the same way as the okuri inu, only that if you take off one of your shoes and throw it at it, the weasel will eat the shoe and run away, leaving you in peace.