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Hyakki yagyō


TRANSLATION: the night parade of one hundred demons
ALTERNATE NAMES: hyakki yakō
HABITAT: travels throughout Japan, appearing on auspicious nights each month

APPEARANCE: The hyakki yagyō is the dreaded night parade of one hundred demons – the night when all of the yokai, oni, ghosts, tsukumogami, and other supernatural creatures leave their homes and parade through the streets of Japan in one massive spectacle of utter pandemonium. Those foolish enough to go outside on these nights, or to peek out of their windows in hopes to catch a glimpse of the supernatural are either killed by the monsters, or spirited away by the monsters. The parade is said to be led by nurarihyon, nozuchi, and otoroshi.

LEGENDS: According to the Shūgaishō, a medieval Japanese encyclopedia, the only way to keep safe from the night parade should it come by your home is to stay inside on the specific nights associated with the Chinese zodiac, or else to chant the following magic spell:


Ao andon


TRANSLATION: blue lantern
HABITAT: parlors and living rooms; appears during ghost story telling parties
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: During the Edo period, a popular summertime activity among the aristocratic classes was to gather and tell ghost stories, hoping the chill of fear would stave off the intense midsummer heat. These ghost story telling parties were called hyakumonogatari kaidankai – a gathering of one hundred ghost stories. During these gatherings, one hundred candles would be lit and placed inside of blue paper lanterns, called andon, in order to create an eerie atmosphere suitable for storytelling. Throughout the night, guests would take turns telling progressively scarier stories about yokai, demons, ghosts, and other strange things. After each story, one candle would be snuffed out, until finally only the hundredth candle remained, its dim blue light casting long, creepy shadows, struggling to fill the dark room.

According to superstition, as the final candle was snuffed, a real ghost would appear out of the darkness to attack the participants, created out of the heightened emotional state and fears of guests. This ghost was called the ao andon.

The ao andon is the incarnation of mass human terror, formed out of the built-up fears of large groups of people. This fear takes the appearance of a demonic woman with long black hair, blue skin, blackened teeth, sharp claws, and horns. It wears a white or blue kimono, and glows with an eerie blue light.

BEHAVIOR: The ao andon appears at the end of the gathering, when all of the lanterns have been snuffed out. It emerges from the smoke of the final candle and attacks the guests. What exactly it does is a mystery; whether it slaughters all of the participants in a brutal finale inspired by the preceding tales, or simply jumps out to give one last shock before the guests return home has never been recorded. The reason for this is that by the time the ninety-ninth ghost story had been told, the guests were usually too frightened to tell the final story, and the parties usually concluded at that point, before the ao andon could appear.

ORIGIN: As the old proverb says (in both English and Japanese): speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear. It was feared that merely talking about ghosts and spirits for long enough would cause them to materialize for real.


Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai蛇帯

TRANSLATION: snake obi (a kimono sash)

APPEARANCE: The jatai is a kimono sash which becomes animated and slithers around like a giant snake during the night.

ORIGIN: An old folk belief from Ehime and other parts of Japan says that if you lay your obi out near your pillow while you sleep, you will have dreams about snakes. Because the word for a snake’s body (jashin) is the same as the word for a wicked heart, it is said that the obi itself can manifest a tsukumogami and turn into a murderous agent of jealousy. This snake obi hunts after men, strangling them in their sleep.

Kosode no te

Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai小袖の手

TRANSLATION: kosode (a short sleeved kimono) hands

APPEARANCE: Kosode no te is a phenomenon appearing in short-sleeved kimonos formerly owned by prostitutes. It is characterized by a pair of ghostly hands emerging from the sleeves and assaulting nearby people.

ORIGIN: Kosode no te can occur for a number of reasons. One common origin is when a prostitute dies in vain, after working for many years to save up the money to buy her freedom from her owner. Upon death, such women usually had their clothes donated to a temple for prayers to be said over them. However, if the woman was still owed money by her clients when she died, her spirit often reanimated her old clothing, and they leave the temple to find her customers and beg them for the owed money.

Another common origin is when, instead of being donated to a temple, a dead person’s kimono is sold to someone else. If the deceased was unable to properly pass on to nirvana upon death, that person’s spirit occasionally comes back and haunts the kimono.

Ittan momen

Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai一反木綿

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

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

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

Biwa bokuboku

Shamichouro, Kotofurunushi, Biwabokuboku琵琶牧々

TRANSLATION: takes its name from a particular legendary biwa

APPEARANCE: A biwa is a kind of lute, frequently used to sing stories and poems.

BEHAVIOR: A biwa of extremely fine construction, upon reaching an advanced age, can transform into a self-playing biwa instrument known as a biwa bokuboku. It grows a body like a human’s and wanders about like a blind priest, wielding a cane, and playing music in the street for money.

ORIGIN: These tsukumogami get their name from a legendary biwa named Bokuba, which was said to magically play on its own when nobody was looking, and played music beautiful enough to charm even an oni.

Koto furunushi

Shamichouro, Kotofurunushi, Biwabokuboku琴古主

TRANSLATION: old master koto

APPEARANCE: A koto is long and harp-like, and the national instrument of Japan.

BEHAVIOR: A koto which was once played frequently but later forgotten about and stored away can transform into the koto furunushi. These koto look like wild beasts, and remember every song that was ever played on them. They play them when nobody is around to see, and causing everyone to wonder where the music is coming from. Koto furunushi prefer to play old, forgotten tunes which have fallen out of style and have long vanished from people’s memory.

Shami chōrō

Shamichouro, Kotofurunushi, Biwabokuboku三味長老

TRANSLATION: elder shamisen

APPEARANCE: A shamisen is a three-stringed guitar-like instrument.

BEHAVIOR: A shamisen that was once played by a master but no longer receives any use, either because the master died or because he started using another instrument, transforms into the shami chōrō.

ORIGIN: Musical instruments, because of their high value, are often kept around long enough to turn into tsukumogami. Those instruments which were once played by a master, but now sit idle and unused are the most likely to develop into yokai, sadly wishing to be played once again.

Shami-chōro’s name is a play on words, written with characters meaning shamisen master, but also invoking the old Japanese proverb, “Shami kara chōrō ni wa nararezu,” meaning, “One cannot go from novice to senior.” In other words, only through many years of practice can one become a master.

Suzuri no tamashii

Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii硯の魂

TRANSLATION: inkstone spirit

APPEARANCE: An inkstone which has been used to copy the same manuscript over and over again for many generations begins to take on aspects of the story itself. It can create phantom sounds and illusory characters from the story, which well up out of the ink and wreak havoc on the area around the writing desk.

ORIGIN: One of the most bloody tales of old Japan deals with the civil war between the Taira and Minamoto clans, known as the Genpei War. In the final naval battle of the war, the entire Taira clan was brutally wiped out, and many of the slaughtered Taira soldiers transformed into onryō. The grudge-curse of these ghosts infects the inkstones which have been used to copy their story many times. These inkstones begin to echo the brutal slaughter from when the clan was wiped out in the final battle of the war. When used, they produce sounds like the echo of the sea, the din of battle, and the screams of warriors. The ink inside begins to ripple and billow like the sea’s waves, and tiny boats and soldiers begin to materialize out of the ink.


Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii経凛々

TRANSLATION: awe-inspiring sutra

APPEARANCE: Kyōrinrin is a spirit of knowledge formed from ancient scrolls, books, and scriptures which have been gathering dust, unstudied by their owners. These tomes gather together, compelled by the wisdom of the ages, into a dragon-like spirit. Kyōrinrin is often ornate, like the scrolls that make up its body. It decorates itself with the most ornate volumes, wearing them like a kimono, and uses scrolls with tassels as head decorations. It develops a bird-like beak and long, extendible arms, which it uses to assault the ignorant owners who let such priceless treasures and knowledge fall into disuse.

Chōchin obake

Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii提灯お化け

TRANSLATION: paper lantern ghost

APPEARANCE: When a paper lantern, or a chōchin, reaches an advanced age, it sometimes becomes a chōchin obake. The paper splits along one of its wooden ribs, forming a gaping mouth with a wild, lolling tongue. One or two eyes pop out of the upper half of the lantern, and occasionally arms or legs may sprout from its body as well.

BEHAVIOR: Like the karakasa-kozō, it rarely causes physical harm, preferring simply to surprise and scare humans, laughing and rolling its large tongue and big eyes at guests in the home. Occasionally, powerful onryō have been known to disguise themselves as chōchin obake: a case of one of the most dangerous supernatural entities masquerading as one of the most comical and harmless.


Bakezouri, Karakasakozou, Mokumokuren目目連

TRANSLATION: many-eyed muraji (a hereditary title used in ancient Japan)

APPEARANCE: The paper sliding doors and windows, called shōji, found in Japanese houses can be easily damaged, and if not properly taken care of can become riddled with holes. When these shōji have gone a very long time without repair, ghostly eyes can begin to pop out of the holes, watching all that goes on inside of the house.

BEHAVIOR: Mokumokuren are harmless, but incredibly creepy. They often work in concert with other tsukumogami, though, and are usually a sign of a greater infestation of yokai.

Karakasa kozō

Bakezouri, Karakasakozou, Mokumokuren唐傘小僧

TRANSLATION: paper umbrella priest boy

APPEARANCE: These silly-looking yokai are transformations of Chinese-style oiled-paper umbrellas. They have either one or two legs (upon which they hop around wildly), a single large eye, and a long, protruding tongue.

BEHAVIOR: The karakasa kozō is not particularly fearsome as far as yokai go. Its favorite method of surprising humans is to sneak up on them and then deliver a large, oily lick with its enormous tongue, although this is often traumatic enough. Caution is advised, however, as there are other umbrella tsukumogami which are dangerous to humans, and care should be taken not to confuse them with this more playful spirit.


Bakezouri, Karakasakozou, Mokumokuren化け草履

TRANSLATION: ghost zōri (traditional straw sandals)

APPEARANCE: Straw sandals, known as zōri, and other footwear that have been mistreated and forgotten by their owners can transform into a yokai called bakezōri.

BEHAVIOR: These sandal-shaped yokai sprout arms and legs, and a single, large eye in their centers. They run about the house at night, causing mischief and making noise. Bakezōri have a favorite chant, which they sing as they run about the house on their tiny feet:

Kararin! Kororin! Kankororin! Managu mittsu ni ha ninmai!
Kararin! Kororin! Kankororin! Eyes three and teeth two!

“Eyes three” refers to the three holes where the sandal straps are attached and “teeth two” refers to the two wooden platforms which are attached to the understand of Japanese sandals. The other words are silly, jovial nonsense sounds.

Shiro uneri

Setotaishou, Shirouneri白溶裔

TRANSLATION: white undulation

APPEARANCE: Born out of a dish towel or kitchen rag which has seen too many years of use past its prime, the shiro uneri looks like a ferocious, yet tiny cloth dragon.

BEHAVIOR: Shiro uneri flies through the air, chasing cleaning staff and servants, and attacking them by wrapping its slimy, mildewy body around their necks and heads, causing them to pass out from the stench. Occasionally, shiro uneri have killed servants by strangulation, though usually they seem more interested in mischief than murder.

Seto taishō

Setotaishou, Shirouneri瀬戸大将

TRANSLATION: General Seto, the crockery general

APPEARANCE: Seto taishō is a tiny little soldier pieced together out of chipped teacups, cracked dishes, and other miscellaneous utensils which a household no longer uses. Its face is a sake bottle and its armor is made of porcelain-ware. It runs about the kitchen on tiny spoons, wielding knives or chopsticks as swords or spears.

BEHAVIOR: Seto taishō is highly aggressive, and loves to chase the cooking staff around the kitchen, causing chaos. It occasionally crashes into walls or cabinets, shattering to hundreds of pieces, and then slowly puts itself back together again to resume its miniature kitchen war.

ORIGIN: The word seto refers to the Seto Inland Sea, an area famous for earthenware. Just like we say “china” in English to refer to this kind of crockery, the Japanese use “setomono” as a colloquialism for this type of object.



TRANSLATION: hair cutter
HABITAT: urban areas, dark alleys, toilets, bedrooms
DIET: human hair

APPEARANCE: Kamikiri are a kind of magical arthropod, with a scissor-like beak and hands like razors. They are small, and capable of sneaking quietly through open windows and doors without alerting their victims.

BEHAVIOR: A kamikiri’s modus operandi is simple: sneaking about at night and cutting a person’s hair off suddenly and unexpectedly. They hide under roof tiles and wait for unsuspecting prey to pass by. They are indiscriminate in their attacks, going after men and women, servants and aristocrats alike. They strike in urban areas, particularly in alleys, or bathrooms, or other out-of-the-way places. In many cases, the incident goes completely unnoticed until much later, when the victim is spotted by a friend or family, or when a mop of cut hair is noticed lying in the street. Often the victim is asleep in bed when it happens. In the days when long hair was the only fashion in Japan, the kamikiri was a terrifying apparition indeed – particularly in high-class, urban areas. These days, such spirits are no longer feared as they once were.

Kamikiri attacks are sometimes a sign that the victim is about to unknowingly marry a ghost or a yokai. While these couplings are uncommon, there are a number of stories of kitsune and other shape-changers tricking unsuspecting men into marrying them. Because these improper marriages often end in catastrophe, kamikiri interfere in hopes that the wedding will be called off.

LEGENDS: One account of a kamikiri attack was printed in a newspaper as follows: On May 20th, 1874, in a neighborhood of Tokyo, at about 9 pm, a servant girl named Gin left her master’s mansion to use the outhouse. She suddenly felt a ghostly chill, and a moment later her hair fell disheveled about her face as her long ponytail was lopped off at the base. Gin panicked, and rushed to a neighbor’s house where she promptly fainted. The neighbors investigated the outhouse, and discovered Gin’s severed hair strewn about the floor. Afterwards, Gin became sick from stress and returned to live with her family in the countryside. Nobody ever used that outhouse again.



TRANSLATION: hairy, fluffy sight; alternatively, rare and dubious thing
HABITAT: damp homes, dirty gardens, moldy closets, under floorboards
DIET: mold, dirt, and garbage

APPEARANCE: Keukegen are particularly filthy monsters commonly found in populated areas. They are the size of a small dog, and appear simply as a mass of long, dirty hair. They make their homes in cool, damp, dark places, and are particularly fond of living under floorboards and around run-down homes, where stuffiness, moisture, and lack of human activity create the perfect breeding place for sickness.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their apparent cuteness, keukegen do not make good pets. They are actually a kind of minor spirit of bad luck, disease, and pestilence. They bring sickness and bad health to those whom they live near. Generally they try to avoid human contact, being shy by nature, and are rarely seen. However, their proximity is apparent when members of a household mysteriously begin to contract sickness or bad luck. They are easy to avoid, however, as keep away from clean, kempt houses.

ORIGIN: Keukegen’s name is a pun. It is commonly written with characters that mean “a hairy fluffy sight,” but can also be written with different characters that mean “rare and dubious.” Unsurprisingly, these creatures are rarely seen directly, and those who claim to have seen them are often accused of imagining it. Though while keukegen may be hard to see, the sickening effect of their presence is very obvious.



TRANSLATION: filth licker
HABITAT: dirty baths, filthy toilets, abandoned homes
DIET: slime, mold, scum, hair, human waste, etc.

APPEARANCE: Akaname is a small, goblin-like yokai which inhabits only the dirtiest homes and public baths. It is about the size of a child or a small adult, though it generally appears much smaller due to its hunching posture. It has a mop of greasy, slimy hair on top of its head. Its body is naked, its skin greasy like its hair. Akaname come in many colors and varieties, ranging from a dark mottled green reminiscent of mold, to the ruddy pink color of bedsores. They come in both one-eyed and two-eyed varieties, and can have anywhere from one to five fingers and toes. All akaname have an extremely long, sticky tongue with which they lap up the slime, grease, hair, and other filth found in bath houses and behind toilets.

BEHAVIOR: Like cockroaches, rats, lice, and other pests, akaname detest clean, well-kept homes, and only appear where the owners show a complete lack of sanitary discipline. They are shy and stay clear of humans, scattering in the light like cockroaches. They can spread disease, however, so it is a good idea to keep bathrooms and houses clean enough that akaname do not wish to settle down.

Usutsuki warashi


TRANSLATION: mortar-pounding child
HABITAT: warehouses, storage sheds, under floorboards
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: One particularly unpleasant variation of the zashiki warashi is the usutsuki warashi, named for the eerie thumping noise that this low-ranking house spirit makes.

BEHAVIOR: Unlike its more bright and cheerful cousins, this ghost crawls out from the dirt underneath the floorboards and roams about the house at night. It makes creepy noises, creaking and thumping, and tracks dirty footprints throughout the house. It does not cause any actual harm, though it spreads uneasiness and discomfort in houses that it haunts. Usutsuki warashi do not bring any particular good fortune to their home, either. However, a house which drives this spirit away due to its creepiness will still fall into ruin, just like a house that drives away the more pleasant zashiki warashi.

ORIGIN: This ghosts origins are similar to that of the yamauba. It comes from the old and terrible practice of kuchiberashi, or “reducing the mouths to feed” by thinning out families during times when food was scarce. Some houses with too many mouths to feed had no other choice but to sacrifice the newly born in order that the rest might eat. The cost of a funeral also being too high, these children were buried underneath the house, or in a storage shed. Instead of a tombstone, often an usu, a large mortar, was placed as a grave marker.



ALTERNATE NAMES: often simply referred to as zashiki warashi
HABITAT: inner parlors and living rooms
DIET: none, but enjoys candies and treats left out for it

APPEARANCE: Chōpirako are very similar to ordinary zashiki warashi, only they are much more beautiful. Their skin and clothing glows with pure, radiant white light, and their features are more beautiful than they were in life. They are usually found in the homes of families that had only one child, who was loved and lavished with gifts.

BEHAVIOR: Like other zashiki warashi, chōpirako bring richness and prosperity to the houses they haunt, and promote happiness and well-being among the inhabitants. They often require more maintenance to keep them happy than most zashiki warashi do, but in return they almost always improve the house by bringing more wealth and good luck that other kinds of house ghosts.

ORIGIN: Rich families who could afford it often presented lavish funerals for deceased children, with a beautiful burial gown, lavish toys, and a room dedicated to the child’s spirit. The souls of these children which return as zashiki warashi return as this higher-class variation. When such a child dies, his or her room is often turned into a shrine, full of toys, books, and games that the child would have loved in life. The chōpirako resides in the this room, rather than in the zashiki, and very few people are allowed to enter the room in order to keep it in the pristine condition this ghost requires.

A few inns in Japan advertise that they are haunted by zashiki warashi or chōpirako in order to attract ghost-hunting guests or people seeking good luck and fortune.

Zashiki warashi


TRANSLATION: zashiki child
ALTERNATE NAMES: many, depending in the region and variety of ghost
HABITAT: zashiki (a kind of sitting room covered in tatami mats) and other rooms
DIET: none, but enjoys candies and treats left out for it

APPEARANCE: Zashiki warashi are house spirits, fond of mischief, loved by all, and believed to bring great fortune and riches to those whose houses it haunts. They appear as ghost-like five or six year old children with blushing red faces. They can be boys or girls, and usually wear tradition clothes; child-sized warrior costumes for boys, patterned kimonos, with short, bobbed, or long, tied back hair for girls. Rarely they appear as wild, hairy brutish figures. Often it is difficult to make out any details other than a vague child-like shape. Direct sightings of these ghosts are rare. In some instances it is said that only the house’s owners, or only children, are able to see these spirits. Because of this, they are usually known only by their pranks.

BEHAVIOR: Zashiki warashi love mischief. Often the first signs that one’s house may be haunted by one is a trail of children’s footprints going through ashes or soap powder. Other mischief includes making phantom noises which sound like spinning wheels turning all night long, paper crinkling, children’s voices, or kagura – Shinto holy music. Most hauntings involve a single ghost, while some involve multiple spirits.

INTERACTIONS: Zashiki warashi are considered guardian spirits of the house, and gods of luck. It is said that a house with a Zashiki warashi will prosper and grow rich, and a house that drives away such a spirit will fall into decline and ruin. In one account, a family witnessed a zashiki warashi leaving from their home, and soon they all succumbed to food poisoning and died. In another well-known legend from Iwate, a wealthy man’s son shot a zashiki warashi with a bow and arrow, and soon after the family’s fortunes collapsed.

In many homes, these spirits befriend the children of the house, teaching them songs, games, and nursery rhymes. They keep elderly or infertile couples company, and these couples often treat the zashiki warashi as if it were their own child. The desire to attract and keep these friendly yokai has led to customs like setting food out in the zashiki for them, and even laying coins in the foundation when building a new house. The Japanese take great care to maintain their zashiki, so as not to drive out any guardian spirits dwelling there.

OTHER FORMS: Their common name comes from the zashiki, the formal reception room for guests in a Japanese house where they most often reside. They are known by many different names in other areas, such as kurabokko (“warehouse child”) and makuragaeshi (“pillow turner”). Countless variations of zashiki warashi exist from place to place, with minor difference in their appearance and habits.



TRANSLATION: coated Buddha
HABITAT: poorly cared for family altars, run-down homes
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Nuribotoke is a kind of grotesque zombie which creeps out of a butsudan that has been accidentally left open at night. It is a soft, flabby corpse-like spirit with oily black skin and a pungent smell. Trailing behind is a catfish-like tail connected to its spine. The most striking and disturbing feature is this spirit’s eyeballs, which dangle wildly from its eye sockets.

INTERACTIONS: Nuribotoke do not do much other than fly about, flapping their tails, and terrorizing the families whose butsudan they crawled out from. They dance about impishly, reveling in their ability to terrorize the living. Occasionally they try to trick foolish humans by giving false prophecies. They can be kept at bay by sprinkling salt on the floor, which they will avoid crossing. Nuribotoke return to their butsudan before sunrise, and they vanish altogether during the day. However, it is best to prevent their appearance altogether by never leaving a butsudan open at night.

ORIGIN: In most Japanese homes there is a large ornate wooden shrine called a butsudan. Inside are religious icons, scrolls, mantras, statues, and other holy items. It serves as the center of household spirituality, and the ancestors of a family are all enshrined in it. During the day, the butsudan stays open, and during holidays and special occasions it is treated like a member of the family, with offers of food and sake given to it. The doors to a butsudan are always closed at sunset; the butsudan is a gateway to the spirit world, and superstition warns that if it is left open at night, certain spirits can wander freely back and forth between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Nuribotoke is one of these spirits.

Kage onna


TRANSLATION: shadow woman
HABITAT: abandoned buildings, run-down homes, haunted houses
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kage onna are shadows of women which appear projected onto windows and doors when there is no one around to cast them. They appear late at night when the moon is bright, as the paper sliding doors and windows of traditional Japanese homes are particularly good at catching shadows in the moonlight. They usually take the form of a young lady, though occasionally they appear as an old crone with a bell hanging from her neck.

BEHAVIOR: Kage onna make no sound, nor do they interact with the house or its inhabitants, other than projecting an eerie atmosphere. Although they are not known to cause any harm to the residents of the house, the image of a person where there should be none is enough to startle the bravest person. If the door or window is opened to see who or what created the shadow, there is nothing to be seen. However, tradition says that a house where a kage onna is seen is likely haunted, or will soon be haunted, by other yokai as well.

ORIGIN: The moonlight frequently plays tricks on the eyes, causing people to see things in the darkness that aren’t really there, or casting eerie shadows on the ground and walls that don’t seem like they should really be there. Most of the time, this can be attributed to an overactive mind piecing together ghost stories and wandering thoughts and constructing some horrible figment of the imagination. Sometimes, however, a shadow is more than a shadow: sometimes it is a kage onna.

Ao nyōbō


TRANSLATION: blue lady
ALTERNATE NAMES: ao onna (blue woman)
HABITAT: abandoned villas, mansions, and ruins
DIET: spoiled and rotten leftover food; otherwise humans

APPEARANCE: In the empty, abandoned mansions of bygone years, there is sometimes more than spider webs and cockroaches living in the shadows. Often, large and dangerous yokai take up residence in these manses, longing for a return to wealth and grace. One of these is the ao nyōbō, an ogreish spirit of poverty and misfortune. She takes the appearance of an ancient court noblewoman. Her body is draped in the elaborate many-layered kimonos of older eras, though they are now tattered and moth-ridden. She wears the white face of ancient courtiers, with high painted eyebrows and blackened teeth. Her body is aged and wrinkled from years of waiting in musty old ruins, and her beauty has long left her.

BEHAVIOR: Ao nyōbō inhabit the empty, abandoned homes of ruined families and fallen nobles. They wait in the house, constantly applying their makeup, fixing their hair, and adjusting their image in anticipation for the arrival of some guest who never shows up –perhaps a lover who has lost interest, or a husband who has abandoned his wife. Should any trespassers visit a home inhabited by an ao nyōbō, she devours them, and then goes back to waiting vainly.

ORIGIN: Nyōbō were the court ladies of old Japan – the paragons of youth, beauty, education, and refinement. They served in the palaces of high ranking families until they themselves were married off to a worthy suitor. After being married off, they spent their days in their own private residences, patiently waiting for their husbands to come home each night, or for secret lovers to show up during the day. Ao, the color blue, refers not to the aonyōbō’s skin color, but actually implies immaturity or inexperience (just as green implies the same in English). Ao nyōbō’s name refers to low-ranking women of the old imperial court who, no matter how hard they worked, couldn’t seem to catch a husband or elevate themselves to escape from poverty (the “ugly stepsisters” of ancient Japan). Originally used an insulting term for unsuccessful court ladies, it is a fitting term for this particular yokai.



TRANSLATION: mole cricket spirit
HABITAT: rooftops, temples; only appears every sixty nights
DIET: wicked humans who try to outsmart the gods

APPEARANCE: The shōkera is a very large, dark-skinned, three-toed demon which spends most of its time lurking about on rooftops. Not much is known about this fearsome beast aside from its hunting practices, though it is believed to be some kind of demon with connections to Kōshin, an esoteric Japanese folk religion with origins in Taoism.

INTERACTIONS: Shōkera only appear on Kōshin-machi, a special night in the Kōshin faith which occurs every sixty nights. A shōkera spies through windows, doorways, or skylights in houses, watching for the inhabitants to do wrong or impious things, after which it pounces down in a vicious attack. Because Kōshin is no longer a very widespread religion, and because victims of shōkera attacks would only be implicating themselves as wicked by admitting to seeing one, little else is known about the shōkera’s specific mannerisms.

ORIGIN: According to Kōshin, there are three spiritual worms or insects, called the sanshi, which live inside every human body. Every sixty nights, on a special night called Kōshin-machi, these worms leave the body while their host human sleeps. The sanshi travel to Heaven to report on the good and bad deeds of their human. The emperor of Heaven then uses this information to lengthen or shorten people’s lives according to their deeds. While good people have nothing to fear from Kōshin-machi, the wicked might try to circumvent having their bad deeds reported by staying awake and reciting prayers all night long during these special nights so that the sanshi cannot leave the body. The shōkera lurks about on rooftops during these nights, peering into windows and hunting for anyone violating the laws of heaven in this way.



TRANSLATION: forked cat
HABITAT: towns and cities
DIET: carnivorous; frequently humans

APPEARANCE: One particularly monstrous breed of bakeneko is a two-tailed variety known as nekomata. Nekomata are found in cities and villages, transformed from ordinary cats. They are born in the same way as other bakeneko, though only the oldest, largest cats with the longest tails (and thus more power and intelligence) become this powerful variety. When these cats transform from ordinary animals into yokai, their tale splits down the center into two identical tails. These are the monster cats most likely to be seen walking about on their hind legs and speaking human languages.

BEHAVIOR: While not all bakeneko are malicious or violent towards their masters, all nekomata certainly are. They look upon humans with contempt, and are often responsible for summoning fireballs that start great conflagrations, killing many people. They frequently control corpses with their necromantic powers like puppet-masters, and they use their powerful influence to blackmail or enslave humans into doing their bidding.

The most dangerous and powerful nekomata live deep in the mountains, in the shape of wild cats like leopards and lions. These wild monster cats grow to incredible sizes, many meters long, and prey on other large animals, such as wild boars, dogs, bears, and of course humans.



TRANSLATION: monster cat, ghost cat
HABITAT: towns and cities
DIET: carnivorous; fish, birds, small animals, and occasionally humans

APPEARANCE: Cats, feral and domestic, are found all over Japan: in houses as pets, on farms as exterminators, and in cities and towns as strays. When cats live to an old age, they begin develop supernatural powers and transform into yokai. Bakeneko begin their supernatural life looking almost identical to an ordinary housecat. Soon they begin to walk about at on their hind legs. As they age and their powers increase, they can grow to be very large, sometimes as big as a full-grown human.

BEHAVIOR: Bakeneko possess great shape-shifting abilities and frequently disguise themselves as smaller cats or humans – sometimes even their own masters. While in disguise, they like to dress up as humans with a towel wrapped around their head and dance around merrily. Many learn to speak human languages. They can eat things that are much bigger than they are, and even poisonous things, without any difficulty at all. It is even possible for a bakeneko to eat its own master and then take his form, living on in his place. If they do not kill their owners, they often bring down great curses and misfortune upon them. They can summon ghostly fireballs and are known to accidentally start house fires, their tails acting like torches on any flammable materials in the house. They also have the disturbing ability to reanimate fresh corpses and use them like puppets for their own nefarious purposes. They are generally a menace to any house they live in or near.

ORIGIN: Bakeneko can come into being as a result of a number of things, but the most common reasons are by living long-life (generally over 13 years), growing to a certain size (over 3.75 kilograms), by licking up large quantities of lamp oil. A telltale sign that a cat may be close to becoming a bakeneko is believed to be an exceptionally long tail. This superstition led to the custom of bobbing a cat’s tail at an early age to prevent it from growing supernaturally long and transforming into a yokai.



HABITAT: originates from kitsune and only appears when they are nearby

APPEARANCE: Kitsunebi, or foxfire, is named for the magical kitsune who are said to create it. It appears in large numbers of floating orbs of light, usually only a few centimeters in diameter and less than a meter above the ground. The orbs are as bright as lanterns and in most cases red or orange, or some times blue-green, in color.

BEHAVIOR: Kitsunebi only appears at night, often as a long chain hundreds or thousands of meters long, as if there were lanterns being carried by invisible bearers. Often the kitsune responsible for the fireballs are standing right next to the flames, invisible.

Kitsunebi orbs are formed by foxes, which breath the ball of fire out from their mouths and use it to light their way at night. It is most often a sign that a large number of kitsune are nearby – often during yokai events such as the night parade of one hundred demons, yokai wedding ceremonies, and other processions or meetings.

INTERACTIONS: Kitsunebi is not directly dangerous to humans, however the foxes behind it may be. Sometimes it is used to trick humans off of their paths at night. Other times it is used to lure curious humans into the darkness towards a group of hungry yokai. Following kitsunebi usually leads a person to some place that he or she should not be. Additionally, because of its similarity to other dangerous hi-no-tama, it is generally not considered to be a good sign.



ALTERNATE NAMES: unique names exist in many individual instances
HABITAT: found throughout Japan
DIET: carnivorous, but fond of fried tofu

APPEARANCE: Foxes, or kitsune, are found all across Japan, and are identical to wild foxes found elsewhere in the world, apart from their incredible magical powers. Their cute faces and small size make them particularly loved by most people.

BEHAVIOR: There are two major variations of kitsune. Good foxes are servants of the Shinto deity Inari, and Inari’s shrines are often decorated with many statues and images of foxes. Legends tell of such celestial providing wisdom or service to good and pious humans. They act as messengers of the gods and mediums between the celestial and human worlds. These foxes often protect humans or places, providing good luck and warding evil spirits away. More common are the wild, occasionally wicked foxes, who delight in mischief, pranks, or evil. They are usually the subjects of stories in which foxes trick, or even possess humans and cause them to behave strangely. Despite this seemingly wicked nature, they usually keep their promises, remember friendships, and repay any favors done for them.

INTERACTIONS: Most tales of kitsune are about foxes punishing wicked priests, greedy merchants, and boastful drunkards. They do this by confusing their targets by creating phantom sounds and sights, stealing from them, or otherwise humiliating them publicly. Certain mental disorders have been attributed to possession by kitsune (known as kitsune-tsuki). Mysterious illusory fires and strange lights in the sky are said to be caused by their magic, and are known as kitsunebi, or “fox fire.”

OTHER FORMS: Kitsune are extremely intelligent and very powerful shape-shifters. They frequently harass humans by transforming into giants or other fearsome monsters, sometimes just for pranks, and sometimes for other nefarious purposes. They are skilled enough to even transform into exact likenesses of individual people, often appearing in the guise of beautiful human women in order to play tricks young men. On more than one occasion this has resulted in the marriage with an unwitting human. Some kitsune even spend most of their lives in human form, adopting human names and customs, taking human jobs, and even raising families. When startled, or drunk, or careless, occasionally part of their magical disguise can fail, and the kitsune’s true nature may be revealed by a tail, a patch of fur, fangs, or some other vulpine feature.



TRANSLATION: tanuki (raccoon dog)
ALTERNATE NAMES: bakedanuki; referred to as mujina or mami in some areas
HABITAT: mountains and forests; found throughout Japan
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals, with a fondness for alcohol

APPEARANCE: The tanuki rivals the kitsune for the most well-known animal yokai. Sometimes called the raccoon dog in English, it is an East Asian canine that resembles a badger or a raccoon. These shy nocturnal animals can be found on all of the Japanese isles, and tanuki statues are popular decorations in homes and shops. They are beloved not only for their cuteness, but also for the tales of mischief and trickery associated with them.

BEHAVIOR: Tanuki possesses powerful magical abilities. They are similar to kitsune in their superb ability to change shape. They have a jovial nature, and delight in playing tricks on humans.

Aside from their powerful ability to change their shape, perhaps the most famous attribute that tanuki possess is their large and magical testicles, which they can adapt to any need. They are used as weapons, drums, fans to keep cool, even umbrellas. Often, tanuki incorporate their testicles into their disguises: the tanuki becoming a shopkeeper and its testicles transforming into the shop; or perhaps a palanquin complete with servants to cart the tanuki from place to place. A famous nursery rhyme about tanuki testicles is learned by children everywhere:

Tan tan tanuki no kintama wa/Kaze mo nai no ni/Bura bura
Tan-tan-tanuki’s balls/Even when there is no wind/They swing, swing

INTERACTIONS: In the ancient religions of the Japanese isles, tanuki were considered gods and rulers over all things in nature. With the introduction of Buddhism, they gradually lost that status; like other magical animals, they took on the role of messengers of the gods and guardians of local areas. While tanuki are not generally feared or considered malicious yokai, they are not entirely harmless either. Like humans, each one is a unique individual, and while many tanuki are jovial do-gooders who love the company of humans, some locals tells of horrible tanuki who snatch humans to eat, or spirit them away to become servants of the gods.

OTHER FORMS: The most intelligent and magically adept tanuki have been known to adopt human names and practices, such as gambling, drinking, even administration and religious activities. Many go through their whole lives living among humans without ever being detected. In human form, tanuki have proven to be as corruptible as the humans they emulate, and some tanuki have well-earned reputations as thieves, drunkards, liars, and cheats.

Additionally, many use their shapeshifting powers to transform into stones, trees, statues, and even ordinary household items in order to play tricks on people. Some even transform into giants and horrible monsters, either to terrorize humans for pleasure, or else to scare them away from places they shouldn’t be.



ALTERNATE NAMES: anaguma; known as tanuki or mami in some regions
HABITAT: forests and mountains
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals

APPEARANCE: Mujina, or badgers, live in the mountains, generally farm from human society. These days, ordinary badgers are usually called anaguma, while the term mujina usually refers to their yokai form. They are frequently confused with tanuki because of their similar size, appearance, and magical prowess. Additionally, in some regions tanuki are called mujina, while mujina are called tanuki. In others, the term mami is used to apply to both animals.

BEHAVIOR: Mujina are a slightly less famous as yokai than other shape-changing animals. They are very shy, and do not normally like to be seen by or interact with humans. Mujina encounters are much less common than those with other animal yokai. The few mujina which do live among human society take great care not to betray their disguise in any way, unlike other animals which are often much more careless.

INTERACTIONS: When it is dark and quiet, and there are no humans around, it is said that mujina like to shift into a humanoid form – usually that of a young boy wearing a tiny kimono – and sing songs in the street. If approached by a stranger, they run away into the darkness and transform back into animal form.

OTHER FORMS: The most well-known form mujina take is that of a nopperabō, a seemingly normal human form, but with no facial features whatsoever. They use this form to scare and panic humans who wander mountain or village roads at night time. Because of this, the two yokai are often confused, and noppera-bō are sometimes referred to mistakenly as mujina. However, other animal yokai do take up this same form, and there are non-animal noppera-bō as well, so care should be taken to avoid this misunderstanding.



TRANSLATION: faceless monk
ALTERNATE NAMES: often referred to as mujina
HABITAT: roads, inns, shops; blends into human society
DIET: unknown, but has no mouth and thus can’t eat

APPEARANCE: Nopperabō resembles an ordinary human being in almost all ways, and blends in perfectly with human society. However, the illusion is quickly shattered when met face-to-face, as a nopperabō actually has no face at all. Its head is a blank orb with no eyes, nose, mouth, or features of any kind.

INTERACTIONS: This mysterious yokai is encountered on quiet, empty roads late at night when nobody else is around. Its main activity seems to be scaring humans, which it does remarkably well. They usually appear in the guise of a man or a woman with his or her back turned towards the observer. When approached, the yokai turns around and reveals its terrifying true form, reveling in the terror it inflicts upon its unsuspecting victim. To maximize the effect, they often appear with a face at first, and then wipe their face off dramatically with their hand at the most opportune time.

Nopperabō often work together in groups to scare one individual. As their victim runs away in a panic from the first nopperabō, he runs into another person who asks him what is wrong. When the victim explains what he saw, this person replies, “Oh, you mean like this?” and wipes his face away, just like the first nopperabō. They are even known to impersonate close relatives of their victims, and sometimes a poor man will run all the way home, having run into multiple faceless ghosts only to tell his wife what he saw and have her too reply, “Oh, you mean like this?…”

OTHER FORMS: The nopperabō is a favorite transformation of mischievous animal yokai – kitsune, tanuki, and especially mujina. In fact, so frequently are encounters with this spirit blamed on shape-shifting badgers that the nopperabō is often mistakenly referred to as a mujina.



TRANSLATION: river otter
HABITAT: rivers, wetlands, freshwater bodies
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on fish and small animals, with a fondness for sake

APPEARANCE: River otters can be found in the wilds all over Japan. They are under a meter in total length, and well-loved for their shy, playful nature and cute faces.

BEHAVIOR: As with most wild animals in Japan, kawauso develop magical powers upon reaching old age. They are particularly skilled at shape-changing and accurately copying sounds. They love alcohol, and are usually only seen in human areas when trying to acquire sake. They are playful yokai, well known for tricks and mischief, but very rarely dangerous.

INTERACTIONS: Kawauso are fond of playing pranks on humans, especially by mimicking sounds and words. They enjoy calling out human names or random words at strangers walking in the street and watching their confused reactions. They are fond of magically snuffing out lanterns in the night and leaving travelers stranded in the dark. Others transform into beautiful young women and try to seduce young men, and then run away laughing.

Occasionally kawauso do commit more violent deeds. In a few instances near castles in Ishikawa, a kawauso dressed up as beautiful young woman was found luring men to the water’s edge in order to catch and eat them, discarding the half-eaten bodies into the moat.

OTHER FORMS: A Kawauso’s favorite disguise is the form of a young beggar child wearing a big straw hat. They use this child form to sneak into towns and try to buy alcohol from shops. The ruse often falls apart when the disguised creature is asked who it is, or where it came from. Caught off-guard, it simply repeats the last word spoken to it, or makes funny nonsensical noises, ruining its disguise and giving away its supernatural nature.



TRANSLATION: grudge spirit, vengeful ghost
HABITAT: found all throughout Japan
DIET: none; survives solely on its wrath

APPEARANCE: The most dreaded type of yūrei is the onryō. They are the ghosts of people who died with such strong passions –jealousy, rage, or hatred – that their soul is unable to pass on, and instead transforms into a powerful wrathful spirit who seeks vengeance on any and everything it encounters. Onryō appear as they did when they died. Often they were victims of war, catastrophe, betrayal, murder, or suicide, and they usually display wounds or marks indicative of the way they died.

INTERACTIONS: Their motive is always the same: vengeance. Onryō are easily powerful enough to swiftly kill any person; however, they prefer letting the object of their hatred live a long life of torment and suffering, watching those he knows suffer and die. They inflict a terrible curse on the people or places that they haunt. This curse can be transmitted to others through contact like a contagious disease, creating a circle of death or destruction that is far more devastating than any ordinary ghost. They make no distinction in whom they target with their grudge; they just wants to destroy. Moreover, this vengeance can never be satisfied as it can for most ghosts. While most yūrei only haunt a person or place until they are exorcised or placated, an onryō’s horrible grudge-curse continues to infect a location long after the ghost itself has been laid to rest.

Occasionally, an onryō’s curse is born not out of hatred and retribution, but out of intense, passionate love which perverts into extreme jealousy. These onryō haunt their former lovers, exacting their wrath onto new romances, second marriages, their children, and eventual end up destroying the lives of the ones they loved so much in life. Whatever the origin, the onryō’s undiscriminating wrath makes it one of the most feared supernatural entities in all of Japan.

LEGENDS: Unquestionably the most well-known onryō, and one whose grudge-curse exists to this very day, is the ghost of Oiwa: a young woman who was brutally disfigured and then murdered by her wicked and greedy husband in an elaborate plot. Her story is told in Yotsuya Kaidan, The Ghost Story of Yotsuya, and has been retold many times, in books, ukiyo-e, kabuki, and film. Like with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, legend has it that a curse accompanies her story, and that those who retell it will suffer injuries and even death. To this day, producers, actors, and their crews continue to visit the grave of Oiwa in Tokyo before productions or adaptations of Yotsuya Kaidan, praying for her soul and asking for her blessing to tell her story once again.



TRANSLATION: faint spirit, ghost
ALTERNATE NAMES: obake, shiryō, bōrei; other names exist for specific kinds
HABITAT: any; commonly found in graveyards, houses, or near the place of death
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: There are many different types of yūrei, and they differ in many ways depending on the circumstances on their death. In most cases, though, yūrei appear much like they did in their human life, retaining the features and the clothing they wore when they died or were buried. As such, yūrei are often seen wearing white burial kimonos or the uniforms of fallen warriors. Occasionally they have bloody wounds indicative of the way they died. Their hair is usually long and disheveled, often obstructing their face and adding to their disturbing appearance. Their hands hang limply from their wrists. They are translucent and only very faintly visible, and in most cases they are so faint that they appear to have no feet.

INTERACTIONS: Yūrei interact with the living world in a wide range of ways, from creating phantom lights and sounds, to invoke powerful curses. They do not roam about, but they haunt one particular place or person. In the case of a place it is often where they died or are buried. In the case of a person it is often their killer, or sometimes their loved ones. Yūrei exist only to haunt, and they remain “stuck” in this world until they can be put to rest. This might require bringing their killers to justice, finding their lost body, or something as simple as passing on a message to a loved one. Some yūrei are so reluctant to accept their deaths that they haunt their living family, bringing misfortune and unhappiness for the rest of their family members’ lives.

Each haunting is as unique as the person it originated from. Only when its purpose for existing is fulfilled, or it is exorcised by a priest, is a yūrei able to pass on and be reunited with its ancestors – but the possibility that salvation exists is a glimmer of hope for those who are affected by a haunting.

ORIGIN: According to traditional Japanese beliefs, when a person dies his soul lives on as a separate entity, passing on to a heavenly afterlife. This transition is accomplished through a number of funeral and post-funeral rites and prayers performed by their loved ones over many years. Through these rites, the soul is reunited with its ancestors and becomes a family guardian spirit. These ancestors are enshrined in the house and continue to be honored as members of the family, particularly during the summer holiday of Obon, when they are said to return to the material world to be with their families.

Those who do not receive the proper funeral rites cannot pass on, and remain stuck in a purgatory that is part physical world and part ethereal. Others who die suddenly, tragically, violently, or with grudge and malice in their hearts are sometimes unable to pass on even with the proper prayers and rites. These “lost” souls are the ones that transform into ghosts.



TRANSLATION: woman in late pregnancy; often written with different characters
ALTERNATE NAMES: obo, unme, ugume, ubametori, and many others
HABITAT: haunts the area where she gave birth
DIET: none; only exists to deliver her baby into safe hands

APPEARANCE: When a woman dies just before, during, or shortly after childbirth, her spirit is often unable to pass on out of anxiety for her child. This troubled attachment manifests into a ghost known as an ubume. They appear on dark, rainy nights, and are often indistinguishable from a living woman carrying a child, crying for help. Ubume can appear in many forms: a woman carrying a baby, a pregnant woman, or a blood-soaked walking corpse carrying an underdeveloped fetus. Other times they just appear as horrific, bloody, naked pregnant women crying out desperately into the night for help.

These variations in appearance are due to the burial traditions of different regions, as well as the circumstances of death; in some areas, when a pregnant woman died she would be buried with the unborn fetus still inside of her; in other areas, the fetus would be cut out of her and placed in her arms during burial. Women who died after delivering stillborn babies were also buried in this way.

BEHAVIOR: These tragic spirits wander the areas near where they died, seeking aid from the living which they cannot provide themselves. If the mother died after childbirth but her baby survives, an ubume will try to provide for the child in whatever way it can. She enters shops or homes to try to purchase food, clothes, or sweets for her still-living child. In place of money she pays with handfuls of dead leaves. These ghosts also often try to lead humans to the place where the baby is hidden so that it can be taken to its living relatives, or adopted by another person.

In cases where both mother and child died, an ubume can appear carrying the bundled corpse of her infant. When a human approaches, the ghost tries to deliver the bundle into the arms of the living. If the stranger accepts the bundle, the ghost vanishes, and the bundle grows heavier and heavier until the helpful stranger is crushed under its weight.

OTHER FORMS: The name ubume is written with characters that imply a bird’s name. The literal translation of these characters is “child-snatching bird” and some theories connect this spirit with another yokai called the ubumetori. This yokai is an evil bird which flies through the sky searching for clothing that has been left on the clothesline overnight. When it finds some, it smears its poisonous blood on the clothing, and shortly afterward the owner of those clothes begins to develop shakes convulsions, possibly leading to death. They are also blamed for snatching babies and taking them away into the night sky. Whether this bird is another form of the ubume or a separate spirit with the same name is not known.

Hitotsume kozō


TRANSLATION: one-eyed priest boy
HABITAT: found all throughout Japan; often encounters on dark streets
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Child-like and mischievous, hitotsume kozō are little one-eyed goblins who are well-known in all parts of Japan. They have a single, enormous eye, a long red tongue, and wear shaved heads and robes, like tiny Buddhist monks.

BEHAVIOR: Hitotsume kozō are relatively harmless as far as yokai go; their most alarming trait is appearing suddenly and surprising people on dark streets, which they seem to enjoy doing. Hundreds of encounters have been reported over the years, most of them very similar to each other, and they simply detail a mischievous spirit who likes to spook people late at night.

INTERACTIONS: In East Japan, it is said that every year on the 8th of December, hitotsume kozō travel the land, recording in ledgers the families who have been bad that year in order to decide each family’s fortunes for the next year. They take their reports to the god of pestilence and bad luck, who brings misfortune on those bad families in the coming year. However, they leave their ledgers with the guardian deity of travels for safekeeping until February 8th. In a mid-January ceremony, local villagers burn down and rebuild that deity’s roadside way-shrines in hopes that the fires will also burn the hitotsume kozō’s ledgers before they come to pick them up (thus escaping disaster that year).

ORIGIN: Though similar in name to other one-eyed monsters like hitotsu-me-nyūdō, there is little evidence suggesting a relation between the two. Many believe that hitotsume kozō’s origins are connected in some way with Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Others believe that they were once local mountain deities who over time became corrupted and changed into yokai.

LEGENDS: A man named visited a friend on business. While waiting in the reception room, a young boy of about 10 appeared and began to mischievously roll and unroll the hanging scroll in the room’s alcove. When the man scolded the boy for being mischievous, the boy turned around and squawked, “Be quiet!” However, the boy’s face had only one eye! The man screamed and fainted, and had to be carried back to his own home. He was bed-ridden for 20 days, but made a full recovery.

In an account from Fukushima, a young lady was walking the street at night. A little boy approached her from behind and asked, “Ma’am, would you like some money?” She laughed and sweetly replied yes, and turned to face the boy. He was a hitotsume kozō, and he was grinning staring so intensely at her with his single eye that she fainted in shock on the spot.

A similar tale from Okayama tells of a particular street where an eerie, pale blue glow was seen one night. A man went to investigate and witnessed a ghostly one-eyed boy playing around. The man collapsed, paralyzed with fear, and was unable to move. The apparition approached the helpless man and licked him from head to toe with his long, slobbery tongue.



TRANSLATION: a corruption of the slang for wearing too much makeup
HABITAT: graveyards, old temples
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The nuppeppō is a bizarre and creepy yokai found in ruined temples, overgrown graveyards, and other dilapidated or run-down areas. This creature is known for its revolting appearance and smell; it gives off a very strong odor of rotten meat. It looks like a large, flabby, roughly humanoid chunk of flesh about the size of child, with lumpy, undeveloped hands and feet, and vaguely indiscernible facial features.

BEHAVIOR: Nuppeppō appear usually only at night, and are not known to cause any particular harm or mischief, other than generally being disgusting. They seem to enjoy the nauseating effect their smell has on passersby. They frequently cause chaos and havoc by running around and disgusting people, and outrunning angry villagers who would try to chase them down and kill them.

INTERACTIONS: Nuppeppō are very rare yokai, and there are only a few records of sightings, though their grotesque form is well-known. Accounts usually describe lords sending hosts of warriors to chase the creature out of a castle or a temple, only to have it outrun the guards and escape, causing some of them to swoon and faint from its odor. Though it is passive and non-aggressive, it can move very quickly and is notoriously hard to catch.

According to the records of Edo period pharmacists, its flesh imparts incredible power on those who eat it (providing they are willing and able to keep it down), and it can also be made into a powerful medicine with excellent curative properties.

ORIGIN: Though nuppeppō’s origin is mysterious, it is believed to be a distant relative of the nopperabō. Some scholars suggest that nuppeppō may in fact be a botched transformation of an inexperienced shape-shifting yokai, such as a mujina or tanuki. The origin of its name is mysterious, though it is thought to be derived from slang for wearing too much makeup, painted so thickly that facial features become indiscernible – just as this creatures features are barely discernible on its fleshy, fatty face.



TRANSLATION: one hundred eyes
HABITAT: abandoned homes, temples, caves, and other shady areas
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Like its name suggests, hyakume is covered from head to foot with countless blinking, yellow eyes. Underneath those eyes is a fleshy body, roughly man-sized. With its eyes closed, it resembles a pink lump of flesh, and is nearly indistinguishable from the nuppeppō (which lives in a similar habitat).

BEHAVIOR: Hyakume make their homes in old temples, guarding them from would-be thieves during the night. During the day, the sky is too bright for their many sensitive eyes, and so they only comes out night, spending the lighter hours in dark and shadowy buildings where few humans ever go.

INTERACTIONS: Should a human come within a few meters of a hyakume, one of its eyes will detach from its body and fly towards the person, sticking to his body for as long as he is in the area, watching it for criminal activity. Eventually the eye will return to the yokai. When hyakume attack, they jump out of the dark in a threatening manner. They are not particularly violent, and rely on their size and fearsome appearance to scare humans away.



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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: a regional corruption of osoroshii, meaning “scary”
ALTERNATE NAMES: odoroshi, odoro odoro, keippai
HABITAT: shrines, temples, and homes; found above gates and doors
DIET: small animals and wicked people

BEHAVIOR: Otoroshi is known by many regional names, most of them being wordplays denoting this monster’s course, wild mane which covers its body, and its fearsome appearance. They appear as hairy, hunched, four-legged beasts with fierce claws and tusks. They can have blue or orange skin.

APPEARANCE: Little is known about this rare and mysterious creature, though its existence has been known of for centuries. Otoroshi are masters of disguise and are rarely seen except for when they want to be. They are most commonly spotted in high places like roofs and gates above temples, and the torii archways at shrines, which separate the physical world from the realm of the gods. They eat the wild animals found in shrines and temples – particularly pigeons, sparrows, and other birds.

INTERACTIONS: Otoroshi act as a kind of guardian of these holy places. They attack humans only rarely: when they spot a wicked or imprudent person near a holy place, or when one tries to enter through the gateway they are guarding. Otoroshi attack by pouncing down on their victim them from above, tearing him to shreds and devouring the remains.

ORIGIN: While its name implies ferocity and its appearance is quite grotesque, it is not known to be particularly dangerous. The name otoroshi, while not a word itself, appears to be derived from variations in regional dialects. It is generally accepted to be a corruption of osoroshii, meaning “scary.” Nothing at all is known of its origins, but it is speculated to be related to a similar yokai, the waira, due to their common habits and environment.

Aka shita


TRANSLATION: red tongue
ALTERNATE NAMES: aka kuchi (red mouth)
HABITAT: rice fields and farming villages; commonly found in Tsugaru
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Aka shita is a mysterious spirit which takes the form of a dark cloud with sharp claws and a hairy, bestial face. Its most prominent feature and namesake is its long, bright red tongue and mouth. It appears during the summer months, when rain and water are most valuable to ensure a successful growing season. Only the shape of its hairy, monstrous face and long, bestial claws are known. The rest of its body is perpetually hidden inside of the dark, black clouds in which it lives.

BEHAVIOR: Aka shita are agents of bad luck and evil, and are primarily known as punishers in water disputes. Because plenty of water is essential for keeping rice paddies flooded, Japan’s farmlands are interlaced with an intricate series of interconnected aqueducts and canals meant to deliver water to all of the farmers equally. In times of drought, however, a wicked farmer may open up the sluice gates and drain his neighbor’s water into his own field. Such a serious crime can cost a family its livelihood, and such criminals usually face the violent wrath of their neighbors. Water thieves who never get caught may think they’ve gotten away with their crime, but it is to these farmers that the aka shita comes, draining the water out of their fields and snatching them up with its long red tongue.



TRANSLATION: muddy rice field monk
HABITAT: unused, overgrown fields
DIET: none; survives on vengeance alone

APPEARANCE: Dorotabō are the transformed ghosts of old men who toiled so hard on their rice fields, only to see them lie in waste by a neglectful owner after their death. They appears as one-eyed, three-fingered humanoid figures rising out of the mud at night. It is said that the five fingers of the human hand represent three vices and two virtues: anger, greed, ignorance, wisdom, and compassion. The ghostly dorotabō appears with only the three fingers representing the vices, because he is a spirit of vengeance and rage, angry at the vices which now shame his life’s work.

BEHAVIOR: Dorotabō roam the overgrown fields, calling out in a mournful voice, “Give me back my rice field!” They haunt their fields night after night, preventing sleep and otherwise causing feelings of unease to the new inhabitants of their lands. They continue haunting until the wasteful owners changes their ways or give up and flee, selling the field to someone who will take proper care of it.

ORIGIN: Most of Japan’s land is bound up in inhospitable mountain ranges where farming is impossible, so the land that is usable by humans is extremely valuable. Families can save for a life time just to buy a small plot of precious farmland in hopes to leave it to their offspring after they die. Of course, children do not always follow their parents’ wishes, and a prodigal son who forsakes his father’s hard-earned fields in favor of vices like gambling and drinking is usually the cause of this eerie specter.



TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; from the sound of footsteps
ALTERNATE NAMES: bishagatsuku
HABITAT: alleys and narrow, sloped roads; only appears at night
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: Betobetosan is a formless specter, and is only recognizable by the telltale sound it makes – the “beto beto” sound of wooden sandals clacking on the ground.

INTERACTIONS: People who walk the streets alone at night sometimes encounter this harmless but nonetheless disturbing yokai. It synchronizes its pace with walkers and follows them as long as it can, getting closer and closer with each step. For the victims, this can be quite traumatic. The haunting sound of footsteps follows them wherever they go, but every time they turn around to see what is following them, they find nothing.

Though betobetosan can be quite disconcerting, it is not dangerous. Once someone realizes he or she is being followed by a betobetosan, simply stepping to the side of the road and saying, “After you, betobetosan,” is enough to escape from this yokai. The footsteps will carry on ahead and soon vanish from earshot, allowing the walker to continue in peace.

In northern Fukui, a betobetosan which appears during cold winter sleet storms is known as bishagatsuku. Its name comes from the “bisha bisha” sound its phantom feet make in the slush-filled streets.

Ame onna


TRANSLATION: rain woman
HABITAT: dark streets and alleys; formerly clouds and holy mountains
DIET: unknown; possibly rain, or children

APPEARANCE: Ame onna are a class of yokai that appear on rainy days and nights. They summon rain wherever they go, and are often blamed for kidnapping and spiriting children away. They appear as depraved, haggish women, soaked with rainwater, often licking the rain off of their hands and arms like wild animals.

BEHAVIOR: Ame onna are related to minor rain deities. However, unlike the gods, ame onna are not benevolent. Though the rains they bring might save a village in drought or bring fortune to farmers, ame onna have another purpose in mind: they wander the villages on rainy nights looking for newborn babies. If they should find a child born that night, they snatch it and carry it off into the darkness, spiriting it away to turn it into another ame onna.

Mothers who have their babies snatched away in this manner are sometimes known to transform into ame onna themselves out of grief and despair. Having lost their minds, these transformed women roam the streets at night with large sacks hoping to replace what was stolen from them while they were still human. They sneak into houses where crying children can be heard, and steal them away from their homes into the night.

ORIGIN: The first ame onna go back to the ancient folk religions of Japan and China, where the rains were said to be brought by benevolent gods and goddesses who live as clouds by morning and as rain by night, forever traveling between heaven and earth. Legend has it that somehow, some of these rain-bringing goddesses became corrupted and gradually evolved into evil yokai, abandoning their divinity to live among mortals and prey upon them.

Taka onna


TRANSLATION: tall woman
HABITAT: red light districts
DIET: as a normal person

APPEARANCE: Taka onna appear as ordinary, homely human women most of the time, but they have the power to elongate their bodies and grow to several meters in height. Like other brothel yokai, they are rarely seen outside of brothels and red light districts. They are fairly common yokai nonetheless. Sightings of these yokai peaked during the Edo period and continued up to the post-war period, when brothels and “pleasure districts” were at their height in Japan.

BEHAVIOR: Taka onna are frequently spotted peering into the 2nd-story windows of brothels and homes where romantic liaisons are taking place. Their activities are generally limited to peeping into second floor windows. Though they rarely attack humans physically, taka onna do enjoy scaring and harassing both men and women who frequent the pleasure districts, jealous of the physical pleasure they were never able to know in life.

ORIGIN: Taka onna were originally ordinary women who were too unattractive to marry (or to find work in the red light districts which they haunt). Through jealousy, they became twisted and corrupted, and transformed into ugly, malicious monsters who prey on others’ sexual energy.

LEGENDS: Taka onna encounters were often the subject of bawdy anecdotes, as they generally revolve around trips to the pleasure districts. In one account, though, a woodcutter describes how he discovered that his own wife was a taka onna. His child mysteriously disappeared one day, and over a short period his servants also began to disappear one by one. Unable to figure out what was happening, the woodcutter began to investigate his wife. One night while pretending to sleep in bed, he witnessed his wife jump into a well and then elongate her body and climb back out. He leapt out of bed and fled into the mountains, never to return.

Kerakera onna


TRANSLATION: cackling woman
HABITAT: alleys near red light districts
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kerakera onna are gigantic, horrid yokai found in red light districts, who get their name from the cackling sound of their laughter. They appear as an enormous, middle aged woman in colorful brothel kimonos, with thick make-up and slathered-on lipstick. They skulks around in alleyways and on empty roads, dancing, laughing, and mocking the profession that worked them to death. They are rarely seen outside of the pleasure district responsible for their creation.

INTERACTIONS: When a man passes a lonely street or alley haunted by a kerakera onna, she unleashes a horrible, shrill cackle that can only be heard by him. A weak-hearted man faints right on the spot, but one who has the constitution to run away finds that no matter where he goes or who he turns to, the cackle echoes in his ears, and nobody but he can hear it. Eventually these men are driven insane by the incessant laughing – repayment for the lifetime of abuse the kerakera onna went through.

ORIGIN: During the Edo period, the average lifespan of a prostitute was only 23 years, as the demands and hardships of such a life were too much for most to bear. Work hours were long and difficult, pay was low, and abuse was commonplace, both from clients and employers. Very few women made it to middle age, but like most long-lived things in Japan, those who did were said to become very powerful. When a prostitute died after serving in such a painful world for so long, her ghost could not pass quickly and easily on to the next life. These ghosts become the kerakera onna.

Hone onna


TRANSLATION: bone woman
HABITAT: dark streets, alleys, graveyards
DIET: none; though has a large sexual appetite

APPEARANCE: Not all who die turn into vengeful beings of grudge and jealousy. Hone onna retain an undying love that persists long after their flesh has rotted away, allowing them to continue to be with the object of their affection despite having died. These ghosts appear as they did in life – young, beautiful women in their prime. Only those unclouded by love or with strong religious faith are able to see through their disguise to their true form: rotting, fetid skeletal corpses returned from the grave.

INTERACTIONS: At night, a hone onna arises from the grave and wanders to the house of her former lover. Her appearance is a great shock to those who had believed her to be dead. This shock quickly turns into such joy that it blinds them to any clues that something might be wrong. Even the hone onna herself does not know of her condition, as she is driven only by love; she exists as a ghost only to continue the love she had in life. She spends the night and leaves in the morning, and this unholy coupling can continue for days or even weeks without being noticed. Each night she drains some of her lover’s life force, and he grows ever sicker and weaker. Without intervention, he will eventually die, joining his lover forever in death’s embrace.

In most cases, a friend or a servant of her lover will see through her illusion and alert someone to her true identity. Though her human lover may be repulsed by her when the truth is revealed to him, the ghost never realizes her condition and continues to visit every night. A home can be warded with prayers and magic charms against entry by ghosts, but they only work as long as the master of the house wills them to. As her body decays further, her enchanting allure only increases, and eventually most men succumb and let her into their homes one last time, sacrificing their own lives to the ghost of the woman they loved.

LEGENDS: Perhaps the most famous hone onna story is the of Otsuyu from Botan Dōrō, the Tale of the Peony Lantern. It has been adapted into puppet shows, kabuki plays, rakugo, and film, and remains a famous and influential ghost story today.

Kuchisake onna


TRANSLATION: slit-mouthed woman
HABITAT: dimly-lit streets and alleys
DIET: none; though enjoys hard candy

APPEARANCE: The spirits of the dead who were killed in particularly violent manners – abused wives, tortured captives, defeated enemies – often do not rest well. One such spirit is kuchisake onna, the ghost of a woman who was mutilated, come back to wreak vengeance on the world. Her name comes from the deep, bloody gash which runs across her face, grinning from ear to ear. She appears at night to lone travelers on the road, covering her grizzly mouth with a cloth mask, a fan, or a handkerchief.

INTERACTIONS: Kuchisake onna sneaks up on her victims in the dark and then asks them if they think she is beautiful: “Watashi, kirei?” If the victim answers yes, she pulls off her mask, revealing a red, blood-dripping, grotesque mouth. Then she asks in a grisly voice if they still think she is: “Kore demo?” If her victim answers no or screams in terror, she slashes him from ear to ear so that he resembles her. If he lies and answers yes a second time, she walks away, only to follow her target to his home and slaughter him brutally that night.

ORIGIN: During the Edo period, a large number of kuchisake onna attacks were blamed on shape-changed kitsune playing pranks on young men. During the 20th century, the blame began to be placed on ghosts, serial killers, and simple mass hysteria, resulting in many kuchisake onna sightings over Japan. A number of clever young people claim to have outsmarted them by delivering quick, confusing answers, or by throwing money or hard candy at her, buying themselves enough time to escape from her wrath and lose her in the darkness.

Hari onago


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

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

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

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

Futakuchi onna


TRANSLATION: two-mouthed woman
HABITAT: usually occurs in married women
DIET: as a normal person, only twice as much

APPEARANCE: Families which notice their food stocks are shrinking at an alarming rate while the women in their houses rarely eat a bite may be the victims of a futakuchi onna infestation. Futakuchi onna appear just as a regular women until their terrible secret is revealed: in the back of their skulls, buried beneath of long, thick hair, is a second mouth, with large, fat lips, and full of teeth. This second mouth is ravenous, and uses long strands of hair like tentacles to gorge itself on any food it can find.

ORIGIN: In the folk tales of Japan’s eastern regions, futakuchi onna are most often thought to be shapechanged yama-uba posing as young women. In the western regions they are frequently shapechanged kumo, or magical spiders. In the other tales they are the result of curses brought about by wicked deeds, similar to rokuro-kubi. In each story, regardless of its true nature, this yokai is used as a punishment upon a greedy man or woman for wickedness and extreme parsimony.

LEGENDS: In a small rural village in Fukushima there lived a stingy miser who, because he could not bear the thought of paying for food to support a family, lived entirely by himself. One day he met a woman who did not eat anything at all, and he immediately took her for his wife. Because she never ate a thing, and was still a hard worker, the miser was thrilled with her. However, his stores of rice were steadily decreasing, and he could not figure why, for he never saw his wife eat.

One day the miser pretended to leave for work, but instead stayed behind to spy on his new wife. She untied her hair, revealing a second mouth on the back of her head, complete with ghastly lips and teeth. Her hair reached out with tentacle-like stalks and began to scoop rice balls into the second mouth, with cooed out with pleasure in a vulgar, raspy voice.

The miser was horrified and resolved to divorce his wife. However, she learned of his plan before he could act on it, and she trapped him in a bathtub and carried it off into the mountains. The miser managed to escape, and hid in a heavily-scented lily marsh, where the futakuchi-onna could not find him.

Another story tells of a wicked stepmother who always gave plenty of food to her own daughter, but never enough to her stepdaughter. Gradually the stepdaughter grew sicker and sicker, until she starved to death. Forty-nine days later, the wicked stepmother was afflicted with a terrible headache. The back of her head split open, and lips, teeth, and a tongue formed. The new mouth ached with debilitating pain until it was fed, and it shrieked in the voice of the dead stepdaughter. From then on the stepmother always had to feed both of her mouths, and always felt the hunger pangs of the stepdaughter she murdered.



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

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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: pulley neck
HABITAT: occurs in ordinary women; also frequently found in brothels
DIET: regular food by day, lamp oil by night

APPEARANCE: By day, rokurokubi appear to be ordinary women. By night, however, their bodies sleep while their necks stretch to an incredible length and roam around freely. Sometimes their heads attack small animals, sometime they lick up lamp oil with their long tongue, and sometimes they just cause mischief by scaring nearby people.

ORIGIN: Unlike most yokai which are born as monsters, rokurokubi and their close relatives nukekubi are former humans, transformed by a curse resulting from some evil or misdeed. Perhaps they sinned against the gods or nature, or were unfaithful to their husbands. In many cases their husbands or fathers actually committed the sin, but by some cruel twist of fate the men escape punishment and the women receive the curse instead; in all known instances the curse of the rokurokubi affects only women, even though the cause of it may not be their own.

LEGENDS: A lord noticed that the oil in his lamps was vanishing at an alarming rate, and so suspected one of his servant girls to be a rokurokubi. He decided to spy upon the girl to find out. After she had fallen asleep, he crept into her room and watched over her. Soon he noticed vapors and an ectoplasm forming around her chest and neck. A little while later, the servant girl rolled over in her sleep, however only her body moved! The head stayed in its place, and the neck lay stretched out between the two. The next day he fired her. She was fired from every place at which she subsequently worked. The poor girl never understood why she had such back luck with her jobs, and never found out that she was a rokurokubi.

An old tale from Totomi tells of a monk who eloped with a young lady named Oyotsu. While traveling, Oyotsu became sick. Treating her would have used up all of their travel money, so the monk murdered Oyotsu and stole the remaining money. On his travels, he stayed at an inn owned by a man with a beautiful daughter. The wicked monk shared a bed with the innkeeper’s daughter, and during the night her neck stretched and her face changed into that of Oyotsu, and angrily accused him of murdering her. The next morning, the monk, regretting his evil deeds, confessed the murder of Oyotsu to the innkeeper, and also told him what he had seen the night before. The innkeeper confessed that he, too, had murdered his wife for her money, which he used it to build his inn –and that as a punishment his own daughter was transformed into a rokurokubi. Afterwards, the monk rejoined his temple, built a grave for Oyotsu, and prayed for her soul every day. What happened to the innkeeper’s daughter is never mentioned.

Ohaguro bettari


TRANSLATION: nothing but blackened teeth
ALTERNATE NAMES: often referred to as a kind of nopperabō
HABITAT: dark streets near shrines
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Late at night a disturbing yokai can be seen loitering near temples and shrines, dressed in beautiful wedding clothes. She calls single young men over to her, who are seldom able to resist her charms. Until of course, they see her up close…

From behind, an ohaguro bettari looks like a beautiful woman wearing a kimono – often a newlywed in her bridal gown. She appears usually at twilight outside of a temple, or occasionally inside a man’s own house, disguised as his wife. At first, her head is concealed, or turned away from any viewers. Any man struck by curiosity who comes closer to speak to her or to get a better look at her face will be surprised as she turns to reveal her face: an ugly, white, featureless dome slathered in thick makeup, with nothing but a huge, gaping mouth full of blackened teeth. She follows up this initial shock with a horrible cackle, sending the man running away and screaming in terror.

ORIGIN: Ohaguro bettari is very similar to noppera-bō in appearance and demeanor. Because of this, she is often blamed, like nopperabō, on a shape-shifting prankster kitsune, tanuki, or mujina looking to have a laugh at the expense of an unwitting human. It has also been suggested that she is the ghost of an ugly woman who was unable to marry. Accurate eye-witness reports are hard to come by due to the embarrassment of the victims at having fallen for such a silly gag. However as no deaths or injuries (other than to pride) have been attributed to ohaguro bettari, and because sightings are rare, a mischievous shape-shifting animal yokai seems to be the most plausible explanation.



TRANSLATION: slippery gourd
HABITAT: expensive villas, living rooms, brothels; possibly marine in origin
DIET: picky; prefers expensive and luxurious food

APPEARANCE: Nurarihyon is a mysterious and powerful yokai encountered all across Japan. Appearances can be deceiving, and nurarihyon is the perfect illustration of that saying. Overall, he is rather benign-looking, his head elongated and gourd-shaped. His face is wizened and wrinkled, resembling a cross between and old man and a catfish. He wears elegant clothing – often a splendid silk kimono or the rich robes of a Buddhist abbot – and carries himself in the quiet manner of a sophisticated gentleman.

BEHAVIOR: The short, comical, elderly nurarihyon is actually the most powerful and elite of all the yokai in the world. He travels in an ornate palanquin carried by human or yokai servants, often visiting red light districts, but occasionally stopping at mountain villas as well. He is known as “the Supreme Commander of All Monsters,” and every yokai listens to his words and pays him respect, treating him as the elder and leader in all yokai meetings. Along with otoroshi and nozuchi, nurarihyon leads the procession known as the night parade of one hundred demons through the streets of Japan on dark, rainy nights. He fits the role of supreme commander every bit as much when he interacts with humans as well.

INTERACTIONS: Nurarihyon shows up on evenings when a household is extremely busy. He arrives at homes unexpectedly in his splendid palanquin and slips into the house, unnoticed by anyone. He helps himself to the family’s tea, tobacco, and other luxuries, acting in all respects as if he were the master of the house. His power is so great that even the real owners of the house, when they finally notice his presence, can do nothing to stop him. In fact, while he is there, the owners actually believe the nurarihyon to actually be the rightful master of the house. Eventually he leaves just as he came, quietly and politely slipping out of the house and into his palanquin, as the owners of the house obsequiously bow and wave him farewell. Only after he has left does anyone become suspicious of the mysterious old man who just visited.

ORIGIN: As to nurarihyon’s origins there is only speculation, for the oldest records of his existence are mere sketches and paintings. His name connotes a slippery evasiveness – which he employs when posing as master of the house. Its name comes from “nurari” (to slip away) and “hyon” (an onomatopoeia describing floating upwards) written with the kanji for gourd (due to the shape of his head).

In Okayama, some evidence exists linking nurarihyon to umi-bōzu. There, nurarihyon are globe-shaped sea creatures, about the size of a man’s head, which float about in the Seto Inland Sea. When fisherman try to catch one, the sphere sinks down into the water just out reach and then bobs back up mockingly. It has been theorized that some of these slippery globes migrate to land, where they gradually gain influence and power, becoming the nurarihyon known throughout the rest of Japan. Whether this theory is the true origin of the Supreme Commander of All Monsters or just one more of his many mysteries is yet to be solved.



TRANSLATION: ghost whale
ALTERNATE NAMES: hone kujira (bone whale)
HABITAT: Sea of Japan
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Bakekujira are animated whale skeletons which sail near the surface of the sea, rising as they did in life when they would have had to breathe. They are followed by a host of eerie birds and strange fish. They appear on rainy nights near coastal whaling villages.

INTERACTIONS: In the old days, when whales were still plentiful in the Sea of Japan, a whale sighting was a blessing for the residents of a poor fishing village. A village could reap huge amounts of wealth from the meat and oil in a single whale. Such a bounty did not come without a price, however, and many fishermen claim that the souls of these whales live on as bakekujira, seeking revenge against the humans who took their lives. Those who witness a bakekujira are infected with its horrible curse, which they bring back to their villages when they return home. The whale’s curse brings famine, plague, fires, and other kinds of disasters to the villages it hits.

LEGENDS: One rainy night long ago, some fishers living on the Shimane peninsula witnessed an enormous white shape off the coast in the Sea of Japan. Squinting their eyes, it appeared to them to be a whale swimming offshore. Excited for the catch, they rallied the townspeople, who grabbed their spears and harpoons and took to their boats to hunt down and catch their quarry.

They soon reached the whale, but no matter how many times they hurled their weapons, not one of them struck true. When they looked closer, through the dark, rain-spattered water’s surface, they realized why: what they thought was a white whale was actually a humongous skeleton swimming in the sea, not a single bit of flesh on its entire body.

At that very moment, the sea became alive with a host strange fish that nobody had ever seen before, and the sky swarmed full of eerie birds which nobody could recognize and the likes of which had never been seen before. The ghost whale then turned sharply out to sea, and swiftly vanished into the current, taking all the strange fish and birds with it, never to be seen again.

The terrified villagers returned home, realizing that the skeletal whale must have been a bakekujira – the ghost of a whale turned into a vengeful ghost. While the ghost whale was never seen again, other villages in Shimane felt the whale’s curse, being consumed by conflagrations and plagued by infectious diseases following whale beachings.

Umi bōzu


ALTERNATE NAMES: umi-nyūdō, umi-hōshi
HABITAT: seas, oceans, bays
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Perhaps no other aquatic yokai is as mysterious as the giant umi bōzu. Their true form is unknown, as they are only ever seen from the shoulders up, but they appear to be roughly humanoid in shape, with inky black skin and a pair of large, round eyes. Eye-witnesses report a great range in size, from slightly larger than a ship, to a size so unimaginable that only the creature’s bulbous face is visible above the water. Its head is smooth and round like that of a venerable monk, and its body is nude and as black as shadow. Some reports make them out to be more serpentine, while others make them out to be more ghostly, like a gigantic kind of funa-yūrei.

INTERACTIONS: Umi bōzu appear on calm nights, when there is no sign of anything out of the ordinary. All of a sudden, with no warning, the waves and the weather whip up into a furious condition, and out from the tumult rises a titanic creature. It moves to destroy the ship, either by smashing the hull in a single blow, or taking it down bit by bit, depending on the size of both the ship and the umi bōzu.

Occasionally, instead of smashing the ship, an umi bōzu will demand a barrel from the crew. It uses this to pour huge amounts of water onto the deck, quickly sinking the boat and drowning the crew. If given a barrel with the bottom removed, the umi bōzu will scoop and scoop to no effect, and the sailors will be able to make a lucky escape.

ORIGIN: Some say that the umi bōzu are the spirits of drowned priests, cast into the sea by angry villagers (this may also be implied by their name). These priests were then transformed into ghosts due to the horrible nature of their death, making them cousins of the similarly dreaded funa-yūrei, with whom they share some similarities. Others, however, say that umi bōzu are a sea monster which lives in the deeps of the Seto Inland Sea, and that they are the progenitors of a large variety of other aquatic yokai. Because sightings are rare and almost always fatal, it is likely that the true nature and origin of this spirit will remain a mystery for a long time.



TRANSLATION: cloth octopus
HABITAT: Sea of Japan; particularly near Kyoto and Fukui
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on both tiny plankton and large ships

APPEARANCE: Koromodako are strange and terrifying octopus-like yokai living in the seas bordering Kyoto and Fukui, particularly in the bays of Ine and Wakasa. Koromodako usually appear similar to ordinary small octopuses. Males only reach a size of a few centimeters long, while females can grow up to five times that length. Being so tiny, they are subject to the tides and waves, and so they float wherever the currents take them. Females live inside of a paper-thin shell, while males have no shell (similar to the family of octopuses called argonauts).

BEHAVIOR: When koromodako are threatened they become incredibly dangerous. They can instantly grow to many times their original size – large enough to engulf fish, fishermen, or any other creature that might try to eat them. Stretching their arms and body out wide, they resemble an enormous piece of cloth, from which they get their name. While in this form a koromodako can engulf nearly anything in the water, even entire ships. It wraps its arms and mantle around the ship, sailors and all, and drags it down into the deep, never to be seen again. After feeding, the koromodako shrinks back down to its tiny size, impossible to trace.



TRANSLATION: beach stroker
ALTERNATE NAMES: ō-kuchi-wani (giant mouthed sea monster)
HABITAT: shallow seas and coastal waters of West Japan
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Isonade are mysterious shark-like sea monsters which scour the rocky coastlines searching for boats to scuttle and fishermen to snatch. Their bodies are enormous, and their fins are covered with countless tiny metallic barbs, like a grater. They use these to hook their prey, dragging it deep into the water to be eaten. They are said to appear when the north winds blow and the sea currents change.

BEHAVIOR: Despite their size, isonade are incredibly elusive. They move through the water with unparalleled grace. They can swim without creating so much as a splash, making them very difficult to notice. By the time most sailors have noticed that the winds have changed and a strange color is upon the sea, it is too late; a huge tail is already rising out of the water, above their heads. When isonade strike, they do not thrash about violently like a hungry shark, but instead hook their prey on their fins or tail with a gentle stroking motion, dragging them into the depths almost peacefully. They do this without a sound and without ever showing their bodies, making them all the more dangerous for their stealth.



TRANSLATION: human fish; mermaid, merman
HABITAT: seas, oceans, and other large bodies of water
DIET: omnivorous; fish, seaweed, and other aquatic foods

APPEARANCE: Mermaids are known as ningyo in Japanese, but they are very different from the mermaids of Western tradition. Ningyo more closely resemble fish than humans, with a varying level of human-like features, ranging from just an ugly, deformed fish-like face, to an entire human torso with long, bony fingers and sharp claws. They can range in size from the size of a human child to the size of a large seal. Unlike the mermaids of the Atlantic and Mediterranean legends, ningyo from the Pacific and the Sea of Japan are hideous to behold, resembling more of an otherworldly nightmare than a seductive siren.

Mermaids resembling the breeds known throughout the West – with an attractive human torso and a piscine lower body – are not unheard of in the Japanese islands. Particularly since the end of the Edo period and the opening of Japan to the West, more and more Western-style Atlantic mermaids have been seen in Japanese waters. However, the most common Japanese mermaid is more beast than beauty.

INTERACTIONS: Ningyo sightings go back to the earliest written histories of Japan. The first recorded mermaid sightings in Japan are found in the Nihon Shoki, one of the oldest books of classical Japanese history, dating back to 619 CE. The flesh of a ningyo is believed to grant eternal life and youth to those who eat it, and thus it is the subject of many folk tales. However, it carries with it a danger that most people are not willing to risk. Ningyo can place a powerful curse on humans who try to wound or capture them, and some legends tell of entire towns that were swallowed by earthquakes or tidal waves after a foolish fisherman brought home a ningyo in one of his catches. While their grotesque appearance and supernatural powers make them an intriguing subject, they are best avoided at all costs.



TRANSLATION: ship ghosts
HABITAT: seas, oceans, bays
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: When the ghosts of people who have died at sea transform into vengeful spirits, they become a particular type of ghost called a funayūrei. They are the shadows of drowned sailors, remaining in this world to find their former friends and comrades, to bring them down into the sea with them. Like many ghosts, funayūrei usually appear as dead bodies wearing white funerary robes. They can be seen at night, when the moon is new or full, or on particularly stormy or foggy nights, especially during Obon. They appear as an eerie, luminescent mist at first, which gets closer and closer until it forms into a ship with a ghostly crew.

INTERACTIONS: Funayūrei ghost ships attacks in different ways, sometimes charging headlong towards the other ship, causing it to steer away so sharply that it capsizes, other times carrying a ghostly crew who cling to the side of the other ship and try to drag it down under the water. The ghosts themselves carry large ladles and buckets which they use to fill ships with seawater, sinking them and adding more souls to their crew. Occasionally funayūrei strike not as a large crew of man-sized ghosts, but as one very large ghost who rises out of the water to capsize a ship immediately. This ghost often demands a barrel from the crew, which it uses to flood the deck and sink the ship. These giant funayūrei are often confused with umi-bōzu, which appear and attack in a similar manner.

It is said that a clever crew can outsmart the funayūrei by carrying buckets and ladles with holes in the bottom, so that despite their efforts the ghosts will not be able to flood the ship. Encounters with ghost ships can also be avoided by boldly sailing directly through the phantasm instead of turning to avoid a collision – though this runs the risk that the other ship may actually be a real one and not a phantasm. Some crews have also escaped the funayūrei’s wrath by throwing food and provisions overboard as offerings to the hungry ghosts, who chase after the food instead of the crew.

Iso onna


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nure onna


TRANSLATION: wet woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: nure-yomejo
HABITAT: coasts, rivers, and other bodies of water; native to Kyushu
DIET: blood

APPEARANCE: Nure onna are vampiric sea serpents who haunt shores and rivers, looking for humans to eat. They are most commonly found on the shores of Kyushu, but there are stories of nure onna encounters as far north as Niigata and as far east as Fukushima. There are two variations of nure onna: one without arms, which resembles an enormous sea serpent with a woman’s head, and one with human-like arms. Aside from this difference, the two varieties look and act in exactly the same manner. Their faces are hideous and often betray serpent-like features, such as a forked tongue. They have long black hair which sticks to their dripping bodies. The name comes from the fact that they always appear sopping wet.

INTERACTIONS: While physically much stronger than a human, nure onna prefer to use trickery and guile to catch their prey, rather than relying on brute force. They most often appear on the coast near the water or by a riverbank, magically disguised as a distressed woman carrying a bundled up baby. They cry out for help from fishers, sailors, or anybody passing by. When the prey approaches, a nure onna will plead with him to hold her baby for just a moment so that she can rest.

If he agrees and takes the bundle, it quickly becomes as heavy as a boulder, and her victim is unable to move. The Nure onna is then free to attack her helpless victim, feeding by draining his blood with her long, serpentine tongue.

Nure onna frequently appear together and cooperate with ushi oni, as they inhabit the same environments and share the same diet.

Ushi oni


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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: none; based on the Chinese name for the same creature
HABITAT: coasts, islands, and shallow waters; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; extremely fond of sake

APPEARANCE: Along the mountainous coasts of Japan lives a race of ape-like, intelligent, red-haired sea spirits known as shōjō. They look like man-sized apes, with long, shaggy red hair, and reddish faces blushed with alcohol. They are bipedal like humans, and occasionally wear clothes or skirts made of seaweed.

BEHAVIOR: Shōjō spend their lives playing in the sea and on the sand of secluded beaches, drinking large quantities of alcohol. They revel in drunken silliness, singing, dancing, and enjoying life. Despite their silly appearance and demeanor, they are said to be very wise. They are extremely fond of sake and other types of alcohol. In fact, they are excellent brewers themselves, and can distil a powerful brine wine from seawater. The taste of the wine varies depending on the imbiber; if he is a good person, the wine will be delicious, but if he is a wicked person it will taste like a foul poison, and even may kill him if he does not change his evil ways.

INTERACTIONS: Shōjō can understand human languages and even parrot a number of words, and they are curious and gentle towards friendly humans. They are generally gentle and peaceful, and keep to themselves, preferring to remain apart from the world of mankind. Occasionally there have been stories of groups of shōjō harassing sailors and ships which stray too close to their homes, but these stories are rarely violent. Usually the shōjō flee into the water after they have stolen a few barrels of sake from the ship.

ORIGIN: The name shōjō is the Japanese version of the Chinese name for these ape-like spirit. Its name connotes liveliness, a fitting match for the lively personality of this creature. These days, the name is applied to the orangutan in both Japan and China, due to the ape’s physical resemblance to this yokai. Additionally, the term shōjō can be used to refer to a person who is a heavy drinker. The famous artist and yokai painter Kawanabe Kyōsai jokingly referred to himself as a shōjō in this way.

Yuki onna


TRANSLATION: snow woman
HABITAT: mountain passes; anywhere there is snow
DIET: life energy; can also eat ordinary food

APPEARANCE: Yuki onna prey on travelers lost in the heavy snowstorms that blanket the Japanese Alps in winter. They have an otherworldly beauty, with long black hair and piercing eyes colored deep violet. Their skin is ageless and as white as snow. Their bodies are as cold as ice, and a mere touch is enough to give a human a deep, unshakable chill. She feeds on human life force, sucking it from their mouths into hers with an icy breath that often freezes her victims solid.

INTERACTIONS: Yuki onna sometimes fall in love with their intended prey and let them go free. Some marry humans and live happily together with their husbands. As supernatural spirits never age, however, they never age, and their husbands inevitably discover their true identities, ending these happy marriages. Most yuki onna are not this congenial, however, and spend their lives hunting humans in the snow. They stay near mountain roads and prey on the travelers coming and going, or break into homes and flash-freeze all of the inhabitants during the night.

LEGENDS: In Niigata, an elderly man operated an inn on a mountain trail with his wife. One snowy night, the inn was visited by a young lady who was traveling alone. She warmed herself by the fire and ate together with the innkeeper and his wife. She was sweet and charming and extremely beautiful. In the middle of the night, during a fierce blizzard, she stood up and made to leave the inn. The innkeeper begged her not to go outside, and took her hand to hold her back. It was as cold as ice, and merely touching it sucked all the warmth from the innkeeper’s body, causing him to shiver violently. As he tried to keep her in the house, her entire body turned into a fine icy mist, and shot up the chimney and out into the night.

A man from Yamagata claimed that he had been married to a yuki onna. His wife was beautiful, with piercing eyes and skin as white as a marble statue. While he loved to take long hot baths every night, his wife always refused to bathe, which puzzled him greatly. One particularly cold and snow night, he insisted that his wife take a bath, lest she freeze to death in the cold. She protested, but there was no reasoning with the man, and finally she acquiesced. When he went in to check on her a few minutes later, all he found remaining in the tub were thin, half-melted icicle fragments.

Abura sumashi


TRANSLATION: oil presser
HABITAT: mountain passes; native to Kumamoto
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: The abura sumashi is a rare yokai native to Kumamoto. It looks like a squat humanoid with a large ugly head like a potato or a stone, wearing a straw-woven raincoat. It is extremely rare, only found deep in the mountains or along mountain passes in the southern parts of Japan – throughout the range where wild tea plants grow.

BEHAVIOR: Very little is known about the lifestyle and habits of this reclusive yokai. The most well-known abura sumashi lives in the Kusazumigoe Pass in Kumamoto, but only ever appears briefly to travelers. Occasionally, an old grandmother walking the pass with her grandchildren will say, “You know, a long time ago, an abura sumashi used to live in these parts.” And occasionally a mysterious voice will call out in reply, “I still do!” Sometimes the abura sumashi even appears to the travelers, materializing out of thin air.

ORIGIN: The name abura sumashi means “oil presser,” and comes from the act of pressing oil out of the seeds of tea plants which grow in Kumamoto. Though its origins are a mystery, it is commonly believed that abura sumashi are the ghosts of oil thieves who escaped into the woods. Oil was a very difficult and expensive commodity to make, requiring a lot of time and hard work to extract it from tea seeds, and so its theft was a very serious crime. Those thieves who went unpunished in life were reincarnated as yokai – a sort of divine punishment for their sins.

Taka nyūdō


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

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

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

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

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

Mikoshi nyūdō


TRANSLATION: anticipating priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: mikoshi, miage nyūdō, taka bōzu
HABITAT: bridges, roads, streets; especially at night
DIET: omnivorous; prefers travelers

APPEARANCE: Mikoshi nyūdō are fearsome yokai who appear to lone travelers on empty streets, intersections, or bridges, late at night. They appear to be harmless traveling priests or monks, no taller than an ordinary person, but in an instant they can become abnormally tall, with long claws and hair like a wild beast.

BEHAVIOR: As soon as a person raises his eyes to look upon a mikoshi nyūdō, the giant grows to an immense height – as tall whoever looks at him is able to raise his eyes, and just as fast. Often, this causes the person looks up so high and fast that they lose their balance and fall over backwards; then the mikoshi nyūdō lunges forward and bites their throat out with its teeth.

INTERACTIONS: Those who are unfortunate enough to meet this cruel yokai usually do not live to tell about it, although a lot depends on the person’s reaction. If they try to ignore and walk past the mikoshi nyūdō, the angry giant will pierce or crush them with bamboo spears and branches. The same fate is met by those who turn and try to run away. People stare at the mikoshi nyūdō frozen in fear will drop dead on the spot, overcome by its presence.

The only possible escape is to anticipate the mikoshi nyūdō (thus its name), meeting it face-to-face, eye-to-eye, showing no fear. Then, look from its head down to its feet, rather than starting at the feet and looking up. If this is done properly, the giant’s power to grow will be sapped. Telling the giant, “You lost! I anticipated your trick!” is said to cause it to vanish in anger, leaving the traveler to pass safely along.

OTHER FORMS: Mikoshi nyūdō is a popular form of some shape-shifting animals. In particular, itachi and tanuki transform into these giants in order to hunt humans. Kitsune and mujina are known to occasionally take this form as well, though much less often. When a mikoshi nyūdō is result of a transformation, it is often seen carrying a bucket, a lantern, or some other tool. This tool is where the shape-shifter’s body is stored, and if one can snatch it away from the giant before it attacks, the spell will end and the yokai will be at its captor’s mercy.

Hitotsume nyūdō


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

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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: giant priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: many variations and different kinds exist
HABITAT: any; usually found in mountainous regions
DIET: varies; most commonly livestock or humans

APPEARANCE: Ōnyūdō is a catch-all term for a number of kinds of giants found throughout Japan. While some ōnyūdō bear a strong resemblance to Buddhist priests and monks, the name is used in a euphemistic way; most ōnyūdō have no actual relation to the clergy. Size, appearance, and mannerisms vary from region to region and account to account; some giants are only slightly larger than a human, while others are as big as a mountain; some are saviors of men while others are man-eaters.

BEHAVIOR: Ōnyūdō can be separated into four general groups: those that harm humans; those that help humans; transformations of other yokai; and other truly unique ōnyūdō that do not fit into any of these categories.

Ōnyūdō that harm humans are by far the broadest category. Among them are many well-known yokai, such as Hitotsume nyūdōu, Mikoshi nyūdō, and Umi bōzu. These giants delight in terrorizing humans – sometimes hunting them to eat, sometimes pillaging and destroying villages out of rage, and other times terrifying lone travelers just for the fun of it.

Ōnyūdō that help humans are much rarer. They sometimes perform good deeds such as turning stuck waterwheels, moving heavy objects, or doing other things that require incredible amounts of strength. Though helpful, they are not always friendly, and can change from benevolent to violent or angry with little warning.

True ōnyūdō are actually fairly rare; transformed yokai – especially tanuki and itachi – make up a large percentage of the giant population. Shape-shifting yokai often take on giant form in order to scare people and cause mischief, though they rarely kill. As there is no easy way to identify if a giant is a true ōnyūdō or just a shape-shifter, the two are functionally indistinguishable.

The remainder of ōnyūdō are enigmatic and mysterious. Often they are only evidenced by their footprints or discarded trash – and it is generally wise to leave them be at that. Regardless of how good or evil at heart a particular ōnyūdō is, they are by nature extremely dangerous. It is better to avoid all contact with them than risk enraging them and potentially bringing destruction upon the nearby villages.



TRANSLATION: greater tengu (divine dog)
ALTERNATE NAMES: they often go by their individual given names
HABITAT: high, remote mountaintops
DIET: many individuals have preferred foods or strict religious dietary regimens

APPEARANCE: Daitengu are much larger and imposing than kotengu. They usually appear in a more human-like form; usually that of a man dressed in the robes of an ascetic monk, with a red face, an incredibly long and phallic nose (the longer the nose, the more powerful the tengu), and large, feathered wings sprouting from their backs. Only rarely do they appear in the more primitive avian form of the lesser tengu.

BEHAVIOR: Daitengu live solitary lives on remote mountaintops, far removed from humanity. Their time is spent in thought, meditation, and perfecting themselves. They possess greater pride, wisdom, and power than their lesser tengu cousins. They can also be just as savage and unpredictable, making them potentially much more dangerous. In fact, natural disasters and other great catastrophes are often attributed to the wrath of a powerful daitengu. However, they also possess more self-restraint, and some of them are occasionally willing to give aid to worthy humans.

INTERACTIONS: Over the centuries, while kotengu continued to terrorize people whenever they could, daitengu came to be viewed less as the enemy of mankind and more as a race of god-like sages living deep in the mountains. They became closely connected with the ascetic mountain religion of Shugendō. The mountain mystics grew close to the tengu, seeking their wisdom and worshiping them as divine beings. It is perhaps through this mystic religion that humankind was eventually able to earn the respect of the tengu. Many brave men have ventured into the unknown wilds in hopes of gaining some of the tengu’s wisdom, and occasionally, the tengu would teach secrets and impart their magical knowledge to the worthiest of them. (One of Japan’s most famous warriors, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, is said to have learned swordsmanship from the tengu Sōjōbō.)

By the 19th century, the warlike nature and vicious demeanor of the tengu came to be seen as honorable traits unique to these powerful bird-like spirits, and their knowledge and skills were popularized in the arts, through ukiyo-e prints, and noh and kabuki theater. From then on, tengu have remained one of the most well-known and loved subjects of Japanese folklore.

ORIGIN: According to Buddhist lore, tengu are born when a person dies who is not wicked enough to go to Hell, but is too angry, vain, proud, or heretical to go to Heaven. The tengu is a personification of those excessive vices, magnified and empowered in a new, demonic form.



TRANSLATION: lesser tengu (divine dog)
ALTERNATE NAMES: karasutengu (crow tengu)
HABITAT: mountains, cliffs, caves, forests, areas surrounded by nature
DIET: carrion, livestock, wild animals, humans

APPEARANCE: Kotengu resemble large birds of prey with minor human-like characteristics. Often they wear the robes of a yamabushi – an ascetic and mystical hermit. They sometimes carry fine weapons or other items (usually stolen from human homes or temples).

BEHAVIOR: Kotengu behave more like wild birds than like people. They usually live solitary lives, but occasionally work together or with other yokai to accomplish their goals. They are hoarders, and like to collect trinkets and valuable magical items, which they sometimes trade. When angered, they throw tantrums and go on destructive rampages, taking out their anger on anything near them.

INTERACTIONS: Kotengu have very little respect for humans. They feast on human flesh, and commit rape, torture, and murder just for fun. They abduct people and drop them from great heights deep into the woods; or tie children to the tops of trees so all can hear their screams but none can reach them to help. They kidnap people and force them eat feces until they go mad. They especially revel in tormenting monks and nuns, robbing temples, and trying to seduce clergy.

In folklore, tengu are generally depicted as humorous creatures who are easily tricked by clever humans. There are countless folk stories about tengu being duped into trading powerful magical items or giving up valuable information in exchange for worthless trinkets. Often this happens because the foolish kotengu overestimate their own intelligence when trying to trick a human, and end up being tricked themselves. During the Edo period, most tengu lore was gradually superseded by amusing folk tales, dampening the vicious image portrayed in earlier stories.



TRANSLATION: mountain hag, mountain crone
ALTERNATE NAMES: yamanba, onibaba
HABITAT: isolated huts or caves, deep in the mountains
DIET: generally eats human food, but will cook anything available

APPEARANCE: Yamauba are the old hags and witches of the Japanese mountains and forests. A kind of kijo, yama uba were once human, but were corrupted and transformed into monsters. They usually appear as kind old ladies. Some sport horns or fangs, but most often they look just like ordinary elderly women, with no sign of their evil nature until they attack.

INTERACTIONS: Yamauba live alone in huts by the road, occasionally offering shelter, food, and a place to sleep for the night to weary travelers. Late at night when their guests are fast asleep, they transform into their true shape – an ugly, old, demonic witch –and try to catch and eat their guests, often using powerful magic. Stories of encounters with yamauba have been passed along and spread by those few travelers lucky enough to escape with their lives, and are frequently told as bedtime stories to disobedient children.

ORIGIN: Sometimes yamauba are created when young women accused of crimes or wicked deeds flee into the wilderness and live out their lives in exile, transforming gradually over many years as they grow older. In some cases, though, their origin can be explained by an old custom from times of famine or economic hardship. When it became impossible to feed everyone in the family, often times families had to make a hard choice: remove one family member so that the rest can survive. Often this was the newly born or the elderly. Some families led their senile mothers deep into the woods and left them there to die. These abandoned old women, either out of rage or desperation, transformed into horrible monsters who feed on humans and practice black magic.



TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; rattling skull
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōdokuro (giant skeleton)
HABITAT: any; usually found near mass-graves or battlegrounds
DIET: none, but enjoys eating humans anyway

APPEARANCE: Gashadokuro are skeletal giants which wander around the countryside in the darkest hours of the night. Their teeth chatter and bones rattle with a “gachi gachi” sound, which is this yokai’s namesake. If they should happen upon a human out late on the roads, the gashadokuro will silently creep up and catch their victims, crushing them in their hands or biting off their head.

ORIGIN: Soldiers whose bodies rot in the fields and victims of famine who die unknown in the wilderness rarely receive proper funerary rites. Unable to pass on, their souls are reborn as hungry ghosts, longing eternally for that which they once had. These people die with anger and pain in their hearts, and that energy remains long after their flesh has rotted from their bones. As their bodies decay, their anger ferments into a powerful force – a grudge against the living – and this grudge is what twists them into a supernatural force. When the bones of hundreds of victims gather together into one mass, they can form the humongous skeletal monster known as the gashadokuro.

Too large and powerful to be killed, gashadokuro maintain their existence until the energy and malice stored up in their bodies has completely burnt out. However, because of the large amount of dead bodies required to form a single one, these abominations are much rarer today than they were in the earlier days, when wars and famine were a part of everyday life.

LEGENDS: The earliest record of a gashadokuro goes back over 1000 years to a bloody rebellion against the central government by a samurai named Taira no Masakado. His daughter, Takiyasha-hime, was a famous sorceress. When Masako was eventually killed for his revolt, his daughter continued his cause. Using her black magic, she summoned a great skeleton to attack the city of Kyoto. Her monster is depicted in a famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Tsurube otoshi


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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: tree child, shrub child
HABITAT: battlefields, places where mass deaths occurred
DIET: blood

APPEARANCE: On the fields of war and sites of vicious massacres, where the blood of thousands of warriors has saturated the soil, a strange kind of tree can be found. From afar, jubokko appear to be ordinary trees, indistinguishable from the various species that dot the landscape. Outwardly, they look just like ordinary trees. It takes an observant eye to notice the slightly more fearsome features of its branches, or the piles of human bones buried in the undergrowth beneath the tree. In fact, they were once normal trees, but the vast amounts of the human blood absorbed through their roots causes them to transform into yokai. Thereafter the tree thirsts only for human blood.

BEHAVIOR: Jubokko wait for unsuspecting humans to pass underneath their branches. When somebody gets close enough, they attack, snatching their prey up with long, jagged, finger-like branches, and hoisting it up into their boughs. These branches pierce the skin of their victims, sucking out all of the blood with special tube-like twigs. After the body is drained of everything the jubokko can take, the rest is consumed by birds, insects, and other animals, until only the dry bones fall back to earth. By the time most people are close enough to notice the heaps of bleached bones at the base of the tree, it is already too late to escape.



TRANSLATION: ogre spirit, demon ghost
HABITAT: any; usually haunts the area near its body
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Though some oni can be killed by man-made weapons and others die of natural causes, they do not always peacefully pass on to the next life. Some still have unfinished business or karma left to burn off, while others die such violent or passionate deaths that the soul becomes disjointed at the moment of death and they remain in the human world as a demon ghost. Reiki, written by combining the characters for “spirit” and “demon,” are the ghosts of oni unable to pass on to the afterlife. Reiki appear as they did before death, though they are often accompanied by an aura or an eerie glow. They are semi-transparent like ghosts, and they often gain additional supernatural powers in addition to the magic they knew in life.

BEHAVIOR: Reiki have only one motivation: revenge. They seek to bring suffering to the person or people they feel are responsible for their death, or to those who stood against them in life. They can haunt for centuries, following a target, or else attaching themselves to a particular area – often their own grave site – and assaulting those who come near. These hauntings usually persist until exorcised by a powerful Buddhist priest.

LEGENDS: There are fewer stories about reiki than about oni, but the stories that exist tell of powerful spirits even more fearsome than their living counterparts. One of the most well-known reiki legends takes place at Gangō-ji, a temple in Nara. A mysterious force was haunting the temple’s bell tower and murdering children every night. The force was so powerful that not even the most powerful priests could identify it, let alone exorcise it. In a story reminiscent of the adventures of Hercules, only the son of a god was strong enough to track down and defeat the demon ghost, saving the children of the temple.



TRANSLATION: ogress, demoness
HABITAT: Hell; remote mountains, caves, islands, secluded huts
DIET: omnivorous; anything and anybody, particularly travelers

APPEARANCE: Kijo are female demons. They resemble human women in most ways, although they are usually hideously ugly to behold. Most kijo were, in fact, once human women, but hatred, or jealously, a curse, or a wicked crime corrupted their souls their bodies into monstrous forms. Some have red or yellow eyes, blue skin, sharp horns, long claws, or other supernatural features. Usually they dress in rags and wear their hair long and unkempt, living like savages far from civilization.

BEHAVIOR: Kijo refers chiefly to women who have been transformed from humans into horrible monsters – either out of intense jealousy, wicked crimes committed, or a terrible grudge that twists the soul into pure hatred. These transformed women retreat from common society into more secluded places where they continue to perpetrate their wicked deeds. They can be found living in remote mountain caves, abandoned houses, or along mountain roads where they can receive a steady supply of victims. Kijo are stronger than most humans, though their strength pales in comparison to oni. Where these demonesses excel is in magic. They accumulate powerful spells over their long lives, and are capable of bestowing hexes and curses, the ability to brew poisons and potions, and the weaving powerful illusions. Some kijo dedicate themselves to personal vengeance or some political goal, but just as often they keep to themselves and go unnoticed by humankind for centuries.

INTERACTIONS: Like oni, kijo are the stuff of Japanese legends. Innumerable fairy tales, bedtime stories, kabuki plays, films, and so on have been created to entertain, to caution, and to preach morality. Women who do bad things might turn into kijo, and men who go after unscrupulous women might be heading to their deaths unknowingly.

ORIGIN: Kijo is a very broad term that in its most general sense encompasses any female demon, just as the term oni can technically refer to any male demon. Indeed, the name kijo is formed simply by combining the two kanji for “oni” and “woman.” Though their name might suggest that kijo are the female counterparts to the male oni, there is nothing substantial to support this. While tales point to oni working either as tormentors of the damned or as menaces to human society in the living world, kijo do not seem to have any connection to Hell or the afterlife; kijo generally work solo and have their own motives. Further, kijo and oni are not commonly seen together, and little to nothing is known about how either creature reproduces (or if they even do). Rather, it is likely that kijo are entirely separate creatures from oni, other than the fact that both are commonly born from a corrupted human soul.



TRANSLATION: ogre, demon
HABITAT: Hell; remote mountains, caves, islands, abandoned fortresses
DIET: omnivorous; especially livestock, humans, and alcohol

APPEARANCE: Oni are one the greatest icons of Japanese folklore. They are large and scary, standing taller than the tallest man, and sometimes many times that. They come in many varieties, but are most commonly depicted with red or blue skin, wild hair, two or more horns, and fang-like tusks. Other variations exist in different colors and with different numbers of horns, eyes, or fingers and toes. They wear loincloths made of the pelts of great beasts. All oni possess extreme strength and constitution, and many of them are also accomplished sorcerers. They are ferocious demons, bringers of disaster, spreaders of disease, and punishers of the damned in Hell.

BEHAVIOR: Oni are born when truly wicked humans die and end up in one of the many Buddhist Hells, transformed into Oni. They become the ogreish and brutal servants of Great Lord Enma, ruler of Hell, wielding iron clubs with which they crush and destroy humans solely for enjoyment. An oni’s job is to mete out horrible punishments such as peeling off skin, crushing bones, and other torments too horrible to describe to those who were wicked (but not quite wicked enough to be reborn as demons themselves). Hell is full of oni, and they make up the armies of the great generals of the underworld.

Occasionally, when a human is so utterly wicked that his soul is beyond any redemption, he transforms into an oni during life, and remains on Earth to terrorize the living. These transformed oni are the ones most legends tell about, and the ones who pose the most danger to humankind.

INTERACTIONS: These oni are the stuff of legends and fairy tails, countless stories of lords and ladies, warriors and rogues that make up Japanese mythology. No two stories about oni are exactly alike except for one thing: oni are always the villains of mankind.

ORIGIN: Originally, all spirits, ghosts, and monsters were known as oni. The root of their name is a word meaning “hidden” or “concealed,” and it was written with the Chinese character for “ghost.” In the old days of Japan, before the spirits were as well-cataloged as they are today, oni could be used to refer to almost any supernatural creature – ghosts, obscure gods, large or scary yokai, even particularly vicious and brutal humans. As the centuries shaped the Japanese language, the definitions we know today for the various kinds of monsters gradually came into being. Today, the word oni generally only refers to this specific category of male demons. Female demons are known by another name: kijo.



TRANSLATION: crippled wheel
HABITAT: Hell; encountered on roads and mountain passes, and occasionally villages
DIET: souls

APPEARANCE: Instead of a giant monk’s head stuck in a wheel, katawaguruma appears as a tormented naked woman riding a single, flaming ox-cart wheel, eternally suffering and burning with pain.

BEHAVIOR: Katawaguruma looks and acts in much the same manner as wa-nyūdō, rolling along the roads of Japan, occasionally stopping in towns to hunt for impure souls to drag back to her hellish masters.

INTERACTIONS: These demons bestow powerful curses on any who see them, and this curse spreads rapidly through town, by the sharing of news and gossip about the katawaguruma. Eventually this can bringing calamity upon an entire village. Despite this, there is evidence that the katawaguruma has a capacity for mercy alien to its male counterpart.

LEGENDS: In a 17th century record, when a katawaguruma attacked a village in what is now Shiga, she abducted the child of a woman who dared to peek at her through a crack in her door, saying “Instead of watching me you should have been watching your child!” The woman was distraught and realized her own curiosity was responsible for the loss of her child. She composed a poem expressing her faults, and displayed it all around town, warning others to watch their children more carefully. The next night, the katawaguruma returned and saw that the woman was truly regretful, and returned the child unharmed. The katawaguruma was never seen in that village again.

Wa nyūdō


TRANSLATION: wheel priest
HABITAT: Hell; encountered on roads and mountain passes, and occasionally villages
DIET: souls; occasionally snacks on babies

APPEARANCE: Wa nyūdō is a giant, fearsome man’s head trapped within a flaming ox-cart wheel. His head is shaved like a monk’s in penance for his sins during life.

BEHAVIOR: Wa nyūdō are servants of Hell, but spend most of their time on Earth, patrolling for the wicked. They are in constant suffering from the flames and the wheel, and take a sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain on others. When they capture a victim – ideally a wicked criminal or a corrupt priest, but often enough just an ordinary person – they drag their victim back to Hell to be judged and damned. Then the wa nyūdō returns to Earth to repeat his work until the sins of his former life have been redeemed.

INTERACTIONS: When a wa nyūdō is sighted, smart townspeople keep off the roads at night and stay away from all doors and windows to avoid any notice by this demon. The extra-cautious decorate their homes with prayer charms in hopes that the monster will be repulsed and not come near. Merely witnessing the wa nyūdō is enough to strike calamity upon a whole family. Most have their souls torn from their body and brought to hell by the wheel.

LEGENDS: One famous story from Kyoto tells of a woman who peeked out her window at a wa nyūdō as he passed through town. The demon snarled at her, saying, “Instead of looking at me, have a look at your own child!” She looked back at her baby, who was screaming on the floor in a pool of blood – both of its legs had been completely torn from its body. When she looked back at the wa nyūdō, the child’s legs were in its mouth, being eaten by the mad, grinning monster.

Azuki babā


TRANSLATION: the bean hag
ALTERNATE NAMES: azukitogi babā (the bean grinding hag)
HABITAT: forests and occasionally villages in Northeast Japan
DIET: humans

APPEARANCE: The people of Miyagi prefecture tell of a much more sinister member of the azuki family of yokai. Rather than the benign and cute azuki arai known throughout most of the country, this northeastern variation takes the form of a fearsome old hag dressed all in white, singing in a husky, ugly voice. Azuki babā only appears at twilight – particularly on rainy or misty autumn nights. Their song is similar to the azuki arai’s, except that azuki babā usually follow through on the threat to catch and eat humans.

BEHAVIOR: Witnesses of azuki babā who have survived to tell their experience describe and eerie white glow visible through the thick white mist. From the mist, the husky voice of an old hag can be heard singing her ghastly song and counting beans as she washes them in the river with a strainer. Those who don’t turn back at this point never make it back.

INTERACTIONS: Despite their ferociousness, azuki babā are much more rare than their harmless bean-washing counterparts, and are usually just used as stories to scare children into behaving properly. Of all the variations of azuki-related yokai, this one is the most likely to actually be a shapeshifted an evil itachi, tanuki, or kitsune, imitating the harmless azuki arai in order to attract a curious child to catch and eat.

Azuki hakari


TRANSLATION: the bean counter
HABITAT: rural villages, homes, attics, and gardens
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: A possible relative of azuki arai, azuki hakari, or “the bean counter,” is a poltergeist found in some homes and temples. Known only by the sounds it makes, it is said to dwell in attics or gardens, and is most active at night. Azuki hakari have never been seen directly – only heard. Though similar in name and habit to its azuki-related cousins, azukihakari has traits distinct enough to classify it as a separate yokai.

BEHAVIOR: Azuki hakari appear in homes late at night, after midnight. An encounter usually begins with the sound of heavy footsteps in the space between the attic and the roof. Shortly after, a rhythmic sound like dried azuki beans being scattered can be heard against the windows or sliding doors leading outside. The sound grows progressively louder, and gradually changes into the sound of splashing water, and finally to the sound of geta – Japanese wooden sandals – walking around just outside the room. Opening the doors or windows causes the noise to stop, revealing no sign of any creature that could have made such a noise; nor any beans or puddles or markings from whatever caused the noises.

Because of the difficulty of direct observation of all azuki spirits, it is very likely that some of the stories about azuki-arai which take place near homes or away from rivers, may in fact be about encounters with azuki hakari.

Azuki arai


TRANSLATION: the bean washer
ALTERNATE NAMES: azuki togi (the bean grinder)
HABITAT: remote forests; found throughout Japan
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Azuki arai is a mysterious yokai encountered in mountainous regions all across Japan. It has many regional nicknames, another common one being azuki togi. This yokai lives deep in forests and mountains and spends its time near streams. Few actual sightings have been recorded, but it is said to be a short and squat, with big, round eyes, and overall resembling a Buddhist priest. It appears full of mirth with a silly smile and large hands with only three fingers.

BEHAVIOR: Azuki arai are more often heard than seen. Their main activity seems to be washing red azuki beans by the riverside, singing a dreadful song interspersed with the “shoki shoki” sound of beans being washed in a basket:

Azuki araou ka? Hito totte kuou ka? (shoki shoki)
Shall I wash my red beans, or shall I catch a human to eat? (shoki shoki)

INTERACTIONS: Passersby who hear azuki arai singing usually slip and fall into the river, the noise from the splash scaring the yokai away. Nearly all encounters with azuki arai are purely auditory; they are notoriously shy, and do all they can to avoid being seen. Their uncanny ability to mimic the sounds of nature and animals also help them to hide. Because of their elusiveness, spotting an azuki arai is supposed to bring good luck.



TRANSLATION: mountain child
HABITAT: mountains; commonly found throughout Kyushu and West Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Yamawaro are minor deities of the mountains, closely related to other nature spirits such as kappa, garappa, and hyōsube. They are short creatures resembling boys of about 10 years of age. Their heads are covered in long brown hair and their bodies is covered in very fine, light hair. They have a short torso and two long legs, on which they walk upright. A yamawaro’s most distinguishing feature is the single eye in the middle of head. They are skillful mimics, copying the sound of falling rocks, wind, dynamite, tools, and can even learn to speak human languages and sing human songs.

INTERACTIONS: Like their cousins the kappa, yamawaro despise horses and cows, and often attack them on sight. They love the sport of sumo, which they are better at than any human. They also enjoy sneaking into homes to nap and take baths, leaving a thick film of grease and hair in the tub when they are done.

Yamawaro are frequently encountered in the mountains by woodcutters, and are known to help with work. If properly thanked, and offered food for their services, a yamawaro is likely to return to help again. However, care must be taken when feeding a yamawaro. If the amount of food is less than what was promised, the it will grow extremely angry and never return. If the food is offered before the work is performed, it will simply take the food and run away.

ORIGIN: One theory from Kumamoto says that yamawaro and garappa are actually different forms of the same yokai. During the cold months, these creatures live in the mountains as yamawarawa, while during the warm months, they live in lakes and rivers as garappa. Every year on the fall equinox, all of the country’s garappa transform into yamawaro and travel from the rivers to the mountains in a mass migration. They return on the spring equinox and transform back into garappa. Villagers who build their houses in the pathway of these massive yokai migrations are prone to find holes, gashes, and other damage caused by yamawaro angry at having their path blocked by a house. People who witness the springtime return of the yamawaro often catch deadly fevers.

This theory is supported by the fact that these creatures share so many traits in common with one another, and because it is extremely rare to see garappa in the winter. However, it is also possible that these aquatic yokai simply go into hibernation during the colder months, and that the similarities between garappa and yamawaro are simply coincidences.



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

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

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

Kama itachi


TRANSLATION: sickle weasel
HABITAT: primarily the Japan Alps, but potentially anywhere that weasels are found
DIET: carnivorous; feeds on small wild animals

APPEARANCE: The mountainous regions of Yamanashi, Nagano, and Niigata are known for a particularly dangerous kind of itachi. In these areas, grandparents warn their grandchildren to beware of kama itachi, or “sickle weasels.” These itachi have learned to ride the swirling whirlwinds of this cold region. They have claws that are as strong as steel and as sharp as razors. Their fur is spiny like a hedgehog, and they bark like a dog. They move so quickly that they are invisible to the naked eye, and they come and go with the wind.

INTERACTIONS: Kama itachi travel and attack in threes, striking out at people from thin air. The first kama itachi slices at its victim’s legs, knocking him to the ground. The second one uses its fore and hind legs to slice up the prone victim with thousands of dreadful cuts. The third one then applies a magical salve which heals up the majority of the wounds instantly, so that none of them proves fatal. It is said that the Kama itachi strikes with such precision that it can carve out entire chunks of flesh from its victims without causing even a drop of blood to be spilled. The attack and the healing happen so fast that the victim cannot perceive them; from his perspective he merely trips and gets up with a bit of pain and a few scratches here and there.

ORIGIN: One theory about the kama itachi’s origin is that it is only a joke: a play on words based on a sword fighting stance known as kamae tachi. However, legends of invisible beasts that ride the wind and attack humans in a similar manner are found in all regions of Japan, and the sickle weasel remains a popular explanation for these incidents throughout the country.



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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: blue heron fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: goi no hikari (night heron light)
HABITAT: rivers, wetlands; wherever herons and other waterbirds can be found

APPEARANCE: Many birds transform into magical yokai with eerie powers when they reach an advanced age. Aosagibi is the name for a bizarre phenomenon caused by transformed herons – particularly the black-crowned night heron. Other herons and wild birds, such as ducks and pheasants, are able to develop this ability as well, though it is most commonly attributed to the nocturnal night heron. This heron is found all along the islands and coasts, preferring remote areas with heavy reeds and thick woods. Aosagibi is most commonly seen at night in the trees where the herons roost, by the rivers where they hunt, or as the birds fly in the twilight sky.

BEHAVIOR: Long-lived herons begin to develop shining scales on their breasts, which are fused together from their feathers. They begin blow a yellow iridescent powder from their beaks with each breath, which scatters into the wind. During the fall, their bodies begin to radiate a bluish-white glow at night. Their powdery breath ignites into bright blue fireballs, which they blow across the water or high in the trees. These fireballs possess no heat and do not ignite anything else, eventually evaporating in the wind.

INTERACTIONS: Like most wild birds, night herons are very shy and usually flee from humans. Even after transforming into yokai, they retain their shyness. While the sight of a colony of wild birds breathing blue flames and making strange calls on a cool autumn night can be rather disconcerting, aosagibi does not post any threat to humans. However, because it appears very similar to other fireball-like phenomena, caution should be taken to avoid confusing aosagibi with oni-bi or other supernatural lights.



TRANSLATION: ground spider
ALTERNATE NAMES: yatsukahagi, ōgumo (giant spider)
HABITAT: rural areas, mountains, forests, and caves
DIET: humans, animals; anything that it can trap

APPEARANCE: The tsuchigumo, known as the purseweb spider in English, can be found all over the Japanese islands and throughout much of the world. Long-lived tsuchigumo can transform into yokai, and grow to a monstrous size, able to catch much larger prey (particularly humans).

BEHAVIOR: Tsuchigumo live in the forests and mountains, making their homes in silk tubes from which they ambush prey that passes by. Like other spider yokai, they rely on illusion and trickery to deceive humans into letting down their guard. While the jorōgumo uses her sexuality to seduce young men, the tsuchigumo has a wider selection forms of deception, and often has bigger ambitions in mind.

LEGENDS: The accounts of the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu contain numerous encounters with tsuchigumo. In one, a tsuchigumo changed itself into a servant boy to administer venom in the form of medicine to the famed warrior. When his wounds were not healing and the medicine didn’t seem to be working, Yorimitsu suspected foul play. He slashed with his sword at the boy, who then fled into the forest. The attack broke a powerful illusion which the spider had laid on the Yorimitsu, and he found that he was covered in spider webs. Yorimitsu and his retainers followed the trail of spider’s blood into the mountains, where they discovered a gigantic monstrous arachnid, dead from the wound Yorimitsu had inflicted.

In another legend, a tsuchigumo took the form of a beautiful warrior woman and lead an army of yokai against Japan. Yorimitsu and his men met the yokai army on the battlefield. Yorimitsu struck at the woman general first, and suddenly her army vanished; it was merely an illusion. The warriors followed the woman to a cave in the mountains, where she morphed into a giant spider. With one swing of his sword, Yorimitsu sliced her abdomen open. Thousands of baby spiders the size of human infants swarmed out from her belly. Yorimitsu and his retainers slew every one of the spiders and returned home victorious.



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

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

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

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

Nure onago


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

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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: the name comes from an old Okinawan village, Kijimuka
ALTERNATE NAMES: sēma, bunagaya
HABITAT: banyan trees on the islands of Okinawa
DIET: seafood; prefers fish heads and eyes

APPEARANCE: The southern island chain of Okinawa is home to a number of unique yokai which are not found anywhere else in Japan. One of these is the kijimunā: an elfin creature which makes it home in the banyan trees which grow all over the Ryukyu archipelago. Physically, kijimunā are about the same height as a child, with wild and thick bright red hair, and skin tinted red as well. They wear skirts made of grass, and move about by hopping rather than walking. Kijimunā retain the appearance of child-like youthfulness into their adulthood. Males are noted for their large and prominent testicles.

BEHAVIOR: Kijimunā lifestyle mimics that of humans in many ways. They fish along the shores, live in family units, get married, and raise children in much the same way as the native islanders do. On rare occasions they even have been known to marry into human families. The kijimunā diet consists entirely of seafood. They are excellent fishers, and are particular skilled at diving, which they regularly do to catch a favorite dish: fish heads (specifically double-lined fusilier fish heads). They are especially fond of fish eyes (even preferring the left eye over the right). Okinawans attribute eyeless corpses of fish found on the beach to picky kijimunā.

Kijimunā have a number of peculiar fears and prejudices. They despise chickens and cooking pots. They are extremely put off by people passing gas. However, the thing they hate most, above all else, is the octopus. They avoid octopuses at all costs, despising them and fearing them at the same time.

INTERACTIONS: Kijimunā often help fishermen catch fish, or aid humans in other ways in return for a cooked meal. When they form friendships with humans, they can last for a lifetime; such will often return to their human friends many times, even spending holidays with their adopted family.

Kijimunā attacks on humans are very rare. Cutting down the banyan tree in which a one lives is a sure way to earn its wrath. Kijimunā thus wronged have been known to murder livestock, sabotage boats so they sink while their owners are far out at sea, or magically trap people in hollow trees from which they cannot escape. Sometimes they press down on peoples’ chests while they sleep, or snuff out lights during the night. The enmity of a kijimunā, once earned, can never be satisfied for as long as it lives.



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

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

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



TRANSLATION: human soul
HABITAT: graveyards and near the recently deceased
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Hitodama are the visible souls of humans which have detached from their host bodies. They appear as red, orange, or blue-white orbs, and the float about slowly not too far from the ground.

BEHAVIOR: On warm summer nights, these strange glowing orbs can be seen floating around graveyards, funeral parlors, or the houses where people have recently died. Most often they are only seen just before or just after the moment of death, when the soul leaves the body to return to the ether. It is most common to see them at night, though they are occasionally seen during the daytime too. Rarely, hitodama can materialize when a person loses consciousness, floating about outside of the body for some time, only to return to the body when the person regains consciousness.

Hitodama are harmless, and so it is important not to confuse them with other fireball yokai, which can be potentially deadly. Hitodama can be distinguished from other hi no tama by the distinctive tails of light which trail behind them.



TRANSLATION: demon fire
HABITAT: grasslands, forests, watersides, graveyards
DIET: life energy

APPEARANCE: One of the more dangerous types of hi no tama yokai, onibi is a beautiful but deadly phenomenon. Its name means “demon fire,” and it certainly earns that moniker. It look likes a small ball of flame, usually blue or blue-white (red and yellow onibi are less common), and often appears in small groups of twenty to thirty orbs. The orbs can range in size from three to thirty centimeters, and usually float around at eye-level. They appear most often during the spring and summer months, and particularly on rainy days. They appear more frequently in places that are surrounded by nature.

Onibi can be found all over Japan. In some areas, they are said to occasionally manifest the faces and even voices of the victims whose life force they have drained. In Okinawa, onibi is said to take the shape of a small bird.

INTERACTIONS: Onibi does not create much heat, but the orbs possess a different danger. Living creatures that draw too close are sometimes swarmed by dozens of orbs, which quickly drain away the life force from their victims. Soon nothing is left of the victim but a dead husk on the ground. During the night, onibi is often mistaken for distant lanterns, and many people have vanished into the forests chasing after phantom lights. Travelers should take care not to be lead off their paths to their deaths by demon fire.

ORIGIN: Onibi usually are created out of the dead bodies of humans and animals, though it is not known what process causes onibi to develop at some times and not others. Intense grudge and malice from one living person towards some other thing is also able to create onibi. It is often considered to be identical to the will-o’-the-wisps of English folklore.



TRANSLATION: wild mallet (named for its mallet-like shape)
HABITAT: fields and grasslands; found all across Japan
DIET: carnivorous; usually feeds on small animals like rats, mice, rabbits, birds

APPEARANCE: Nozuchi are one of the earliest known yokai recorded in Japan histories. They are powerful and ancient snake-like spirits of the fields known for their bizarre shape and habits. They are short, fat creatures shaped like mallets, about fifteen centimeters in diameter and just over one meter long. They have no eyes, nose, or any other facial features save for a large mouth located on the top of their head, pointing towards the sky. Their bodies are covered in a bristly fur, much like a hairy caterpillar.

BEHAVIOR: Nozuchi make their homes inside of large trees, particularly on the tops of hills. They are slow movers, and move about by rolling and tumbling down slopes, then slowly inching their way back up. They most often feed on wildlife – mice, rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals – however they are able to eat things much larger than they are. In Nara, they are known to feed on deer, which they can devour in a single bite, pulling the whole animal into their small, stumpy frame.

INTERACTIONS: Nozuchi have been known to attack humans who come near their nests, rolling downhill and snapping at their feet. Their bites are very dangerous to humans, resulting in terrible, mangled wounds which quickly lead to a high fever and death in most cases. A person who is touched or even merely seen by a tumbling nozuchi can contract this fever and possibly die. Fortunately, nozuchi attacks are easily avoided by sticking to higher ground where they cannot tumble, or by climbing a tree quickly if no other high ground is available.

OTHER FORMS: Nozuchi can transform into a humanoid shape, though they rarely are seen in this alternate form. They take the shape of a human priest, but with no eyes, nose, hair, or ears. The only feature on the head is a large gaping mouth pointing upwards towards the sky. Wicked monks who are banished from their temples to live in the wilds sometimes gradually turn into nozuchi, and are more likely to maintain a humanoid form than a serpentine one. Care should be taken not to confuse a shape-changed nozuchi with a nopperabō, which has a similar appearance but poses a different threat.

Koma inu


TRANSLATION: Goryeo (an ancient Korean dynasty) dog
ALTERNATE NAMES: shishi (stone lion); refers only to the left-hand koma inu
HABITAT: shrines, temples, and holy areas
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Koma inu are noble holy animals which are usually employed as guardians of holy areas. They can range in size from a small dog to the size of a lion, and due to their resemblance to both creatures, are often called lion dogs in English. They have thick, curly manes and tails, powerful, muscular bodies, and sharp teeth and claws. Some koma inu have large horns like a unicorn on their heads, however many are hornless.

BEHAVIOR: Koma inu are fierce and noble beasts. They act like watchdogs, guarding gates and doorways and preventing the wicked from entering. They live together in male-female pairs, and are always found together. In their pairs, the female usually guards those living inside of the place they guard, while the male guards the structure or place itself.

INTERACTIONS: Koma inu are a ubiquitous symbol at holy places in Japan. Stone koma inu statues are almost always found at the entrance to Shinto shrines, often with more inside the shrine guarding the important buildings. The pairs are usually carved in two poses: with mouth open, in a roaring position, and with mouth closed. Symbolically, these creatures represent yin and yang, or death and life. The open-mouthed koma inu represents “a,” while the closed-mouthed koma inu represents “un.” These sounds are the Japanese transliteration of the Sanskrit “Om,” a mystical syllable which symbolizes the beginning, middle, and end of all things. A western analogy would be alpha and omega.

ORIGIN: Koma inu were brought to Japan via Korea, which in turn received them from China, which in turn received them from India. China is where they first began to symbolize the dharmic philosophics of Indian religions. In China, these dogs are called shishi, which means “stone lion.” This name is often used in Japan, too, though it only refers to the left one (the one with its mouth open). The right one and the two of them collectively are always referred to as koma inu.