Yokai.com the online database of Japanese ghosts and monsters
Browsing all posts in: Toriyama Sekien

Jakotsu babā


TRANSLATION: snake bones hag
HABITAT: Bukan, a mythical country far to the west
DIET: as a human

APPEARANCE: Jakotsu babā is a scary old hag and a shaman with the power to control snakes. She is described as carrying a blue snake in her right hand and a red snake in her left hand.

BEHAVIOR: Very little is recorded about jakotsu babā’s history or life, so her behavior is the subject of speculation by storytellers. Generally, she supposedly lives near a place called “the snake mound.” She scares those who stay too close to her home by attacking them with her snakes.

ORIGIN: It’s not quite clear where this yōkai originally comes from. She was recorded in 1780 by Toriyama Sekien in his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. Because she carries two snakes, Sekien speculated that Jakotsu babā originally came from the mythical country of Bukan (also called Fukan; known as Wuxian in Chinese). Bukan is recorded in the Shan hai jing, which Toriyama Sekien uses as his source for this record. It was supposedly located far to the west, past China on the Asian continent. The race of people who lived in Bukan were shamans, and they used snakes prominently in their divinations.

According to Sekien, long ago there was an important man in Bukan named Jagoemon who lived in a place known as “the snake mound.” His wife was known as Jagobā (i.e. “Jago’s wife”). Over time, her name was corrupted into jakotsu babā. Jagoemon is not a famous historical or mythical figure, so Sekien’s reference may have just been invented for fun. Prior to Konjaku hyakki shūi, the name jakotsu babā appears in various pulp fiction and kabuki plays of the 1760’s and 1770’s—although it was just used as a vulgar slang word for an old woman, rather than a yōkai or a shaman. Some scholars believe that Sekien may just have taken a popular buzzword of his time, transformed it into a yōkai and attached a simple backstory to it.

Kokuri babā


TRANSLATION: hag of the old temple living quarters
HABITAT: old, dilapidated temples
DIET: human flesh

APPEARANCE: A kokuri babā is an old hag which inhabits temples deep in the mountains. She hides herself away in the back of the temple and feeds off of human corpses.

BEHAVIOR: A kokuri babā was once a priest’s widow at a remote, rural temple. While her husband lived, she was a dutiful wife, helping run the temple, tending to the needs of the parishioners, cooking, cleaning, washing, and taking care of the temple grounds. However, after her husband’s death, she retreated into the temple’s living quarters and became a shut in. When her food stores ran out, she began to steal the offerings left behind by people visiting the temple. Because of this grave sin, she transformed into a yokai, unable to pass on to the next life. From then on, she developed a taste for human flesh. She survived by carving up meat from the corpses of the recently dead. When there were no fresh corpses available, she would unearth previously buried corpses and peel off chunks of their rotting skin off to gnaw on.

INTERACTIONS: Kokuri babā do not usually interact with people, preferring to stay hidden away in the back rooms of their temples. However, when traveling monks pay a visit to their temple, they do not pass up the chance for some fresh meat. People who encounter a kokuri babā usually realize too late that they are in danger.

ORIGIN: Kokuri babā was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. Although it is written with words that literally mean “hag of the old temple living quarters,” Sekien was well known for using wordplay in his yōkai names, and this yōkai was no exception.

Kokuri is reminiscent of a popular folk phrase “Mukuri kokuri,” which is used as a metaphor for something scary. Indeed, Sekien points out in his description that kokuri babā is even more fearsome than Datsueba, the skin-flaying hag of the underworld. Parents would scold misbehaving children with, “Mukuri kokuri, a demon will come (if you don’t stop misbehaving)!”

Mukuri kokuri has a long history, originating in the the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The Mongols under Kublai Khan had conquered China and Korea, and they had set their sights on Japan. The invaders were viewed by most people as the living embodiment of demons. Japan’s victory against the Mongols—thanks in no small part to two typhoons (believed to be kamikaze, or “divine winds” sent from the gods) which eradicated the two major Mongol invasion fleets—ended Mongol expansion and is had a profound impact on the identity of Japan as a nation. The memory of the invasions remained strong for generations, and became a part of folklore. The fear of invading Mongols was the basis for the phrase “Mōko Kōkuri no oni ga kuru” (“The Mongolian-Korean demons are coming!”), which over the centuries was corrupted down to just mukuri kokuri.



TRANSLATION: smokey fabric
HABITAT: chimneys, bonfires
DIET: combustible materials

APPEARANCE: Enenra is a yōkai made up of wisps of smoke, which rise up into the sky from a fires, such as the takibi bonfires which farmers light to dispose of the remains of their harvests. As the smoke rises, human-like faces appear and disappear in its form.

BEHAVIOR: Enenra is essentially just a personification of smoke. It floats about as it climbs into the air, billowing in the wind, and appearing as fragile as a piece of delicate silk dancing in the breeze. It is mesmerizing and relaxing to watch.

ORIGIN: Enenra was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. It seems to be loosely based on a passage in Tsurezure gusa which describes the smoke rising from fires burned in the summer to keep mosquitoes away. Contemporary yokai scholars have also pointed out that this yōkai’s name sounds similar to the name Enma, the lord of hell and judge of the dead. As hell is a place of fire and smoke, it has been suggested that instead of the spirit of smoke itself, enenra may actually be the spirits of the dead rising up along with the smoke. For that reason, enenra only appears before those who are calm and pure of heart and mind.

Byōbu nozoki


TRANSLATION: folding screen peeper
HABITAT: wealthy homes

APPEARANCE: Byōbu nozoki is a depraved spirit which emerges from the decorative folding screens known as byōbu. It is very tall, stretching well over two meters (tall enough to peer over any sized folding screen). It’s body is long and lithe, and it wears white robes resembling those of a ghost. It has long black hair and blackened teeth. Despite the resemblance, byōbu nozoki it is not a yūrei, but is actually the tsukumogami of a folding screen.

INTERACTIONS: As its name suggests, a byōbu nozoki’s chief activity is leering over folding screens at the people on the other side—particularly if the people are engaged in romantic activities.

ORIGIN: Byōbu nozoki was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. According to him, this spirit manifests from a very old folding screen which has witnessed many years of sexual activity.

Sekien invented a fake history connecting it with Chinese history. Sekien describes the byōbu nozoki as tall enough to peer over a folding screen seven shaku (a unit of length approximately 30 cm) high. This recalls a story about the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, in which he leaped over a 7 shaku tall byobu to escape an assassination attempt. This legend which would have been well known to his readers during the Edo period. With this reference, Sekien both invents a funny narrative and finds a way to connect this amusing yōkai with history, legitimizing it as more than something he just made up.

Bashō no sei


TRANSLATION: Japanese banana spirit
HABITAT: the Ryūkyū archipelago
DIET: sunlight and soil

APPEARANCE: Bashō no sei are the spirits of Japanase banana trees (Musa basjoo). They are native to the islands of Okinawa, but are common in ornamental gardens across Asia. They usually appear as a human face amongst the broad, flat banana leaves.

INTERACTIONS: Bashō no sei are not particularly hostile or threatening towards people. They generally limit themselves to merely scaring humans by suddenly appearing next to them. For example, in one story a bashō no sei takes the form of a young woman, appears next to a meditating monk and asks him, “Can even inanimate plants attain buddhahood?”

They are not completely without danger, however—some local legends tell of bashō no sei assaulting and even impregnating humans. Women were warned not to walk near banana trees past 6 pm. If they did, they would run into a yōkai among the broad leaves—sometimes a monster, other times a handsome young man. Shortly after, the woman would become pregnant. When the baby was born 9 months later, it would have tusks or fangs like a demon. What’s more, the following year and again every year after that, the woman would give birth to another demon. Whenever a demon child was born, it would have to be killed by feeding it a poisonous drink made of powdered kumazasa (a type of bamboo grass); this is supposedly the reason why kumazasa is commonly found growing near houses in Okinawa.

ORIGIN: Stories about banana tree spirits are numerous across Japanese, Chinese, and Ryūkyūan folklore. The Edo period herbalist Satō Chūryō recorded his observations about these spirits in an essay. According to him, Ryūkyū’s banana orchards were so large that they contained rows of trees many miles long. If you walked past them at night, you were guaranteed to experience something strange. He observed that the spirits that come out of the banana trees did not cause any direct harm to people other than spooking them, but nevertheless could be avoided if you carried a sword. Chūryō’s theory was that banana trees weren’t necessarily unique in having spirits, but that because their leaves are so large and they were planted in such large numbers, it is particularly easy for humans to see these trees’ spirits. He believed that was the reason for the large number of superstitions about banana trees compared with other plants.

LEGENDS: A story from Nagano tells of a priest who was sitting outside and reciting suttras when a beautiful young woman appeared and attempted to seduce him. The priest grew angry. He stabbed the woman with his sword and she ran away. The next morning, the priest found a bloody trail left by the woman he had stabbed. The trail lead to the temple’s gardens, where a bashō tree was lying on the ground, cut in two. The priest then realized that the woman was actually the spirit of the tree.



TRANSLATION: monk in the flames
HABITAT: Toribeyama, a mountain in Kyōto
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Kazenbō is a ghostly apparition which resembles a monk wreathed in flames, being burnt alive. They appear on a mountain in Kyoto called Toribeyama, which has been used as a grave site for many centuries

BEHAVIOR: Kazenbō appear occasionally to visitors to the mountain. They don’t do anything harmful, but their horrific appearance is very disturbing. They materialize, appear to suffer in flames which never completely consume them, and then disappear.

ORIGIN: During the Heian period, Toribeyama was an important burial ground and cremation site, especially for the nobility of the city. During major epidemics, many diseased bodies were burned there. It is said that there was an unending column of smoke rising from the mountain from all the burning bodies.

Towards the end of the 10th century, a number of monks decided to offer themselves up in ritual sacrifice by fire. They believed that in doing so, they would rid themselves of their worldy attachments, along with their bodies, and achieve enlightenment. The ceremony was open to the public, and a large number of people came to witness the event. However, it would seem that a number of these priests did not actually achieve enlightenment. They must not have been able to truly give up their attachments to the material world. So now, instead, their ghosts are doomed to haunt Toribeyama, appearing in ghostly flames as beggar-monks wreathed in the fires of ignorance and sin.

Himamushi nyūdō


TRANSLATION: oven bug monk
HABITAT: houses; specifically under the floorboards
DIET: lamp oil

APPEARANCE: Himamushi nyūdō is a grotesque yōkai which lives under floorboards and crawls out at night time. It vaguely resembles a Buddhist monk, but it has a long neck, sharp claws, a body covered in thick, dark hair, and a very long tongue which it uses to lap up the oil from lamps.

INTERACTIONS: Himamushi nyūdō bothers people who are working hard or studying late at night by jumping out of the darkness and scaring them.  Although it doesn’t directly attack people, its presence is disturbing enough. It blows out the lights suddenly, and it licks up the precious lamp oil, making it difficult to continue working.

ORIGIN: According to Toriyama Sekien’s description of this yōkai in Konjaku hyakki shūi, himamushi nyūdō is born from those who were lazy in life, carelessly wasting time from birth to death.

The word “oven bug” in its name is probably a reference to cockroaches. The hima kanji in this yokai’s name can also be read kama—and likely refers to the kamado, a traditional Japanese oven. Cockroaches have quite a few nicknames in Japanese; among them himushi (“fire bug”) and hitorimushi (“lamp bug”), both of which sound similar to himamushi. Cockroaches and other pests would have fed on the fish oil in Edo period oil lamps; just like this yōkai. Cockroaches live in dark, warm spaces, such as underneath a kamado; just like this yōkai. And they crawl out of the floorboards to scare those working late at night; just like this yōkai.

Himamushi nyūdō’s name contains a number of puns. According to Toriyama Sekien, it was originally called himamushiyo nyūdō (“monks who waste time at night”). Over the years, the pronunciation gradually morphed, and it became associated with hemamusho nyūdō—a popular Edo period word doodle in which a monk is drawn using the characters in its name: ヘマムショ入道. The connection with this cartoon character would probably have amused readers during Sekien’s time.



TRANSLATION: behind spirit
HABITAT: haunts cowardly people
DIET: fear

APPEARANCE: Ushirogami looks like a ghost with long black hair, and a large single eyeball located on the top of its head. It doesn’t have feet, but instead has a long, twisting body which allows it to leap high into the air.

INTERACTIONS: An ushirogami’s favorite tactic is to scare people by leaping out and appearing right behind them (thus its name). They like to tug on the hairs on the back of a person’s neck and then vanish just as they turn around to see touched them. Other pranks that ushirogami enjoy include placing their icy cold hands or breathing their hot breath onto the necks of their victims. Ushirogami particularly like going after cowardly young women walking the streets at night. They sneak up behind them and untie their hair, causing it to fall all over the place; or they run their hands through the woman’s hair and mess it around, causing it to become tangled. Sometimes they call up strong gusts of wind to blow umbrellas away.

ORIGIN: Ushirogami is thought to be a kind of okubyо̄gami—a spirit that causes cowardice, or that specifically targets cowardly people. Its name comes from the words ushiro (behind) and kami (spirit). However, there is a hidden pun in its name: ushirogami also means the hair on the back of your neck, and the phrase ushirogami wo hikikaeru (to have the hairs on the back of your neck pulled) means to do something with painful reluctance. It describes a person who has to do something that they really don’t want to do. As they search for some way out of it, they turn around and look behind them as if the hairs in the back of their head were being metaphorically pulled. The pun is that the ushirogami (spirit) is pulling on your ushirogami (hair), causing you to become cowardly and not want to do something. You turn around to see who pulled your hair, but there is no one back there. Thus the ushirogami can be explained as both an external entity which causes fear, or as the internal personification of your own cowardice or reluctance.



TRANSLATION: light rain monk
HABITAT: mountain roads
DIET: as a human (likely follows a monk’s diet)

APPEARANCE: Kosamebō are yōkai which look like Buddhist monks. They loiter about on empty mountain roads at night. As their name implies, they only appear during nights when light rain is falling.

INTERACTIONS: Kosamebō accost travelers and beg for alms such as spare change or bits of millet to eat. Though frightening—and perhaps a bit annoying—they do not pose any real danger to humans.

ORIGIN: Kosamebō appears in Toriyama Sekien’s yokai encyclopedia Konjaku hyakki shūi. Sekien describes them as appearing on the roads going through Mount Omine and Mount Katsuragi, two holy mountains in Nara Prefecture which have popular pilgrimage trails. They are also part of the local folklore of the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture.



TRANSLATION: raincoat fire
ALTERNATE NAMES: minomushibi, minoboshi, etc.; varies widely from place to place
HABITAT: wet rural areas

APPEARANCE: Minobi is a phenomenon that appears on rainy days in rural areas, particularly during the rainy season. Often it appears near bodies of water such as rivers or lakes, such as Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. Minobi appears as a number of tiny fireballs which glow like fireflies. They float about in the air and tend gather in large numbers.

INTERACTIONS: Minobi gets its name from its tendency to gather around people wearing mino (traditional straw raincoats). It sticks to the raincoat and burns. When someone attempts to brush off or swat out the fire, the minobi instead multiplies, growing larger and larger. Eventually the person is forced to strip off the raincoat and leave it on the road.

ORIGIN: Minobi is found all over Japan, although often by different names and with different explanations. Sometimes this phenomenon is thought to be caused by natural gas escaping from the ground (as with other mysterious fireballs like onibi and kitsunebi). Most often it is said to be the work of a mischievous kitsune, itachi, or tanuki. Because it appears more frequently during the rainy season, sometimes minobi’s true form is believed to be a firefly or other insect, such as the minomushi (bagworm moth).

Fuguruma yōhi


TRANSLATION: strange queen of the book cart
ALTERNATE NAMES: bunshō no kai (essay spirit)
HABITAT: libraries, temples, and noble houses; anywhere with book collections
DIET: none; she is fueled by emotion

APPEARANCE: Fuguruma yōhi is a spirit which resembles and ogreish human woman in tattered clothing. She is a kind of tsukumogami—an artifact spirit—which manifests out of old-fashioned book carts called fuguruma. In particular, it is the emotion and attachment built up in the piles of love letters stored in these carts which gives birth to this yōkai.

ORIGIN: Fuguruma yōhi appears alongside chirizuka kaiō in Toriyama Sekien’s collection of tsukumogami Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. Like chirizuka kaiō, her name is a pun based on essay 72 from the medieval essay collection Tsurezure gusa. The essay discusses the folly of overabundance. Having too many possessions is a bad thing which distracts you from that which is important; however there is no such thing as having too many books on your book cart. The fuguruma yōhi is what Toriyama Sekien imagined might appear if you actually did have too many books on  your book cart. The desire and attachment written in each single love letter may not amount to very much, but if there are enough letters, enough attachments may pile up that a yōkai can be born from them.

Chirizuka kaiō


TRANSLATION: strange king of the dust heap
HABITAT: dirty, cluttered places
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Chirizuka kaiō is a red, hairy demon who resembles a small oni. His clothing is old and tattered. He has wild hair and wears a crown on his head. He is the king of the dust heap, but is also sometimes thought of as the king of the tsukumogami—the animated spirits of trash and discarded objects.

BEHAVIOR: Chirizuka kaiō appears in picture scrolls depicting the night parade of one hundred demons. In these scrolls he is prying open a Chinese-style chest and releasing a horde of tsukumogami—presumably the objects that were stored in the chest and forgotten.

ORIGIN: Chirizuka kaiō’s earliest appearance comes from the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573 CE). In the earliest scrolls he is depicted without name or explanation. His name first appears in the Edo period, where he is depicted in Toriyama Sekien’s tsukumogami encyclopedia Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. This book contains a number of yokai based on puns. Chirizuka kaiō’s name appears to be a pun based on essay 72 from Tsurezure gusa, a popular collection of essays from the 14th century. This essay discusses the folly of having too many things—too much furniture in your home, too many pens at your inkstone, too many Buddhas in a temple, too many rocks and trees in a garden, too many children in your home, and so on. However, there is no such thing as having too many books on your book stand, or too much dust upon your dust heap.

In his description of chirizuka kaiō, Toriyama explains that there is nothing in creation which does not have a leader; the kirin is king of the beasts, the hōō is king of the birds, and so this chirizuka kaiō must be the king of the yama uba. The phrase is actually another pun, and refers to a line from the noh play Yamanba. The line explains that worldly attachments pile up like dust, and if you let them build up into a dust heap then you may turn into a yama uba. Despite this phrasing, chirizuka kaiō has come to be interpreted as the king of tsukumogami rather than yama uba. This is most likely because he appears in Hyakki tsurezure bukuro, which is full of tsukumogami. There is no other connection between chirizuka kaiō and yama uba, as chirizuka kaiō has only ever been depicted releasing yōkai from a chest. Perhaps Toriyama used the word yama uba as an allusion to yōkai born from worldly attachment and ignorance. Yama uba are created when one’s improper attachments pile up like a dust heap. Tsukumogami are born out of forgotten household objects whose owners could not bring themselves to properly dispose of. The same kind of improper attachment is what forms both of these yōkai.

Gangi kozō


TRANSLATION: riverbank priest boy
HABITAT: rivers and riverbanks
DIET: fish

APPEARANCE: Gangi kozō are hairy, monkey-like water spirits which inhabit rivers. They live along the riverbanks, where they hunt fish. Their bodies are covered in hair, and the hair on their head resembles the the bobbed okappa hair style once popular among children in Japan. Their most notable features are their webbed hands and toes, and their long teeth which are sharp and jagged like files. They are close relatives of the much more well-known kappa.

BEHAVIOR: Gangi kozō are not encountered outside of the riverbanks, and there may be a good reason for this; according to one theory, they are a transitional form of kappa. According to many legends, kappa transform from river spirits into hairy mountain spirits when the seasons change. The specific details differ quite a bit from place to place. However, in Yamaguchi prefecture, there is a hairy mountain spirit called a takiwaro which transforms into a water spirit called an enko (a variety of kappa). Some folklorists believe that the gangi kozō is a kind of takiwaro, and thus is merely a transitional form of a kappa. This would explain why so little is known of them.

INTERACTIONS: Gangi kozō normally stay away from people, but occasionally encounter fishermen along the rivers they inhabit. When meeting a gangi kozō, fishermen often leave their largest, cheapest fish on the riverside as an offering.

ORIGIN: Gangi kozō do not appear in any local legends, though stories of very similar-looking yokai do. The first and only written record of them is in Toriyama Sekien’s yokai encyclopedias. It is therefore possible that gangi kozō was made up by Toriyama Sekien based on the numerous legends of transforming kappa.

According to Mizuki Shigeru, the name gangi kozō can be written with another set of kanji, 雁木小僧. These characters can mean “stepped pier” or “gear tooth” depending on the context. This writing reflects both the habitat of the gangi kozō as well as its mouth full of sharp teeth, which resembles a toothed gear.



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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