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Kosamebō

Kosamebou小雨坊
こさめぼう

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.

Shachihoko

Shachihoko
しゃちほこ

TRANSLATION: fish-tiger
ALTERNATE NAMES: shachi
HABITAT: oceans
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Shachihoko are fearsome sea monsters. They have the body of a large fish and the head of a tiger. Their broad fins and tails always point towards the heavens, and their dorsal fins have numerous sharp spikes. Shachihoko live in colder, norther oceans. They are able to swallow massive amounts of water with a single gulp and hold it in their bellies. They are also able to summon clouds and control the rain.

INTERACTIONS: Shachihoko are often found adorning the rooftops of Japanese castles, temples, gates, and samurai residences. They are placed facing each other on opposite ends of a roof. They serve as protector spirits, similar to the oni roof tiles also commonly found on castles. It was believed that in the event of a fire, the shachihoko could protect the building by summoning rain clouds or by spitting out the massive amounts of water they had previously swallowed.

ORIGIN: Shachihoko as an element of construction evolved from shibi, large, ornamental roof end tiles. Shibi originated in China during the Jin dynasty and were popularized in Japan during the Nara and Heian periods. During the Sengoku period, when castles rapidly began appearing all over Japan, shibi were reimagined as large fish, and the image of the shachihoko was popularized. From them on, shachihoko remained popular elements of Japanese roof construction.

The shachihoko’s origins may go even further back, to India. In Hindu mythology, there is a large sea monster named Makara who is half-fish and half-beast (sometimes depicted as an elephant, a deer, a crocodile, or another animal). Makara was a powerful protector and servant of various deities. Images of Makara were commonly used in temple architecture, particularly over archways and doorways, or as rain spouts. Japanese versions of Makara tend to resemble the shachihoko more than they resemble the original Hindu creature.

Today, the Japanese word for the orca is shachi—no doubt because of its similarity to this creature.

Amefuri kozō

Amefurikozou雨降小僧
あめふりこぞう

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aka shita

Akashita赤舌
あかした

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.

Ame onna

Ameonna雨女
あめおんな

TRANSLATION: rain woman
ALTERNATE NAMES: ame onba
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.