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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: clothes-hanging old man
HABITAT: Meido, along the banks of the Sanzu River

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Enma Daiō

Enma Daiou閻魔大王

TRANSLATION: Great King Enma

HABITAT: Jigoku and Meido

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: derived from the Hindu deity Garuda
ALTERNATE NAMES: konjichō (golden winged bird)
HABITAT: Shumisen (aka Mount Meru)
DIET: dragons

APPEARANCE: Karura are a race of enormous, fire-breathing demigods. They are humanoid in appearance, with the heads and wings of eagles. They have red skin, and red and gold feathers. Karura are fearsome. They breath fire from their beaks. The flapping of their wings sounds like thunder, and creates gusts of wind so strong they can dry up lakes, knock down houses, and cover entire cities in darkness. Their gigantic wingspans are 330 yojanas wide, and they can leap 3,360,000 li in a single bound. (The lengths of one yojana and one li vary greatly from country to country and era to era—a yojana can measure anywhere between 1.6 km to over 13 km long, and one li can measure anywhere between 400 m and 3.9 km.)

BEHAVIOR: Karura inhabit Tendō, the realm of heaven. They are found on Shumisen (known as Mount Meru in English), a sacred mountain with five peaks which exists at the center the universe. They make their homes in trees, and live in cities rules by kings. They are the mortal enemies of the naga—a group of beings which includes dragons and serpents—and feed upon them as their main diet.

INTERACTIONS: Karura are are worshiped in some branches of esoteric Buddhism. Because karura are the enemies of dragons and serpents, they are seen as a counter to things associated with these creatures. They are guardians who keep venomous snakes and dragons away. They protect against poison and disease. They are even helpful against excessive rains and typhoons. Because they are such fierce predators, they are also viewed as destroyers of sin, devouring the spiritual impurities of the faithful just as they devour dragons.

ORIGIN: Karura comes from the Hindu deity Garuda, a giant eagle who served as the mount of Vishnu. Garuda was incorporated into Buddhist folklore, where he became a race of powerful eagle-like devas. They were then later brought along with Buddhism to China, and finally to Japan. The name karura comes from the Japanese pronunciation of Garuda.

Karura are one of the hachi bushū—the eight legions. These are the eight classes of supernatural beings who were converted to Buddhism by Buddha. The eight races of the hachi bushū are the ten (deva in Sanskrit), tatsu (naga), yasha (yaksa), kendatsuba (gandharva), ashura (asura), karura (garuda), kinnara (kimnara), and magoraka (mahoraga). All of these creatures are inhabitants of Tendō (the highest state of existence) except for the ashura, who live in Ashuradō (the third highest state of existence).



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

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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: heavenly evil spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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




TRANSLATION: high priest
ALTERNATE NAMES: Kurama tengu, Kurama sōjōbō

APPEARANCE: Sōjōbō is the name given to a daitengu who lives on Mount Kurama in the northern part of Kyōto. His home is in Sōjōgatani—”the valley of the high priest”—located deep within the interior of the mountain. He has long, white hair, an incredibly long nose, and possesses the strength of one thousand tengu. Sōjōbō is first in rank among the tengu, and is often referred to as their king.

ORIGIN: Sōjōbō is known through his connection to Kurama Temple, an isolated temple which practices a unique branch of esoteric Buddhism. Kurama Temple has long had a connection with yamabushi and ascetic mountain religions, and the tengu which these religions worship. Because Sōjōbō resides there, Mount Kurama is also considered to be the most important mountain to tengu. According to Kurama Temple, Sōjōbō is either one rank below Maō-son—one third of the holy trinity which is central to the Kurama faith—or is in fact another form of Mao-son.

LEGENDS: Not much is written about Sōjōbō, although his name is well known. The most famous legend about Sōjōbō is that he trained a young boy named Ushiwakamaru. As the king of the tengu, Sōjōbō possesses a knowledge of magic, military tactics, and swordsmanship unsurpassed by any other. The young Ushiwakamaru wished to learn from him, and traveled deep into Sōjōgatani to undergo a long and arduous training. This was a very dangerous quest, as tengu are fierce and unpredictable, and Sōjōbō was rumored to eat children who wandered too deep into the forest. However, Sōjōbō was impressed with the young boy’s bravery and agreed to train him.

Ushiwakamaru grew up to become Minamoto Yoshitsune, who lived from 1159-1189 CE. Yoshitsune remains of Japan’s most celebrated warriors, and is one of the main heroes in the Tale of the Heike. His umatched swordsmanship is credited to the training he received from the tengu of Mount Kurama.




TRANSLATION: from a phrase meaning “peeled blisters”
ALTERNATE NAMES: amahage, amamehagi, namomihagi, appossha
HABITAT: mountainous regions in northern Japan
DIET: omnivorous

APPEARANCE: Namahage are a frightful demon-like yōkai which live in the mountains along the northern coast of the Sea of Japan. They look like oni, with bright red or blue skin, wild hair and eyes, large mouths full of sharp teeth, and often have horns sprouting from their forehead. They wear straw leggings and raincoats, and carry large blades.

INTERACTIONS: Once a year, during koshōgatsu—the first full moon of the New Year—the namahage descend from the mountains to scare villagers. They go from door to and brandish their knives, saying things like, “Any bad kids here?” They particularly enjoy scaring small children and new brides. Despite their ferocious appearance and behavior, they are actually well-meaning yōkai. They are sent down from the mountain as messengers of the gods to warn and chastise those who have been lazy or wicked.

ORIGIN: The name namahage comes from another taunt the namahage use: “Have your blisters peeled yet?” In the cold winter months, a lazy person who spent all of his or her time in front of the fireplace would get blisters from being too close to the heat for too long. Namomi is a regional name for these heat blisters, and hagu means to peel. The combination of those words became namahage.

Today, the namahage play a major part in New Year’s festivities in Akita Prefecture (old Dewa Province). Villagers dress up in straw raincoats and leggings, don oni masks, and wield large knives. They go from house to house and play the part of namahage. Residents visited by these namahage give presents such as mochi to their “guests,” while the namahage chastise kids and warn them to be good. Newlywed couples are also harassed by these namahage. They are expected to give an account of all of the evil deeds they did during their first year together, as well as serve sake and food to the namahage before sending them off.

While the name namahage is unique to Akita Prefecture, very similar yōkai are known by many different local names in neighboring regions: in Yamagata Prefecture they are known as amahage, in Ishikawa Prefecture they are known as amamehagi, and in Fukui Prefecture they are known as appossha.



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

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

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

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

Rokujō no Miyasundokoro

Rokujou no Miyasundokoro六条御息所

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiyo hime


TRANSLATION: Princess Kiyo

APPEARANCE: Kiyo hime is one of the most famous antagonists in Japanese literature, and an example of a honnari hannya—a demon woman who has attained the maximum level of power. She appears in The Legend of Anchin and Kiyo hime, or Princess Kiyo, an ancient tale from Wakayama prefecture. Versions of the story appear in a number of ancient books. Her tale is retold in the famous noh play Dōjō-ji.

LEGENDS: Long ago, during the reign of Emperor Daigo, the young priest named Anchin was traveling from Mutsu to Kumano on a pilgrimage. Every year he made the journey, and every year he would lodge at the manor of the Masago no Shōji family. He was an incredibly good looking young man, and he caught the eye of Kiyo hime, the manor lord’s daughter. She was a troublesome young girl. Anchin joked to her that if she were a good girl and behaved herself, he would marry her and take her back to Mutsu.

Every year Kiyo hime waited for Anchin to come again for his pilgrimage. When she came of age arrived, she reminded him of his promise and asked him to marry her. Anchin, embarrassed that she had taken his word seriously, lied that he would come for her as soon as he finished his pilgrimage. On his return, he avoided the Masago no Shōji manor and headed straight for Mutsu.

When Kiyo hime heard of Anchin’s deception, she was overcome with grief. She ran after the young priest, barefoot, determined to marry him. Anchin fled as fast as he could, but Kiyo hime caught him on the road to the temple Dōjō-ji. There, instead of greeting her, Anchin lied again. He pretended not to know her and protested that he was late for a meeting somewhere else. Kiyo hime’s sadness turned into furious rage. She attacked, moving to punish the lying priest. Anchin prayed to Kumano Gongen to save him. A divine light dazzled Kiyo hime’s eyes and paralyzed her body, giving Anchin just enough time to escape.

Kiyo hime’s rage exploded to its limits—the divine intervention had pushed her over the edge. She transformed into a giant, fire-breathing serpent. When Anchin reached the Hidaka River, he paid the boatman and begged him not to allow his pursuer to cross. Then, he ran to Dojō-ji for safety. Ignoring the boatman entirely, Kiyo hime swam across the river after Anchin.

Seeing the monstrous serpent, the priests of Dōjō-ji hid Anchin inside of the large, bronze temple bell. However, Kiyo hime could smell Anchin inside. Overcome with rage and despair, she wrapped herself around the bell and breathed fire until the bronze became white hot. She roasted Anchin alive inside the bell. With Anchin dead, the demon Kiyo hime threw herself into the river and drowned.



TRANSLATION: wisdom; specifically the Buddhist concept of Perfect Wisdom

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



TRANSLATION: fire cart
HABITAT: populated areas
DIET: fresh human corpses

APPEARANCE: Kasha are a type of bake-neko, or monster cat. They are large, bipedal felines as large as or larger than a human. They are often accompanied by hellish flames or lightning. They like to appear during rainy or stormy weather, and most often during the night. Their name sometimes causes confusion with other yokai; while their name means “fire cart,” they do not use vehicles of any kind.

INTERACTIONS: Kasha, being bake-neko, often live among humans, disguised as ordinary house cats or strays. However, they reveal their true forms during funeral services, when they leap down from rooftops to snatch corpses out of their coffins. Kasha are occasionally employed as messengers or servants of hell, in which case they are tasked with collecting the corpses of wicked humans spiriting them off to hell for punishment. Other times, they steal corpses for their own uses — either to animate as puppets or to eat.

It is nearly impossible to retrieve a person’s remains after they have been snatched by a kasha. This makes passing on to the next life difficult. The best defense is to be prepared; temples in areas where kasha are said to prowl have devised unique ways of defending against these monster cats. In Yamagata, clever priests have taken to holding two funeral ceremonies for the deceased. The first ceremony is a fake — the casket is filled only with rocks, so if a kasha comes for the body it will end up with nothing. The real ceremony takes place afterwards, when the risk of a kasha encounter is lessened. In Ehime, a head shaving razor may be placed on top of the coffin as against kasha. In Miyazaki, priests chant, “baku ni wa kuwasen” and “kasha ni wa kuwasen” (“don’t be eaten by a baku, don’t be eaten by a kasha”) twice times in front of the funeral procession in order to keeps evil spirits away. In Okayama, the priests play a myōhachi — a type of cymbal used in religious ceremonies — in order to keep the kasha away.

ORIGIN: Kasha were once ordinary house cats. Like other animals, as they age in years and their tails grow longer, cats begin to develop magical powers. Some turn into bake-neko, more powerful cats turn into neko-mata, and beyond that some turn into kasha. Fear of such demonic cats has long existed in Japan, and since ancient times, folk wisdom tells us, “Don’t let cats near dead bodies,” and, “If a cat jumps over the coffin, the corpse inside the coffin will rise.” Fears such as these have given rise to superstitious traditions such as cutting a cat’s tail short in order to prevent it from learning magic.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sazae oni


TRANSLATION: turban snail demon
HABITAT: oceans, seas, and coastal areas
DIET: carnivorous

APPEARANCE: Sazae oni are monstrous turban snails which haunt the seas. They appear on moonlit nights, dancing on the water’s surface like exotic dancers or dragons.

BEHAVIOR: Sazae oni are monstrous and deadly creatures, fully deserving the “demon” moniker. They are powerful shape-changers, often taking the form of beautiful women in order to lure seamen into trouble. At sea, they pretend to be drowning victims and cry out to be rescued, only to turn on their would-be saviors once brought aboard. When encountered on land, sazae oni often travel disguised as lone, wandering women who stop at inns and eat the innkeepers during the night.

ORIGIN: Sazae oni can be born a few different ways. According to ancient lore, when animals reach a certain age, they gain the ability to transform. It was thought that when a turban snail reaches 30 years old, it would turn into a yokai with all kinds of magical powers. Another way that sazae oni come to be is when a lustful young woman is thrown into the sea. Such a woman would transform into a sea snail, and if she happens to live a very long time she will transform into a sazae oni as well.

LEGENDS: On the Kii penninsula, legend tells of a band of pirates who spotted a woman drowning in the water one night. They rescued her, though not out of the goodness in their hearts; they had more nefarious reasons to wanting a woman aboard their ship. That night every pirate on the ship had their way with her. Unfortunately for the pirates, the woman was actually a shape-changed sazae oni, and during the night, she visited each pirate on the boat one by one and bit off their testicles. At the end of the night she had all of their testicles, and demanded treasure for their return. The desperate pirates traded away all of their ill-gotten gold to the sazae oni to buy back their “golden balls,” as they are called in Japanese.

Ibaraki dōji


TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “thorn tree child”

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shuten dōji


TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “little drunkard”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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: 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: 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.



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.