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Ashiarai yashiki


TRANSLATION: foot washing manor

APPEARANCE: The ashiarai yashiki was a bizarre phenomenon which took place during the Edo Period in the neighborhood of Edo known as Honjo (present day Sumida Ward, Tōkyō). It is known as one of the “Seven Wonders of Honjo.”

LEGENDS: Long ago lived a hatamoto (a high-ranking samurai) named Aji no Kyūnosuke. One night at his manor in Honjo, a loud, booming voice was heard heard. It echoed like thunder:


Just then there was a splintering crack, and the ceiling tore open. An enormous foot descended into the mansion. The foot was covered in thick, bristly hair, and it was filthy. The terrified servants scrambled to gather buckets, water, and rags. They washed the foot until it was thoroughly clean. Afterwards, the giant foot ascended up through the roof and disappeared.

The following night, and every night thereafter, the same thing occurred. A booming voice would demand its foot be washed. A giant foot would crash through the roof. And the dutiful servants would wash it clean.

A few nights of this was all that Aji no Kyūnosuke could take. He ordered his servants not to wash the foot anymore. That night, the foot crashed through the ceiling and demanded to be washed as usual. When it was ignored, it thrashed around violently, destroying vast swaths of the mansion’s roof in the process.

Kyūnosuke complained to his friends about the nightly visitor and the destruction it was causing. They were very interested. One of them wanted to witness the event so badly that he offered to swap mansions with Kyūnosuke, and Kyūnosuke quickly agreed. However, after his friend moved in, the giant foot never appeared again.

There’s no definite conclusion as to what caused this strange occurrence. It’s often blamed on a mischievous tanuki, for they have magical powers and they love playing tricks on people. On the other hand, “washing your feet” is also a Japanese idiom for rehabilitating a criminal. A culprit whose “feet have been washed” can be said to have paid his debt to society. One interpretation of this story might be that Aji no Kyūnosuke was doing something illegal, and this yōkai appeared to punish him.

Oni hitokuchi


TRANSLATION: one bite from an oni
ALTERNATE NAMES: kamikakushi (spirited away)

APPEARANCE: When people vanish without warning or without a trace, their disappearance is often blamed on evil spirits. There are a number of different words describing this phenomenon. When a person is said to have been kidnapped and taken to the other world by spirits, they are said to be a victim of kamikakushi, or spiriting away. These victims often come back to the world many years later, profoundly changed by the traumatic experience. Sometimes, however, a person never returns after going missing. In these cases, the victim is often said to have been taken–or rather eaten–by an oni. Oni hitokichi describes such a situation, where the victim was gobbled up in a single bite, never to be seen again.

LEGENDS: A famous example of oni hitokuchi appears in the Heian Period story collection Ise monogatari. Poet and playboy Ariwara no Narihira lusted after a beautiful and high ranking noble lady named Fujiwara no Takaiko. Because of the her high social status, it was impossible for them to have a legitimate relationship. To Narihira’s dismay, their affair could only be conducted in secret. Unhappy with the situation, one night Narihira snuck into Takaiko’s room and kidnapped her. He fled into the wilds with the girl, when a terrible storm struck. They discovered a cave and sheltered there. Takaiko stayed in the far back end of the cave, and Narihira stood watch by the entrance with his bow and arrow ready. In the morning, when the storm had cleared, Narihira went to retrieve Takaiko from the cave, but she was not there. An oni who lived in it had gobbled her up, and there was not even a single piece of her left. Her screams had been drowned out by the sounds of the storm during the night.

Aka manto


TRANSLATION: red cloak; red vest
ALTERNATE NAMES: aoi manto, akai kami, akai hanten, akai chanchanko, akai te
HABITAT: school toilets
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Aka manto is an urban legend related to toilets—particularly those in elementary schools. This phenomenon is known all over Japan, with countless variations on the same theme. It usually takes place in a specific stall in a specific bathroom in the school. Usually it is an older or seldom used bathroom, often in a stall with an older style squat toilet.  Often the fourth stall is the cursed one, as the number four is associated with death.

Most stories follow this general pattern: while at school late in the evening, a student suddenly finds him or herself in desperate need of a toilet. The closest restroom available is one that is normally avoided by the students; it is older and less well-kept, separated from the rest of the school, and is rumored to be haunted. But with no time to search for a different restroom, the student enters. He or she does their business, and when they have finished, they reach for the toilet paper only to find that there is none. Then they hear a strange voice: “Do you want red paper? Or blue paper?” The student answers, “Red paper,” and a moment later is stabbed and sliced up so violently that blood sprays everywhere, soaking their body and making it look as if they were wearing a bright red cloak. Some time later, another student finds him or herself in need of a toilet in a similar situation. They know the rumors that a student died in the restroom, but they have no choice and use the bathroom anyway. Sure enough, a voice asks them, “Red paper or blue paper?” Remembering the legend, this student says, “Blue paper.” Then, all of the student’s blood is sucked out of their body, leaving them dead and blue-faced on the floor.

Plenty of variations of this legend exist, each with minor differences. The true identity of Aka manto is one of these. Sometimes it is said to be a person hiding in the adjacent stall—a serial killer in many stories. Other times it is a ghost who appears as a tall man with a sickly, bluish-white face. In some places it is even blamed on a hairy yōkai called a kainade who lives in the toilet and likes to stroke people’s rear ends with its hand. In the kainade’s case, the end result is markedly less violent: a hairy arm of the chosen color rises out of the toilet to stroke the student’s behind.

In some cases, instead of draining your blood, “blue paper” gets you strangled until your face turns blue. Sometimes answering “red paper” gets your skin flayed so that it hangs off of your back like a red cape (a play on the “aka manto” name). In other versions, instead of being killed, the student’s skin color will change permantly to whatever color he or she chose. Sometimes those who survive and tell the story to others fall terribly ill and die shortly after. And sometimes the consequences are worse than death, such as being dragged into the netherworld, never to be seen again.

The questions have many variations as well, including “red vest or blue vest,” “red hand or blue hand,” or “red tongue or blue tongue.” Sometimes the colors are red or white, instead of blue. When the choices are red or white paper, red often results in a red tongue rising up out of the toilet to lick the student’s rear end, while white results in a white hand rising up to stroke the student’s rear end. Less common choices are red paper or purple paper: choosing purple allows the student to escape unharmed, while choosing red causes the student to be pulled down through the toilet into the plumbing.

As with many urban legends, there is usually no escape from your horrible fate—though that doesn’t stop people from trying. Clever students who bring extra toilet paper with them discover that it vanishes before they are able to use it, and still find themselves having to answer to Aka manto. People who choose a different color other than those offered in hopes to confuse the spirit are met with an equally horrible death (one common version has a student say “yellow paper,” and the result is that their face is pushed down into the dirty toilet water and held there until they drown). In some instances, students have been able to escape by saying “I don’t need any paper,” buying them just enough time to run out of the bathroom before anything happens.

ORIGIN: Tracing the origin of urban legends can be difficult. Aka manto is fairly old as far as urban legends go. It is recorded as a popular schoolyard rumor as early as the 1930’s, and its popularity hasn’t faded even as newer toilet legends (such as Toire no Hanako-san) have come into existence. One explanation for Aka manto’s origin and continued popularity is in its nature. It may be a reflection of the anxiety inherent in being a student. Aka manto asks children an impossible question to which any answer results in something terrible. That feeling is not too different from having to answer a difficult problem on a test, or a teacher’s question in front of the whole classroom when you don’t know the answer.

Aka manto’s appearance has changed over time along with the Japanese lexicon. Today, manto is the Japanese word for a cloak or a cape, and so aka manto is usually depicted wearing a long red hooded cloak. However, in the 1930’s when this urban legend was born, manto referred to a shorter, sleeveless kimono jacket. As a result, different generations have different visual impressions of what Aka manto looks like.



TRANSLATION: the hour of meeting evil spirits

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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




TRANSLATION: clam breath tower; mirage
HABITAT: open ocean

APPEARANCE: Shinkirō are not yōkai, but kaii—supernatural phenomenon. They take the appearance of distant, fantastic cities with tall towers and giant pagodas.

INTERACTIONS: Shinkirō appear out at sea on still nights, far off in the distance near the horizon. They only appear to sailors who are far from shore. Those who chase down these phantom cities never reach them. No matter how long they travel, the beautiful cities remain just as far away on the distant horizon.

ORIGIN: These mysterious illusions are caused by a legendary breed of giant clams, which breathe out fantastic images into the sky. These giant clams were known as shin, and were believed to be holy beasts related to dragons. Today, shinkirō remains a part of the Japanese lexicon as the word for mirage. While we understand the causes for this phenomenon today, its roots as a kaii are still preserved through the meaning of the kanji used to write the word: shin (clam), ki (breath), and (tower).

LEGENDS: According to legends, the mysterious cities that appears in these mirages are not just are illusory, but a vision of Ryūgū-jō, the mythical palace of Ryūjin—the dragon king who lives on the bottom of the sea.