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Browsing all posts in: tsukumogami



TRANSLATION: hazy cart
HABITAT: city streets, late at night
DIET: the lingering anger of ancient nobles

APPEARANCE: On misty, moonlit nights, residents of Kyōto occasionally hear the squeak of an oxcart in the street. Stepping outside to check and see, they discover a half-transparent, ghost-like oxcart with an enormous, grotesque face parked outside of their home.

ORIGIN: Carriage yōkai have existed in picture scrolls for hundreds of years. They may originally have been a kind of tsukumogami, or object-turned-yōkai. Most of these scrolls were created for their vivid imagery rather than for any particular story. Oboroguruma may have initially been created without any backstory. When Toriyama Sekien published his yōkai bestiaries, he included the oboroguruma and gave a description. He linked it to a famous scene in The Tale of Genji when Lady Rokujō and her rival Lady Aoi competed for a parking space and got into a carriage fight.

Long ago, sightseeing in the capital was accomplished by means of oxcart taxis. When it got crowded—particularly during festival seasons—the taxi drivers got into carriage fights. They slammed their carriages against each other to grab the best spots for sightseeing. Just like parking can be a problem in cities today, parking in ancient Kyōto was a huge source of frustration.

The resentment of nobles who didn’t get the prime sightseeing spot they wanted was something to be feared. The negative feelings could build up and become a powerful force of their own, which is where these yōkai come from. Oboroguruma materialized out of the wrath of nobles who lost these carriage fights and were not able to reserve the sightseeing spots that they wanted.


Furuutsubo, Kurayarou, Abumiguchi


TRANSLATION: old quiver

APPEARANCE: Furuutsubo are the beloved quivers of slain archers who died particularly tragic deaths. These quivers—along with other arms and armor—develop life force due to the residual energies left behind by their owners. They begin to move around on their own.

LEGENDS: The most famous furuutsubo was the quiver which belonged to Miura Yoshiaki, a military commander who lived at the end of the Heian period. Yoshiaki was a brave warrior, skilled in sword and bow. For the Genpei War, he fought on the side of the Minamoto clan. As the enemy was bearing down during a terrible siege, Yoshiaki arranged for his household to escape from the castle. Then, as the last few survivors made it out safely, he remained alone. Yoshiaki stayed behind to defend the castle against the invading army. He sacrificed his life. After his heroic death, his favorite quiver was heartbroken at the loss of its master. It took on a life of its own and became this yōkai.


Furuutsubo, Kurayarou, Abumiguchi


TRANSLATION: stirrup mouth

APPEARANCE: Abumiguchi were once stirrups belonging to a warrior who fell in battle. The stirrups were left on the battlefield, forgotten. Upset at losing their purpose, a soldier’s implements can transform into tsukumogami. Like faithful hounds, abumiguchi wait in the fields for their masters, who will sadly never return.

Kura yarō

Furuutsubo, Kurayarou, Abumiguchi


TRANSLATION: saddle rascal

APPEARANCE: Kura yarō are saddles whose masters have been slain. They take on lives of their own and act like warriors.

LEGENDS: The most famous kura yarō was once the saddle of Kamata Masakiyo, the first and foremost retainer to Minamoto no Yoshitomo, general and head of the Minamoto clan. After losing a battle during the Heiji Rebellion (1160 CE), he and his lord fled from Kyōto. But they were betrayed and murdered by an ally. Kamata Masakiyo’s wrath at being betrayed remained after his death and became attached to his saddle, which transformed into a tsukumogami. Afterwards, his saddle would pick up sticks and prance about like a warrior, fighting everything it could. Even after his death, Masakiyo’s weapons were a loyal to his cause.

Yama oroshi


TRANSLATION: mountain wind

APPEARANCE: The yama oroshi is a metal grater which has been improperly cared for and has grown too dull to grate anything. It sprouts a body, and the dull slicers on the grater stick out like wild spines from its head.

ORIGIN: Yama oroshi’s name contains a double pun. First, the Japanese word for grater is oroshi, which is found in this tsukumogami’s name. Second, its name sounds like yamaarashi, the Japanese word for porcupine. This yōkai resembles a porcupine with its spines.

Hone karakasa


TRANSLATION: skeletal umbrella
HABITAT: anywhere humans live
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Hone karakasa is a tsukumogami born from an tattered and torn up old Chinese-style paper umbrella. The “hone,” or bone, part of their name comes from the fact that without the paper covering, the wooden tines on this kind of umbrella look something like fish bones. They spring into life on wet, windy days, and dance through the sky like wild birds. Their appearance is a sure sign that bad weather is coming.

Hone karakasa are closely related to the much better-known umbrella tsukumogami karakasa-kozō.



TRANSLATION: crocodile mouth; shrine bell

APPEARANCE: Waniguchi is a tsukumogami which comes from the circular, hollow bells found at shrine entrances which are rung when praying to the shrine’s gods. When one of these bells becomes a yokai, it sprouts a reptilian body and tail, and the bell becomes the creature’s head, opening and closing just like a real crocodile’s mouth.

ORIGIN: The bells at shrines are called waniguchi due to the wide split along the bottom rim, which gives them the distinct look of an crocodile’s mouth. This yokai first appeared in tsukumogami picture scrolls as a pun based off of the word for shrine bell.



TRANSLATION: a pun meaning both “free staff” and “exactly as you please”

APPEARANCE: Nyoijizai is a nyoi, a kind of priest’s staff, which has turned into a yokai after existing for many many years. It also bears a very strong resemblance to a mago-no-te, (literally “granchild’s hand”) a backscratcher. Its only power is its ability to scratch that itchy spot on your back which you just can’t seem to reach, no matter how hard you try.

ORIGIN: Nyoijizai’s name is a play on words. While nyoi is a term for a priest’s staff, it can also mean “as you wish;” and jizai means “freely” or “at will.” While this name evokes an animated staff, its also literally means, “exactly as you please.” Thus, nyoijizai is an animated back-scratching staff that allows you to freely scratch any place you wish, exactly as you please.



TRANSLATION: standing-collar clothes

APPEARANCE: Eritategoromo is a a Buddhist high priest’s kimono that has transformed into a yokai. It still looks mostly like the high-collared ceremonial robes of a priest, however the long, pointed collar has transformed into a long, pointed nose, and it has sprouted eyes and a beard.

ORIGIN: Eritategoromo was once the kimono which was worn by Sōjōbō, King of the Tengu, who lives on Mount Kurama, north of Kyoto. Sōjōbō is a fearsome, powerful, wise, god-like monster, with the strength of 1000 ordinary tengu. He is a master swordsman, and was responsible for training a number of famous legendary heroes of Japan, such as Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Though he is an ascetic yamabushi and great teacher, like any tengu, Sōjōbō has an evil side too: he is said to feed on children who wander too deep into the mountains.

Sōjōbō was not always a tengu. He was born a human, and became a well respected high priest. He was also proud, and he mistakenly believed that he had achieved satori, or enlightenment. Though he expected to become a Buddha when he died, he transformed instead into a demonic tengu. Even as a tengu, the proud Sōjōbō continued to live as a Buddhist priest, training daily, and wearing his ornate priestly vestments. Either due to Sōjōbō’s extreme pride, or due to being worn by a magical tengu, some spirit became attached to his high-collared robes and they transformed into this yokai.



TRANSLATION: broom spirit

APPEARANCE: A hahakigami is a tsukumogami which takes up residence in a broom. They can sometimes be seen on cold, windy late autumn mornings, sweeping wildly at the blowing leaves.

ORIGIN: Long ago, brooms were not household cleaning tools, but actually holy instruments used in ritual purification ceremonies. They were used to on the air in a room or area in order to purify it and sweep out any evil spirits and negative energy that might be lingering there. Like any tool used for many years, a broom which reaches a very old age becomes a perfect home for a spirit — perhaps even moreso in the case of a hahakigami because of the ritual nature of its origin.

Hahakigami are used also as magical charms for safe and quick childbirth. Because brooms are used to “sweep out” evil energy, a hahakigami acts as a sort of totem to “sweep out” the baby from its mother safely. They are also used as charms to keep guests from overstaying their visit. Anyone who has stayed beyond their welcome might also be “swept out” by the power of the hahakigami.



TRANSLATION: “Gong-goro,” or ghost gong, depending on the reading

APPEARANCE: A shōgorō is a kind of tsukumogami, a spirit which inhabits a household item. In this case, it is an animated shōgo (鉦吾) — a small, bowl-shaped gong that is struck with a mallet and used in Buddhist services. A shōgo gets a lot of use, being used multiple times every service. It is made of metal, and so can last a long time before breaking. A gong which has long worn out and stopped playing its note pleasantly, and gets put into storage until it is forgotten (or perhaps one is the witness to some horrible crime) is an ideal candidate for awakening into a yokai.

BEHAVIOR: Like nay tsukumogami, shōgorō are not dangerous. At most, they are startling, as they wander around at night like some kind of metal turtle, striking their bodies and ringing their notes out into the night. It is enough perhaps to cause loss of sleep, but not much else.

ORIGIN: The name shogorō is a pun. It is a combination of shōgo, the gong, and gorō, a very common part of a boy’s name. The word can also be read as a combination of shōgo and goryō (御霊), the ghost of a noble or an aristocrat from ages past. Goryō are a grade of ghost above yūrei, and play a large part in many Japanese ghost stories.

LEGENDS: In the early 18th century, there was a wealthy merchant family called Yodoya living in Osaka. For many generations, the Yodoya were the kings of the rice trade, raking in unbelievable amounts of cash. The 5th generation boss, Yodoya Tatsugorō, had so much money and lived a life of such extreme opulence that he attracted the attention of the bakufu (regional shogunate officials, something like military police).

The bakufu decided that the Yodoya family had accumulated too much wealth. They were only a merchant family, and it was improper for a lower class to hold so much wealth. Their economic power was above their station in life, and so the bakufu stripped Yodoya Tatsugorō of everything he had: his rice, his business, his house, his every last possession. The Yodoya family fell into ruin, and Tatsugorō became destitute. Even his favorite possession, an unbelievably rich and indescribably splendid golden chicken called kogane no niwatori (金の鶏, literally “golden chicken”), was taken from him. The loss of his precious golden chicken caused Tatsugorō so much grief that he died, and because of the unhappy circumstances of his death, his ghost was unable to pass on.

Normally, when a ghost lingers like this, it attaches itself to the object of its desire, be it a person, a place, or (in this case) a thing. Tatsugorō’s soul meant to attach itself to his precious kogane no niwatori. In Japanese, the words for “gong” and “golden” can both be read “kane.” Poor Tatsugorō’s ghost must have gotten confused and attached itself to a nearby shōgo instead of his chicken, and the instrument turn into a tsukumogami.



TRANSLATION: painted wall
HABITAT: coastal areas; encountered on dark streets and alleys
DIET: unknown

APPEARANCE: Little is known about the true appearance of nurikabe because these yokai are usually said to be invisible. During the Edo period, however, artists began to illustrate this creature, giving it an appearance somewhere between a grotesque, fantastic beast and a flat, white wall. Modern representations of the nurikabe depict it as a plain, gray, bipedal wall with vague face-like features.

BEHAVIOR: Nurikabe appear mysteriously on roads late at night. As a traveler is walking, right before his or her eyes, an enormous, invisible wall materializes and blocks the way. There is no way to slip around this yokai; it extends itself as far as to the left and right as one might try to go. There is no way over it either, nor can it be knocked down. However, it is said that if one taps it near the ground with a stick, it will vanish, allowing the traveler to continue on his or her way.

ORIGIN: The true nature of the nurikabe is surrounded in mystery. Based on its name, it seems to be related to other household spirits known as tsukimogami. It has also been suggested that the nurikabe is simply another manifestation of a shape-shifting itachi or tanuki. Mischievous tanuki are said to enlarge their magical scrotums into an invisible wall in order to play pranks on unsuspecting humans.


Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai蛇帯

TRANSLATION: snake obi (a kimono sash)

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

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

Kosode no te

Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai小袖の手

TRANSLATION: kosode (a short sleeved kimono) hands

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

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

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

Ittan momen

Ittanmomen, Kosodenote, Jatai一反木綿

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

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

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

Biwa bokuboku

Shamichouro, Kotofurunushi, Biwabokuboku琵琶牧々

TRANSLATION: takes its name from a particular legendary biwa

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

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

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

Koto furunushi

Shamichouro, Kotofurunushi, Biwabokuboku琴古主

TRANSLATION: old master koto

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

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

Shami chōrō

Shamichouro, Kotofurunushi, Biwabokuboku三味長老

TRANSLATION: elder shamisen

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

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

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

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

Suzuri no tamashii

Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii硯の魂

TRANSLATION: inkstone spirit

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

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


Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii経凛々

TRANSLATION: awe-inspiring sutra

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

Chōchin obake

Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii提灯お化け

TRANSLATION: paper lantern ghost

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

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


Bakezouri, Karakasakozou, Mokumokuren目目連

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

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

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

Karakasa kozō

Bakezouri, Karakasakozou, Mokumokuren唐傘小僧

TRANSLATION: paper umbrella priest boy

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

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


Bakezouri, Karakasakozou, Mokumokuren化け草履

TRANSLATION: ghost zōri (traditional straw sandals)

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

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

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

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

Shiro uneri

Setotaishou, Shirouneri白溶裔

TRANSLATION: white undulation

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

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

Seto taishō

Setotaishou, Shirouneri瀬戸大将

TRANSLATION: General Seto, the crockery general

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

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

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