the online database of Japanese folkore

Ao andon

青行燈
あおあんどん

Translation: blue lantern
Alternate names: ao andō
Habitat: parlors and living rooms; appears during ghost story telling parties
Diet: fear

Appearance: 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.

During the Edo period, a popular summertime activity among the aristocratic classes was to gather and swap ghost stories, hoping the chill of fear would stave off the intense midsummer heat. These parties were called hyakumonogatari kaidankai—a gathering of one hundred ghost stories. During a game of hyakumonogatari kaidankai, one hundred candles would be lit and placed inside of blue paper lanterns, called andon. The andon created an eerie atmosphere suitable for storytelling. Throughout the night, guests would take turns telling progressively scarier stories about yōkai, demons, ghosts, and other strange things. After each story, one candle would be snuffed out. The room grew gradually darker, until only the hundredth candle remained. Its dim blue light would struggle to fill the room, and cast long, creepy shadows.

Behavior: According to superstition, after the final candle was snuffed an actual spirit would appear out of the darkness to attack the participants. Summoned by the heightened emotional state and fears of guests, this spirit was called the ao andon. The ao andon would emerge from the smoke of the final candle and attacks the guests. What exactly this attack consists of is a mystery; whether the ao andon 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 too frightened to tell the final story. Hyakumonogatari kaidankai parties traditionally concluded before the final candle could be snuffed and the ao andon could appear.

Origin: As the old proverb says (in both English and Japanese): speak of the devil, and the devil appears. It was believed that merely talking about ghosts and spirits would cause them to materialize for real.

Alphabetical list of yōkai