the online database of Japanese folkore

Ao nyōbō


Translation: blue lady
Alternate names: ao onna (“blue woman”)
Habitat: abandoned villas, mansions, and ruins
Diet: spoiled and rotten leftover food; otherwise humans

Appearance: In the empty, abandoned mansions of bygone eras, there is sometimes more than spider webs and cockroaches lurking in the shadows. Often, large and dangerous yōkai take up residence in these domiciles. One of these is the ao nyōbō, an ogreish spirit of poverty and misfortune. She takes the appearance of an ancient court noblewoman. Her body is draped in the elaborate, many layered kimonos of ancient eras. Once fabulous, her gowns are now tattered and moth-ridden. She wears the white face of ancient courtiers, with high painted eyebrows and blackened teeth. Aged and wrinkled from years of waiting in musty old ruins, her beauty has long left her.

Behavior: Ao nyōbō inhabit the empty, abandoned homes of ruined families and fallen nobles. They wait in the house, constantly applying their makeup, fixing their hair, and adjusting their image. They act as if they are in anticipation for the arrival of some guest—perhaps a lover who has lost interest, or a husband who has abandoned his wife. In any case, should a trespasser visit a home inhabited by an ao nyōbō, she devours them whole. And then goes back to waiting vainly for someone who will never show.

OriginNyōbō were the court ladies of old Japan. The paragons of youth, beauty, education, and refinement, nyōbō served in the palaces of high ranking families, a position they held until they themselves were married to a worthy suitor. After marriage, they idled their days in their own private residences, patiently waiting for their husbands to come home each night, or for secret lovers to show up during the day. But not all nyōbō were so successful.

The ao in the name ao nyōbō means the color blue. This does not refer to skin color, but implies immaturity or inexperience (just as green implies the same in English). There were some low-ranking women of the old imperial court who—no matter how hard they worked—couldn’t seem to attract a husband or elevate themselves. These “blue” nyōbō were destined to grow into bitter old maids, desperate to increase their social status but never able to escape from their subordinate positions. When they died, these unsuccessful courtiers turned into yōkai.

Alphabetical list of yōkai