the online database of Japanese folkore

Bitan

ビタン
びたん

Translation: unknown
Habitat: ocean (around Taketomi Island, Okinawa)
Diet: unknown

Appearance: Bitan are large, chubby, cow-like sea creatures which lives in the waters around Okinawa. They have horns and beards like a dragon. Their bodies are fish-like and densely covered in scales. Their tails are split in two.

Behavior: Nothing is recorded about bitan’s natural behavior. However, the locals of Taketomi Island claim that the image of a bitan has magical healing properties.

Interactions: Copying a picture of a bitan and hanging it on your wall is said to cure headaches immediately. As evidence of its healing power, the people of Taketomi Island are said to rarely suffer from headaches.

Origin: Bitan appears in Ryūkyū kitan, published in 1832. It was written by Beizanshi, a traveler from Suzhou, China who visited the Ryūkyū islands and recorded what he witnessed.

The bitan resembles the rokugyo, another cow-like fish found in the Chinese encyclopedia Shan hai jing. However the resemblance seems to be coincidental, as there is no evidence which links the two creatures.

Legends: Long ago, during the reign of Tensonshi, the first dynasty of the Ryūkyū islands, there lived a woman named Bintara. She worked in the royal palace as a housemaid. One day she entered the water and transformed into a sea creature. The creature came to be known as a bitan. That even a lowly housemaid could transform into such a miraculous, healing fish is a testament to the holiness of the Tensoshi dynasty.

Alphabetical list of yōkai