the online database of Japanese folkore

Botamochi bakemono

ぼた餅化け物
ぼたもちばけもの

Translation: botamochi monster
Habitat: underneath floorboards
Diet: unknown

Appearance: Botamochi bakemono are audio phenomena which come from underneath a house’s floorboards. It gets its name from botamochi, a sweet made from sticky rice covered in brown azuki paste.

Behavior: Botamochi bakemono are sound mimics. They prank people by copying the voices of people who live in the house.

Origin: Botamochi bakemono appears in Tachibana Nankei’s 1797 book Tōyūki, a collection of local tales collected from villages around Japan.

Legends: Long ago, at a certain farmer’s house in the village of Shinjō (present-day Sabae, Fukui Prefecture) a strange voice was heard. The voice came from underneath the floorboards, and repeated everything that was said in the house. Everyone in the house was shaken up. They tore up the floorboards to see who was playing a prank on them, but nobody was there.

Rumors about the strange voice spread amongst the neighborhood. A group of young men gathered in the farmer’s house to test the phenomenon. Sure enough, anytime one of them spoke, a voice from under the floorboards repeated back whatever they said.

They tried to guess the source of the voice. One of them called out: “You’re an old tanuki, aren’t you?”

“I am no tanuki!”

Another young man took a guess: “I know! You’re a kitsune!”

“I am no kitsune!”

One by one, they took turns guessing what kind of yōkai it was.

“You’re a neko (cat)!”

“An itachi!”

“A kappa!”

“A kawauso!”

“An ugoromochi (mole)!”

The voice answered no to all of them.

Finally, one of the young men called out half-jokingly, “All right then, you’re a botamochi!”

The voice replied: “That’s right. I am a botamochi.”

After that the mysterious voice was referred to as a botamochi bakemono. News of it traveled throughout the village and eventually reached the castle. A number of government officials were sent to investigate. They spent the night at the farmer’s house and called out to the botamochi bakemono, but the strange voice remained silent for the while night.

After the government officials left, the voice once again began to repeat everything that the villagers said. Time and time again, government officials were dispatched to the house, but each time they visited, the botamochi bakemono remained silent. Eventually they had to give up and close their investigation.

About one month after the investigation was officially closed, the mysterious voice ceased altogether. It was never heard again.

Alphabetical list of yōkai