the online database of Japanese folkore

Dorotabō

泥田坊
どろたぼう

Translation: muddy rice field monk
Habitat: unused, overgrown fields
Diet: none; survives on vengeance alone

Appearance: Dorotabō are the transformed ghosts of old men who toiled hard on their rice fields, only to see them lie in waste by neglectful owners after their death. They appear as one-eyed, three-fingered humanoid figures rising out of the mud at night. It is said that the five fingers of the human hand represent three vices and two virtues: anger, greed, ignorance, wisdom, and compassion. The ghostly dorotabō appears with only the three fingers representing the vices. It is a spirit of vengeance and rage—angry at the ignorance and greed that now shame its life’s work.

Behavior: Dorotabō roam the overgrown fields, calling out in a mournful voice, “Give me back my rice field!” They haunt their fields after nightfall, disturbing the new inhabitants of their lands and preventing their sleep. Dorotabō continue haunting until the wasteful owners changes their ways or give up and flee, selling the field to someone who will take proper care of it.

Origin: Most of Japan’s land is bound up in inhospitable mountain ranges where farming is impossible. The usable land is extremely valuable. Families can save for a lifetime just to buy a small plot of precious farmland, and hope to leave it to their offspring after they die. Of course, children do not always follow their parents’ wishes—a prodigal son who forsakes his father’s hard-earned fields in favor of vices like gambling and drinking will find a dorotabō waiting back home.

Alphabetical list of yōkai