the online database of Japanese folkore

Dōmokōmo

右も左も
どうもこうも

Translation: right and left

Appearance: Dōmokōmo are mysterious, two-faced yōkai who wear kimono. They appear in numerous yōkai scrolls, however there are no folk tales detailing their history or origins..

Origin: No story or explanation was written when dōmokōmo was first painted. Whatever its original artist intended to represent is lost to history. However, dōmokōmo is also a word with an interesting folk origin. It is an abbreviated version of the phrase dōmokōmo naranai, which means “either way you look at it, it’s impossible.” While there’s no evidence linking dōmokōmo the phrase to dōmokōmo the yōkai, they are nonetheless frequently associated with each other.

Legends: Long ago there were two doctors named Dōmo and Kōmo. Together they were the most skilled doctors in Japan, rivaled only by each other. One day, Dōmo and Kōmo decided to have a competition to see which was the better doctor. They agreed to perform surgery on each other in front of an audience to determine who had higher skill.

Dōmo went first. He surgically removed Kōmo’s arm and then reattached it. His expertise was so great that it left no scar. Afterwards, Kōmo cut off Dōmo’s arm and reattached it. Like his rival, he left no mark. Both doctors had cut and reattached so precisely that it was impossible to say who was more skillful.

They elected to perform a second, more difficult competition. Instead of arms, they would cut off each other’s heads and reattach them. By this time, a large crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle.

The second competition went much like the first. Kōmo cut off Dōmo’s head and reattached it. Then Dōmo cut off Kōmo’s head and reattached it. Both performed masterfully. Neither was left with so much as a tiny scar. Again, the competition could not be decided.

Finally, Dōmo and Kōmo decided they would cut off each other’s heads simultaneously. The doctors prepared as the crowd watched. They cut off each other’s head at the same time. Without their heads, neither doctor was able to continue the surgery. Nobody was skilled enough to reattach their heads, and Dōmo and Kōmo died.

The townspeople who had gathered to watch could only say “dōmokōmo naranai”–a pun which translated one way means “neither Dōmo nor Kōmo won.” Translated another way it means “there was no way that was going to work.”

Alphabetical list of yōkai