the online database of Japanese folkore



Translation: monkey
Alternate names: enko, enkozaru, enkobō, enkodon, shibaten, takiwaro
Habitat: rivers and shores
Diet: omnivorous; prefers cucumbers and fresh human livers

Appearance: Enkō are river-dwelling yōkai found throughout the Shikoku and Chūgoku regions. They resemble monkeys or hairy kappa. They are about the size of a three year old child, with bright red faces. Their long limbs are flexible and elastic, and if you pull on one arm it will stretch while the other arm shrinks. Their fingers are tipped with sharp claws. They are covered in thick fur, but are slimy and slippery like catfish. They have a dish-like depression on the top of their heads.

Behavior: Enkō are related to kappa and share many traits with other members of the kappa family. They are quite strong. They live in rivers and along the seashore, and are excellent swimmers. They often appear at night in popular fishing spots. They are also skilled at transforming and can disguise themselves as human women, dolls, and other forms.

Enkō have a strong revulsion towards metal objects and thus will run from farming implements. They dislike cows and horses, and frequently attack them if they enter rivers.

In Shikoku, it is said that enkō only live in the rivers in the summer. In the winter they migrate en masse into the mountains and transform into shibaten. Then, in the summer, all of the shibaten return to the rivers and transform back into enkō.

In Chūgoku, there is a species of kappa called takiwaro who live for three years in the mountains, then migrate to the rivers and transform into enkō for the next three years.

Interactions: Enkō are sometimes encountered by fishermen at night. They disguise themselves as kimono-clad wooden dolls and approach the fishermen. If poked, the dolls grin cheerfully and giggle.

However, enkō not always cute. They sometimes attack, rape, and even kill humans. They are best known for brutally assaulting swimmers in order to obtain one of their favorite snacks: the fresh liver from a still-living human. They obtain this by ramming one of their their long, flexible arms up through their victim’s anus and pulling out fistfulls of innards.

Origin: The kappa family of yōkai have long been associated with monkeys due to their long limbs, their migratory habits, their mischief, and hairy bodies. The enkō is one of the best examples of this association. Even the kanji for it name have been used since ancient times for various monkeys– refers to the Japanese gibbon, while refers to the macaque. The word enkō is a synonym for monkeys in general, and it is likely that ancient people considered monkeys and kappa-type yōkai to be forms of the same creature.

Legends: In Tōsa Province (present-day Kōchi Prefecture), a woman was raped by an enkō. The assault resulted in a pregnancy. When the child was born, it had a dish-like indentation on its head, and it already had one long fang in its mouth. The villagers were horrified of the creature and killed it in a bonfire.

Alphabetical list of yōkai