the online database of Japanese folkore

Hyōsube

兵主部
ひょうすべ

Translation: onomatopoeic; written with characters connoting warfare
Alternate names: hyōsue, hyōsubo, hyōsunbo, hyōsunbe
Habitat: rivers and streams; found primarily on Kyūshū and in West Japan
Diet: omnivorous; prefers eggplants

Appearance: Hyōsube are squat, hairy humanoids found mostly in the southern and western parts of Japan. Cousins of kappa and garappa, they are more savage and belligerent. Physically they are short, with bald scalps, sharp claws, and a mouth full of sharp teeth which are prominently visible due to the malicious smile they wear. Their skins are covered with a pelt of thick, greasy hair that gathers dust, oil, and dirt. This repulsive pelt constantly sheds wherever they go. Their name is said to come from the “hyo hyo” call that they make. However, written in kanji, the characters have a martial connotation.

Behavior: Hyōsube live near rivers, where they catch wild fish and generally keep away from humans. Their favorite food is eggplant—they are capable of devouring whole patches in the blink of an eye. Like kappa, hyōsube love mischief and hate horses. They are generally more violent and malicious than their cousins, but they retain a strong sense of honor.

Interactions: Hyōsube are capricious, insolent, and extremely dangerous. Simply looking at a hyōsube can cause a terrible and contagious fever, which can spread and turn into an epidemic. Hyōsube cackle with an evil laughter which is also contagious; an unlucky person who hears a hyōsube laugh, and who laughs himself, will be struck with fever and die within hours.

A hyōsube’s thick hair builds up with dirt and grime; they love nothing more than to sneak into houses at night and slip into the bathtub. When a hyōsube finds a bathtub it likes it often returns every night, leaving behind a thick scum of greasy body hair and a horrible stench. Once, the unlucky owner of such a house emptied the bathwater and threw out the hair and grease. This angered the hyōsube so much that it slaughtered the owner’s horse the next night. When another unfortunate dumped his bathtub and some hyōsube hairs accidentally landed on a nearby horse, the animal promptly dropped dead. In yet another tale, a woman spied on a hyōsube ravaging her eggplant garden; the next morning her entire body had turned purple. She died soon after.

Hyōsube are occasionally honored at local Shinto shrines, usually worshiped as gods of war for some military service performed for villagers in the past. Farmers living in areas inhabited by hyōsube often leave offerings of the first eggplants of the harvest in hopes that the hyōsube will spare their fields for the remainder of the year. Those who do not leave offerings can find their fields trampled.

Alphabetical list of yōkai