the online database of Japanese folkore



Translation: shadow shark
Habitat: the Sea of Japan
Diet: shadows

Appearance: Kagewani are large predatory fish which live in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Shimane Prefecture.

Behavior: Kagewani live in the shallow waters just off of the rocky Sea of Japan coastline. They lurk under the surface of the water, out of sight of their prey. When a person’s shadow falls upon the water–whether it is a fisherman out at sea or someone standing on a cliff overlook the sea–a kagewani will snap up that person’s shadow in a single gulp. And when a kagewani eats a shadow the shadow’s owner also vanishes, never to be seen again.

Origin: Today the word wani means crocodile, however it originally referred to any kind of sea monster. In folklore, sharks, large fish, and even dragons are all called wani. Therefore, it is hard to know just what kind of creature the kagewani was originally meant to be, although given the location, a shark is likely.

Legends: Long ago near what is now Ōda City, Shimane, two fishermen went out to sea on a calm day. They were leaning over the edge of the boat and using a water scope to see under the water. All of a sudden one of the fishermen disappeared without so much as a splash. The other fisherman looked around, but could not see him anywhere. He returned to shore and organized a village search party. No trace of the missing fisherman was ever found. That is how the villagers learned that a kagewani lived off their shores.

Near the village of Yunotsu, Shimane, a fisherman encountered a kagewani while out at sea. The monster attacked him and gobbled up his shadow, but the fisherman was quick and shot the kagewani with his rifle. Thinking he had escaped death, he finished fishing and sailed home. When he jumped out of his boat and onto the sand, something sharp stabbed his foot. He had stepped on the bone of a kagewani. He died immediately after that.

Alphabetical list of yōkai