the online database of Japanese folkore

Kawaguma

川熊
かわぐま

Translation: river bear
Alternate names: kawakuma
Habitat: rivers

Appearance: Kawaguma are aquatic, hairy, animal-like yōkai which live in deep rivers.

Behavior: Kawaguma spend most of their time underwater, at the bottom of rivers and away from human eyes. Thus, little is known about their regular activities. They can be curious, and occasionally approach boats, clinging on to their sides or stealing objects off of them and taking them back to their underwater lairs. Kawaguma can be more than a nuisance, though, as they sometimes dig at riverbanks, breaking them and causing floods.

Origin: Kawaguma come from the folklore of northern areas, especially the Omono River Akita Prefecture and the Shinano River in Niigata Prefecture. Kawaguma appear in Tsuki no Dewa michi, one volume of a large Edo period travelogue by Sugae Masumi detailing stories and observations from the author’s experiences in Dewa Province.

Legends: Long ago a lord went hunting in his boat down the Omono River. Suddenly a hand covered in black fur stretched up from the bottom of the river and snatched his rifle away. Afterwards, an skilled swimmer went diving and discovered the lord’s stolen rifle at the bottom of the deepest part of the river. From then on, the rifle was known as “the kawaguma gun” and kept as a treasured possession by the Satake clan.

Also on the Omono River, late one night a ferryman at Tsubakigawa had just finished tying up his boat on the riverbank  when suddenly he heard a splash in the water behind him. He saw a pair of hands clinging to the side of the boat. The ferryman was surprised, and chopped at the hands with a large knife. When morning came, he discovered a severed hand inside the boat. It was black and hairy, and resembled a cat’s paw. Everyone who saw it said it was the kawaguma’s hand.

Alphabetical list of yōkai