the online database of Japanese folkore

Kawa otoko

川男
かわおとこ

Translation: river man
Habitat: riversides
Diet: unknown

Appearance: Kawa otoko are docile humanoid yōkai who live along the banks of rivers high in the mountains. They are found all over Japan–especially in prefectures where there are many tall mountains. They have dark skin and are very tall. Their facial features make them naturally look calm and relaxed.

Behavior: Kawa otoko are primarily nocturnal. They are neither aggressive nor noisy, and do not play pranks or harm humans. They often appear in pairs, sitting on the riverbanks next to each other as if telling stories to each other.

Interactions: Kawa otoko are rarely encountered due to their quiet nature. Their dark skin makes it hard to see them at night as they sit motionless by the riverside. They are sometimes observed sitting by the riverside late at night by net fishers in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. They sometimes even approach people sitting quietly by the river and tell them stories.

Origin: Kawa otoko are recorded in Edo Period encyclopedias such as Wakun no shiori and Wakan sansai zue, however tales about them are relatively rare. Folklorists have struggled to categorize them. Due to their name and their tall height, it has been suggested that they are somehow related to yama otoko, giants who live deep in the mountains. It has also been suggested that they are related to other river spirits, such as kappa or kawahime–however they do not harm humans in the way kappa and kawahime do, nor is tallness a common features among these yōkai. As they live high in the mountains by rivers, they may be a kind of mōryō–nature spirits of the rocks and streams.

Alphabetical list of yōkai