the online database of Japanese folkore

Kaze no kami

風の神
かぜのかみ

Translation: wind spirit
Habitat: rides on the wind

Appearance: Kaze no kami are formless, invisible evil spirits. Despite being invisible, they are usually portrayed in paintings as old, sickly, ape-like demons wearing ragged loincloths. They inflict suffering upon humans both through their control of the wind, and through the illness that they spread.

Interactions: Kaze no kami ride the wind, traveling from place to place in order to spread illness. They slip into homes through small cracks and crevices, sensing the temperature differences between the warmer inside air and colder outside air. When they encounter people, they exhale clouds of humid, yellow breath. Any human bathed in this toxic air will become sick.

In addition to spreading disease with their breath, kaze no kami can control the flow of the wind itself. Workers whose livelihoods were greatly influenced by the wind, such as farmers and fishers, feared the capricious nature of kaze no kami. In many places they were even enshrined as gods in order to avoid provoking their wrath.

Origin: The yellow breath which kaze no kami exhale may be a representation of the yellow dust which falls upon Japan, especially in the early spring. Wind erosion of northern China’s Huangtu Plateau stirs large amounts of silt up into the atmosphere. The silt then falls down upon Japan and other East Asian countries in the form of yellow dust. It causes respiratory issues and can even darken the sky on particularly heavy days. The combination of early spring’s temperature fluctuations, humid winds, and yellow dust often cause people to feel sick. In old times, this was believed to be the work of malicious spirits.

While advancements in medicine eventually ended the belief in wind spirits as carriers of disease, the superstition is preserved in the Japanese word for the common cold—kaze—which translates to “evil wind.” Similarly, the phrase kaze ni au—”to encounter the wind”—means to have bad luck or to suddenly fall sick.

Alphabetical list of yōkai