the online database of Japanese folklore



Translation: strange fox person; origin of the word for “scary”
Habitat: food stalls, garbage dumps
Diet: any scrap of food it can get its hands on

Appearance: Kowai is the ghost of a gluttonous person who carried his or her obsession with food into the next life, transforming into this yokai after death. It takes the form of a grotesque human with fox-like features, blood-shot eyes, sharp teeth, and a long, drooling tongue. It appears at night outside of food stands and restaurants.

Behavior: Kowai is concerned with only one thing: eating. It is always suffering from hunger, and ravenously devours any bit of food it can get its claws on. It rifles through garbage pales, knocks down food stalls, and attacks food vendors late at night, picking up whatever scraps they leave behind. It will even pick at carrion in the streets. No matter how spoiled or how disgusting, if it can be eaten, kowai will go after it.

Origin: Kowai first appears in the Ehon Hyakumonogatari, an encyclopedia of ghosts published in 1841. Its name is written with kanji meaning “fox,” “person,” and “strange,” and so can literally be translated as “weird fox person.” According to that book, this yokai is the origin of the word 怖い (kowai), which is the Japanese word for “scary.”

Alphabetical list of yōkai