the online database of Japanese folkore

Kubikajiri

首かじり
くびかじり

Translation: head biter
Habitat: graveyards; appears on the autumn equinox
Diet: severed heads

Appearance: Kubikajiri are ghosts who feed upon the heads of the dead. They have long, disheveled hair, discolored skin, and sunken eyes. They wear white burial robes and, like most Japanese ghosts, have no legs.

Behavior: Kubikajiri appear on the autumn equinox. They lurk around graveyards, looking for freshly buried corpses. When they find one, they dig it up and begin eating it, leaving blood and gore all over the ground.

Origin: Kubikajiri developed from a painting by Ippitsusai Bunchō of a ghost eating a man’s head in a graveyard. At some point, the picture was copied and renamed kubikajiri, and described as a yōkai rather than a yūrei.

There are two popular explanations for the origin of this yōkai. One says that kubikajiri are created when a person dies and is buried without their head. Their corpse turns into this yōkai and begins to hunt for fresh heads in graveyards.

Another explanation says that kubikajiri are the spirits of elderly people who have starved to death. During periods of famine or economic trouble, family members who were seen as a burden—such as the very old or infirm—were occasionally neglected and allowed to die in order to reduce the number of mouths to feed. Resentment of this mistreatment turns the dead into yōkai after their deaths. After the person who allowed them to die has themselves died, the kubikajiri will dig up their grave and then devour the head.

Alphabetical list of yōkai