the online database of Japanese folkore

Maikubi

舞首
まいくび

Translation: dancing heads
Habitat: the sea around Sagami Bay
Diet: none; they are driven solely by anger

Appearance: Maikubi are a trio of severed samurai heads which appear on the surface of the sea at night.

Behavior: Maikubi dance around in circles above the waves trying to bite one another. They spit flames from their mouths, making them especially visible at night. Their dancing creates large waves shaped like tomoe–a symbol that looks like a large comma.

Interactions: Maikubi bring bad luck as they dance on the sea. Shipwrecks and other sea disasters are said to occur more frequently when maikubi are nearby.

Origin: Maikubi come from the local folklore of Manazuru, in Kanagawa Prefecture. They are also depicted in the illustrated Edo period ghost story collection Ehon hyakumonogatari.

Legends: During the 1240’s CE, three wicked samurai named Kosanta, Matashige, and Akugorō were in the town of Manazuru for a festival. They became very drunk and started to argue. Their quarrel got so heated that they drew their swords and began to fight. In the midst of their violent fight, they managed to cut off each others’ heads. Their severed heads rolled away and fell into the sea. However, death did not settle their disagreement. They turned into onryō. The heads floated up to the surface and began to bite and breath flames at each other, locked in an undying argument.

The onryō of the three warriors still haunt the sea around Manazuru. At night they can be seen dancing on the sea’s surface as they spit fire snap at each other. Locals of Manazuru fear the area and call it tomoe ga fuchi (“the tomoe depths”). When waves shaped like three tomoe appear on the surface, they stay away from waters out of fear of shipwrecks and other disasters caused by maikubi.

Alphabetical list of yōkai