the online database of Japanese folklore

Namija

波蛇
なみじゃ

Translation: wave snake
Habitat: the ocean
Diet: unknown

Appearance: Namija are tall, twisting waves which appear on the surface of the ocean like serpents rising out of the sea. Their bodies are made entirely of water, but they move about in a way that resembles a snake or a dragon. The sea foam on the top of the wave takes on the appearance of facial features, such as eyes, a mouth and tongue, and horns. Smaller, adjacent waves make shapes like arms or claws.

Behavior: Namija exist in painted form only and do not have any legends describing their behavior. Whether they are meant to be distinct creatures or just an mysterious oceanic phenomenon is unknown.

Origin: Namija is one of eleven yōkai appearing in Bakemono zukushi emaki, an Edo period scroll. The creatures in this scroll are not found elsewhere in folklore, and are presented as pictures and names only. No textual descriptions or legends of these yōkai exist, leaving everything about these creatures up for speculation. It may be a personification of an oceanic phenomenon such as a rogue wave—perhaps sent by a sea dragon living beneath the surface.

Although namija’s name means “wave snake,” snakes were often considered to be relatives of dragons—much as the word “serpent” in English  refers to real-world snakes and fantastic dragons. Even during the Edo period, the notion that animals transformed from one form into more powerful forms, or different creatures entirely, was a prevalent folk belief. Based on the accompanying illustration and the fact that bodies of water are strongly associated with dragons—such as the dragon king who rules the ocean—it is likely that namija is a meant to represent a dragon and not a snake.

Alphabetical list of yōkai