the online database of Japanese folkore

Niwatori no sō


Translation: chicken monk
Habitat: temples and monk’s hermitages
Diet: chicken

Appearance: Niwatori no sō are monks who have been transformed into human-chicken hybrids. They have large feathery tails. They crow like roosters. Often times a crowing chicken’s head can even be seen protruding from their mouths.

Origin: Buddhist monks were expected to live austere lives. They woke before dawn to practice chanting. They spent their mornings copying scripture and meditating. They spent their afternoons begging for alms in the villages. One of the most important rules that monks had to live by was to never take a life. As part of this rule they were forbidden from eating meat. Of course, this did not necessarily mean that every monk was a strict vegetarian. Sinful clergy and their supernatural punishment is a common theme among yōkai folklore.

Niwatori no sō is the result of one such punishment. It originates from the vengeful spirits of chickens who were eaten. The chicken’s grudge-curse serves as evidence of a sin that may have otherwise gone unpunished—in this case, the sin of stealing, killing, and eating a chicken.

Legends: One of the earliest accounts of niwatori no sō is found in an 18th century illustrated book of yōkai tales called Ehon yōkai kidan by Okada Gyokuzan. A monk stole a chicken from a neighbor’s yard and ate it. When his neighbor noticed that one of his chickens was missing, he questioned the monk. The monk grew outraged. He pointed out his shaved head. He pointed out his monk’s robes. He said that no monk would ever stoop to something like stealing, let alone eating a chicken. He lectured his neighbor about compassion and charity. But as he spoke, suddenly from his throat came a loud “cockadooledoo!” An instant later, a chicken’s head erupted from his mouth, and a feathery tail sprouted from his back. The monk transformed into a chicken monster, and his crime was exposed.

Alphabetical list of yōkai