the online database of Japanese folkore

Nopperabō

野箆坊
のっぺらぼう

Translation: faceless monk
Alternate names: often referred to as mujina
Habitat: roads, inns, shops; blends into human society
Diet: unknown, but has no mouth and thus can’t eat

Appearance: Nopperabō resemble ordinary human beings in almost every way, and blend in perfectly with human society. However, the illusion is quickly shattered when met face to face—nopperabō actually have no face at all. Their heads are blank orbs with no eyes, nose, mouth, or features of any kind.

Interactions: These mysterious yōkai are encountered on quiet, empty roads late at night when nobody else is around. Like many yōkai of this kind, their main activity seems to be scaring humans. This they do remarkably well. Nopperabō usually appear in the guise of a man or a woman with his or her back turned towards the observer. When approached, the yōkai turns around and reveals its terrifying true form. To maximize the effect, they often appear with a face at first, and then wipe their face off dramatically with their hand at the most opportune time. Nopperabō revel in the terror they inflict upon their unsuspecting victims.

Nopperabō often work together in groups to scare one individual. As their victim runs away in a panic from the first nopperabō, he runs into another person who asks him what is wrong. When the victim explains what he saw, this person replies, “Oh, you mean like this?” and wipes his face away exactly like the first nopperabō. They are even known to impersonate close relatives of their victims, and sometimes a poor man will run all the way home, having run into multiple faceless monsters, only to tell his wife what he saw and have her too reply, “Oh, you mean like this? …”

Other forms: The nopperabō is a favorite transformation of mischievous animal yōkai—kitsune, tanuki, and especially mujina. In fact, so frequently are encounters with this spirit blamed on shape-shifting badgers that the nopperabō are often mistakenly referred to as mujina.

Alphabetical list of yōkai