the online database of Japanese folkore

Nozuchi

野槌
のづち

Translation: wild mallet (named for its mallet-like shape)
Habitat: fields and grasslands; found all across Japan
Diet: carnivorous; usually feeds on small animals like rats, mice, rabbits, birds

Appearance: Nozuchi are one of the earliest recorded yōkai in Japan. They are powerful and ancient snake-like spirits of the fields, known for their bizarre shape and habits. Short, fat creatures shaped like mallets, Nozuchi are about fifteen centimeters in diameter and just over one meter long. They have no eyes, nose, or any other facial features save for a large mouth located on the tops of their heads, pointing towards the sky. Their bodies are covered in a bristly fur, much like a hairy caterpillar.

Behavior: Nozuchi make their homes inside of large trees, particularly on the tops of hills. They are slow movers, and get about by rolling and tumbling down slopes, then slowly inching their way back up. Their usual diet is wildlife—mice, rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals—however, they are able to eat things much larger than themselves. In Nara, they are known to feed on deer. They can devour a deer in a single bite, pulling the whole animal into their small, stumpy frame.

Interactions: Nozuchi have been known to attack humans who come near their nests, rolling downhill and snapping at their feet. Their bites are dangerous, resulting in terrible, mangled wounds which quickly lead to a high fever and death. A person who is touched or even merely seen by a tumbling nozuchi can contract this fever and die. Fortunately, nozuchi attacks are easily avoided. Stick to higher ground where they cannot tumble, or climb a tree if no other high ground is available.

OTHER FORMS: Nozuchi can transform into a humanoid shape, though they rarely are seen in this form. They take the shape of a human priest, but with no eyes, nose, hair, or ears. The only feature on the head is a large, gaping mouth pointing upwards towards the sky. Wicked monks who are banished from their temples to live in the wilds sometimes gradually turn into nozuchi. These nozuchi are more likely to maintain a humanoid form than a serpentine one. Care should be taken not to confuse a shape-changed nozuchi with a nopperabō, which has a similar appearance but poses a different threat.

Alphabetical list of yōkai