the online database of Japanese folkore

Nuribotoke

塗佛
ぬりぼとけ

Translation: coated Buddha
Habitat: poorly cared for family altars, run-down homes
Diet: none

Appearance: Nuribotoke is a grotesque zombie-like spirit which creeps out of a butsudan, or family altar, that has been accidentally left open at night. It is a soft, flabby, corpse-like spirit with oily black skin and a pungent smell. Trailing behind is a catfish-like tail connected to its spine. The most striking and disturbing feature is this spirit’s eyeballs, which dangle wildly from its eye sockets.

Interactions: Nuribotoke do not do much other than fly about, flap their tails, and terrorize the families whose butsudan they crawled out from. They dance about impishly and revel in their ability to terrorize the living. Occasionally they try to trick foolish humans by giving false prophecies. They can be kept at bay by sprinkling salt on the floor, which they will avoid crossing. Nuribotoke must return to the butsudan before sunrise, and they vanish altogether during the day. Even though they are mostly harmless, it is best to prevent their appearance altogether by shutting the butsudan at night.

Origin: In most Japanese homes there is a large, ornate, wooden shrine called a butsudan. Inside are religious icons, scrolls, mantras, statues, and other holy items. It serves as the center of household spirituality, and the ancestors of a family are all enshrined in it. During the day, the butsudan stays open. During holidays and special occasions, it is treated like a member of the family and treated to offerings of food and sake. The doors to a butsudan are always closed at sunset—the butsudan is a gateway to the spirit world. Superstition warns that if the butsudan is left open certain spirits can wander freely back and forth between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Nuribotoke is one of these spirits.

Alphabetical list of yōkai