the online database of Japanese folkore

Ōgama

大蝦蟇
おおがま

Translation: giant toad
Alternate names: bakegama
Habitat: mountains and rivers
Diet: carnivorous

Appearance: Ōgama are enormous toads. They can grow incredibly large and they become more dangerous the larger they get. Their long tongues are agile and sticky, and they can catch and drag just about anything into their mouths to eat. Their breath appears rainbow colored when they exhale. They sometimes carry spears which they use to assault humans. Like many animal yōkai, ōgama have the ability to change their forms and disguise themselves as humans.

Behavior: When a Japanese toad (Bufo japonicus) reaches one thousand years of age, it transforms into an ōgama. Ōgama behave for the most part like they did when they were ordinary toads. They live deep in the mountains, usually by rivers. They hunt bugs, birds, and snakes by breathing their rainbow-colored breathe on them, and then snatching them up with their powerful, stretchy tongues.

Interactions: Ōgama rarely come into contact with humans due to their remote habitat, but it does occasionally happen. When they rest, they are large enough that they can be mistaken for a large boulder or other natural mass, and a foolish person might accidentally sit on them. Even the smallest ōgama will commit evil deeds. When provoked, they are clever enough to wield spears and chase after humans. When they reach sizes of over three meters, they begin to see humans as food.

Origin: Toad legends can be found all over Japan. Ōgama appear in a number of Edo Period story collections, including Ehon hyakumonogatari and Hokuetsu kidan, but superstitions about toads go back much further. Toads living deep in the mountains tended to grow larger than those living closer to humans. This may have given rise to the idea that the deepest, most remote mountains might be home to truly gigantic toads.

Legends: Long ago in Miyagi Prefecture, a famous marksman heard about an old, dilapidated house by a bridge where every night a strange old woman appeared and spun thread. Her neighbors feared her and thought she was a demon of some kind. The marksman went to investigate the old woman. Her smile and cackle were so disturbing to him that he immediately aimed his gun at her heart and fired. As he did, the light from her lantern went out and the night became pitch black. The marksman stumbled home in the dark. The following morning the woman was gone, and there was no sign of any injury. He must have missed somehow. A few nights later the old woman appeared again. The marksman went to see, and this time he aimed his gun not at the woman, but at her lantern. He fired, and once again everything went black. This time he heard a terrible shriek and a clattering sound. At first light he returned to the house, and lying where the woman had been was the corpse of an enormous, ugly toad.

In Niigata Prefecture, a man went deep into the mountains to fish in a pond. He sat down on a boulder by the water’s edge and cast his line into the water. A fisherman on the other side of the pond noticed him. Suddenly the fisherman’s face went pale. He packed up all of his gear as quickly as he could. He motioned for the man to do the same, and then he ran away. The man did as he was told, and ran off into the woods after the fisherman. When he found him, the fisherman asked him, “Didn’t you notice? The boulder you were sitting on suddenly opened a massive eye red as fire, and then it yawned!” When the two returned to the pond to see, the boulder the man had sat upon was gone without any trace. In actuality, he had been sitting on an ōgama.

Alphabetical list of yōkai