the online database of Japanese folkore

Shikome

醜女
しこめ

Translation: ugly woman
Alternate names: yomotsu shikome (“ugly woman from hell”)
Habitat: Yomi (the Shintō underworld)
Diet: omnivorous

Appearance: Shikome is a broad term describing kijo, or female oni, who look like ugly human women. In addition to being ugly, they often have beast-like features such as claws, paws, pointed ears, or patches of furry hair. They usually have long black hair, sagging misshapen breasts, and wide twisted smiles.

Behavior: Shikome spend a lot of effort trying to make themselves beautiful, applying thick white makeup to their faces, blackening their teeth, and wearing multi-layered kimono. Their excessive grooming only accentuates their ugliness, making them a satirical mockery of high fashion.

Interactions: Shikome are attendants of the land of the dead, and are quite dangerous. They are fast, able to leap one thousand ri (approximately four thousand kilometers) in a single bound. They are also ravenous, and can devour food at an incredible speed.

Origin: Shikome appear in a number of yōkai picture scrolls, and have remained a popular staple of yōkai artwork. Early shikome illustrations have served as the basis for a great number of yōkai which satirize unattractive women, such as ao nyōbo, taka onna, and kerakera onna.

Shikome also play a role in Japan’s ancient mythology, where they are known as yomotsu shikome (ugly women of Yomi).

Legends: The widowed god Izanagi grieved for his dead wife Izanami, who had died in childbirth. He journeyed into the underworld to try to bring her back from the dead. Izanagi found her deep in the shadowy land of Yomi. He begged her to return to the surface with him. Izanami sadly explained that she since had already eaten the food of the dead, she could not return. But she would ask if she could at least visit him. She asked Izanagi to wait for her answer, and made him promise not to bring any light into the dark underworld.

Izanagi grew impatient of waiting. Finally, he entered the palace of the dead to look for Izanami. He transformed his comb into a torch so he could see through the dark. When the light fell upon Izanami’s face, he saw that she was horrible to behold. Her flesh was rotting away and she was covered in wriggling maggots. Izanami grew furious at him for breaking his promise. Izanagi was terrified. He fled from the palace. Izanami ordered her servants, the yomotsu shikome, to catch Izanagi.

The shikome were incredibly fast. As they closed in, Izanagi threw his woven headdress to the floor. It transformed into a vine of grapes. The shikome stopped for a moment to devour the grapes, buying Izanagi some time. The demons quickly devoured the grapes, then resumed their chase. Izanagi broke the teeth off of his comb and scattered them. They turned into bamboo shoots. The shikome devoured these too, buying him just a little more time. At last, he was able to escape to the surface. He rolled a large boulder over the entrance to Yomi, trapping the shikome and his furious wife in the underworld forever.

Alphabetical list of yōkai