the online database of Japanese folklore



Translation: divine insect
Habitat: the southern mountains of Enbutai
Diet: evil spirits and demons, particularly those which spread disease

Appearance: Shinchū are great insect gods which resemble silkworm moths larger than elephants. The have saucer-like eyes, a gaping mouth full of sharp teeth, eight legs, enormous wings, and a long stinger protruding from the rear of their segmented abdomen.

Behavior: Shinchū are holy insects. While they have a ferocious appearance, shinchū do not attack humans. Instead, they feed on demons and evil spirits. In particular, they prey upon yōkai which cause disease and spread epidemics. They rip their victims apart violently as they feed, leaving pools of blood and body parts in their wake. Their appetites are as big as the shinchū themselves. Every morning, a shinchū will consume three thousand demons, and every evening it will devour three thousand more.

Shinchū are native to the mountains in the southern part of the continent Enbutai (known in English as Jambudvipa) in Indian cosmology. It is the southernmost of the four continents surrounding Shumisen (Mount Meru), the sacred mountain at the center of the cosmos. Enbutai is a forested land, and is the only continent inhabited by humans. It is also the only continent from which achieving enlightenment through study and meditation as a human being is possible. Therefore, shinchū play an important role in protecting humans from evil spirits who might try to interfere in their spiritual development.

Origin: Silkworm moths are considered holy creatures, and the term shinchū has been used as a poetic name for these insects since ancient times. They were held as miraculous creatures, due to their both their physical transformation from worms into moths, and for the precious silk which they produced.

Shinchū’s roots lie in ancient Chinese and Indian religion. They are related to the wrathful deities of Hinduism and Buddhism. The most well known depiction of a shinchū is in a set of five paintings depicting wrathful deities exterminating evil spirits. A shinchū is depicted alongside four other protector gods: Tenkeisei, the god of heavenly punishment, Sendan Kendatsuba, a god of music, protector of children, and member of the Eight Legions, Shōki, the demon queller, and Bishamonten, chief of the Four Heavenly Kings. This set of paintings is revered as a National Treasure of Japan.

Alphabetical list of yōkai