the online database of Japanese folklore

Shitanaga uba


Translation: long tongued old woman
Habitat: isolated hovels deep in the mountains
Diet: human flesh

Appearance: Shitanaga uba look like elderly women. They live in dilapidated hovels deep in the mountains. They feed upon lost travelers by licking the flesh and blood from their bodies using their extremely long tongues which can be over 1.5 meters long.

Interactions: Shitanaga uba are known to cooperate with other yōkai—shunobon being the most famous example. They can also be found in the employ of powerful spirits such as Kame hime of Inawashiro Castle.

Legends: One cold autumn evening, two men traveling from Echigo to Edo found themselves lost in the mountains. Night was fast approaching, when up ahead they spotted a lonely, crooked, old cottage alongside the road. They knocked on the door of the cottage and begged for shelter for the night.

An old woman in her seventies was inside, spinning cloth from ramie. She welcomed the two men into the hovel, and did her best to make them comfortable. She put some dried leaves into the hearth to start a fire, and boiled water to make tea. The two men were grateful for the simple hospitality, and soon fell asleep.

One of the travelers awoke from his slumber with a funny feeling. Squinting in the darkness, he thought he saw the old woman leaning over his traveling partner and licking his face with an impossibly long tongue. The man was startled and coughed, and suddenly the old woman moved back to the hearth and nonchalantly continued spinning ramie.

A moment later their was a gruff voice at the window: “Oi, shitanaga uba! It’s shunobon. What’s taking you so long? Let me give you a hand.” Another monster entered the hovel. It stood about two meters tall and had a large scarlet face that resembled a lacquered tray.

The traveler drew his sword and jumped at the shunobon. As he slashed, the spirit vanished into thin air. Meanwhile, the old woman grabbed the sleeping companion and ran out the front door. An instant later, the entire hovel vanished, and the traveler found himself in the middle of an abandoned field.

Alone, helpless, and lost in the dark, the man curled up in the roots of a tree and slept. When morning came, there was no sign of the hovel or the old woman. In a thicket nearby, he discovered the remains of his travel companion: a bleached white skeleton, licked completely clean.

Alphabetical list of yōkai