the online database of Japanese folkore

Shunobon

朱の盆
しゅのぼん

Translation: scarlet tray
Alternate names: shunoban, shuban, shunobanbō (scarlet tray priest)
Habitat: dark, lonely roads and buildings
Diet: unknown; possibly humans

Appearance: Shunobon are ferocious demons from the mountains of Niigata and Fukuoka. They have bright red skin and wear priest’s robes. They are usually depicted as having a single eye which glows like lightning, however two-eyed versions also exist. Their mouth stretches from ear to ear in a terrifying grin, and when they gnash their fangs it sounds like thunder. Their hair resembles long needles. They can grow up to 1.8 meters tall, and their heads are quite large in proportion to their bodies.

Behavior: Shunobon are masters of psychological horror. Their primary activity appears to be scaring humans by revealing their horrifying face at just the right time to their unsuspecting victims. People who encounter a shunobon usually end up fainting or even dying from fright.

Interactions: Shunobon often work alone, but they also occasionally cooperate with other yōkai. In some stories they work with shitanaga uba and help them capture humans to eat. Shunobon are also portrayed as serving powerful yōkai like Kame hime of Inawashiro Castle and nurarihyon.

Origin: The name shunobon refers to their large heads, which resemble broad round trays. Their name was originally shunoban (朱の盤), however when Mizuki Shigeru portrayed them in his work, he wrote the name as shunobon. Due to the popularity of Mizuki’s work, shunobon became the more common spelling of this yōkai’s name.

Legends: Long ago, a young samurai was traveling alone on the road through Aizu. He had heard a local legends that a monster supposedly wandered the road, so when evening came and it grew dark, he began to feel afraid. Not too far ahead of him, he spotted another young samurai walking in the same direction. He quickened his pace to catch up so he would not have to walk the road alone at night.

He chatted with the other samurai about this and that, until finally he arrived on the subject of the local legend. “I’ve heard that there a creature called a shunobon who appears on this road at night. Have you heard this legend?” asked the first samurai. The other samurai turned to him and said, “Is he supposed to look something like this…?” As he spoke, his skin became red as if covered in blood. His hair grew out into spikes. His eyes began to glow like the stars. His mouth split open from ear to ear revealing a row of razor sharp fangs! The samurai was so frightened that he fainted right there in the road.

Some time later, he woke up. The monster was nowhere to be seen. The samurai ran as fast as he could down the road and stopped at the first house he saw. A woman lived there, and when she saw the terror in the poor samurai’s eyes she invited him in. As his nerves settled, he found the courage to tell the woman about the horrible monster he encountered.

“You poor thing. What a horrible sight to see alone on the road,” the woman consoled him. “By the way, did the monster you saw look something like this…?” As she spoke, her face transformed into the shunobon he had seen earlier.

The samurai ran screaming from the house. He ran all the way back to his own home and hid in his futon. He was too scared to leave. After one hundred days, he succumbed to his fear and died.

Alphabetical list of yōkai