the online database of Japanese folkore

Tako nyōbō

蛸女房
たこにょうぼう

Translation: octopus wife
Habitat: seaside homes
Diet: as a human

Appearance: Tako nyōbō are octopuses that have taken the form of human women and married human men.

Behavior: Tako nyōbō are generally indistinguishable from human women. Unless their disguise is discovered, they tend to be models of domesticity—cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their homes while their husbands are away working. However, it is difficult for a sea creature to live on the land, so inevitably their disguise is discovered. When this happens, a tako nyōbō has no choice but to return to the sea and never see her husband again.

Origin: Tako nyōbō come from the folklore of Ishikawa Prefecture, but stories of animals taking human form and marrying humans are found in every corner of Japan. It is a common theme in Japanese folklore. While these tales can begin in any number of different ways, they almost always end in tragedy. There’s an unwritten rule among yōkai stories that if a supernatural spouse’s true identity is discovered, they must leave their partner forever.

Legends: A man from Kanazawa was astonished by how good the broth that his wife made for him every day tasted. The broth was so delicious, in fact, that he began to grow suspicious of her. One day, he pretended to head off to work but instead climbed up into the rafters to spy upon his wife. He watched as his wife took out a large washbasin and filled it with boiling water. Then, she transformed into an octopus and entered the tub. She splashed about inside the boiling tub. His wife was using her own body as soup stock!

The man climbed down from the rafters and confronted his wife. “This whole time you’ve been washing your body like this and feeding me your bathwater?!”

The wife replied, “That’s right. And now I’m done.” After that she disappeared and was never seen again.

Alphabetical list of yōkai