the online database of Japanese folkore

Tōmorokoshi no obake

玉蜀黍のお化け
とうもろこしのおばけ

Translation: corn monster
Alternate names: tōmorokoshi no bakemono, tōmorokoshi no yūrei
Habitat: farms and gardens

Appearance: Tōmorokoshi no obake are deformities or mutations in ears of corn that change them into monsters. They appear differently from haunting to haunting. They are essentially harmless, although their appearance may be unsettling.

Origin: Corn was introduced to Japan in the late 16th century by Portuguese traders. Temperature and water fluctuations can lead to physical abnormalities in corn, which have given rise to a number of strange stories. Oversized or strangely shaped kernels can look like eyes or mouths. Inexplicable discolorations can appear to be skin or fur. These strange growths were often attributed to spirits becoming attached to the corn.

Legends: In 1845, a tōmorokoshi no obake grew in a garden in Shinagawa. It attracted spectators from all around due to its peculiar appearance: it looked just like a chicken. The owner of the corn had a beloved pet chicken which had died that spring. He buried it in his garden, and the corn plant grew right on top of the spot where the chicken was buried. It was said that the chicken loved its master so much that its soul could not bear to leave him. And so it became lodged in the corn plant and cause it to grow into the shape of a chicken.

The village of Hanyū, Shimōsa Province (today part of Jōsō City, Ibaraki) is the site of a ghost story called Kasane ga fuchi, in which a young girl named Kasane is tragically abused, murdered, then dumped into a swamp. Her story is parodied in a series of comical corn-themed prints by Kuniyoshi. Kasane is depicted as an ear of corn rising up from the swamp to haunting her murderous husband (who is depicted as a squash). The kernels on the ear of corn are deformed and misshapen, resembling the deformities Kasane’s face was said to have.

Alphabetical list of yōkai