the online database of Japanese folkore

Tsuchigumo

土蜘蛛
つちぐも

Translation: ground spider
Alternate names: yatsukahagi, ōgumo (“giant spider”)
Habitat: rural areas, mountains, forests, and caves
Diet: humans, animals; anything that it can trap

Appearance: Tsuchigumo, known as the purse web spider in English, are found all over the Japanese islands and throughout much of the world. Long-lived tsuchigumo can transform into yōkai. They grow to a monstrous size, able to catch much larger prey—particularly humans.

Behavior: Tsuchigumo live in the forests and mountains, making their homes in silk tubes from which they ambush passing prey. Like other spider yōkai, they rely on illusion and trickery to deceive people. While the jorōgumo use their sexuality to seduce young men, the tsuchigumo have a wider selection of deceptions—and often bigger ambitions.

Legends: The accounts of the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu contain numerous encounters with tsuchigumo. In one, a tsuchigumo changed itself into a servant boy to administer venom in the form of medicine to the famed warrior. When his wounds were not healing and the medicine didn’t seem to be working, Yorimitsu suspected foul play. He slashed his sword at the boy, who then fled into the forest. The attack broke the powerful illusion which the spider had laid on Yorimitsu, and he found that he was covered in spider webs. Yorimitsu and his retainers followed the trail of spider’s blood into the mountains, where they discovered a gigantic, monstrous arachnid—dead from the wound Yorimitsu had inflicted.

In another legend, a tsuchigumo took the form of a beautiful warrior woman and lead an army of yōkai against Japan. Yorimitsu and his men met the yōkai army on the battlefield. With his experience in such matters Yorimitsu attacked the woman general first. The blow struck, her army vanished—it was merely an illusion. The warriors followed the woman to a cave in the mountains, where she morphed into a giant spider. With one swing of his sword, Yorimitsu sliced her abdomen open. Thousands of baby spiders the size of human infants swarmed out from her belly. Yorimitsu and his retainers slew every one of the spiders and returned home victorious.

Alphabetical list of yōkai