the online database of Japanese folklore



Translation: person from the sea
Habitat: oceans

Appearance: Umidebito are prophetic yōkai which live in the seas off of Japan. They have the head, arms, and breasts of a human woman, and a scaled body like a fish or a dragon. The lower half of their body is hidden inside of a large spiral shell like that of a conch or a sea snail.

Interactions: Umidebito spend their lives deep in the sea, so little is known about them. They occasionally surface to deliver prophecies foretelling bountiful harvests and devastating illnesses. When they surface, they ride the waves using their shell like a small boat. They then call out to humans, searching for someone who they can deliver their message to.

Origin: Umidebito follows a pattern of prophetic yōkai emerging from the sea to deliver a warning and offering salvation by copying their image. This theme is seen throughout the Edo and Meiji Periods, increasing dramatically in the latter half of the 19th century due to increase contact between Japan and the rest of the world. Whenever such a creature appeared, it was common for newspapers to report the story along with an illustration of the yōkai that people could hang in their homes for protection.

Legends: An umidebito was sighted in Fukushimagata, Echigo Provice (present-day Niigata Prefecture) in mid-April of 1849. According to reports, a bright light was spotted during the evening off the shore of Fukushimagata. Witnesses heard a woman’s voice call out from the light. Most people were too afraid to approach the light, but a brave samurai named Shibata Chūsaburō approached the voice to see it with his own eyes. As he approached, the voice said:

“I am an umidebito who lives in these seas. A bumper crop lasting five years will begin this year in every province. However, in November, a great sickness will spread and kill 60% of the population. Those who see me or a picture of me will be spared. Go quickly and spread this message!”

After delivering her prophecy, the umidebito vanished.

Alphabetical list of yōkai