the online database of Japanese folkore

Usutsuki warashi

臼搗童子
うすつきわらし

Translation: mortar-pounding child
Alternate names: notabariko
Habitat: warehouses, storage sheds, under floorboards
Diet: none

Appearance: One particularly unpleasant variation of the zashiki warashi is the usutsuki warashi, named for the eerie thumping noise that these low ranking house spirits make.

Behavior: Unlike their bright and cheerful cousins, usutsuki warashi crawl out from the dirt underneath the floorboards and roam about the house at night. They make creepy noises, creaking and thumping, and track dirty footprints throughout the house. Usutsuki warashi do not cause any actual harm, though they spread unease and discomfort in houses that they infect. Unlike other zashiki warashi, these troublemakers do not bring any good fortune to their homes. However, a house which drives these spirits away will still fall into ruin, just like a house that drives away the more pleasant zashiki warashi.

Origin: This spirit’s origin is similar to that of the yama uba. It comes from the old and terrible practice of kuchiberashi, or “reducing the mouths to feed” by thinning out families during times when food was scarce. Some houses with too many mouths to feed had no other choice but to sacrifice the newly born. The cost of a funeral also being too high, these children were buried underneath the house or in a storage shed. Instead of a tombstone, often an usu, a large mortar, was placed as a grave marker.

Alphabetical list of yōkai