the online database of Japanese folklore



Translation: onomatopoeic; named for the sound it makes
Habitat: empty temples, abandoned houses
Diet: lives off of the fear it causes

Appearance: Another monster about which little is known, the uwan is more often heard than seen. It is named for the distinctive sound it makes, crying out from the darkness: “Uwan!” No written record of its physical appearance exists; the creature was thought to be formless for centuries. It wasn’t until the Edo period when artist Sawaki Sūshi gave the creature its shape that uwan were considered anything more than phantom sounds.

Interactions: Uwan are occasionally encountered outside of old buildings and temples. They assault lone passersby by leaping out of the shadows and shouting “Uwan!” The uwan depends entirely on the surprise attack—any weak-willed victims who faint at the site of the uwan never regain consciousness. The uwan steals their essence and flees into the darkness. However, if a brave individual shouts back “Uwan!” then this yōkai flees and never bothers that person again.

Legends: A famous uwan encounter took place in Aomori Prefecture during the Edo period. A young newlywed couple had bought an old mansion and moved in together. On their first night in their new house, they were awoken by a loud voice shouting “UWAN!” The shocked couple searched all over and around the house, but couldn’t find the source of the voice. The shouting continued for some time, erupting sporadically all night, every night. The couple was not able to sleep at all.

Some time later, the couple’s neighbors began to ask why they were always so tired-looking, with blood-shot eyes and disheveled hair. The husband tried to explain about the mysterious voice, but none of his neighbors claimed to have heard the shouting. Of course, nobody in the neighborhood believed the couple. Instead, gossip quickly began to spread that the newlyweds weren’t getting any sleep on account of nocturnal activity of a different kind. Embarrassed, the couple ceased asking about the strange sounds.

Alphabetical list of yōkai