the online database of Japanese folkore

Yamawaro

山童
やまわろ

Translation: mountain child
Alternate names: yamawarawa
Habitat: mountains; commonly found throughout Kyūshū and West Japan
Diet: omnivorous

Appearance: Yamawaro are minor deities of the mountains, closely related to other nature spirits such as kappa, garappa, and hyōsube. Short creatures resembling boys of about 10 years of age, their heads are crowned in long brown hair and their bodies are covered in fine, light hair. They have a short torso and two long legs, on which they walk upright. A yamawaro’s most distinguishing feature is the single eye in the middle of its head. They are skillful mimics, copying the sound of falling rocks, wind, dynamite, and tools. They can even learn to speak human languages and sing human songs.

Interactions: Like their cousins the kappa, yamawaro despise horses and cows, and attack them on sight. They love the sport of sumo, which they are better at than any human. Like hyōsube, they sneak into homes to nap and take baths, and leave behind a thick film of grease and hair when they are done.

Yamawaro are frequently encountered in the mountains by woodcutters, and are known to help with work. If properly thanked and offered food for their services, a yamawaro is likely to return to help again. However, care must be taken when feeding a yamawaro. If the amount of food is less than what was promised, it will grow angry and never return. If offered before the work is performed, the yamawaro will simply take the food and run.

Origin: One theory from Kumamoto Prefecture says that yamawaro and garappa are actually different forms of the same yōkai. During the cold months, these creatures live in the mountains as yamawaro (or yamawarawa, as they are known locally). During the warm months, they live in lakes and rivers as garappa. Every year on the autumn equinox, all of the country’s garappa transform into yamawaro and travel from the rivers to the mountains in a mass migration. They return on the spring equinox and transform back into garappa. Villagers who build their houses in the pathway of these massive yōkai migrations are prone to find holes, gashes, and other damage caused by yamawaro angry at having their path blocked. People who witness the springtime return of the yamawaro often catch deadly fevers.

This theory is supported by the fact that these creatures share so many traits in common with one another, and because it is extremely rare to see garappa in the winter. However, it is also possible that these aquatic yōkai go into hibernation during the colder months, and that the similarities between garappa and yamawaro are simply coincidence.

Alphabetical list of yōkai