the online database of Japanese folkore

Yogen no tori

ヨゲンノトリ
よげんのとり

Translation: prophecy bird
Habitat: mountains and forests
Diet: unknown

Appearance: Yogen no tori are prophetic birds which resemble two-headed crows. One of their heads is white. They can speak, and are sent by the gods to deliver important messages to humanity such as warnings about epidemics.

Behavior: Like most prophetic yōkai, nothing is known of yogen no tori’s natural behavior, as they are only seen when there is an important message to deliver.

Interactions: In addition to delivering an important message, yogen no tori are such holy animals that merely an image of them is enough to keep the evil spirits which cause disease away. Regularly looking at a picture of a yogen no tori is said to protect the viewer from harm.

Origin: The story of the yogen no tori follows an Edo Period pattern of yokai warning about outbreaks and offering their image as protection. Contagious diseases like cholera are spread by invisible means, and for a long time there were no known cures or methods of protection against them. Amulets, talismans, and image of holy yōkai might not have done much to actually prevent sickness, but the willingness of people to cling to their promise of salvation is understandable.

Legends: A serious cholera outbreak struck Japan in the summer of 1858. During the outbreak, a government official from Kai Province (Yamanashi Prefecture) named Kizaemon, discovered the legend of the yogen no tori and reported it in Bōshabyō ryūkō nikki, a journal detailing the outbreak.

According to his report, a yogen no tori was sighted in December of 1857 near Mount Haku in Kaga Province (present-day Ishikawa Prefecture). The bird foretold, “Around August or September of next year, a disaster will occur, killing 90% of the world’s population. Those who gaze upon my image morning and night and believe in me will be spared from this suffering.”

Kizaemon believed the yogen no tori to be a messenger from the gods. He declared it to be a symbol of the great power of Kumano Gongen. An illustration of the bird was printed alongside the report so people could see it and receive its protective powers.

Alphabetical list of yōkai