Posts

The Yokai of Japan

Image
Yokai is an umbrella term for the supernatural creatures of Japan. I find them endlessly fascinating and much of what I share on this blog is yokai related. In this post I will provide a quick introduction to some of the most well-known yokai, as well as a linked index to all the yokai posts on this site. I've also included a selection of artwork featuring yokai, and some external links to information that may be of interest to those wanting to learn more.

The Farmer and the Tanuki

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a tale called ‘Kachi-kachi Yama’ which translates as fire-crackle mountain. Kachi kachi is onomatopoeia for the sound of crackling fire. The story is also more commonly known as ‘The Farmer and the Badger' however the ‘badger’ in this tale is actually a tanuki . Ikuhide Kobayashi, 1880 One day there was an old farmer whose fields were ransacked each night by a malicious tanuki. Finally fed up, the farmer tried to catch the sneaky tanuki but had no luck. He decided to lay traps and after much persistence managed to catch the tanuki whereupon he took him home, tied him up and hung him from the ceiling. Before he headed out to work the next day, the farmer told his wife not to untie the tanuki because he was making tanuki soup for their dinner that night. The old woman was doing her chores and pounding some barley when the crafty tanuki offered to help her. At first she refused, knowing that her husband would be angry if she didn't follow his instruct

Oitekebori

Image
In Japanese folklore, Oitekebori is strange apparition that takes the form of a human ghost. The story goes that one evening, two fishermen were fishing in a canal in Tokyo and they were catching more fish than usual. As they were preparing to go home they heard an eerie voice coming from the canal calling 'oite ike' which means 'drop it and get out of here.'

Suiko

Image
In Japanese folklore the suiko (water tiger) is a yokai that lives in rivers, lakes, ponds and waterways throughout Japan. They have a body that is the same shape and size as a small child and is covered in tough scales with sharp claw-like spikes protruding from their knees. Suiko are far more dangerous  than the more well-known kappa .

The Tale of Momiji

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a tale about a powerful mountain witch called Momiji. The name Momiji translates as maple leaves, and the story takes place during Autumn, when the leaves begin to fall. The tale begins with the samurai Koremochi who was given the task of hunting and killing oni (demons). He was travelling through the mountains with his retainers when they came across a leaf-viewing party.

Tsukuyomi

Image
In Japanese mythology, Tsukuyomi is the Shinto moon god and brother/husband of the sun goddess Amaterasu. He is one of the three noble children' born from Izanagi, along with Amaterasu and Susanoo, after he had returned from yomi (the underworld) when he had tried to retrieve his dead wife, Izanami.

Yuki Onna

Image
In Japanese folklore, yuki-onna (snow woman) is one of the most famous ghostly yokai. She is usually seen on snowy nights in the mountains, appearing as a beautiful woman with blue lips, ice cold skin so pale she is almost translucent, and long black hair laden with ice. Some say she has no feet and glides soundlessly across the snow wearing a white kimono.

Okiku - The Plate Counting Ghost

Image
One of the most famous Japanese ghost stories is Bancho Sarayashiki (The Dish Mansion at Bansho) which is the tale of Okiku. While there are many different versions of the story, they all centre around the death of a servant who returns as an onryo (vengeful ghost) to haunt those who mistreated and killed her.

Unagi Hime

Image
In Japanese folklore unagi hime, which translates as eel princess, is a huge shapeshifting eel that takes the form of a beautiful woman. This yokai is believed to live at the bottom of deep ponds and lakes and acts as a guardian of both the lake and everything in it.

Hiderigami

Image
In Japanese folklore hiderigami is a yokai with Chinese origins that is believed to cause droughts. It is short and hairy with a human-ish shape, although it has only one arm, one leg and a single eye on top of its head. Living in remote mountainous areas, its body gives off so much heat that wherever it goes everything dries up and rain cannot fall, thus causing drought.

Okuri Okami

Image
In Japanese folklore the okuri okami, also known as okuri ini, is a ghostly wolf or dog-like creature who haunts dark mountain passes, or roads through forests. The name translates as 'sending-off wolf or dog' or 'escorting dog' because this yokai trails closely behind travellers at night, appearing to be sending them on their way. In some cases it may and appear to be guiding them to their destination safely.

Ogama

Image
In Japanese folklore, ogama are giant toad yokai that are created when toads reach 1000 years of age. They live deep in forests and the larger they grow, the more dangerous they become. Ogama are accomplished shapeshifters, often disguising themselves in order to trick or attack humans and sometimes even taking the form of humans.

Helen of Troy

Image
In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus and Leda. While there are several versions of the birth of Helen, in one Zeus takes the form of a swan and is pursued by an eagle. He took refuge with Leda and they mated. Leda then produced two eggs, one containing Helen and Clytemnestra and the other Castor and Pollux, thus producing two semi-divine and two mortal offspring.

Fukurokuju and Jurojin

Image
In Japanese folklore the gods Fukurokuju and Jurojin are both members of the shichifukujin, the seven lucky gods of Japan. They are also both associated with wisdom and longevity. Jurojin is often depicted carrying a scroll on which is written either the life span of all living things or a record of good and bad deeds.



Instagram

curiousordinary