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.

The Sumo Doll Who Chased Off the Bandits

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a strange tale of a magical wooden doll in the likeness of a sumo wrestler. Long ago, five bandits stormed into a wealthy man's mansion. They tied up his family and demanded that he take them to where his riches were stored.

Tsurube Otoshi

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a strange yokai phenomena known as tsurube otoshi. These creatures live in the tops of trees alongside paths that go through forested areas. They take the form of disembodied heads of either humans, tengu or oni which can range in size from a regular head up to around two metres across.

The Goblin Spider

Image
In Japanese folklore there are believed to be terrifying goblin-spiders. These yokai look exactly like regular spiders during the day but at night, when everyone is sleeping, they grow to an enormous size and develop supernatural powers. Goblin-spiders shapeshift and take on human form in order to do terrible things.

Kainan Hoshi

Image
The Izu islands look like a picturesque and idyllic place to visit, but in Japanese folklore there is a tale about kainan hoshi, a type of yokai that haunts the area. They are believed to be the ghosts of drowned shipwreck victims who roam the open sea, riding in washtub boats.

Sanzu River

Image
In Japanese Buddhism it is believed that to enter the underworld the soul first needs to find and cross the mythical Sanzu River (river of three crossings), which is the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead. This river portal is believed to be located on a desolate yet holy volcano in northern Japan.

Gonzaburo the Flute Player

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a tale of a kind-hearted young man called Gonzaburo, who was a beautiful flute player. He cared for his aging mother and would play the flute for her, which brought her much happiness.

Sobojo and Eritategoromo

Image
In Japanese folklore, Sobojo was a tengu king who lived on Mt Karuma as a mountain hermit and taught warriors the arts of swordsmanship and magic. He was once a human but due to excessive pride he was reborn as a tengu . Legend says that after his death, 

The Two Children and the Yama Uba

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a tale about a sister and brother and their encounter with a yama uba, a type of yokai sometimes translated as a mountain witch. One year their persimmon tree was full of ripe fruit so their mother suggested they take some to their grandmother who lived in the mountains.

Hyakume

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a yokai known as hyakume, which means 'one hundred eyes.' This creature is about the same size as a human, but just a fleshy blob that is completely covered in blinking yellow eyes. Hyakume generally live in abandoned homes or empty temples.

The Dog That Ate a Tanuki

Image
Long ago in old Japan there was a temple in the remote countryside. The area was known for its prevalence of tanuki, a mischievous shapeshifting yokai. One evening a farmer was walking home and saw the local priest crouched down in pain.

The Man Who Did Not Want to Die

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a story of a man named Sentaro who did not want to die. He was quite a wealthy man and lived a life of luxury and idleness. However, he became quite preoccupied with the idea of dying, and after hearing old tales from China about a land where the elixir of life could be found,

The Woodcutter on the Moon

Image
While East Asian folklore has many lunar myths and folktales, one of the lesser known tales tells of a woodcutter who lived on the moon. In Chinese folklore, the man is known as Wu Gang and he spends his time endlessly cutting down a tree growing on the moon. It is said to be either a laurel, osmanthus or cassia tree with the magical ability to self-heal and re-grow, regardless of how much is chopped away.

Ushi no Toki Mairi

Image
In Japanese folklore there is a bizarre curse ritual known as ushi no toki mairi. Ushi refers to an ox because the ritual is performed during the hours of the ox, which are between 1:00 and 3:00am. The practitioner is usually a woman who dresses in white and wears  a crown made of an iron ring holding three lit candles.