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The Yokai of Japan

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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 Woodcutter on the Moon

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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

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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.

Uwabami

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In Japanese folklore, uwabami is an enormous snake yokai with shapeshifting powers believed to eat and drink absolutely vast amounts. One of its favourite foods is people and legend says it can swallow humans whole.

The Monkey and The Jellyfish

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In Japanese folklore there is a tale that explains why jellyfish have no bones. The story begins with the Dragon King who lives in his beautiful palace beneath the sea. Because he was lonely, he sent his fish retainers out to find him a dragon princess, which they did. The couple married and lived very happily for some time, until the princess became ill.

Tennyo

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In Japanese folklore, Tennin are a type of divine spiritual being found in the Buddhist tradition. One type of Tennin appear as extraordinarily beautiful women known as Tennyo. They live in the Buddhist heaven and are servants of the emperor of heaven and companions of the buddhas and bodhisattvas who live there.

Cowherd and Weaver Girl

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In China there is an ancient romantic folktale about Zhinu, a weaver girl and Niulang, a cowherd. Because theirs was a forbidden love, Zhinu was made to return to the heavens and they were separated by the stars that form the Milky Way. Once each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month,

Mekurabe

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In Japanese folklore Mekurabe is a strange yokai created when many skulls group together to take the form of one gigantic skull. It appears at night and silently challenges people to staring contests. Reports indicate that this strange phenomenon begins with a large number of skulls  rolling around before they form into the giant skull, which then begins staring at you.

Kaze no Kami

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In Japanese folklore kaze no kami are invisible, evil spirits believed to cause sickness and suffering by travelling on, and controlling, the wind. Particularly active during spring weather, they move from place to place and home to home.

Gashadokuro

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In Japanese folklore there is a yokai known as gashadkuro that take the form of skeletal giants. The name is onomatopoeic for the sound of their rattling bones and teeth. They are alternatively known as odokuro, which means ‘giant skull.’ This yokai is created from the conglomeration of the many vengeful spirits of soldiers who have died in battle and remained un-buried.

Kudan

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In Japanese folklore the kudan is a yokai with the body of cow and the head of a human. It is born from a cow, but has the ability to speak human language. The kudan's birth is believed to be an omen of a significant event.

Tenjin

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In Shinto, the patron deity (kami) of academics, scholarship and learning is Tenjin, who was once a real man. In Japanese history, Sugawara no Michizane was a successful government official during the late 9th century. He was also a renowned poet and scholar. In the early 10th century he was plotted against which lead to his demotion, exile and subsequent death.

Year of the Tiger

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The tiger is the third animal in the Chinese zodiac, and 2022 is the year of the tiger. The tiger embodies yang energy and so this year is believed to be one full of activity and change. It may be a time of renewed enthusiasm, following dreams and social progress. As a water tiger year, it is also possible that emotions will be in the mix, and this may range from fear through to elation.

The Hag of Adachi Moor

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In Japan there is a folktale about a cannibalistic hag who lived alone on the Adachi Plain. One story tells of a Buddhist monk who arrived at her lonely cottage late at night and asked if he could shelter there.  At first she said no, but he was able to finally persuade her to let him in.