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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.

The Fox Barber

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In Japanese folklore there is a tale known as The Fox Barber. In a village in Tottori Prefecture there lived a fox named Oton who loved to bewitch people and shave their heads. The leader of the village called a meeting and offered a reward to anyone who was willing to try and defeat the mischievous fox once and for all.

The Butterfly Lovers

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The Butterfly Lovers is considered one of China’s four great folktales. Set in the Eastern Jin dynasty, it tells the tragic love story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. Zhu was the only daughter of a wealthy family. Despite living in a time when women were not allowed to study, she convinced her father to let her attend classes disguised as a man.

Rokurokubi

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In Japanese folklore, rokurokubi are yokai that appear as regular women but with the curious ability to extend their necks. There are actually two types of rokurokubi, one whose neck is able to stretch out to an extraordinary length and wander around while the body is sleeping.

Abe no Seimei

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Abe no Seimei was a famous onmyoji, a Japanese magician and diviner for the imperial court in the Heian period. As an onmyoji, Seimei practiced onmyodo (meaning 'the way of yin and yang') a form of Japanese occultism based on Chinese five element theory. It involved magic, divination and spiritual protection and had an important role in Japan before eventually becoming prohibited in the mid 19th century.

Inugami

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In Japanese folklore, inugami is a type of spirit possession in the form of a dog familiar. These yokai are created by powerful sorcerers and remain in a family for generations. They are capable of doing the bidding of their masters, often committing terrible deeds on their behalf. They are also able to possess others, causing serious illness and even death. 

Tatarimokke

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In Japanese folklore, there is a yokai known as tatarimokke, which translates as cursed infant. A tatarimokke appears just like an ordinary owl but is actually the spirit of a dead baby or young child. These yokai remain close to the home of the family with whom they lived while alive.

Ukemochi

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In Japanese mythology, Ukemochi is a goddess of food and because food is so important for survival, she is still worshipped today alongside Amaterasu at the Ise Shrine. In one myth, she invites the god Tsukuyomi to attend a feast.  When he arrived, the goddess produced the food for the feast from her body. 

The Man Who Became a Dragon

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In Japanese folklore there is a common belief that most bodies of water contain a nushi, or guardian spirit. There is one particular tale about a man named Botaro, who was the son of farmers. Instead of helping on the farm, each day he chose to go fishing alone at a nearby pond which everyone thought was very strange behaviour.

Senbiki Okami

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Senbiki okami is a supernatural phenomenon relating to large packs of wolves that is found throughout Japanese folklore. This strange yokai occurrence tends to involve travellers being chased at night by wolves where they find that their only option to save themselves is to climb up a very tall tree. What happens next is that the wolves climb on top of each other's backs to form a living ladder.

Aosagibi

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In Japanese folklore there is a belief that when animals and birds reach advanced age they can transform into yokai. Aosagibi, which translates as blue heron fire, is a phenomenon that occurs when an elderly night heron develops supernatural qualities.

Nopperabo

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Nopperabo is a strange supernatural phenomenon from Japanese folklore. This yokai appears just like any normal human, but it is far from ordinary because it has no face. Generally nopperabo aim to scare unsuspecting victims out of their wits. They lurk around on dark streets, often keeping their backs turned until people get close, whereupon it turns to reveal a featureless face.

The Sumo Doll Who Chased Off the Bandits

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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

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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.