Yokai in Folklore and Art

Yokai is an umbrella term for the supernatural creatures of Japan. I find them endlessly fascinating and have decided to dedicate a separate post to links and information that may be of interest to those wanting to learn more about yokai. For general information about Japanese folklore I have a separate post here with additional links.

To begin, I have to mention yokai.com. This phenomenal website with information and art by Matthew Meyer (also known as 'The Yokai Guy') is in my opinion the best place to start learning about yokai. You can also visit Matthew at matthewmeyer.net

If you want books about yokai, I would highly recommend The Book of Yokai by Michael Dylan Foster, or for lighter reading Yokai Attack by Hiroko Yoda & Matt Alt.

Night Parade of 100 Demons (Hyakki Yagyo) - Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1865.

The Yokai

Below you will find some of the most well known yokai with artwork and links to further reading and information. Of course there are many, many more yokai not mentioned in this post. Check out some of the links in the yokai section of the Japanese Folklore post on this blog to discover more.

'Night Procession of the Hundred Demons (Hyakki Yagyo)' - Hiroharu Itaya, ca. 1860.


Foxes in Japan are known as kitsune and they play a significant role in folklore. From evil shape-shifting yokai who trick helpless victims, to heavenly messengers and servants of the kami Inari.

'The Fox Demon' - Gekko Ogata, 1893.

Kitsune: The Divine/Evil Fox Yokai
Beware the Kitsune, The Shapeshifting Fox of Japanese Folklore
Yokai.com - foxes/kitsune
Kitsune (Mythology Wiki)
Kitsune: The Foxy Side of Japanese Mythology
Kitsune (Mythical Creatures Guide)
Looking At The Importance Of Kitsune In Japanese Folklore
6 Things You Should Know About the Inari Fox in Japanese Folklore
The Enchanting Vixens of Japanese Folklore 

Tea Fox Illustrations


Tanuki are real animals and are often referred to in the west as racoon dogs. They also play a significant part in Japanese folklore and have magical shape-shifting abilities. Once feared, they are now more likely to be seen in statue form outside restaurants as a sign of good fortune.

Tanuki: Mischief, Magic and Change in the Japanese Countryside
Tanuki: The Canine Yokai with Gigantic Balls
Tanuki (onmarkproductions)
Tanuki (yokai.com)
Tanuki: Real and Magical
Tales of the Tanuki: what exactly are they, anyway?
Tanuki no Kintama – Tanuki’s Giant Balls
Tanuki the Tipsy Trickster: Why a Well-Endowed Raccoon Dog Is Big in Japan
The legend of the tanuki: the big bellied magical Japanese raccoon dog
Pom Poko (Studio Ghibli) Trailer

Tengu by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1881.

Kaibyo (Supernatural cats)

Japan seems to be a nation of cat-lovers and when I visited I seemed to see them everywhere, from cat cafes to Hello Kitty, the country seems to be besotted by felines. In folklore, cats are not always so loveable, as you will discover in the tales of bakeneko and nekomata.

'Nekomata' - Sawaki Suushi

Beware of the Cat: Tales of the Wicked Japanese Bakeneko and Nekomata – Part 1
Beware of Cat: Tales of the Wicked Japanese Bakeneko and Nekomata – Part Two
Nekomata: An Evil Cat in Japanese Folklore
Nekomata, cat myths and cat shrines of Japan
Why the Maneki Neko beckons to you…
The Legend of the Japanese Lucky Cat
Feline Folklore: Decoding the Lucky Cat
Kasha the Corpse-Eating Cat and Friends: Meet the Creepy Kitties of Japan
Yokai.com - Cat Yokai

'Nekomata' - Utagawa Kunisada, 1847.


Another yokai that has made its way into popular culture is the tengu. Sometimes considered a yokai or demon, and other times revered as a demi-god, these fascinating creatures are worth exploring...but be sure to keep your distance.

My Tengu post on this blog
Tengu: The Japanese Demon That's Basically a Mini-God
Daitengu (Greater Tengu) (yokai.com)
Kotengu (lesser Tengu) (yokai.com)
Tengu (mythology.net)
Tengu: The Slayer of Vanity
The Dogs of Heaven - Tengu and the Secret Practice of Buddhism
Magic and Mayhem of Japanese Legend: Don’t Try To Out-Trick A Tengu!
Mt. Takao & the Tengu (Donny Kimball)
Tengu: The Supernatural Spirit of Japanese Folklore - YouTube
Tengu: The Bird Demons Of Japanese Mythology - (Japanese Mythology & Folklore Explained)  (YouTube)

Tengu - Matthew Meyer (yokai.com)


Kappa are an example of a yokai that has been transformed in modern times. Today kappa appear as cute and loveable, often seen as stickers or soft toys, but in folklore it's a very different story. These viscious water-dwelling creatures will tear out your insides if you give them half a chance.

'An Illustrated Guide to Twelve Types of Kappa' - ca.1850.

Kappa: Japan's Aquatic, Cucumber-loving, Booty-obsessed Yokai
Are mummified remains of unidentified creature proof of the mythological Kappa?
How a Mythical Imp that Snuck Up People’s Large Intestines Became a Symbol of Japan
Kappa (onmarkproductions)
Kappa (mythology.net)
Kappa (mythology wika)
Kappa and Japanese Folklore
The Mysterious Kappa of Japan

Yama Uba

Yama uba is a mountain witch in Japanese folklore. Some believe the tales arose during a time when during food shortages the oldest family members were abandoned in the mountains and left to die. The haunting spirits of old women became yama uba.

Yokai.com - Yama Uba
Discovering the universality of Baba yaga and Yama-uba, the old mountain crone


In Japanese folklore there is a common theme that as things age they develop supernatural powers. This is also the case for household objects which, after dutifully serving their owners for 100 years, can animate and become yokai.

Tsukumogami: Japan’s Household Spirits
Tsukumogami – Japanese “Tool” Ghosts and Monsters
Types of Yokai: Tsukumogami
Haunted Artifacts (Tsukumogami) - Uncanny Japan

Yurei (Ghosts)

Yurei are Japanese ghosts. Sometimes these spirits are known as onryo, or vengeful ghosts, and they return seeking revenge for a wrongful death.

Japan's Three Great Ghost Stories
Ghosts on the Shore
Ghosts in Ancient Japan
Yurei: The Ghosts of Japan

'Portrait of Oiwa' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Yokai on Twitter

I often post about yokai on Twitter. To get a quick taste of yokai you can check my latest tweets about yokai at this link.

'The Ghost of Kasane' - Utagawa Kunisada, 1852.