What is a Yōkai?

What is a Yōkai?

Very popular creatures from Japanese folklore, Yōkai have also taken over pop culture through fields such as cinema, music and video games such as Yo-kai Watch, a very popular game among young people, especially in Japan. 

It is therefore quite normal that many readers and fans of Japan desire to understand and know more about these mysterious creatures from the Land of the Rising Sun. So, let’s start with the basics and question ourselves what is a Yōkai?

Yōkai (妖怪) are mythological creatures from Japanese Folklore. It exists 4 types of Yokai categorizing them depending of their nature; Sacred beasts, animals and demons, ghosts and spirits, and possessed objects. In Feudal Japan, Japanese people used the term Yōkai to explain all extraordinary phenomena, in the sense that they disturb the social and cognitive norm established in a given society, and whose manifestations or interactions with men and women are presented as potential causes of various evils. 

As you can see, the Yōkai are not just about a list of predefined creatures, but a set of supernatural phenomena that arise from unexplainable everyday events and their place in the Japanese imagination. Animals, demons, inanimate objects, unexplained phenomena, the catalog of what we can call a Yōkai is very versatile.

However, the Yōkai do not always have such a direct and formal representation, and for good reason. As a reminder, the word Yōkai is used to describe supernatural or unexplainable phenomena to those who witness them.

The perfect example remains the Azukitogi, which is the personification of the strange noise that beans do when we wash them. In the same way, if a fishing net or a mosquito net is cut, it would be the fault of an Amikiri, a creature that is half lobster, half snake, half bird, and that swims as well in water as in the air.

So, did this short introduction intrigued you to the point that you want to know more about the incredible world of Japanese Yōkai? Then follow us and let’s discover everything there is to know about these mysterious creatures together! #intro

What does Yōkai Mean?

DefinitionThe term Yōkai (妖怪) in Japanese means commonly “ghost”, “phantom” or “strange apparition” and refers to all phenomena or extraordinary creatures that have an impact on the human world without any other explanation. 

Furthermore, there are also other synonym terms used by Japanese people that share more or less the same meaning such as Mamono, Ayakashi or the most notorious one Mononoke

Kodama Apparition in Princess Mononoke – ©Studio Ghibli

Mononoke for example is the Japanese pronunciation of Yōkai and literally means “spirit of a thing” or “strange thing”. For those who are fans of Studios Ghibli works and movies, you surely recognize this word as it’s used in the name of the famous movie called Princess Mononoke created Hayao Miyazaki.


What do Yōkai look like?

Although most of Yōkai representations tend to take the form of monsters, since the term remains very vague actually, Yōkai representations can be very various and do not always have to be formally close to the folkloric representations already seen on works or prints from feudal Japan such as monsters, demons, unanimated objects, spirits, and more.

Spirited Away 2001 – ©Studio Ghibli

For example, in the animated movie Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し, Hepburn: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), No-Face (カオナシ Kaonashi, lit. “Faceless”), a character who accompanies Chihiro throughout the film, is a spirit that is not inspired by Japanese folklore.

So, as you can see, the artistic representation can take some liberties, without distorting the meaning of the term Yōkai.


Are Yōkai Evil? 

Although Yōkai tend to take the form of monsters, not all of them are evil and some are even sign of good luck when they appear. Obviously, between the Goryō, vengeful ghosts from the Japanese aristocratic class, and the Hone-onna, the equivalent of the Western succubus in Japanese folklore, it’s hard to look good at them with kind eyes.

However, some Yōkai remain harmless in the manner of the Akaname, who is in the business of licking up dirt in bathtubs and toilets at night, or the Tennin, spirit beings similar to Western nymphs and fairies.

If you want some Yōkai that are synonymous with good fortune, the Zashiki Warashi, for example, is usually depicted as a little boy or girl and is akin to purity. Although his coming brings good fortune, his leaving leaves a decline incoming.

As you can see, Yōkai are an integral part of Japanese culture. Present for more than a millennium in Japanese mythology, but also in other Asian mythology, Yōkai have gradually been democratized to become established in the areas of pop culture that we all know.


Are Yōkai Real?

In the ancient Japan, Yōkai were considered real and not only stories told to children to scare them. The existence of most of the Yōkai is the result as they were not other source of explanation for various unexplainable events that needed an answer for the Japanese.

Today in 2021, with the advance of the modern world and science, it is clearly difficult to accept the existence of these mysterious creatures in our daily lives. However, it is up to you to appreciate or not the diversity and versatility of this universe full of myths and zany representations that make Japanese culture what it is today!


Types of Yōkai

If you asking yourself how many types of Yōkai are there in Japanese Folklore, the short answer is that there are 4 different types; The Sacred Beasts, the Ōbake and Bakemono, the Yūrei and the Tsukumogami.

However, we must inform you that there is a few different ways to list them and there is no consensus at the moment. Here a little list of the most famous Yōkai and their different types that you can encounter in the Japanese literature:


1. Sacred Beasts

Sacred Beasts (or Sacred Creatures) are the first type of Yokai in Japanese Folklore. Inspired very strongly by the Chinese mythology, these legendary creatures are extremely important to Japanese People as they are part of their most ancient believes and traditions.

1.1. Tatsu (龍)

Tatsu (lit. Dragon or Sign of the Dragon) are huge beasts looking like winged lizards covered with scales, claw-like feet and pointed tail. The dragon is also commonly associated with elements such as water. 

The Dragons symbolize the Spring and the East in Japanese Tradition. 

1.2. Hōō (鳳凰)

Hōō (lit. Phoenix) are majestic creatures with a bird’s beak, a swallow’s jaw, and a snake’s neck. The front half of the Phoenix’s body tends to look like as a giraffe and the back half as a deer. Its back as the same shape than that of a tortoise, and its tail is like a fish.

The Phoenix symbolizes the Summer and the South in Japanese Tradition.

1.3. Byakko (白虎)

Byakko (lit. White Tiger) are Albino Tigers, sometimes depicted as huge as trees and that are considered to be the king of all beasts, warriors and a protectors.

The White Tiger symbolizes the Autumn and the West in Japanese Tradition

1.4. Genbu (玄武)

Genbu (lit. Tortoise) are very rare creatures looking like giant Tortoises that are said to be immortal. They are also a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.

The Tortoise symbolizes the Winter and the North in Japanese Tradition


2. Ōbake (お化け) and Bakemono (化け物)

Ōbake also called Bakemono (lit. Monsters or Things that change) are the second type of Yokai in Japanese Folklore. These Yōkai are Shapeshifters, which means that they are able to switch of appearances and turn into into Animal, but also Human forms

2.1. Animals

Here is a list of the different animal forms Shapeshifters can turn into:  

2.1.1 Cats (ネコ, Neko) 

After the massive use of domestic cats to hunt rats, it was in the middle of the Edo period that the idea of turning this animal into monsters first appeared. Here are the two most notorious Cat Yōkai: 

Bakeneko (化け猫)

Superstition old of centuries in Japan, the Bakeneko is a rather special feline. Meaning literally “Monster Cat“, the Bakeneko is a Yōkai taking the appearance of a cat with a long tail and able to walk on only two legs. It is also said that Bakeneko have certain abilities such as speech, metamorphism, and even the resurrection of the dead.

The legend says that to become a Bakeneko, a cat must meet certain criteria: be at least 13 years old, weigh more than 3.5 kg, and have an abnormally long tail. A characteristic which then launched a trend in the 17th century allowing Japanese people to have only cats with short tails.

Furthermore, a cat transformed into a Bakeneko would even go so far as to kill its master to take his place and thus control the whole household.

Nekomata (猫また)

The Nekomata (lit. Cat with forked tail) is a demon-cat that can live in the mountains as well as domestically. If they live domestically, they age and transform. Often confused with the Bakeneko, the Nekomata is a necromancer. He has for example the power to resurrect the dead, and to control them.

For centuries, Nekomata have been considered evil and is often associated with inexplicable events, and, according to some writings, some Nekomata could take on the appearance of an elderly woman

2.1.2 Snakes (蛇, Hebi)

In Japanese folklore, there are many Yōkai taking the form of a snake. One of the most famous is the Nure-Onna.

Nure-Onna (濡女)

Nure-Onna (lit. “wet woman”) is a Yōkai that looks like an amphibious creature with the head of a woman and the body of a serpent. Although the description of her appearance varies slightly from story to story, she is described as 300 meters long with snake-like eyes, long claws, fangs, and long, beautiful hair. Legend says that you are most likely to see a Nure-Onna on a shore washing her hair.

2.1.3 Dogs (犬, Ken)

As in most civilizations, the dog is perceived in Japan as a faithful and kind companion, but also as a fierce animal towards the enemies of its master. In Japanese folklore, it was once said that dogs were able to speak, to be cunning and sometimes dangerous. One of the many Yōkai that take the shape of a dogs, the most notorious is surely the Inugami.

Inugami (犬神)

The Inugami (lit. Dog God) is a Dog spirit created by a human. The legend says that an old woman wanted to get back at someone. So she buried her dog up to his head and said to him:

“if you have a soul, obey me and fulfill my wishes. In exchange, I will worship you like a god”

She then sawed off the animal’s head and placed it on a bamboo pole. The dog became a spirit, fulfilled the wish of his mistress but haunted her for the rest of her life.

2.1.4 Kamaitachi (鎌鼬)

The Kamaitachi (lit. Sickle Weasel) is a Yōkai whose legend says from the Kōshinetsu region. This Yōkai looks like a solo or trio of weasels with sharp claws.

It is specified in the Japanese literature that first of the three weasels knocks down the victim who has been attacked by surprise; the second cuts off the victim’s legs while the third applies first aid. 


2.1.5 Kitsune (狐)

The Kitsune (lit. Fox) is a very important symbol of the Japanese folklore. Magical animal just like the Tanuki, this polymorphous fox with nine tails is a Yōkai whose origin goes back to the 9th century. It is said to be the messenger of Inari, the goddess of rice and trade. Naturally cunning, he likes to play tricks on humans. 

2.1.6 Mujina (貉)

The Mujina (lit. Badger) are frequently depicted as Yōkai who metamorphose and deceive humans. They first appear in Japanese literature in the Nihon shoki, in the section devoted to the 35th year of Empress Suiko’s reign (627) where we can read that there was a general idea that a Mujina could change shape and turn into humans


2.1.6 Wolves (狼)

Like foxes, wolves are hugely present in Japanese Folklore to the point where there is even a deity with its appearance, the Ōkami.

Ōkami (狼)

As his name indicates, Ōkami is a kami (deity). It is one of the Shinto deities, in the same way as Fujin, the god of wind, or Inari, the god of rice and fertility. Okami is most often represented as a white wolf or a wolf-dog. He can also be found from time to time with a coat of fire.

This image of Ōkami became popular especially in the last years with the release of the game Okami. Finally, for the literary people his name means the “admirable god“. 


2.1.6 Tanuki (狸)

The Tanuki (lit. Japanese raccoon dog) is known for his very peculiar powers. Indeed, like the kitsune, it seems that he is a master in the art of disguise: he can change his shape at will.

Physically, they are almost always represented with a straw hat and a flask of sake. Their belly is big and inflatable at will and they also have a very large scrotum that touches the ground. Whether it’s their belly or their testicles, it usually serves as a drum; the sound that comes out of it is said to be like “pompoko pon pon”. Furthermore, the tanuki’s scrotum has many more uses than just a drum: they can use it as a weapon, as an umbrella, for warmth or even as a fishing net!


2.1.6 Spiders (蛛)

Like in several other countries, the spiders have embraced a large part of Japanese Folklore. The most notorious Ōbake with a shape of spider is known as Tsuchigumo. 

Tsuchigumo (土蜘蛛)

Tsuchigumo (lit. Earth Spider) is a fearsome Yōkai who can change his appearance and appears as a huge hairy spider, from which no one can escape.

Legend has it that one day, after following a flying skull into a domain of evil Yōkai, Raiko, upon arrival, met a beautiful woman there. Two versions for the continuation of the myth exist.

In the first version, this woman was none other than Tsuchigumo. Raiko ended up trapped in her web, but he was able to wound her and free himself to fight her, killing her after a terrible fight.

In the other version, the young woman was not Tsuchigumo, and as soon as Raiko met her, he cut her with his katana, because she wanted to trick him. Then he went to a cave where he faced a giant spider which was Tsuchigumo.

2.2. Demons and Others 

2.2.1. Oni (鬼)

The Oni is the equivalent of western demons or ogres in Japanese Folklore. They vary in appearance but are all gigantic humanoid creatures with sharp claws and teeth and two horns of varying length. Their head can look like that of a man or be that of an animal such as a monkey, a horse, an ox or even a bird. The color of their skin is very variable, going from red to blue but also from black to green.

Moreover, the Oni is reputed to be very resistant and few swords can cut it. Some of them have particularities like having only one eye, three eyes or extra fingers.

Finally, they have no gender, there are either male or female Oni demon in Japanese Folklore just like the Hannya for example.

2.2.2. Tengu (天狗)

The Tengu are mythical creatures with, at first, human and canine characteristics, as its name suggests. Indeed, Tengu is written with the kanji 天 “ten” (“sky”), and 狗 “gu” (“dog”), which literally means “heavenly dog“. This “heavenly dog” is said to be of Chinese origin, but in Japan it would certainly have been associated with demons existing in local folklore, hence the successive changes in its appearance.

Over the years, the “heavenly dog” became a “bird-man”. He was then represented with wings and a huge nose. His face is usually crimson red, pierced by big scary eyes and sometimes surrounded by long black or white hair.

The Tengu are generally represented with the costume of the Yamabushi, the ascetic warriors of the mountains, of which they would be the tutelary deities.

2.2.3. Kappa (河童)

The Kappa is presented as an anthropomorphic turtle and is known to seek to lure humans into the water, its natural habitat, and make them obey its will. He is also presented as a human bloodsucker, however, modern depictions of the kappa often present it as a creature varied in its reactions.

With the size of a child, the Kappa lives in water, usually in rivers, and sometimes in lakes or ponds. When in contact with it, humans are condemned to obey its will. Despite its small size, the kappa is considered to be a being of fearsome power.

He is represented with hair, a hole in the middle of his skull which serves to store the water from which he draws his power and he is sometimes found with a shell, like a turtle, and a bird’s beak.

2.2.4. Ningyo (人魚)

The Ningyo (lit. Fish Human or Siren) are creatures that most ethnicity share together and that lived specifically in the seas of Japanese mythology. In the past, she was described as having a human torso, a monkey’s mouth with fish teeth, a fish tail with golden scales and a sweet voice that sounded a bit like a flute or a swallow.

2.2.5. Qilin (麒麟)

Qilin (also called Kirin) was an ancient dragon with a horn and a bright white aura that makes it look like a unicorn. It casts a pure white “shadow” underneath it at all times. The Qilin is a beneficial Yōkai as its appearance is always a good omen and is the announcement of an era of prosperity under the government of a wise man.

Indeed, the Qirin likes protected and peaceful places and will be more inclined to settle in a well administered land. It has a gentle and quiet character, is herbivorous, and is careful not to harm any living thing. Its gentleness is such that it does not crush the vegetation it walks on. But the Qirin also has its little precious side. He hates to get dirty and therefore only sleeps in clean places. If he doesn’t want to get wet, he can even walk on water.

Conversely, the disappearance of a Qilin is always a bad sign. It means that a balance has been broken. The death of a Qilin is even more negative and announces a misfortune such as the death of the ruler or troubled times for the region.

2.2.6. Kodama (木霊)

The Kodama (lit. Tree spirit) is a spirit living in a tree in Japan that can have many different forms. According to the legends, the echo that can be heard in the mountains is caused by these Yōkai.

This Yōkai became very popular after the release of the movie Princess Mononoke from Studio Ghibli where we can see lots of Kodama with the appearance of small humanoids with mischievous look, with a face that looks like a mask and having entirely black eyes.

In this movie, Kodamas reflect the health of the forest. Their presence is a sign that the forest is doing well, but when it withers, they wither with it.

2.2.7. Komainu (狛犬)

Komainu (lit. lion-dogs) are a Yōkai from Japanese Folklore whose duty is to repress bad spirits and to preserve Peace of the place which they guard such as temples and places of worship. An important function, which the Komainu would have actually inherited from the Shishi (獅子, lion), their ancestors  from China.

The first Komainu appeared during the Edo period and was called Sandō Komainu (参道狛犬, visit Komainu road), the second oldest was called Jinnai Komainu (陣内狛犬, shrine inside komainu).

3. Yūrei (幽霊)

Yūrei (lit. Ghosts) are the third type of Yokai in Japanese Folklore. They are ghosts and spirits that couldn’t reach the other world peacefully. The term Yūrei is a combination of two kanji, yu (幽), which means “weak” and rei (霊), which means “spirit” or “soul”. 

Ame Onna (雨女)

Ame Onna (lit. The Rain Woman) is a Yūrei Yōkai who originates from China. It is the spirit of a woman appearing in the rain whose legend says that was a goddess from Mount Wushan in China, and who was a cloud in the morning and rain in the afternoon. When she arrived in Japan, she became a Yōkai that troubles the Japanese population during the Rainy days.

However, although she is not loved by many Japanese at the time, farmers used to worship her and pray that she would bring the necessary rain to the crops. 

3.2. Aoandon (青行燈)

Aoandon (lit. The Blue Lantern Ghost) is a Yūrei Yōkai that appears when the last candle of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (a very popular Japanese oral game from the Edo period) is extinguished.

3.3. Aonyōbō (青女房)

Aonyōbō (lit. The Blue Wife) is a female ghost from Japanese folklore. She takes the form of a woman who wears black makeup on her teeth and is known to haunt the abandoned imperial palace. She haunts places like ruins, mansions and abandoned palaces. She has the white skin of a noblewoman, with eyebrows drawn with a fine felt-tip pen, except that the beauty has long since left her.

The wrinkles and dirt caused by her habitat make her strangely repulsive. She is dressed in lots of beautiful kimonos once upon a time, but now they are eaten away by moths. She feeds on mold and rotten food, if not humans…

3.4. Gashadokuro (がしゃどくろ)

Gashadokuro (lit. The Starving Skeleton) also called Odokuro are spirits taking the form of giant skeletons and being fifteen times larger than an average person; it is said that they are created from the piles of bones of people who died from starvation or in battle, without being buried.

The legend says that these Yūrei Yōkai wander around after midnight, catching lone travelers and biting their heads off to drink the resulting blood. There is a way to know when they are approaching, as soon as their victims hear a dull ringing in their ears. Gashadokuro are reputed to possess the powers of invisibility and invincibility, although Omamori are supposed to ward them off.

3.5. Hari Onna (針女)

Hari Onna (lit. The Hook Woman) also called Harionago (針女子, Hari Onago lit. The Hook Girl) is a Yūrei Yōkai with a shape of a “scary ghoul” in Japanese mythology. Her name can be translated as “barbed woman”. The harionago is said to be a “beautiful woman with extremely long hair with thorn-like tips”. Her hair is under her “direct control and she uses it to trap men”.

She is known to roam the streets of Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island. When she finds “a young man, she will smile at him, and if the young man dares to smile back at her, the harionago will pull down her terrible barbed wire hair and attack him.”

3.6. Futakuchi-onna (二口女)

Futakuchi-onna (lit. The Two Mouthed Woman) is a type of Yōkai of Japanese monster. They are characterized by their two mouths – a normal one located on her face and a second one on the back of the head beneath the hair. There, the woman’s skull splits apart, forming lips, teeth and a tongue, creating an entirely functional second mouth.

In Japanese mythology and folklore, the Futakuchi-onna belongs to the same class of stories as the Rokurokubi, Kuchisake-onna and the Yama-uba, women afflicted with a curse or supernatural disease that transforms them into Yōkai. The supernatural nature of the women in these stories is usually concealed until the last minute, when the true self is revealed.

3.7. Hitotsume-Kozō (一 つ 目 小僧)

Hitotsume-Kozō (lit. The One Eyed Child) is a Yōkai from Japan who takes on the appearance of a bald child with an eye in the center of his forehead similar to a Cyclops.

In general, Hitotsume-Kozō do not cause any injury and are a relatively a harmless type as they are said to appear suddenly and only surprise people. By this, we can say that their behavior could also be understood in terms of Karakasa-Obake. Perhaps because they do not perform evil deeds, when they are depicted in images, they are often portrayed in a humorous way.

3.8. Hone Onna (骨女)

Hone Onna (lit. The Skeleton Woman) is a Yūrei Yōkai from Japanese folklore. This spirit takes the shape of a beautiful woman that offers herself to men and, while doing so, sucks out their life force.

Hone Onna could be the Japanese representation of the Succubus from Western lands and appears in different works such as the manga Hell Girl (Jigoku Shōjo: Girl from Hell) and Kitarō of the Graveyard (GeGeGe no Kitarō).

3.9. Jikininki (食人鬼)

The Jikininki (lit. The Human-Eating Ghost) are the spirits of greedy, selfish or ungodly humans who are cursed after death to seek out and eat human corpses. They carry out such acts during the night, in the pursuit of fresh dead bodies and food offerings left for the dead. Sometimes, they also loot the corpses they eat to find valuables that they use to bribe local officials to leave them alone. They go out on the prowl at night to desecrate graves and feed on corpses. They are zombies, i.e. the living dead.

Jikininki are often said to resemble decaying corpses, perhaps with some non-human markings such as sharp claws or glowing eyes. They are a terrible sight, and any human who sees one will be frozen with fear. Either way, quite a few stories give them the ability to magically disguise themselves as a normal human being and even lead normal “lives” during the day.

3.10. Kuchisake-Onna (口裂け女)

Kuchisake-Onna (lit. The Slit Mouth Woman) is the ghost of a scorned and disfigured woman who was killed by her husband, a jealous samurai. The story takes place several centuries before the Heian era in Japan. The woman is described as very pretty, but not very faithful to her husband.

Her husband, feeling disgraced and betrayed after his wife’s adulteries, decides to mutilate and then kill her. Thus, he slits her mouth from the corners to the ears while shouting at her:

Who will find you beautiful now?” ¨

After her death, Kuchisake-Onna will be transformed into a malicious spirit whose only desire will be revenge. For this, she returns from the dead and kills as she was murdered.

Nowadays, according to the popular version of the legend, it is said that Kuchisake-Onna wanders like a lost soul in the countryside after dark. The vengeful spirit is said to be dressed in long, dark clothes with her smile hidden behind a surgical mask. Armed with a pair of scissors, when she meets a child, she asks him:

“Am I beautiful?”

If the child answers yes, she then removes her mask and shows him her lacerated mouth. The woman asks him again:

“Even like this?”

If the child answers “no”, she kills him immediately. On the contrary, if he answers “yes”, then Kuchisake-onna takes him home and kills him in front of his house.

There are other versions of the legend in which the young woman attacks men instead or the solution to escape her revenge is to answer that she is neither beautiful nor ugly or to return her questions which will make her flee.

3.11. Noppera-Bō (のっぺら坊)

Noppera-Bō (lit. The Faceless Ghost) is a legendary Japanese Yōkai and ghost. It is sometimes mistakenly called mujina, an old word for badger (animal). Although mujina prefer the form of a faceless person, Noppera-Bō are usually human. Shape-shifting creatures, such as tanuki, kitsune, mujina sometimes playfully take on the appearance of a Noppera-Bō to scare humans. Lafcadio Hearn uses the animal’s name (mujina) as the title of his faceless monster story adding a little more to the misuse of terminology.

Nopperabō are known primarily for scaring humans, but are generally harmless. They first appear as a normal human being, sometimes impersonating someone familiar to the victim; before letting their features disappear, leaving white, smooth, empty skin where the face should have been

3.12. Yuki Onna (雪女)

Yuki Onna (lit. The Snow Woman) also known as Yukijorō (雪白, lit. The Snow Courtesan) is a Yōkai who appears in areas with heavy snowfall on blizzard nights. The first appearances of Yuki Onna are mentioned at the end of the 17th century in the Sōgi Shokoku Monogatari; and if the Yōkai traditionally appears on stormy or full moon nights, other sources affirm that she appears only on a precise date, either on January 15th, or during the whole period between January 1st and February 1st.

She is traditionally associated with the soul of a deceased person in the mountains, but there are many versions of her legend that make her appear as the ghost of a pregnant woman or as a princess of the moon. The versions agree on the ambivalence of this Yōkai, beautiful and terrifying, cruel and compassionate, who can cause death but also choose to let life be saved.


4. Tsukumogami (付喪神)

Tsukumogami (lit. “tool kami”) are the fourth and last type of Yokai in Japanese Folklore. The old believes say that an object can acquire a soul and come to life if it reaches its 100th birthday; more rarely it can also come to life out of resentment and bitterness if it has been abandoned or damaged.

Any artifact can be transformed into a Tsukumogami, including ordinary household objects. For this reason, Tsukumogami come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. They keep the appearance of the original object, but have in addition a face (often represented with a single eye and a wide open mouth, sticking out the tongue), legs, arms…

Tsukumogami are of an evil nature; they haunt human beings and play nasty tricks on them, even injuring or killing them.. Here are few of them:

4.1. Bakezōri (化け草履)

Bakezōri (lit. Monster Sandal) is a fictional being from Japanese folklore belonging to the group of Yōkai Tsukumogami. The Bakezōri is described as an errant sandal with two arms and two legs but only one eye that enters people’s home to scare households at night, running and signing continuously:

“Kararin, kororin, kankororin, managu mittsu ni ha ninmai!”
“Two eyes, three eyes and two teeth! “)

4.2. Biwa-Bokuboku (琵琶牧々)

Biwa-Bokuboku (lit. The Lute) is usually described as a Biwa (Japanese lute) with a human body and he is often said to be dressed in an expensive kimono

The legend says that Biwa-Bokuboku sits in a tatami room, singing and strumming, lamenting his neglect by his former owner, or he dances noisily through the chambers. It is also said that Biwa-Bokuboku sometimes leave the house and wander around playing for money like street musicians.

4.3. Chōchin-Obake (提灯お化け)

Chōchin-Obake (lit. The Paper Lantern Ghost) also called Burabura (不落不落, lit. The Paper Lantern) is a Tsukumogami shaped as a traditional Japanese Lantern. Chōchin-Obake is made of Paper of Silk around a bamboo ribs structure and who possesses a single round eye, in the centre of its body.

This Yōkai generally does not do any harm to humans, preferring to scare them rather than to hurt them. They usually stick out their tongue, roll their big eyes and laugh loudly to scare the passers-by,

4.4. Kasa-Obake (傘おばけ)

Kasa-Obake (lit. The Umbrella Ghost) also called Karakasa (から傘おばけ) is a Yōkai Ghost shaped with an appearance of an old umbrella

The Kasa-Obake is one of the most famous Yōkais. It is present in all ghost parades alongside skeletons and evil spirits to scare humans. He appears in many movies or video games like Yōkai Watch. Its popularity is such that it has become a classic tattoo design.

According to the legend, the Kasa-Obake is an umbrella that has been neglected by its owners. At the age of 100, its appearance was transformed and the object came to life. Now a living being, it decides to use its powers to torment mere mortals.

He waits until we are asleep to jump around the bed on his one leg. He sneaks up behind us when we think we are alone to lick us with his huge, wet, raspy tongue. On stormy nights, he joins his breath to the wind to amplify the noise.

4.5. Kameosa (瓶長)

Kameosa (lit. The Old Sake Kars) is a fictional being created by Toriyama Sekien in his work Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro and that found its way into Japanese folklore. It belongs to the Tsukumogami Yōkai group and is considered mostly benevolent to humans as it looks like a jug, which is the bottle that Japanese fill with sake.

Kameosa’s front appears a grimacing, often sullen-looking face with, on the sides, two hairy arms and hands. It it also said that it can walk on two legs.

4.6. Morinji-no-Kama (茂林寺釜)

Morinji-no-Kama (lit. The Tea Kettles)  is a Japanese folk tale about a Tanuki (a raccoon-like werewolf dog) who transforms into a tea pot to reward his savior for his kindness. As a Yōkai, this cauldron is called Morin-no-kama (Jap. 茂林寺の釜, “Morin Temple Cauldron”). It is believed that the hot water inside the kettle never runs out. The kettle appears in the Japanese manga and anime Coldblooded Hozuki.

The story is about a poor man who finds a trapped Tanuki. Feeling sorry for the animal, he frees it. That night, the tanuki comes to the poor man’s house to thank him for his kindness. He turns into a tea pot and offers to sell it to the man for money.

The man sells the teapot to a monk, who takes it with him, and after hard cleaning, puts it over the fire to boil water. Unable to withstand the heat, the kettle-tanuki grows legs and escapes from the monk in this semi-transformed form.

Tanuki returns to the poor man with another idea: to create a roadside circus performance with the teapot walking on a stretched rope, and to charge admission to those wishing to see the act. The plan worked, and each of the companions benefited: the man no longer needed the money, and the tanuki had a friend and a home.

In one version of this story, the Tanuki cannot return from the monk and is left in a transformed form as a receiver. The distraught monk decides to keep the tea pot as an offering to his poor temple, deciding not to use it for tea from now on. The temple eventually becomes famous for its dancing tea pot.

4.7 Mokumokuren (目目連)

Mokumokuren (lit. The Paper Screens with Eyes) are Yōkai spirits from Japanese folklore, supposedly living in shōji paper and, less frequently, in old tatami or walls. Their name literally means “many eyes” or “solid eyes.

In many Japanese legends, Mokumokuren often inhabit haunted houses and supposedly steal people’s eyes at night. The only way to get rid of this Yōkai is to put holes in the walls or partitions. It’s origin can be explained with the optical illusion that can occur when moonlight falls on a paper door and creates the impression that eyes are looking at us.

4.8. Zorigami (折り紙)

Zorigami (lit. The Clock) is a Yōkai with a shape of a possessed clock. No further information of its origin has been found for now.

4.9. Kosodenote (小袖の手)

Kosodenote (lit. The Kimono) are Yōkai shaped as short-sleeved kimonos formerly owned by prostitutes. It is characterized by a pair of ghostly hands emerging from the sleeves and assaulting nearby people.

4.10. Kyōrinrin (経凛々)

Kyōrinrin (lit. The Scrolls or Papers) is a Tsukumogami with an appearance of ancient scrolls, books, and scriptures that have been left unstudied by their owners and gathering dust.

Kyōrinrin are often extravagant; they decorates themselves with the most ornate volumes and scrolls, wearing them like a kimono. A scroll with tassels becomes the headpiece, and they develop bird-like beaks and long, extendible arms.


What Yōkai are you?

And that’s it dear readers, this is the end of this big article written by a passionate of ancient Japan and dedicated to teach you more about the incredible universe of the Japanese Yōkai. Now it’s your turn to work and tell us in the comments if you could become one of these creatures of the Japanese Folklore, what Yōkai are you?

Are you a legendary creature, a spirit, a demon, an animal or an object? Let us know in the comment section!

Ja ne

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