Yokai is generally known as monsters, ghosts, demons or anything that is affiliated with the supernatural world. These yokai are mostly mythical creatures made up to scare children. However, some Japanese believed that these yokai existed during ancient times and that it still lingers around until today. Some yokai are based on Japanese folklore, fables and some were created from Noh theatres and books. Yokai can be evil and good, depends on the story. In this article, we are going to show you some of the popular types of yokai and its backstory.
Kappa: The River Monster
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Kappa is known as river child because of its child-like size and they live near swamps, rivers or anywhere with water. Their body is green, scaly, has webbed hands and feet, short, a beak for the mouth and a shell on its back. Kappa has a flat dish bowl on top of its head that contains water. The water helps Kappa to maintain its powers. If the bowl is dry, Kappa will eventually die or at least lose its powers and become hard to move.
This river monster has a habit of drowning people by pulling their legs, mischievous, and likes to assault women. Parents will tell stories about Kappa to their children to avoid them swimming in the waters. Cucumbers and sumo wrestling are two of Kappa favourite things. People will usually throw cucumbers in rivers to make them happy. Regardless of his bad qualities, Kappa is true to their words and promises.
Tengu: The Bird Monster
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Aside from Kappa, Tengu is also a famous Japanese yokai which originated as far back in the 6th century. Previously, Tengu has a beak for its nose, but then, it was changed into a long nose as can be perceived now. This bird monster is known as a shapeshifter where it constantly takes on a human form to bring catastrophe into this world. As evil as Tengu can be, the people worshipped them as they are the deity of mountains and forests in several places in Japan. You will usually see Tengu in most cultural festivals where humans will put on a red mask with its notorious long nose, a pair of wings and dressed in a traditional robe.
Nuribotoke: Lacquered Buddha
Image Source: Yokai Fandom.
Nuribotoke is recognized as an animated corpse which resembles a Buddha. They have a stinking odour, black-coloured skin, a huge bloated tummy, a catfish tail, and eyes dangling out of its socket. This yokai creeps out at night when they see an opened ‘butsudan’ (a cabinet that contains a small Buddhist shrine). Butsudan is frequently found in Japanese homes and temples. It is said that if you leave the cabinet’s door open at night, Nuribotoke will appear to scare you and your family.
One way to avoid them is to close the cabinet’s door. However, in this modern world, during certain occasions, families will leave the door open and prepare food offerings for them. Nuribotoke will sometimes appear as a Buddhist priest to disseminate false prophecies to fool the worshippers. At times, they will just dance around at night.
Yama-uba: Mountain Hag
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Yama-uba is a tale of an old woman who is a witch that stays in a mountainous area, huts, or caves. Based on their physical appearance, Yama-uba has a kind look with no signs of inflicting evil. They used to be humans but were cursed into monsters and witches.
They often offer a place to sleep for travellers in their house. When the travellers are asleep, Yama-uba will transform into its true state and eats them. The stories were mentioned by travellers who have successfully escaped Yama-uba, but some said that it’s just stories to scare children. In popular culture, Yama-uba serves as an inspiration behind the creation of Pokemon Jynx.
Image Source: Yokai.com.
Also known as ogres and demons, Oni is famous among the locals that it has been featured in many plays and arts. Their skin is usually red or blue, huge, awkwardly tall, have two horns, claws, tusks and an unruly hair. Some onis have extra toes and fingers, they are very distinctive from one another. They only wear loincloth made out of the skin of the world’s greatest beasts.
Oni is born when an evil human dies and banished into one of the Buddhist Hells. He then will be transformed into Oni. They will punish and torment humans who committed the greatest sins when they were alive. They often carry clubs as their main weapon of destruction.
Nukekubi: Vampire Demons
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Nukekubi is one of the most terrifying yokai in the Japanese folklore where they can remove its head from its body to hunt humans and animals. During the day, Nukekubi leads a normal life as many humans do, but by night, they will detach their heads to search for victims. Once they found the victims, they will suck the blood or bite their victims to death. Then, before the sun comes up, the head will return to its body.
The locals believed that this is a curse bestowed upon women. This curse can be passed down to their daughters, granddaughters and so on. Nukekubi can be identified during the day if you can spot red lines along their neck which is often covered with jewellery and clothing. One way to kill Nukekubi is to remove the body to an unknown place when the head is floating around at night. When the head couldn’t find its body before sunrise, Nukekubi will die.
Oiwa: The Ghost Story of Yotsuya
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The story of Oiwa has been told many times, each with a different twist. The most popular version is that Oiwa is a ghost that comes to the world to seek out vengeance on her husband. She was dressed in her white burial kimono, has droopy eyes and partially bald with an unkempt hair. Her face was deformed after eating an ointment, which turns out to be a poison given by her husband, Iemon. Iemon poisoned her because he grew sick of her and wanted to marry another woman, Oume. The ghost of Oiwa haunts Iemon until he drove insane where he had murdered Oume and her father.
Some said that Oiwa and Iemon was a real person and lived happily in the 16th century. Since there are a lot of versions to this story, it’s hard to identify which of these stories were true.
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According to a legend, Okiku was a servant girl that used to work in Himeji Castle. She was very beautiful and had captured the heart of a samurai named, Aoyama. However, Okiku kept rejecting him. To trick Okiku into being his mistress, Aoyama decided to hide one of his master’s expensive dishes set. He called Okiku and told her about the missing plate. She became terrified and started counting the plate, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.” The tenth plate was indeed missing.
Aoyama decided to cover up for her mistake if she agrees to become his mistress. Again, she rejected him. Infuriated by her decision, Aoyama killed Okiku and dumped her body down the castle’s well. Each night, she would appear to look for the missing plate and started counting from one to nine. After the ninth plate, she would release a loud scream and it can be heard throughout the castle. Those who heard her scream would die shortly after that.
One night, a priest came to get rid of her spirit. As Okiku counted the ninth plate, before she could scream, the priest yelled, ‘Ten!’. The spirit of Okiku was relieved that someone had found the tenth plate and she no longer haunts the castle.
Image Source: Yokai.com.
Otsuyu, Oiwa and Okiku are among Japan’s Big Three Ghost Stories. The story goes that there was once a widower named Ogiwara. He saw Otsuyu walking on the street carrying a peony lantern and fell in love with her. He invited Otsuyu into his house to spend the night together. Each night, Otsuyu will leave the house before dawn. As days go by, one of the neighbours started to get curious and decided to peep into Ogiwara’s house.
It came as a great shock to the neighbour when he found out that Ogiwara was laughing while being intertwined in the arms of a skeleton. The neighbour told Ogiwara about the incident and asked him to put spells on his door to block Otsuyu from entering the house. Ogiwara did as instructed.
One night, Ogiwara was drunk and discovered Otsuyu’s grave. Otsuyu appeared and asked him to come into her house. Days later, Ogiwara was found dead inside the grave wrapped around Otsuyu’s skeleton’s arms.
So, which of these yokai is the scariest?