Every country has some kind of scary folktales, and Japan is no exception. 妖怪/Yokai, are Japanese supernatural monsters, demons, and spirits often appear in Japanese folktales. They have emotions and personalities, and can also be called Obake, Mamono, Mononoke or Ayakashi. While most Yokai are considered evil for making troubles, there are a few that are believed to bring good fortune to those who encounter them (Good Yokai/Spirits are called Nigi-mitama. They are believed to be the spirits of respected ancestors and animals or sacred objects, and often appear with greenish aura around them. Evil spirits are called Ara-mitama. They could be turned into good ones by calming them down). Yokai usually have spiritual/supernatural abilities and some could possess people, animals, and objects. It is also believed that most Yokai can change their appearance (this is called 変化/Henge).
Oni are demons with horns and fangs. They are usually in red, blue, or green and look musculine like armies of hell. Each of them has a heavy hammer to kill humans to eat.
Tengu are a kind of legendary creature/demon that takes the forms of birds of prey. In many stories, they have a human-like appearance with wings and red faces with long noses. They are dangerous spirits of mountains and forests, and it is also believed that evil people turn into Tengu after death to disturb the peace causing troubles such as attacking humans, robbing temples, and possessing women to seduce holy men.
Kappa are human-like turtles living in rivers, swamps, or lakes, and they are excellent in swimming. It is said that they have the powers to control water and can cause river floods. They can be aggressive and may attack humans and eat them. However, if you show some respect by offering their favorite food like cucumbers, they will be friendly.
Cucumber sushi is called Kappa-maki by the way.
Shuten douji was a leader of demons and the strongest Oni of Japan that lived in Kyoto abducting a lot of young women. Shuten douji means “Sake-drinking lad”. Knowing that this Oni loved Sake, a hero Minamoto Raiko offered a poisoned Sake and killed him.
According to a legend, Tamamo-no-Mae was the nine-tail fox that appeared in Japan as the most favored courtesan of Emperor Toba (1103 – 1156, 74th Emperor of Japan). She made the Emperor to be ill and caused chaos (It is also believed that this nine-tail fox first appeared in China as a concubine and ended many dynasties in China and also in India and later came to Japan). An astrologer, Abe no Yasuchika was called there to find the cause of the emperor’s illness and he found the evil fox disguising as the lady. The nine-tail fox acted violently but was killed a few years later in Nasu in Tochigi prefecture.
Zashiki Warashi are good Yokai. If you see footprints or hear footsteps of a child inside or around your residence, that may be because of Zashiki Warashi. They are guardians of the house and believed to bring good fortune. This Yokai looks like a child and it enjoys playing harmless tricks like making noises or music to surprise people, just like a real child playing.
Yokai is said to be created as personifications of supernatural phenomena. In the Edo period, many artists made new Yokai by taking inspiration from tales or using their own imagination. A lot of Yokai were painted in Ukiyo-e art at that time. It’s really fun to enjoy the artworks and study legends about invisible monsters of the past … or maybe there are a lot of Yokai still here living with us.
Today’s words and phrases
・Act violently 暴れる
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