Japanese Demons (Yōkai)

Yōkai (妖怪, ghost, phantom, strange apparition) are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore. The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for "bewitching; attractive; calamity;" and "spectre; apparition; mystery; suspicious". They can also be called ayakashi (あやかし), mononoke (物の怪), or mamono (魔物). Yōkai range diversely from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features (such as the Kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the Tengu which has wings), other times they can appear mostly human, some look like inanimate objects and others have no discernible shape. Yōkai usually have spiritual or supernatural power, with shapeshifting being one of the most common. Yōkai that have the ability to shapeshift are called bakemono (化物) / obake (お化け).


Oni (鬼) are a kind of yōkai from Japanese folklore, variously translated as demons, devils, ogres, or trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature, and theatre.

Depictions of oni vary widely but usually portray them as hideous, gigantic ogre-like creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes. Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are particularly common.

They are often depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and carrying iron clubs called kanabō (金棒). This image leads to the expression "oni with an iron club" (鬼に金棒 oni-ni-kanabō), that is, to be invincible or undefeatable. It can also be used in the sense of "strong beyond strong", or having one's natural quality enhanced or supplemented by the use of some tool. In addition to this, it can mean to go overboard, or be unnecessarily strong or powerful.

The word "oni" is sometimes speculated to be derived from on, the on'yomi reading of a character (隠) meaning to hide or conceal, as oni were originally invisible spirits or gods which caused disasters, disease, and other unpleasant things. These nebulous beings could also take on a variety of forms to deceive (and often devour) humans. Thus the Chinese character 鬼 (gwai) meaning "ghost" came to be used for these formless creatures.

The invisible oni eventually became anthropomorphized and took on its modern, ogre-like form, partly via syncretism with creatures imported by Buddhism, such as the Indian rakshasa and yaksha, the hungry ghosts called gaki, and the devilish underlings of Enma-Ō who punish sinners in Jigoku (Hell).They share many similarities with the Arabian Jinn.

Japanese Demon Lore  Japanese Ritual mask of oni (demon) used in tsuina (oni yarai) exorcism 

Left: Japanese Demon Lore
Right: Japanese Ritual mask of oni (demon) used in tsuina (oni yarai) exorcism Japan, Edo period, wood with color - Freer Gallery of Art.


Oni in pilgrim's clothing  A statue of a red oni wielding a kanabō.  An oni chanting a Buddhist prayer, by Kyosai Kawanabeg  Oni Senbei, painting by Nakajima Kahō (1866-1939) 

Left: Oni in pilgrim's clothing. Tokugawa period. Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper. 59.2 cm x 22.1 cm
Demon Intoning the Name of the Buddha (Oni no nenbutsu), 1700s
Middle Left: A statue of a red oni wielding a kanabō.
Middle Right: An oni chanting a Buddhist prayer, by Kyosai Kawanabe, 1864.
The oni (ogre or demon) is dressed in the robes of a wandering Buddhist priest. He carries a gong, a striker, and a hogacho.
Right: Oni Senbei, painting by Nakajima Kahō (1866-1939).
The large object that the demon (oni) is so fiercely biting is oni senbei, roasted rice cracker known for being exceptionally hard and big. The string that runs through the cracker was likely used for hanging it in the shop. The painting represents a joke that it takes a real oni with fangs to eat the oni senbei.


Issun-bōshi and the Lady
Issun-Bōshi, the One-inch Boy
GoTo Japanese Folklore 

Oni’s wish-granting mallet

A number of stories present a wish-granting mallet as an oni’s valued possession. One such story is a famous folk tale entitled Issun-bōshi (Little One-Inch).

In the story, a boy is born to an elderly couple far past the years of conception and childbirth. For years, the couple prays for a child and eventually, the woman conceives. The boy she gives birth to however, never grows any larger than an inch (hence his name, Little One-Inch).

One day, Little One-Inch decides to go to the capital in search of fortune and success. He gets a job as a servant to an aristocratic family and falls madly in love with the couple’s beautiful daughter. He tricks her parents into believing she has stolen his rice and they disown her; she comes under his care, and they both soon leave the family’s compound.

On their journey with no destination, Little One-Inch and the daughter meet up with a band of oni. One of the oni swallows Little One-Inch in one gulp but he fights against the oni, plunging his little sword into the being from inside its body. Severely injured, the oni coughs up Little One-Inch and the demon band scampers away, leaving behind a magical wish-granting mallet.

Little One-Inch picks up the mallet and with the help of its supernatural power, he is transformed into a normally sized human. He uses the mallet to produce food and treasures. Little One-Inch becomes rich, marries the princess, and they live happily ever after, primarily because of the oni’s wish-granting mallet.

Although the mallet was not given to Little One-Inch as a present but was left behind by the band of oni, the fact that the implement of good fortune was brought by the oni to the mortal world remains unchanged. Through their wish granting mallet, the oni in the story become the bringers of fortune.

The oni of Haseo sōshi (Story of Ki no Haseo)

As a bringer of fortune, the oni of Haseo sōshi (Story of Ki no Haseo, the 14th century) who brought the most beautiful lady to Ki no Haseo (851–912), a noted scholar, should be mentioned here as well. This oni, unlike many other oni, does not harm humans; rather he is an oni of word.

One day the oni, apparently an eager player of sugoroku (a Japanese kind of parcheesi), approaches Ki no Haseo because of the latter’s excellent ability at sugoroku. Similar to the oni of Rashomon Gate who plays the lute, this oni appreciates art. Haseo and the oni play sugoroku with a bet that if Haseo loses, the oni receives all of Haseo’s treasures, and conversely if the oni loses, Haseo receives a strikingly beautiful woman from the oni.

Needless to say, the oni loses. As he has promised, the oni brings the ethereal beauty to Haseo. He warns Haseo, however, that he cannot touch the woman for a hundred days. Haseo cannot resist however, and after eighty days he attempts to make love to the woman. No sooner does he touch her than the woman melts into water. The lady, the oni explains, was made of the best parts collected from various dead bodies, and her soul was to enter the body after a hundred days. Had Haseo been patient, he could have kept the most beautiful woman created by the oni. Interestingly, in Haseo sōshi, it is the oni who strictly keeps his promise and a human who breaks it.

'Handscrolls of Ki Haseo' (長谷雄草紙) 

Haseo and the oni play sugoroku with a bet.
From "Handscrolls of Ki Haseo" (長谷雄草紙). Date: Kamakura period (鎌倉時代)


An image of a futakuchi-onna
Ukiyo-e image of a Futakuchi-onna
Image sources: Wikimedia   Multiple


A futakuchi-onna (二口女, lit. "two-mouthed woman") is a type of yōkai or Japanese monster. They are characterized by their two mouths – a normal one located on her face and 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.

The origin of a futakuchi-onna's second mouth is often linked to how little a woman eats. In many stories, the soon-to-be futakuchi-onna is a wife of a miser and rarely eats. To counteract this, a second mouth mysteriously appears on the back of the woman's head. The second mouth often mumbles spiteful and threatening things to the woman and demands food. If it is not fed, it can screech obscenely and cause the woman tremendous pain. Eventually, the woman's hair begins to move like a pair of serpents, allowing the mouth to help itself to the woman's meals. While no food passes through her normal lips, the mouth in the back of her head consumes twice what the other one would.

This is the most famous and prototypical story of a futakuchi-onna:
In a small village there lived a stingy miser who, because he could not bear the expense of paying for food for a wife, lived entirely by himself.
One day he met a woman who did not eat anything, whom he immediately took for his wife. Because she never ate a thing, and was still a hard worker, the old miser was extraordinarily thrilled with her, but on the other hand he began to wonder why his stores of rice were steadily decreasing.
One day the man pretended to leave for work, but instead stayed behind to spy on his new wife. To his horror, he saw his wife’s hair part on the back of her head, her skull split wide revealing a gaping mouth. She unbound her hair, which reached out like tentacles to grasp the rice and shovel it into the hungry mouth.

Futakuchi onna (ふたくちおんな二口女) Two-mouthed woman

APPEARANCE: Families which notice their food stocks are shrinking at an alarming rate while the women in their houses rarely eat a bite may be the victims of a futakuchi onna infestation. Futakuchi onna appear just as a regular women until their terrible secret is revealed: in the back of their skulls, buried beneath of long, thick hair, is a second mouth, with large, fat lips, and full of teeth. This second mouth is ravenous, and uses long strands of hair like tentacles to gorge itself on any food it can find.

ORIGIN: In the folk tales of Japan’s eastern regions, futakuchi onna are most often thought to be shape-changed yama-uba posing as young women. In the western regions they are frequently shape-changed kumo, or magical spiders. In the other tales they are the result of curses brought about by wicked deeds, similar to rokuro-kubi. In each story, regardless of its true nature, this yokai is used as a punishment upon a greedy man or woman for wickedness and extreme parsimony.

LEGENDS: In a small rural village in Fukushima there lived a stingy miser who, because he could not bear the thought of paying for food to support a family, lived entirely by himself. One day he met a woman who did not eat anything at all, and he immediately took her for his wife. Because she never ate a thing, and was still a hard worker, the miser was thrilled with her. However, his stores of rice were steadily decreasing, and he could not figure why, for he never saw his wife eat.

One day the miser pretended to leave for work, but instead stayed behind to spy on his new wife. She untied her hair, revealing a second mouth on the back of her head, complete with ghastly lips and teeth. Her hair reached out with tentacle-like stalks and began to scoop rice balls into the second mouth, with cooed out with pleasure in a vulgar, raspy voice.

The miser was horrified and resolved to divorce his wife. However, she learned of his plan before he could act on it, and she trapped him in a bathtub and carried it off into the mountains. The miser managed to escape, and hid in a heavily-scented lily marsh, where the futakuchi-onna could not find him.

Another story tells of a wicked stepmother who always gave plenty of food to her own daughter, but never enough to her stepdaughter. Gradually the stepdaughter grew sicker and sicker, until she starved to death. Forty-nine days later, the wicked stepmother was afflicted with a terrible headache. The back of her head split open, and lips, teeth, and a tongue formed. The new mouth ached with debilitating pain until it was fed, and it shrieked in the voice of the dead stepdaughter. From then on the stepmother always had to feed both of her mouths, and always felt the hunger pangs of the stepdaughter she murdered.


Shuten dōji

しゅてんどうじ 酒呑童子 (sometimes called 酒顛童子, 酒天童子, or 朱点童子)

Shuten dōji (Drunken Child).is a mythical oni leader who lived in Mt. Ooe (大江山) of Tamba Province or Mt. Ooe (大枝) on the boundary between Kyoto and Tamba in Japan.
According to legend, during the reign of Emperor Ichijō (r. 980–1011), people begin to disappear mysteriously from the royal court. Abe no Seimei (921?–1005), an official diviner of the Heian court, discovers that it is the work of the archfiend, Shuten Dōji, the chieftain of the oni. Shuten Dōji and his cohorts abduct and devour young Kyoto maidens.
The warriors Minamoto no Raikō (or Yorimitsu, 948–1021) and Fujiwara no Hōshō (or Yasumasa, 957–1036), as well as Raikō’s shitennō (the four heavenly guardians) are charged by the imperial court to destroy Shuten Dōji and his evil minions. The warriors, with the help of their attending deities, carry out their mission, ultimately slaughtering the oni, rescuing the surviving captives and restoring peace and the security of the country.


There are two popular versions of Shuten Dōji based on the location of the oni’s fortress: the Ōeyama (Mt. Ōe) version and that of Ibukiyama (Mt. Ibuki) version. It is generally accepted that the Ōeyama version came first.
The Ōeyama ekotoba ((Picture Scroll of Mt. Ōe) made during the fourteenth century, which is kept in Itsuō Museum of Art in Osaka, Japan, depicts the Ōeyama version of the legend.
Another picture scroll, Shuten Dōji emaki (Picture Scrolls of Shuten Dōji), kept in Suntory Museum of Art, in Tokyo, dates to the early sixteenth century, represents the latter, the Ibukiyama version.

The Ibukiyama version includes a section of explanation on Shuten Dōji’s honji, that is, an explanation of their “true nature” or “original form.” Thus, in the Ibukiyama version we are told that Shuten Dōji is dairokuten no maō (the evil king of the Sixth Heaven in darkness) and the archenemy of Buddha. Likewise, the text tells us that Raikō’s honji is Bishamonten (Vaiśravaņa); Emperor Ichijō’s, Miroku (Maitreya); and Seimei’s is Kannon-satta (Kannon Bodhisattva).
Satake Akihiro asserts that the Ibukiyama version formed by incorporating a historical incident, the murder of a bandit named Kashiwabara Yasaburō at Mt. Ibuki in 1201, into the Ōeyama version.

There are a number of copies and versions of the story, but it was the eighteenth-century printed version of the Shuten Dōji story that reached the broadest audience, thanks to a bookseller by the name of Shibukawa Seiemon. For all intents and purposes, the popularity of the Shibukawa edition put an end to creations of further variations. The location of the fortress in the Shibukawa edition is on Mt. Ōe.

Echigo birth legend
Shuten-doji, according to one legend, was born at Ganbara, Echigo, in the Heian era (8th century) when Dengyō Daishi and Kōbō-Daishi were active. He became a page of the Kokojou temple (国上寺) at Tsubame, Niigata. He was a “pretty boy” who refused all of the females who loved him, and all of the females who approached him died from being so love-stricken. When he burned the love letters he received from all the females, the smoke that came out enveloped him, turning him into an oni, moving from mountain to mountain centered on Honshu, eventually settled on Mt. Ooe.

One story is that he was the son of a blacksmith in Echigo, that he was in his mother’s womb for 16 months, and that he had teeth and hair when he was born, was immediately able to walk and to talk , and had the wisdom and physical strength of a 16-year-old. He also had a rough temperament and was shunned as an “oni child.”
According to Zentaiheiki, he was abandoned by his mother when he was 6 years of age. He wandered from place to place, and walked the path towards being an oni.
There is also a legend that since he was scorned as an oni child, he was put into custody of a temple, but the chief priest of that temple was a user of unorthodox practices, and the child became an oni through learning those unorthodox practices.

In the town of Wanou (presently, Niigata, Niigata), it is said that when a pregnant woman eats a fish called “tochi,” that child will become a robber if it is a boy, and a prostitute if it is a girl. It is also said that a woman who ate the fish, gave birth to a child after it stayed 16 months in her womb, and that child was Shuten-doji. In Wanou, there are place names like the Doji estate and the Doji field.

Mt. Ibuki birth legend According to one legend Shuten-doji was born from the dragon-snake Yamata no Orochi and a human girl. He was a page at Mount Hiei from an early age, and underwent training, but he drank sake which was forbidden by Buddhism, and in fact was a big drinker, and was therefore hated by everyone. One day, after a religious festival where he dressed in an oni costume, he was about to take off the costume, but he wasn’t able to since it was stuck to his face, and reluctantly went into some mountain recesses where he started his life as an oni. He then met Ibaraki-dōji, and together aimed for Kyoto.

Yamato province birth legend
He was a page for the Byakugō-ji in the Yamato province (presently, Nara Province), but found a corpse at a nearby mountain, and due to curiosity, brought that meat back to the temple, and made his priest teacher eat it without telling him that it was human meat. Afterwards, the page frequently brought back meat, not only from the flesh of corpses, but also by murdering live humans and returning with their flesh. The priest, who thought that it was suspicious, followed after the page, discovered the truth, harshly criticized the page, and abandoned him in a mountain. The page later became Shuten-doji, and it has been said that the place where he was abandoned was thus called “chigo-saka” (page-hill).

According to another theory, he was a child of the chief priest of Byakugō-ji, but as he matured, he grew fangs and a horn, and later became a child as rough as a beast. The priest was embarrassed by this child, so the child was abandoned, but the child later came to Mt. Ooe, and became Shuten-doji.

Shuten-doji had many subordinates with Ibaraki-doji as his first deputy. and the great four, Kuma-doji, Torakuma-doji, Hoshikuma-doji, and Kanaguma-doji.
Ibaraki-doji ( いばらきどうじ茨 木童子), meaning "thorn tree child" , was was the chief deputy to Shuten dōji and one of the most famous and feared demons to wreck havoc on Japan.

Shuten dōji (しゅてんどうじ 酒呑童子)

TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “little drunkard”
LEGENDS: There are three monsters who are considered the greatest and most evil yokai in all of Japanese folklore: the ghost of Emperor Sutoku, the nine-tailed kitsune Tamamo no Mae, and the dreaded king of the oni, Shuten dōji.

Shuten dōji was not born an oni. There are many stories about how he came to be, but most of them say that he was originally a human boy who was born over a thousand years ago either in present-day Shiga or Toyama. His mother was a human woman and his father was the great dragon Yamata-no-Orochi. How he changed from boy to demon varies greatly from story to story, but the one popular version goes like this: There was a young boy who was supernaturally strong and abnormally intelligent for his age. Everyone around him constantly called him a demon child due to his incredible strength and wit, and he gradually became terribly anti-social and resentful of others. At age six, even his own mother abandoned him. Orphaned, he became an apprentice priest at Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. Naturally, he was the strongest and smartest of the young acolytes, and he grew resentful of them as well. He slacked off on his studies as a result and got into fights. He also fell into drinking, which was forbidden to monks; however he could out-drink anyone and everyone who was willing to sit down and drink against him. Because of his fondness for alcohol, he became known as Shuten dōji, “the little drunkard.”

One night there was a festival at the temple, and Shuten dōji showed up very drunk. He put on an oni mask and went around playing pranks on his fellow priests, jumping out from the darkness to scare them and such. At the end of the night, he tried to take off his mask but found he couldn’t — to his horror, it had fused to his body! Ashamed, scared, and scolded by his masters for being drunk, he fled into the mountains where he would no longer have to interact with other humans, whom he saw as weak, foolish, and hypocritical. He lived there on the outskirts of Kyoto for many years, stealing food and alcohol from villagers, and drinking vast quantities of alcohol. His banditry eventually attracted groups of thieves and criminals, who stuck with him loyally and became the foundation for his gang.

Living in exile, Shuten dōji grew in power and knowledge. He mastered strange, dark magic, and taught it to his thugs. He met another demon child like him, named Ibaraki dōji, who became his chief servant. Over time, the young man and his gang gradually transformed into oni, and eventually he had a whole clan of oni and yokai thugs who prowled the highways, terrorizing the people of Kyoto in a drunken rage. He and his gang eventually settled on Mount Ōe, where, in a dark castle, he plotted to conquer the capital and rule as emperor.

Shuten dōji and his gang rampaged through Kyoto, capturing noble virgins, drinking their blood and eating their organs raw. Finally, a band of heroes led by the legendary warrior Minamoto no Yorimitsu assaulted Shuten dōji’s palace, and with the help of some magical poison, were able to assault the oni band during a bout of heavy drinking. They cut off the drunken Shuten dōji’s head, but even after cutting it off, the head continued to bite at Minamoto no Yorimitsu.

Because the head belonged to an oni and was unholy, it was buried it outside of the city limits, at a mountain pass called Oinosaka. The cup and bottle of poison that Minamoto no Yorimitsu used are said to be kept at Nariai-ji temple in Kyoto.

A drinking party at the monster Shuten-doji  The fight between Minamoto Yorimitsu and the monster Shuten-doji 

Left: By Katsukawa Shunshō :歌川芳年 (1865), it depicts the appearance of a drinking party. The composition of demons and women who do cloth pulling in front of sake drinks are those taken from the illustration of the literary work in the middle of the Edo period "picture book Taizo"
Right: The fight between Minamoto Yorimitsu and the monster Shuten-doji. We see here the severed head of the monster attacking Yorimitsu. Close-up view
by Katsukawa Shuntei (勝川 春亭 1770–1820) 浮世絵 The Emperor Murakami ordered Minamoto Yorimitsu to rid the country of the atrocious monster Shuten -doji who had built a stronghold in the mountains which came to be known as Devil's Mountain. Here, .

5 volumes of scrolls about Oeyama legend, 17th century at Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center

Minamoto no Yorimitsu (Raikō 頼光), Fujiwara no Yasumasa (Hōshō 保昌) and the four heavenly guardians (Sadamitsu, Suetake, Kintoki, Tsuna)  The special sake put Shuten douji into a sound sleep 

Left: Minamoto no Yorimitsu (Raikō 頼光), Fujiwara no Yasumasa (Hōshō 保昌) and the four heavenly guardians (Sadamitsu, Suetake, Kintoki, Tsuna)
Right: The special sake put Shuten douji into a sound sleep.

The Shuten Dōji Story

According to the oldest extant text titled Ōeyama ekotoba, the story is set in the late tenth or early eleventh century in the Japanese capital of Heian. Abe no Seimei’s divination that the oni living on Mt.Ōe are abducting people sets the plot in motion.. When the emperor commands the famous warriors to assemble their men and conquer the demons, Raikō and Hōshō are at first alarmed by the formidability of their mission, for oni possess supernatural powers and are able to transform into anything, making them difficult to hunt down, much less destroy. Despite their uncertainty, the warriors set out on their quest taking with them several loyal retainers.
The troupe stops to pray for success at four separate shrines. Their faith is rewarded, for while on their way to the oni’s lair on Mt. Ōe, the group encounters four deities disguised as priests. The old priests advise Raikō’s party to disguise themselves as yamabushi (mountain priests), providing the men with the necessary clothing. Thus attired in what one might view as an inversion of their royal livery, the warriors, now joined by the deity-priests, continue on their quest, disguised as yamabushi.
At a river on Mt. Ōe, the group meets an old woman who had been kidnapped by oni. She warns the heroes about the activities of Shuten Dōji and his band of oni. She tells the ersatz monks that Shuten Dōji forces kidnapped maidens into domestic servitude, and at the whim of the oni, they are dismembered, their flesh devoured, and their blood imbibed.
Thus warned, the heroes are prepared to confront the arch demon in his lair. Arriving at the demon’s mountaintop palace, the royal troupe lies to the oni guard, telling him that they are a band of lost yamabushi in need of lodging for the night. Shuten Dōji promptly allows them into his palace and jovially regales the men with stories from his past; he entertains his guests, offering them unknown flesh to eat and a detestable liquid to drink. In turn, one of the deity-priests offers Shuten Dōji his own sake, which causes Shuten Dōji to fall into an inebriated stupor.

After Shuten Dōji retires, a number of oni, disguised as beautiful women, visit Raikō and Hōshō in the palace guest quarters. The oni-women fail, however, to entice the warriors. Raikō gives the oni-women an intense glare, and the demons scurry off.
Soon after, another group of oni disguised as a dengaku (field music) troupe emerge to entertain Raikō and his band. Again, Raikō’s fierce stare wards them off.
Raikō and Hōshō then decide to scout out the palace compound, an impressive structure described as a place where the splendor of heaven and the torment of hell simultaneously exist. In their search, the men discover a cage holding a kidnapped page of the Tendai sect’s head priest. Although protected from death by Buddhist deities, the page remains trapped alongside the other captives.
Raikō’s and Hōshō’s troupe moves quickly to Shuten Dōji’s grand bedchamber. There, they find the entrance to his quarters blocked by a seemingly impenetrable iron door; but as the deity-priests pray and chant mystical incantations, the once impervious door magically melts away. Inside, Shuten Dōji lies in drunken repose, fully reverted to his true monstrous form. He is a giant, over fifty feet tall and with his red body and five-horned head, the epitome of demonic appearance. He has one black leg and one white, a yellow right arm and a blue left. The fifteen-eyed oni sleeps peacefully, oblivious to the fate that awaits him. While the four deity-priests hold each of Shuten Dōji’s colorful limbs, the warriors behead him. Shuten Dōji cries as he is decapitated, “Korera ni hakararete, ima wa kou to miyuru. Teki uteya!” (Deceived by these men, I am now to be done with. Kill these enemies!). As Shuten Dōji’s head hurls through the air, his mouth tries to bite Raikō. Thinking quickly, Raikō dons his helmet, and is thus saved from Shuten Dōji’s final blow. With Shuten Dōji dead, Raikō’s band kills the rest of the oni and frees the surviving captives.
Before parting with the warriors at Mt. Ōe, the four deities reveal their true identities: they are the same deities to whom Raikō and Hōshō prayed at the shrine. The deities also show the heroes their own honji (true nature or original form): Raikō is a reincarnation of Daiitoku (Yamantaka, Great Awe-Inspiring Power) and Abe no Seimei, that of Ryōju bosatsu (Nāgārjuna).

On the troupe’s return to the capital, Shuten Dōji’s head is placed, by imperial command, in Uji no hōzō (Treasure house of Uji). Both Raikō and Hōshō are generously rewarded for their heroic deeds. Fulfilling the otogi zōshi genre’s function of providing moral edification as it entertains, the Shuten Dōji story reveals how, with the help of holy deities, warriors faithful to the emperor can defeat even the most monstrous of villains and reap rich rewards.

Ukiyo-e Art Images of Shuten Doji Story at Ritsumeikan University

Parody of the Drinking Party at Ôeyama with Flowers of Chivalry  

Ukiyo-e art, Artist: Toyohara Kunichika, Title: Parody of the Drinking Party at Ôeyama with Flowers of Chivalry. Date:1864

Raikō beheaded Shuten Doji  Raikō Victory at Ōeyama 

Left: Ukiyo-e art, Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Title:Raikō beheaded Shuten Doji.
Right: Ukiyo-e art, Artist: 雪☆, Title: Victory at Ōeyama. Date:1818.


The Tale of Shuten Doji

Japan, Edo period
Handscroll; Ink, color, gold and silver on paper.
Dimensions: H x W (overall): 32.5 x 1479.9 cm (12 13/16 x 582 5/8 in)
Creator: Kano Shoun (1637 - 1702)
Source: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

This scroll from a set of three portrays the tale of the killing of Shuten Doji, a giant who lived in a mountain fortress and periodically kidnapped and devoured young noblewomen from Kyoto. Set in the tenth century, the story celebrates the exploits of the warrior known as Raiko. With his band of warriors disguised as Buddhist monks, Raiko locates and enters Shuten Dojis fortress. There they kill the giant after he falls asleep from drinking a wine potion.

This lively tale was often reproduced in paintings and in woodblock-printed books. Painted on silk rather than the usual paper, this set of scrolls is a particularly luxurious example of a work by a professional artist of the Kano school. The participation of an imperial prince and high-ranking imperial courtiers as calligraphers indicates that the commission for this scroll must have come from a person of high rank. These handscrolls enhance the museums holdings of Japanese narrative paintings of the Edo period (1615–1868) and complement other paintings of the same story in folding screen and fan formats.

Image sources: F1998.303.1 (Scroll 1) #1,2,3  F1998.303.2 (Scroll 2) #4,5,6,7,8  F1998.303.3 (Scroll 3) #9, 10, 11, 12  www.learninglab.si.edu  www.learninglab.si.edu  www.learninglab.si.edu 

1Raikō and his lieutenants are charged by the imperial court to destroy Shuten Dōji  2Raikou and his men came upon three old men  3Raikou and his men came upon a distraught girl washing out the blood-stained garments 
4The warriors arrived at iron gate, guarded by Shuten Dōji’s doting demons  5Raikou and his men met Shuten douji  6Raikou and his men were served a feast of human flesh and blood 
7Raikou and his men offerred Shuten douji the special sake containing divine elixir  8Raikou and his men served the special sake to the the demon gang rendering them helplessly drunk  9The special sake put Shuten douji into a sound sleep 
10Raikō and his lieutenants bound Shuten douji with the cord, and struck him with a vengeance and Raikou beheaded him  11The warriors struck the drunken ogres  12Raikō and his lieutenants won and took the trophy head back to the imperial capital 

(1) Six warriors: Minamoto no Yorimitsu (Raikō 源赖光), his lieutenants Fujiwara no Yasumasa (Hōshō 藤原保昌) and the four heavenly guardians (Sadamitsu, Suetake, Kintoki, Tsuna 渡边纲、坂田金时、卜部季武和锥井贞光), are charged by the imperial court to rescue the captives and to destroy Shuten Dōji and his evil gang dwell on Mt. Ōe.
(2) Raikō and his men disguised themselves as yamabushi (mountain monks) and, while on the trail, came upon three old men. They were advised that they must enter the demons dwelling stealthily and were given 3 gifts: a special kind of sake known as jinben kidoku [神便鬼毒] (a divine elixir poisonous to demons), a cord, and a magical helmet.
(3) The group came upon a distraught girl who seemed to be crying while washing out the blood-stained garments of one of Shuten Doji's recent victims. She turned out to be one of the kidnapped noble maidens. She told the disguised warriors that the demons consumed the blood and flesh of the captive maidens as sake and banquet condiments.
(4) The warriors arrived at iron gate, guarded by Shuten Dōji’s doting demons.
(5) Raikou and his men were guided to Shuten douji's grand mountain palace. Shuten Dōji, towering human form with pale red skin, disheveled short hair and adorned in a checkered kimono with a crimson hakama, appeared and looked down on Raikō and his men.
(6) They are served a feast of human flesh and blood by his beautiful captive maidens.
(7) In return, the men offerred Shuten douji the special sake containing divine elixir.
(8) They also served the special sake to the the demon gang rendering them helplessly drunk.
(9) The special sake put Shuten douji into a sound sleep.
(10) The warriors threw off their disguises, bound Shuten douji with the cord, and struck him with a vengeance and Raikou beheaded him. Yet the demon's decapitated head fiew into the air and landed upon Raikou in an attempt to bite his head off. Raikou was saved by the magic helmet.
(11) The warriors struck the drunken ogres.
(12) In the end, the warriors won and took the trophy head back to the imperial capital.

Shuten Dōji Will Drink Your Blood and Eat Your Flesh

One thousand years ago, the ogre giant Shuten Dōji lounged in his mountain castle, sipping wine and snacking on samurai meat. As he dined with his demonic companions, with a gaggle of captive young noblewomen to serve them, perhaps he wondered how sweet life had turned out for him. A life of debauchery rewarded day after day with earthly pleasures.

Nearby by in Kyoto, the capital of medieval Japan, the emperor grew concerned. Each day, he was forced to stand by and watch, as Shuten Dōji kidnapped one woman after another. The emperor called for the legendary samurai Minaomoto "Raiko" Yorimitsu and his five retainers to conquer the ogre giant. The handsome and morally righteous Riako accepted the challenge, and after a brief stop to pray, he and his band set off toward Shuten Dōji’s castle on Mount Oe.

Disguised as Buddhist monks to avoid suspicion, with armor hidden in their wooden backpacks, the good guys traveled deep into the mountains. Along the way, the disguised samurai met three gods in human form, who shared their strong dislike for the ways of the wicked Shuten Dōji. Raiko is given a magical helmet, as well as a special sleep-inducing sake (rice wine), and the gods guide him to the castle.

When the samurai arrive, they are welcomed and entertained by Shuten Dōji, who is fooled by their monk costumes. After they enter the giant’s home, they watch as horned demons slice off human thigh and shoulder meat before eating it like sushi. Dōji settles down on his favorite decorative rug as the captured noblewomen enter through hand-painted doors to serve the guests wine. It’s then when Raiko gives Shuten Dōji the special sake, and the giant quickly becomes drunk and sleepy.

What Raiko doesn't know, is that whenever someone serves Shuten Dōji wine, the ogre giant transforms into a hairy, red, demon. But Raiko, nevertheless, ambushes and beheads the monster. The hero can’t declare victory, however, because when Raiko least expects it, Shuten Dōji’s head jumps back to life and attempts to kill the samurai. Protected by his magic helmet, Raiko deflects the attacks, conquers the monster and his demon henchmen, and marches victoriously back to Kyoto hauling Shuten Doji’s head in an ox-cart.

Good vanquishes evil once again.

Though fictional, there is at least one truth to this tale. No matter what period you live in, monsters, heroes and captured maidens make for good entertainment.


1Raikō and his lieutenants are charged by the imperial court to destroy Shuten Dōji  2Raikō and his lieutenants came upon three old men  3Raikō and his lieutenants came upon a distraught girl washing out the blood-stained garments 
4The warriors arrived at iron gate, guarded by Shuten Dōji’s doting demons  5Raikou and his men met Shuten douji  6Raikou and his men were served a feast of human flesh and blood 
7Raikou and his men offerred Shuten douji the special sake containing divine elixir  8Raikou and his men served the special sake to the the demon gang rendering them helplessly drunk  9The special sake put Shuten douji into a sound sleep 
10Raikō and his lieutenants bound Shuten douji with the cord, and struck him with a vengeance and Raikou beheaded him  11The warriors struck the drunken ogres  12Raikō and his lieutenants won and took the trophy head back to the imperial capital 
6Raikou and his men were served a feast of human flesh and blood  10Raikō and his lieutenants bound Shuten douji with the cord, and struck him with a vengeance and Raikou beheaded him 

Close-up view


Mr. Shuten Doji

Mr. Shuten Doji (酒呑童子先生)

Mr. Shuten Doji (酒呑童子先生)

Sake Child Monster

Sake Child Monster  (酒呑童怪)

Sake Child Monster (酒呑童怪)


Ibaraki dōji (いばらきどうじ 茨木童子)

TRANSLATION: a nickname meaning “thorn tree child”

ORIGIN: Ibaraki dōji was one of the most famous and most feared demons to wreck havoc on Japan. She was the chief deputy to Shuten dōji, the greatest oni of all. Not very much is known about Ibaraki dōji’s life; it isn’t even known if Ibaraki dōji was male or female. Most stories and illustrations depict Ibaraki dōji as a kijo, or a female oni; yet there are other stories which refer to Shuten dōji’s deputy as a male. There is also a possibility that not only were the two partners in crime, but also lovers. What is known is that Ibaraki dōji was a wholly terrible and fearsome monster, bent of wreaking as much havoc in the human world as possible.

LEGENDS: Ibaraki dōji’s most famous story takes place at Rashōmon, the southern gate of old Kyotos city walls. Rashōmon was built in 789, but after the Heian period it fell into serious disrepair and became known as an unsavory place. It was overgrown and unkempt. Thieves and bandits hung out near it. It even served as a dumping point for unwanted babies, and a spot to dispose of murder victims. But the scariest part of its haunted reputation was the legend of Rashōmon no oni — the demon of Rashōmon.

After his celebrated victory over Shuten dōji, the hero Minamoto no Yorimitsu returned triumphant to Kyoto. He was celebrating at his home with his deputies — Sakata no Kintoki, Urabe no Suetake, Usui Sadamitsu, and Watanabe no Tsuna — when Fujiwara no Yasumasa, a noble, informed them that an oni was seen haunting Rashōmon gate. Watanabe no Tsuna, having just returned from a great battle with Shuten dōji’s clan, could not believe that there were any oni left, and single-handedly went out to investigate. He mounted his horse and went south.

When Tsuna arrived at the gate, a great howling wind broke out and his horse could travel no further. He dismounted and went on foot. Approaching the gate in the fierce gale, he noticed an enormous hand suddenly reach out of the dark to grab his helmet. Tsuna wasted no time, and swung his great katana around, severing the arm of an enormous demon: it was Ibaraki dōji, coming to avenge the murder of Shuten dōji. The injured demon ran away, leaving her arm behind, and Rashōmon was no longer haunted.

Ibaraki dōji later returned to Rashōmon, looking for her arm. She disguised herself as Watanabe no Tsuna’s wetnurse, and was able to steal back her severed arm and flee. After that, her whereabouts were never known again, though for many years after, occasionally in some town or another, villagers would claim that they had seen Ibaraki dōji coming or going, always in connection with some kind of mischief.

Ibaraki dōji (いばらきどうじ 茨木童子)

Ibaraki dōji (茨木童子 or 茨城童子 "Ibaraki child") is an oni (demon or ogre) featured in tales of the Heian era.
After he became an oni, he met Shuten-doji and became his subordinate, and together they went on a rampage in Kyoto.
The Shuten-doji gang was based on Mt. Ooe (said to be in Tamba province, but there are also theories that it may have been at Mt. Ooe (大枝), at the boundary between Kyoto and Kameoka.

Echigo theory: There is a theory that, just like Shuten-doji, Ibaraki doji was born at Echigo. As a beautiful boy, he wooed many females and received a mountain load of love letters from girls, and her mother, anxious about his future, sent him to Yahiko-jinja.
However, when, one time, he left the Yahiko-jinja returning to his home, her mother found a "love letter smeared with blood" hidden in his luggage. Upon licking that blood by accidence, his appearance at once turned into that of an oni, and following the beam, broke the gable, and fled.
At that time, Shuten-doji heard about a girl who died from despair from not receiving a reply to her love letter from him, He searched and found that letter. While opening a tsuzura within the letter, a strange smoke started rising, causing him to lost consciousness. Before he knew it, he became an oni, and thus fled the shrine and went on to reach the extremes of evil.

Ibaraki-doji, finding sympathy for each other with Shuten-doji, became his underling, and attacked the surrounding villages together, but when his mother heard that rumor, she stood in front of Ibaraki-doji wearing his clothes he had as a newborn, and perhaps as a result of suddenly recovering his memories of his childhood, he promised not to tread the neighborhood again. He then went to Dogakushi, Shinano and other places, and finally aimed for the capital.

Settsu theory: There are stories that he was born in Amagasaki, Hyogo, and Ibaraki, Osaka, among other places, and documented from various sources like the Settsu Meisho Zue (摂津名所図会), Settsuyou Kendan (摂陽研説), and Setuyou Gundan (摂陽群談).
In the Settsuyou Gundan of 1701, he was born at the village of Tomatsu in Settsu (now Amagasaki, Hyogo), was thrown away at the village of Ibaraki (Ibaraki city). He was picked up by Shuten-doji, given the name Ibaraki, and raised.
In Settsuyou Kendan, Ibaraki-doji was a native of Matsumura, Kawanabe (Tomatsu, or a part of the city of Amagasaki), but was born with fangs and long hair and a glint in his eye, and with the strength that was greater than that of grown-ups. His family was fearful of him, and left him around Ibaraki town, Shimashimo, and he was picked up by Shuten-doji.

According to the legend in Ibaraki city, Ibaraki-doji was born in the town of Mizuo (now Ibaraki city), but after a difficult delivery following a long pregnancy of 18 months, he was borned with grown teeth, and the ability to walk, He suddenly laughed with sharp eyes while looking at his mother, causing his mother to die of shock. The oni-like child was too much for his father, so he was thrown away in front of a kamiyui in Kuzugami forest at the town of Ibaraki, and was then raised by the childless lady of a barbershop. Doji, who excelled at strength and physique at a young age, was also too much for the barbershop, but was taught the job at the barbershop and was able to be settled down. However, one day, Doji injured a customer's face with a razor, and in fright, tried licking his blood-stained fingers to clean it. But he got used to the taste of blood, and from then on intentionally injured customers' faces in order to lick the blood. After getting angry responses at the barber shop, the despondent Doji leaned against a bridge over a brook and dropped his head in shame. When he noticed how his face reflected in the water he became an oni, and did not return to the barbershop. He fled north to a mountain in Tamba, and before long met Shuten-doji and became his servant. That bridge was called "Ibaraki Doji Sugatami-bashi" but no longer exists, and there is a monument at its former site with the inscription.

Ibaraki dōji and Watanabe no Tsuna
Rashōmon Version
When the Mt. Ooe oni extermination ended and everything calmed back down, Minamoto no Yorimitsu and his Four Guardian Kings gathered together having a drinking banquet. They were notified that an oni have appeared in Rashōmon and people are afraid.
1. They all agreed to have a contest of courage. When it became Tsuna’s turn, he went out the door, met an oni, a battle ensued, and he cut off the oni’s arm.
2. Tsuna, who did not think that there was any survivor among the oni, went to Rashōmon to calm thing down, But there he found Ibaraki-doji (or a beautiful girl who was Ibaraki-doji in disguise), and as a result of battle, he cut off the oni’s arm.
Afterwards, Ibaraki-doji changed his appearance, returned and took back the arm.

Ichijou Modorihashi Version
In some versions of the stories, Ibaraki-doji would appear on Ichijou Modorihashi (一条戻橋) as a young, helpless beautiful girl on the road who looked worried. So Watanabe no Tsuna let her ride on his horse, but the girl suddenly transformed into an oni, and grasped Tsuna’s hair, flew in the air, and took him to Mount Atago. Tsuna, not panicked at all, cut off the oni’s arm, averting disaster.

Tsuna showed the oni’s arm to Minamoto no Yorimitsu. Yorimitsu consulted with an onmyoji (there are versions where it was Abe no Seimei), who said that “the oni will surely come for its arm, so confine yourself in your house with all necessary protection for seven days, and don’t let anyone in.” Several days after that, Ibaraki-doji tried to invade Tsuna’s estate using the remaining arm, but due to the power of a Humane King Sutra and a talisman, Ibaraki-doji was not able to enter.

Finally, on the evening of the seventh night, on Settsu, Tsuna’s aunt, Mashiba (there are also versions where it was not his aunt, but his foster mother) came to visitTsuna at his estate. Tsuna told his aunt of the circumstances, and said that he couldn’t let her in. His old aunt grieved and pleaded, “Since your young age, I had raised you with great care, and my reward is this kind of treatment?” and by that, Tsuna disobeyed his instructions, and let his aunt into the house. However, his aunt was, in reality, Ibaraki-doji in disguise. The “aunt” expressed desire to see the arm that Tsuna cut off from the oni, and after the arm was taken out from its sealed box, the “aunt” suddenly transformed back to oni Ibaraki-doji, took the arm, flew up in the air, broke the gable, and disappeared in the distance in the sky.



A stone kitsune statue
A stone kitsune statue in Naraat Inari Shintō shrine adjacent to Todaiji (Todai Temple), a Buddhist temple, in Nara, Japan.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org  

Kitsune mask (Edo_period)
Kitsune mask (Edo_period) Carved by Horo, circa 1725
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org  


Kitsune (キツネ 狐) is the Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. According to Yōkai folklore, all foxes have the ability to shape shift into human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make offerings to them as to a deity.

Japanese fox myths had its origins in Chinese mythology. Chinese folk tales tell of fox spirits called húli jīng (狐狸精) that may have up to nine tails (Kyūbi no Kitsune 九尾の狐 in Japanese).


Characteristics of Kitsune

Characteristics Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers. They are a type of yōkai, or spiritual entity, and the word kitsune is often translated as fox spirit. However, this does not mean that kitsune are ghosts, nor that they are fundamentally different from regular foxes. Because the word spirit is used to reflect a state of knowledge or enlightenment, all long-lived foxes gain supernatural abilities.

There are two common classifications of kitsune:
The zenko (善狐, literally good foxes) are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes.
On the other hand, the yako (野狐, literally field foxes, also called nogitsune) tend to be mischievous or even malicious.

Fox woman by Bertha Lum
Fox woman by Bertha Lum, c1916
Japanese woman in conventional costume with shadowy figures of two foxes.
Image source: Library of Congress  

An old kitsune tale

One of the oldest surviving kitsune tales provides a widely known folk etymology of the word kitsune. Unlike most tales of kitsune who become human and marry human males, this one does not end tragically:

Ono, an inhabitant of Mino (says an ancient Japanese legend of A.D. 545), spent the seasons longing for his ideal of female beauty. He met her one evening on a vast moor and married her. Simultaneously with the birth of their son, Ono's dog delivered a pup which as it grew up became more and more hostile to the lady of the moors. She begged her husband to kill it, but he refused. At last one day the dog attacked her so furiously that she lost courage, resumed vulpine shape, leaped over a fence and fled. "You may be a fox," Ono called after her, "but you are the mother of my son and I love you. Come back when you please; you will always be welcome." So every evening she stole back and slept in his arms.

Because the fox returns to her husband each night as a woman but leaves each morning as a fox, she is called Kitsune. In classical Japanese, kitsu-ne means come and sleep, and ki-tsune means always comes.


Dancing Fox
Dancing Fox by Ohara Koson Date:Ca. 1910's.
Shoson Ohara Title:Harvest Fox Spirit (messenger of Inari, god of the crops) Date:ca. early 20th century Image source: ukiyo-e.org  


A kitsune may take on human form, an ability learned when it reaches a certain age—usually 100 years, although some tales say 50. As a common prerequisite for the transformation, the fox must place reeds, a broad leaf, or a skull over its head. Common forms assumed by kitsune include beautiful women, young girls, elderly men, and even young boys. Sometimes young adult males.
A kitsune can duplicate the appearance of a specific person. Foxes are particularly renowned for impersonating beautiful women. Common belief in medieval Japan was that any woman encountered alone, especially at dusk or night, could be a fox.
Kitsune-gao or fox-faced refers to human females who have a narrow face with close-set eyes, thin eyebrows, and high cheekbones. Traditionally, this facial structure is considered attractive, and some tales ascribe it to foxes in human form. Variants on the theme have the kitsune retain other foxlike traits, such as a coating of fine hair, a fox-shaped shadow, or a reflection that shows its true form.

In some stories, kitsune have difficulty hiding their tails when they take human form; looking for the tail, perhaps when the fox gets drunk or careless, is a common method of discerning the creature's true nature. A particularly devout individual may in some cases even be able to see through a fox's disguise merely by perceiving them. Kitsune may also be exposed while in human form by their fear and hatred of dogs, and some become so rattled by their presence that they revert to the form of a fox and flee.

One folk story illustrating these imperfections in the kitsune's human shape concerns Koan, a historical person credited with wisdom and magical powers of divination. According to the story, he was staying at the home of one of his devotees when he scalded his foot entering a bath because the water had been drawn too hot. Then, "in his pain, he ran out of the bathroom naked. When the people of the household saw him, they were astonished to see that Koan had fur covering much of his body, along with a fox's tail. Then Koan transformed in front of them, becoming an elderly fox and running away."


Servants of Inari

Kitsune are associated with Inari, the Shinto deity of rice. This association has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. Originally, kitsune were Inari's messengers, but the line between the two is now blurred so that Inari Ōkami may be depicted as a fox. Likewise, entire shrines are dedicated to kitsune, where devotees can leave offerings. Fox spirits are said to be particularly fond of a fried sliced tofu called aburage, which is accordingly found in the noodle-based dishes kitsune udon and kitsune soba. Similarly, Inari-zushi is a type of sushi named for Inari Ōkami that consists of rice-filled pouches of fried tofu. There is speculation among folklorists as to whether another Shinto fox deity existed in the past. Foxes have long been worshipped as kami.

Inari's kitsune are white, a color of good omen. They possess the power to ward off evil, and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. In addition to protecting Inari shrines, they are petitioned to intervene on behalf of the locals and particularly to aid against troublesome nogitsune, those spirit foxes who do not serve Inari. Black foxes and nine-tailed foxes are likewise considered good omens.

According to beliefs derived from fusui (feng shui), the fox's power over evil is such that a mere statue of a fox can dispel the evil kimon, or energy, that flows from the northeast. Many Inari shrines, such as the famous Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, feature such statues, sometimes large numbers of them.

Kitsune are connected to the Buddhist religion through the Dakiniten, goddesses conflated with Inari's female aspect. Dakiniten is depicted as a female boddhisattva wielding a sword and riding a flying white fox.

The Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto  An Inari shrine and A roadside hokora dedicated to kami Inari

Left: The Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto features numerous kitsune statues.
Right upper: Inari shrine
Fox statues are often offered to Inari shrines by worshippers.
Right Lower: A roadside hokora dedicated to kami Inari
A hokora in Yokohama with some white foxes, symbols of "kami" Inari.


Kitsune are connected to the Buddhist religion through the Dakiniten, goddesses conflated with Inari's female aspect. Dakiniten is depicted as a female boddhisattva wielding a sword and riding a flying white fox.

Inari Ōkami appears to a warrior accompanied by a kitsune  A modern figure of Dakiniten riding a white fox

Left: Inari Ōkami appears to a warrior accompanied by a kitsune.
This portrayal shows the influence of Dakiniten concepts from Buddhism.
Dakiniten is depicted as a female boddhisattva wielding a sword and riding a flying white fox.
Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳, 1798 - 1861).

Right: A modern figure of Dakiniten and the white fox from the Yongan Arts Factory in Fujian province. Dakiniten is depicted as a female boddhisattva wielding a sword and riding a white fox.


Hakuzōsu (白蔵主)

Hakuzōsu from the Ehon Hyaku monogatari By Takehara Shunsen  Hakuzōsu. The moment the creature is in the process of transforming from the priest into the wild fox 

Left: Hakuzōsu (白蔵主) from the Ehon Hyaku monogatari (絵本百物語)
By Takehara Shunsen (竹原春泉), 1841
Right: Hakuzōsu. The moment the creature is in the process of transforming from the priest into the wild fox.
Woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. 月岡 芳年 c. 1886
Hakuzōsu, also written Hakuzousu, is the name of a popular kitsune character who pretended to be a priest in Japanese folklore.
The tasselled seed heads of the grasses suggest the shape of ‘foxfires’, flames created by foxes to distract travellers from their way.

Hakuzōsu was a monk in charge of Pagoda Temple, in Kai, Yamanashi prefecture, Japan. His nephew was a hunter and lived on selling leather of captured foxes.
There was an old white fox in the mountain near Kai. To prevent more foxes being caught and killed, the white fox turned himself into hunter's uncle, Hakuzōsu, and visited him. The "uncle" preached to his “nephew” the crime of killing, and admonished the fox-catching. He gave his nephew money and took the fox-catching tools away. However, when the hunter ran out of money and tried to visit Hakuzōsu asking for more. The fox foresaw the trouble and came to the temple, ate Hakuzōsu, and took his place. He masqueraded as the head monk for more than 50 years.

During one of the deer hunting festival, the head monk came to watch it along with the villagers. Unfortunately, his true identity was recognized by two hunting dogs. He was chased, bitten, and eventually killed by the dogs. When the villagers found out the truth, they were surprised, became fearful, and decided to build a shrine and to worship the white fox as the kitsume/Hakuzōsu.

Netuske with Fox from the Kyōgen Play 'Hakuzōsu'  Netuske with Fox from the Kyōgen Play 'Hakuzōsu'

Ivory Netuske with Fox from the Kyōgen Play "Hakuzōsu"
Period: Edo period (1615–1868), Date: 19th century

Left: H. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm); W. 1 in. (2.5 cm); D. 3/4 in. (1.9 cm)
Right: H. 3 in. (7.6 cm); W. 1 in. (2.5 cm); D. 1/2 in. (1.3 cm)


Hakuzōsu in 'Izumi Meisho Zue'   Statue of Hakuzōsu in the precincts of Shōrin-ji Temple, Sakai, Osaka, Japan

Left: Hakuzōsu (白蔵主) in "Izumi Meisho Zue vol.1 和泉名所図会 巻之一" by 竹原春朝斎 たけはら-しゅんちょうさい, 1796
Right: Statue of Hakuzōsu in the precincts of Shōrin-ji Temple, Sakai, Osaka, Japan.

During the Nanboku-chō era (南北朝時代 "South and North courts period", spanning from 1336 to 1392), in the first year of Emperor Yongdeok (1381), there was a monk named Hakuzōsu (白蔵主) in charge of Shaolin Temple in Izumi, Osaka prefecture, Japan.
He was very devoted and prayed to Lord Inari every day. One day, he found a wounded three-legged white fox in the bamboo field and brought him back to the temple. The white fox was actually a kitsune able to tell fortune and repelling burglars.

Hakuzōsu had a nephew, a hunter, who trapped and killed foxes. Fearful of this nephew, the white fox turned himself into Hakuzōsu, going to the hunter's house and talked about the bad karma of killing animals. The "uncle” also warned “nephew” that the fox could be very vengeful. The hunter agreed to quit trapping foxes.

On his way home, the kitsune came across a juicy roasted rat and deep-fried tofu. Couldn’t overcome the temptation, he took the bait and was captured and killed.

When the villagers found out that they had killed a white kitsume, fearful of the repercussion, they built a statue inside the Inari shrine. Ever since, the kitsumes were worshiped along with Inari.

The legend of Hakuzōsu became a Kyōgen play, Tsurigitsune (‘Fox Trapping’) / Konkai (‘The Cry of the Fox’)
In this story, a hunter is visited by his uncle, the priest Hakuzōsu, who lectures his nephew on the evils of killing foxes. The hunter is nearly convinced, but after the priest departs, he hears the cry of the fox and realizes it wasn't his uncle at all but a fox in guise. The fox resumes his natural form and reverts to his wild ways, takes the bait in a trap and is captured.

In the kyōgen play Konkai (‘The cry of the fox’) 1886, a fox whose entire family was killed by a hunter transforms himself into the hunter’s uncle, the priest Hakuzōsu. The disguised fox almost succeeds in convincing the hunter to give up his cruel profession. However, on his way home, the priest turned back into a fox and, having lost the power of human reasoning, fell into a trap and was captured.


A nine-tailed fox 九尾狐
A nine-tailed fox 九尾狐
from the Qing edition of the ancient Chinese text Classic of Mountains and Seas.
Image sources: commons.wikimedia.org  

A nine-tailed fox 九尾狐
A nine-tailed fox 九尾狐
Illustration from a book of fairy tales from Europe.
Image sources: commons.wikimedia.org  

Nine-tailed fox

Physically, kitsune are noted for having as many as nine tails. Generally, a greater number of tails indicates an older and more powerful fox; in fact, some folktales say that a fox will only grow additional tails after it has lived 100 years. One, five, seven, and nine tails are the most common numbers in folk stories. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold.[13] These kyūbi no kitsune (九尾の狐, nine-tailed foxes) gain the abilities to see and hear anything happening anywhere in the world. Other tales credit them with infinite wisdom (omniscience). After reaching 1,000 years of age and gaining its ninth tail, a kitsune turns a golden color, becoming a 'Tenko' (天狐 "heavenly fox"/"celestial fox"), the most powerful form of the kitsune, and then ascends to the heavens.
(Wikipedia: Kitsune)


Development and Descriptions

Nine-tailed foxes appear in Chinese folklore, literature, and mythology, in which, depending on the tale can be a good or a bad omen. The motif of nine-tailed foxes from Chinese culture were eventually transmitted and introduced to Korean and Japanese culture.

During the Han dynasty, the development of ideas about interspecies transformation had taken place in Chinese culture. The idea that non-human creatures with advancing age could assume human form is presented in works such as the Lunheng by Wang Chong. As these traditions developed, the fox's capacity for transformation was shaped.

The nine-tailed fox occurs in the Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Seas), compiled from the Warring States period to the Western Han period (circa 4th to circa 1st century BC). The work states:
"The Land of Green-Hills lies north of Tianwu. The foxes there have four legs and nine tails. According to another version, it is located north of Sunrise Valley."

In chapter 14 of the Shanhaijing, Guo Pu had commented that the nine-tailed fox was an auspicious omen that appeared during times of peace. However, in chapter 1, another aspect of the nine-tailed fox is described:
"Three hundred li farther east is Green-Hills Mountain, where much jade can be found on its south slope and green cinnabar on its north. There is a beast here whose form resembles a fox with nine tails. It makes a sound like a baby and is a man-eater. Whoever eats it will be protected against insect-poison (gu)."

In one ancient myth, Yu the Great encountered a white nine-tailed fox, which he interpreted as an auspicious sign that he would marry Nüjiao. In Han iconography, the nine-tailed fox is sometimes depicted at Mount Kunlun and along with Xi Wangmu in her role as the goddess of immortality. According to the first-century Baihutong (Debates in the White Tiger Hall), the fox's nine tails symbolize abundant progeny.

Describing the transformation and other features of the fox, Guo Pu (276-324) made the following comment:
"When a fox is fifty years old, it can transform itself into a woman; when a hundred years old, it becomes a beautiful female, or a spirit medium, or an adult male who has sexual intercourse with women. Such beings are able to know things at more than a thousand miles' distance; they can poison men by sorcery, or possess and bewilder them, so that they lose their memory and knowledge; and when a fox is thousand years old, it ascends to heaven and becomes a celestial fox."

The Youyang Zazu made a connection between nine-tailed foxes and the divine:
"Among the arts of the Way, there is a specific doctrine of the celestial fox. [The doctrine] says that the celestial fox has nine tails and a golden color. It serves in the Palace of the Sun and Moon and has its own fu (talisman) and a jiao ritual. It can transcend yin and yang."

Nine-tailed fox

Detail of the Xiwangmu and nine-tailed fox  During the Han dynasty, nine-tailed fox were depicted in attendance of Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the West, 西王母, 王母娘娘) 

Xiwangmu (The Queen Mother of the West).
Eastern Han Dynasty, 25 AD - 220 AD. Sichuan Provincial Museum, Chengdu
Left: The Queen Mother of the West sits upon a throne, flanked by Tiger (east, spring, yang) and Dragon (west, autumn, yin). She is surrounded by a nine-tailed fox, two seated women, a leaping frog, a male attendant, and a three-tailed crow.
Right: The Queen Mother of the West sits upon a throne, attended by a hare on the right who presents a candelabra; the standing attendant on the left is stirring the elixir of immortality in a cauldron, with a pole that is surmounted by some sort of standard.
Detail of the Xiwangmu and nine-tailed fox
Xiwangmu Eastern Han Dynasty, 25 AD - 220 AD Sichuan Provincial Museum, Chengdu These tomb tiles portray Xiwangmu, a goddess of immortality. The Queen Mother of the West sits upon a throne, flanked by two symbolic animals: Tiger (east, spring, yang) and Dragon (west, autumn, yin). She is surrounded by attendants, including a nine-tailed fox, two seated women, a leaping frog, a male attendant, and a three-tailed crow. In the more elaborate tile to the right (which was displayed in the museum exhibit, Daoism and the Arts of China, pp. 154-5), her throne includes a vase and canopy, and she is also attended by a hare on the right who presents a candelabra; the standing attendant on the left is stirring the elixir of immortality in a cauldron, with a pole that is surmounted by some sort of standard. Both tiles were unearthed in Chengdu.

Nine-tailed fox

Lady of the Kitsune  During the Han dynasty, nine-tailed fox were depicted in attendance of Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the West, 西王母, 王母娘娘)
Left: Lady of the Kitsune in the "The Legend of the Five Rings" collectible card game.
Right: Nine-tailed fox



Tamamo-no-Mae (玉藻前, 玉藻の前, also 玉藻御前) is a legendary figure in Japanese mythology. In the Otogizōshi, a collection of Japanese prose written in the Muromachi period, Tamamo-no-Mae was a courtesan under the Japanese Emperor Konoe (who reigned from 1142 through 1155).

In the story told by Hokusai, formed in the Edo period, the nine-tail fox first appeared in China and possessed Daji, concubine of Shang dynasty's last ruler King Zhou. She enchanted the king and brought upon a reign of terror that led to a rebellion that ended the Shang dynasty.

The fox spirit fled to Magadha of Tianzhu (ancient India) and became Lady Kayō (華陽夫人), concubine of the crown prince Banzoku (班足太子; based on Indian tales of Kalmashapada the man-eater), causing him to cut off the heads of 1000 men. It was then defeated again, and fled the country.

Around 780 BC, the same fox returned to China was said to have possessed Bao Si, concubine of the Zhou dynasty King You. It was again chased away by human military forces.

The fox stayed quiet for some period. Then she appeared in Japan as Tamamo-no-Mae, the most favoured courtesan of Emperor Toba. She was said to be a most beautiful and intelligent woman, being able to answer any question asked. She caused the Emperor to be extremely ill and was eventually exposed as a fox spirit by the astrologer Abe no Yasuchika, who had been called to diagnose the cause of the Emperor's poor health. A few years later, the emperor sent Kazusa-no-suke (上総介) and Miura-no-suke (三浦介) to kill the fox in the plains of Nasu.

In the 1653 Tamamo no sōshi (玉藻の草紙), an addendum was added to the story describing that the spirit of Tamamo-no-mae embedded itself into a stone called the Sessho-seki. The stone continually released poisonous gas, killing everything that touched it] The stone was said to have been destroyed in the Nanboku-chō period by the Buddhist monk Gennō Shinshō (源翁心昭), who exorcised the now-repentant fox spirit. He held a Buddhist memorial service after the deed, allowing the spirit to finally rest in peace.

Daji (妲己)

Daji from the Hokusai Manga by Katsushika Hokusai  Daji, Investiture of the Gods at Ping Sien Si Temple

Left: Daji, Investiture of the Gods at Ping Sien Si Temple from the Hokusai Manga by Katsushika Hokusai
『北斎漫画』より、妲己 (Date: between 1775 and 1824)
Right: Daji, A favorite concubine of Last King of Shang.
Investiture of the Gods at Ping Sien Si Temple in Perak, Malaysia.

Lady Kayō (華陽夫人)

Lady Kayō, Consort of Prince Hanzoku of India, Holding a Severed Head  The marvelous strength of Prince Hansoku, King of Southern India  Lady Kayo shoots Saiki in the eye, enterteining prince Hansoku.

Left: Lady Kayō (華陽夫人), Consort of Prince Hanzoku of India, Holding a Severed Head
Woodcut print from "One Hundred Ghost Tales from China and Japan" by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1865)
Middle: King Hansoku demonstrates his strength over a lion on a palace balcony, watched by the fox-woman Lady Kayo. Print artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳 1849-1850) From "The Magic Fox of Three Countries" (三国妖狐図会)
Right: Lady Kayo shoots Saiki in the eye, enterteining prince Hansoku.
This painting was made before the opening of the Japan to the outside world.
So is difficult to explain the western influence like the victim against the tree who resembles St Sebastian.
By Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳 1798–1861)

Prince Hanzoku terrorised by a nine-tailed fox  Fleeing fox spirit as Lady Kayō

Left: Prince Hanzoku terrorised by a nine-tailed fox
By Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861)
Right: Fleeing fox spirit as Lady Kayō depicted in Hokusai's Sangoku Yōko-den (三国妖狐伝)
Edo period (江戸時代), by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)


Tamamo no Mae (たまものまえ玉藻前)

TRANSLATION: a nickname literally meaning “Lady Duckweed”

APPEARANCE: Tamamo no Mae is one of the most famous kitsune in Japanese mythology. A nine-tailed magical fox, she is also one of the most powerful yōkai that has ever lived. Her magical abilities were matched only by her trickiness and lust for power. Tamamo no Mae lived during the Heian period, and though she may not have succeeded in her plan to kill the emperor and take his place, her actions destabilized the country and lead it towards one of the most important civil wars in Japanese history. For that reason, Tamamo no Mae is considered one of the Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai—the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan.

ORIGIN: Tamamo no Mae appears in numerous texts and has been a popular subject throughout Japanese history. Her story is portrayed in literature, noh, kabuki, bunraku, and other forms of art. There are several variations on her story.

LEGENDS: Tamamo no Mae was born some 3,500 years ago in what is now China. Her early life is a mystery, but she eventually became a powerful sorceress. After hundreds of more years she became a white faced, golden furred kyūbi no kitsune—a nine-tailed fox with supreme magical power. In addition, she was an expert at manipulation. She used her charms and wit to advance her standing and influence world affairs.

During the Shang Dynasty Tamamo no Mae was known as Daji. She disguised herself as a beautiful woman and became the favorite concubine of King Zhou of Shang. Daji was a model of human depravity. She held orgies in the palace gardens. Her fondness for watching and inventing new forms of torture are legendary. Daji eventually brought about the fall of the entire Shang Dynasty. She managed to escape execution, and fled to the Magadha kingdom in India in 1046 BCE.

In Magadha, she was known as Lady Kayō, and became a consort of King Kalmashapada, known in Japan as Hanzoku. She used her beauty and charms to dominate the king, causing him to devour children, murder priests, and commit other unspeakable horrors. Eventually—whether because she ran out children to eat or because Kalmashapada began to turn away from her and towards Buddhism—she fled back to China.

During the Zhou Dynasty she called herself Bao Si, and was known as one of the most desirable women in all of China. In 779 BCE she became a concubine of King You. Not satisfied as just a mistress, she manipulated the king into deposing his wife Queen Shen and making Bao Si his new queen. Though she was beautiful, Bao Si rarely ever smiled. In order to please his beautiful new wife, King You committed acts of such evil and atrocity that eventually all of his nobles abandoned and betrayed him. Eventually, King You was killed and Bao Si captured and the Western Zhou Dynasty was brought to an end in 771 BCE. Somehow Bao Si managed to escape again; she went into hiding for many years.

Little is known of her activities until the 700s, when she resurfaced disguised as a 16-year old girl named Wakamo. She tricked the leaders of the 10th Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty—Kibi no Makibi, Abe no Nakamaro, and Ganjin—as they were preparing to return home to Japan. Wakamo joined their crew and took the ship to Japan, where she hid herself away for over 300 years.

In the 1090s, she resurfaced once again. This time she transformed herself into a human baby and hid by the side of the road. A married couple found the baby and rescued it, taking her in as their daughter and naming her Mikuzume. She proved to be an exceedingly intelligent and talented young girl, and was so beautiful that she attracted to attention of everyone around her. When she was 7 years old, Mikuzume recited poetry before the emperor. His imperial majesty immediately took a liking to her and employed her as a servant in his court.

Mikuzume excelled at court, absorbing knowledge like a sponge. There was no question she could not answer, whether it was about music, history, astronomy, religion, or Chinese classics. Her clothes were always clean and unwrinkled. She always smelled pleasant. Mikuzume had the most beautiful face in all of Japan, and everyone who saw her loved her.

During the summer of her 18th year, a poetry and instrument recital was held in Mikuzume’s honor. During the recital, an unexpected storm fell upon the palace. All of the candles in the recital room were snuffed, leaving the participants in the dark. Suddenly, a bright light emanated from Mikuzume’s body, illuminating the room. Everybody at court was so impressed by her genius and declared that she must have had an exceedingly good and holy previous life. She was given the name Tamamo no Mae. Emperor Toba, already exceedingly fond of her, made her his consort.

Almost immediately after she became the emperor’s consort, the emperor fell deathly ill. None of the court physicians could determine the cause, and so the onmyōji Abe no Yasunari was called in. Abe no Yasunari read the emperor’s fortune and divined that he was marked by a bad omen. After that, the highest priests and monks were summoned to the palace to pray for the emperor’s health.

The best prayers of the highest priests had no effect, however. The emperor continued to grow worse. Abe no Yasunari was summoned again to read the emperor’s fortune. This time, to his horror the onmyōji discovered that the emperor’s beloved Tamamo no Mae was the cause of his illness. She was a kitsune in disguise, and was shortening the emperor’s life span in order to take over as ruler of Japan. Emperor Toba was reluctant to believe the diviner’s words, but agreed to test Tamamo no Mae just to be sure.

To save the emperor’s life, Abe no Yasunari prepared the Taizan Fukun no Sai, the most secret and most powerful spell known to onmyōdō. Tamamo no Mae was ordered to perform part of the ritual. They reasoned that an evil spirit would not be able to participate in such a holy ritual. Though she was reluctant to participate, the emperor’s ministers persuaded her. They told her that it would increase her standing an admiration among the court. She had little choice but to accept.

When the ritual was performed, Tamamo no Mae dressed even more beautifully than normal. She recited the holy worlds as expected and played her part extremely well. But just as she prepared to wave the ceremonial staff, she vanished. Abe no Yasunari’s divination was confirmed. The court flew into an uproar.

Soon after, word arrived that women and children were disappearing near Nasuno in Shimotsuke Province. The court sorcerers determined that Tamamo no Mae was the cause, and it was decided that she must be destroyed once and for all. The emperor summoned the best warriors in all of the land and then charged the most superb of them, Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke, to find Tamamo no Mae. The warriors gladly accepted the honor. They purified themselves and set out with an army of 80,000 men to slay the nine-tailed kitsune.

Upon reaching Nasuno the army quickly found the kitsune. The warriors chased her for days and days, but the fox used her magical powers and outsmarted them time and time again, easily escaping. The army grew weary, and frustration set in. It seemed that nothing they did was working. However, Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke would not accept the shame of defeat and vowed to press on. They practiced harder, honing their tactics, and eventually picked up the kitsune’s trail.

One night, Miuranosuke had a prophetic dream. A beautiful young girl appeared before him, crying. She begged: “Tomorrow I will lose my life to you. Please save me.” Miuranosuke adamantly refused, and upon waking the warriors set out again to find Tamamo no Mae. Sure enough, the next day they caught her. Miuranosuke fired two arrows, one through the fox’s flank and one through its neck. Kazusanosuke swung his blade. It was over, just as the dream had said.

However, Tamamo no Mae’s evil did not end with her death. One year after she died, Emperor Konoe died, heirless. The following year, her lover and former Emperor Toba died as well. A succession crisis ignited between forces loyal to Emperor Go-Shirakawa and forces loyal to former Emperor Sutoku. This crisis started the Fujiwara-Minamoto rivalry that led to the Genpei War, the end of the Heian period, and the rise of the first shoguns. As if that were not enough, Tamamo no Mae’s spirit haunted a massive boulder which killed every living thing that touched it.


Tamamo-no-Mae Woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi  Tamamo-no-Mae (玉藻前) 

Left: Tamamo-no-Mae Woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
Tamamo-no-Mae, the evil kitsune of Japanese legend. Woodblock print by Yoshitoshi, from New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts. (1889-1892)
Right: Tamamo-no-Mae (玉藻前) By Utagawa Kunisada, 1865

Tamamo-no-Mae, a wicked nine-tailed fox who appeared as a courtesan   A 1886 Woodblock print by Chikanobu, showing nine tailed fox Tamamo-no-Mae

Left: Tamamo-no-Mae (玉藻前), a wicked nine-tailed fox who appeared as a courtesan) from the Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki (今昔画図続百鬼) Toriyama Sekien (鳥山石燕, Japanese, *1712, †1788)
Right: A 1886 Woodblock print by Chikanobu, showing nine tailed fox Tamamo-no-Mae, under her beautiful human form (down), and as a fox stalked by the men sent after her by the emperor (above). Signed Yōshū Chikanobu, series ’Eastern Brocades: Day and Night Compared’, print no. 4. By Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912)

The Warrior Miura-no-suke Confronting the Court Lady Tamamo-no-mae as She Turns into an Evil Fox with Nine Tails  Sessho-seki(Killing Stone) and Thousand Jizo Statues

Left: The Warrior Miura-no-suke Confronting the Court Lady Tamamo-no-mae as She Turns into an Evil Fox with Nine Tails.
"玉藻前と三浦介" by Yashima Gakutei (Late 1820s)
Right: Sessho-seki (Killing Stone) and Thousand Jizo Statues
Stone Jizos (stone statues of Kshitigarbha) before the “Sessho-seki”(Killing Stone), Nasu, Tochigi, Japan.
Legend: The Emperor ordered Kazusa-no-suke and Miura-no-suke, the most powerful warriors of the day, to hunt and kill the foxy Tamamo no Ma. One day, the hunters found the fox on the Plain of Nasu, and Miura-no-suke shot and killed the magical creature with an arrow. The body of the fox became the Sessho-seki, or Killing Stone, which kills anyone that comes in contact with it. Tamamo-no-Mae's spirit became Hoji and haunted the stone.
(References: yokai.com Sesshō seki   Wikipedia Sessho-seki)




The ghost of Emperor Sutoku

Emperor Sutoku (崇徳天皇 Sutoku-tennō, July 7, 1119 – September 14, 1164) was the 75th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Sutoku's reign spanned the years from 1123 through 1142.

After Sutoku's abdication and exile, he devoted himself to monastic life. He copied numerous scriptures and offered them to the court. Fearing that the scriptures were cursed, the court refused to accept them. Snubbed, Sutoku was said to have resented the court and, upon his death, became an onryō. Everything from the subsequent fall in fortune of the Imperial court, the rise of the samurai powers, draughts and internal unrests were blamed on his haunting. Alternatively, he was said to have transformed into an Ootengu (greater tengu), who, along with the nine-tailed kitsune Tamamo-no-Mae and the oni Shuten-dōji, are often called the “three great evil yokai.” of Japan.


Emperor Sutoku

Emperor Sutoku  Emperor Sutoku

Left: Portrait of the Emperor Sutoku (崇徳天皇像)
from the The Japanese book "Tenshi-Sekkan Miei" (天子摂関御影) 1968
at Museum of the Imperial Collections (三の丸尚蔵館).
Right: Emperor Sutoku (崇徳院御製) "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets" (小倉百人一首) #77 「崇徳院」

Emperor Sutoku

The warth of Emperor Sutoku causing a thunderstorm in Sanuki  The Former Emperor (Sutoku) from Sanuki Sends His Retainers to Rescue Tametomo

Left: This print illustrates the warth of Emperor Sutoku causing a thunderstorm in Sanuki.
The spirit of the Retired Emperor Sutoku on a rocky outcrop in a stormy sea.
This print illustrates the warth of Emperor Sutoku causing a thunderstorm in Sanuki.
Woodblock print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳) , 1842
From "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets" (百人一首之内), illustrating the Japanese poetry antology called the Hyakunin Isshu, which was compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika 1162-1241. The Hyakunin Isshu has always been a popular subject, and part of the Japanese culture; it has even taken the form of a card game.
Right: The Former Emperor (Sutoku) from Sanuki Sends His Retainers (winged spirits called tengu) to Rescue Tametomo
Japanese Woodblock Reprint (1851–52) by Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi (勇斎国芳 1797 - 1861).

The Former Emperor (Sutoku) from Sanuki Sends His Retainers (winged spirits called tengu) to Rescue Tametomo and his family

The Former Emperor (Sutoku) from Sanuki Sends His Retainers to Rescue Tametomo
Fantastic depiction from the life of the famous archer, Minamoto no Tametomo. During the Hogen Rebellion in 1156, Tametomo sided with the Emperor Sutoku against Emperor Go-Shirakawa. After Sutoku's defeat, Tametomo and other loyalists were exiled to Izu Oshima, the largest of the Izu Islands. While trying to escape with his wife and son, his ship was wrecked by a typhoon. Ready to commit suicide, Tametomo and his men were rescued by winged spirits called tengu, sent by the spirit of Emperor Sutoku.

At left, Tametomo sits in a boat, gripping his sword in his hand as he prepares to commit seppuku. Ghostly gray tengu rush to prevent him, two of the creatures taking hold of his arms as others climb aboard the boat. An enormous fish rises out of the water behind them, a samurai clinging to the back of it, cradling Tametomo's child to his chest.
At right, Tametomo's wife is swept away in the crashing waves.

The fish is incredibly detailed with square scales containing spirals along the back, bulging yellow eyes and rows of sharp teeth. The image is spattered with gofun (a white pigment) in a technique known as gofun chiraishi or gofun splattering to mimic the white spray of foam across the roiling water. An absolutely amazing design from this legendary tale, meticulously carved and printed to produce an astonishing image.

Japanese Woodblock Reprint (1851–52) by Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi (勇斎国芳 1797 - 1861).

Sutoku Tennō (Sutoku Tennou すとくてんのう 崇徳天皇)

TRANSLATION: Emperor Sutoku

APPEARANCE: Sutoku Tennō is one of the three most famous yōkai to ever haunt Japan. After he died, he transformed—some say into a terrible onryō, some say into a great tengu—and inflicted his wrath upon the imperial court at Kyōto. Along with Tamamo no Mae and Shuten dōji, Emperor Sutoku is one of the legendary Nihon San Dai Aku Yōkai—the Three Terrible Yōkai of Japan. Along with Sugawara no Michizane and Taira no Masakado, he is one of the legendary Nihon San Dai Onryō—the Three Great Onryō of Japan.

ORIGIN: Prince Akihito was born in 1119 CE, the first son of Emperor Toba. At least that was on the official registry. It was an open secret, known by everyone in the court, that Akihito was actually sired by the retired former Emperor Shirakawa. Akihito was not well liked by his “father,” who constantly referred to him as a bastard. His true father Shirakawa may have been the former emperor, but he still wielded considerable power in his retirement. When Prince Akihito was 5 and Emperor Toba was 21, Shirakawa forced Toba into retirement. Akihito became Emperor Sutoku.

After Shirakawa died in 1129, retired Emperor Toba began orchestrating his trap against Emperor Sutoku. He convinced him that the cloistered life of retired emperor was much better than being the actual emperor. He suggested that Sutoku adopt Toba’s son Prince Narihito, and retire. In 1142, Sutoku finally did so. Toba oversaw the process, and made sure to record that the emperor was retiring and passing the throne on to Narihito instead of his own progeny. This ensured that Sutoku would wield no power over the young emperor, nor would any future son ever become emperor. The 3-year old Narihito became Emperor Konoe, and the retired Emperor Toba wielded all of the power behind the throne. Toba sent Sutoku’s allies to distant provinces, and filled the capital with his own allies. There was nothing Sutoku could do.

Emperor Konoe remained sickly and childless his whole life. He passed away without an heir in 1155 at the age of 17. By this time, Sutoku had his own son. He saw an opportunity to recover his standing. Sutoku and his allies claimed that the throne should pass on to Sutoku’s son. Instead the imperial court declared that Toba’s fourth son would become Emperor Go-Shirakawa. When Toba died the following year, this dispute escalated into a miniature civil war known as the Hōgen Rebellion. The war was decided in a single battle. The forces of Go-Shirakawa were victorious.

After the Hōgen Rebellion, Go-Shirakawa’s forces were merciless. Those who fought against the emperor were executed, along with their entire families. Former Emperor Sutoku was banished from Kyōto and forced to spend the rest of his days exiled to Sanuki Province. He shaved his head and became a monk, devoting himself copying holy manuscripts to send back to Kyōto. The court feared that the deposed Sutoku would attempt to curse them. It was rumored that he had bitten off his own tongue and wrote the manuscripts in his own blood, imbuing them with his hatred for the merciless imperial court. The court added insult to injury by refusing to accept any of his manuscripts.

In 1164, Sutoku passed away, defeated, deposed, and humiliated—and most importantly full of rage for the imperial court. When news of his death reached Emperor Go-Shirakawa, the emperor ignored it. He ordered that nobody should go into mourning, and that no state funeral would be held for such a criminal.

LEGENDS: After his death, strange things began to happen. Sutoku’s body was set aside while its caretakers awaited funeral instructions from the emperor. After 20 days, his body was still as fresh as it had been on the day he died. While his coffin was taken to be cremated, a terrible storm rolled in. The caretakers placed the casket on the ground to take shelter. After the storm passed, the stones around the casket were soaked with fresh blood. When his body was finally cremated, the ashes descended upon Kyōto in a dark cloud.

Afterwards, for many years, disaster upon disaster struck the capital. Go-Shirakawa’s successor, Emperor Nijo, died suddenly at age 23. Storms, plagues, fires, droughts, and earthquakes all pounded the capital. Imperial power weakened. Clan rivalries set into motion by the Hōgen Rebellion escalated. Many of Go-Shirakawa’s allies were killed in battles, and the country stepped closer and closer to all-out civil war. In 1180, the Genpei War broke out. In 5 bloody years, the power of the imperial court had vanished, and the Kamakura shogunate took over Japan. All of this was attributed to Emperor Sutoku’s vengeance.

Sutoku finally returned to the capital during the Meiji era. In 1868, he was enshrined as a kami in the Shiramine Shrine in Kyōto. The Takaya Shrine in Kagawa also enshrines one of the stones onto which Sutoku’s blood flowed during the rainstorm before his cremation. Despite this, there are still rumors that his curse might still linger. In 2012, when NHK broadcast the drama Taira no Kiyomori, an earthquake struck the Kanto region right at the moment when Emperor Sutoku transformed into an onryō.

Emperor Sutoku Refusing to Receive the Priest Ennyo in Exile  

Left: Emperor Sutoku Refusing to Receive the Priest Ennyo in Exile
Woodcut print By Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1880)

Sutoku becoming demon 

Sutoku becoming demon by Utagawa Yoshitsuya.
The print depicts Princess Shiranui fighting the evil Sotoku-in.




The Slippery Gourd

Nurarihyon (ぬらりひょん 滑瓢, Slippery Gourd), or Nūrihyon (ぬうりひょん), is a Japanese Yōkai said to originate from Wakayama Prefecture. It is speculated that the original name used was Nūrihyon, with Nurarihyon being a misreading that got perpetuated.

The name Nurarihyon is a portmanteau of the words "Nurari" (ぬらり or 滑) meaning "to slip away" and "hyon" (ひょん 瓢), an onomatopoeia used to describe something slippery. The sound "hyon" is represented by the character for "gourd".

The Nurarihyon is usually depicted as an old man with a gourd-shaped head and wearing a kesa.

The Nurarihyon is often depicted sneaking into people's houses while they are away, drinking their tea, and acting as if it is their own house. However, this depiction is not one based in folklore, but one based on hearsay and repeated in popular Yōkai media.

The Nurarihyon has become quite popular in contemporary Yōkai media, particularly due to the fact that its lack of a concrete background leaves it open to interpretation.




Nurarihyon (ぬらりひょん)
from Toriyama Sekien (鳥山石燕) "Gazu Hyakki Yakō" (画図百鬼夜行) 1776.

Nurarihyon (滑瓢 ぬらりひょん)

TRANSLATION: slippery gourd
HABITAT: expensive villas, living rooms, brothels; possibly marine in origin
DIET: picky; prefers expensive and luxurious food

APPEARANCE: Nurarihyon is a mysterious and powerful yokai encountered all across Japan. Appearances can be deceiving, and nurarihyon is the perfect illustration of that saying. Overall, he is rather benign-looking, his head elongated and gourd-shaped. His face is wizened and wrinkled, resembling a cross between and old man and a catfish. He wears elegant clothing – often a splendid silk kimono or the rich robes of a Buddhist abbot – and carries himself in the quiet manner of a sophisticated gentleman.

BEHAVIOR: The short, comical, elderly nurarihyon is actually the most powerful and elite of all the yokai in the world. He travels in an ornate palanquin carried by human or yokai servants, often visiting red light districts, but occasionally stopping at mountain villas as well. He is known as “the Supreme Commander of All Monsters,” and every yokai listens to his words and pays him respect, treating him as the elder and leader in all yokai meetings. Along with otoroshi and nozuchi, nurarihyon leads the procession known as the night parade of one hundred demons through the streets of Japan on dark, rainy nights. He fits the role of supreme commander every bit as much when he interacts with humans as well.

INTERACTIONS: Nurarihyon shows up on evenings when a household is extremely busy. He arrives at homes unexpectedly in his splendid palanquin and slips into the house, unnoticed by anyone. He helps himself to the family’s tea, tobacco, and other luxuries, acting in all respects as if he were the master of the house. His power is so great that even the real owners of the house, when they finally notice his presence, can do nothing to stop him. In fact, while he is there, the owners actually believe the nurarihyon to actually be the rightful master of the house. Eventually he leaves just as he came, quietly and politely slipping out of the house and into his palanquin, as the owners of the house obsequiously bow and wave him farewell. Only after he has left does anyone become suspicious of the mysterious old man who just visited.

ORIGIN: As to nurarihyon’s origins there is only speculation, for the oldest records of his existence are mere sketches and paintings. His name connotes a slippery evasiveness – which he employs when posing as master of the house. Its name comes from “nurari” (to slip away) and “hyon” (an onomatopoeia describing floating upwards) written with the kanji for gourd (due to the shape of his head).

In Okayama, some evidence exists linking nurarihyon to umi-bōzu. There, nurarihyon are globe-shaped sea creatures, about the size of a man’s head, which float about in the Seto Inland Sea. When fisherman try to catch one, the sphere sinks down into the water just out reach and then bobs back up mockingly. It has been theorized that some of these slippery globes migrate to land, where they gradually gain influence and power, becoming the nurarihyon known throughout the rest of Japan. Whether this theory is the true origin of the Supreme Commander of All Monsters or just one more of his many mysteries is yet to be solved.


Nurarihyon (ぬらりひょん)


By Sawaki Sūshi (佐脇嵩之) from "Hyakkai Zukan" (百怪図巻) 1737.

Bronze statue of Nurarihyon

Bronze statue of Nurarihyon

Bronze statue of Nurarihyon installed on Mizuki Shigeru Road , Sakaiminato City.
Sakaiminato is a city in Tottori Prefecture, Japan.


Night Parade of a Hundred Demons (Hyakki Yagyō ひゃっきやぎょう 百鬼夜行)

Nurarihyon   Night Parade of a Hundred Demons 

Night Parade of a Hundred Demons. Artist: Unknown. Date: Late Edo Period (1750/1837)

Hyakki Yagyō, variation: Hyakki Yakō, (百鬼夜行, "Night Parade of One Hundred Demons") is a concept in Japanese folklore. It is a parade which is composed of a hundred kinds of yōkai.

Legend has it that "every year the yokai Nurarihyon, will lead all of the yōkai through the streets of Japan during summer nights." Anyone who comes across the procession would perish or be spirited away by the yōkai, unless protected by handwritten scrolls by anti-yokai onmyoji spellcasters. It is said that only an onmyoji clan head is strong enough to pass Nurarihyon's Hyakki Yagyo unharmed.

The Night Parade of a Hundred Demons by Kawanabe Kyôsai  'Hyakki Yakō' (百鬼夜行) by Kawanabe Kyōsai  The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons (Hyakki yagyō) by Utagawa Kunisada 

Left: Kawanabe Kyôsai, The Night Parade of a Hundred Demons, extract from Pandemonium Kyôsai Hyakki gadan, illustrated book signed Kawanabe Tôiku, 1889 Nurarihyon by Kawanabe Gyosai 1890
View Altenate Image  View Book Cover Enlarged Image
Middle: "Hyakki Yakō" (百鬼夜行) by Kawanabe Kyōsai, collected in British Museum, image scanned from Timothy Clark, Demon of painting: the art of Kawanabe Kyōsai, p.64
Right: "The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons" (Hyakki yagyō), by Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞), 1825
Shunga Exhibition of the British Museum in 2013/2014
View Enlarged view 1  View Enlarged view 2  Alternate Image 

Additional Images of "The Night Parade of a Hundred Demons" can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art  The British Museum 



Kappa (かっぱ 河童 River Child)

ALTERNATE NAMES: kawatarō (川太郎), kawatora (川虎 River Tiger), komahiki (駒引or Horse Puller) or kawako. There are more than eighty other names associated with the kappa in different regions, including kawappa, gawappa, kōgo, mizushi, mizuchi, enkō, kawaso, suitengu, and dangame. These various names of the creature vary by region and local folklore, while the term "kappa" remains the name most well known outside of Japan.
HABITAT: rivers, lakes, ponds, waterways, cisterns, wells; found throughout Japan
DIET: omnivorous; prefers cucumbers and human entrails

A Kappa is a yōkai demon or imp found in traditional Japanese folklore. The name is a combination of the words kawa (river) and wappa, a variant form of warawa or warabe (child). In Shintō they are considered to be one of many suijin (水神,“water deity”), their yorishiro, or one of their temporary appearances. A hairy Kappa is called a hyōsube (ひょうすべ). In Japanese Buddhism they are considered to be a kind of hungry ogres. Therefore, Sha Wujing, who is a character from the Chinese story Journey to the West is described like a Kappa in Japan. Kappa are distinguished as having a small pool of water suspended on top of their head, signifying their life force and habitat.

Along with the oni and the tengu, the Kappa is among the best-known yōkai in Japan.
Kappa have been used to warn children of the dangers lurking in rivers and lakes, as kappa have been often said to try to lure people into water and pull them.

Kappa legends are said to be based on the Japanese giant salamander or hanzaki, an aggressive salamander that grabs its prey with its powerful jaws. Other theories suggest they are based on historical sightings of the now extinct Japanese river otter as seen from a distance, otters have been known to stand upright and a drunk, frightened or hallucinating person may think they are seeing a humanoid entity and not a wild animal.

The best known place where it has been claimed Kappa supposedly reside is in the Kappabuchi waters of Tōno in the Iwate Prefecture. The nearby Jōkenji Buddhist temple has dedicated a komainu dog statue to honor the kappa, which according to legend helped extinguish the temple's fire. The Kappa is also venerated at the Sogenji Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo where according to tradition, a mummified arm of a Kappa is enshrined within the chapel hall.


The kappa is typically depicted as roughly humanoid in form and about the size of a child. Its scaly reptilian skin ranges in color from green to yellow or blue. Their bodies are built for swimming and they inhabit the ponds and rivers of Japan, and have various features to aid them in this environment, such as webbed thumbless hands and feet. They are sometimes said to smell like fish and they can swim like them. The expression Kappa no kawa nagare ("a Kappa drowning in a river") conveys the idea that even experts make mistakes.

Another notable feature in some stories is that Kappa forearms are attached to one another inside of their shells, and pulling on one arm will cause it to lengthen while the other one contracts. Despite their small size they are physically stronger than a grown man.

Although their appearance varies from region to region, the most consistent features are turtle-like beak and shell, and a plate (sara), a dish-like hairless depression on the top of the head. This dish is the source of a kappa’s power and must be kept wet at all times; should the water be spilled and the dish dry up, the kappa will be unable to move and may even die.

While they are primarily water creatures, they do on occasion venture on to land. When they do, the plate can be covered with a metal cap for protection. In fact, in some versions of the legends, kappa spend spring and summer in the water, and the rest of the year in the mountains as Yama-no-Kami (山の神, “mountain gods”). Although they are reported to live throughout Japan, they are often said to be particular to Saga Prefecture.

Adult kappa often live solitary lives, although it is common for them to befriend other yokai and even humans. Younger kappa are frequently found in family groups. They will eat almost anything, but they are particularly fond of raw innards –particularly human anuses – and cucumbers.

Kappa are usually seen as mischievous troublemakers or trickster figures. Their pranks range from the relatively innocent, such as looking up women's kimonos, loudly pass gas in public (they possess three anuses, allowing them to pass three times as much gas as a human), to the malevolent, such as drowning people and animals, kidnapping children, raping women and at times eating human flesh. Folk beliefs claim the cucumber as their traditional favorite meal.

As water monsters, Kappa have been blamed for drownings, and are often said to try to lure people into water and pull them in with their great skill at wrestling. They are sometimes said to take their victims for the purpose of drinking their blood, eating their livers, or gaining power by taking their shirikodama (尻子玉), a mythical ball said to contain the soul, which is located inside the anus.

Lakes and rivers where Kappa live are often marked with warning signs. Their preferred method of attack is to drown or bite their opponent to death under water. They particularly despise cows and horses, and will attack the animals for no reason at all. The motif of the kappa trying to drown a horse is found all over Japan. In these stories, if a kappa is caught in the act, it can be made to apologize, sometimes in writing. This usually takes place in the stable where the kappa attempted to attack the horse, which is considered the place where the kappa is most vulnerable.

They have been known to kidnap or rape swimming women, and to devour humans alive. Usually they go for the anus – in particular a mythical ball of flesh located just inside the anus, called the shirikodama. In the water, there is no escape for anyone who crosses a Kappa. On land, however, it is possible to outwit one: the honorable Kappa will feel obliged to return a bow, and if it can be tricked into bowing so low that the water in its dish spills out, it can be easily overcome. Once bested, many Kappa have been made to swear loyalty and friendship to their victor for the rest of their lives.

Kappa are also known for raping women. An 18th-century ukiyo-e image by Utamaro depicts a Kappa raping an ama diver underwater. In his Tōno Monogatari, Kunio Yanagita records a number of beliefs from the Tōno area about women being accosted and even impregnated by kappa. Their offspring were said to be repulsive to behold, and were generally buried.


Drawing of a kappa, a Japanese water imp   Hokusai, detail of a bestiary drawing showing a kappa  

Left: A drawing of a kappa that was supposedly caught in net on Mito east beach in Japan in 1836. According to records from the time, this kappa was 1 meter long, weighed 45 kg and had a bent neck and protruding chest.
Original caption: 享和元年(一八〇一)に水戸藩東浜で網にかかった河童の姿。「身長三尺五寸、重さ十二貫目。胸が隆起し、猪首。背が曲がっている。」と記されています。
Right: Detail of a bestiary drawing showing a kappa by Hokusai (1760–1849).

Kappa from the <i>Kyōka Hyaku-monogatari</i>   Kappa drawings from mid-19th century (Illustrated Guide to 12 Types of Kappa)  

Left: Kappa (河童) from the Kyōka Hyaku-monogatari (狂歌百物語) by 竜斎閑人正澄 (1853) Enlarged view  
Right: Kappa drawings from mid-19th century Suiko juni-hin no zu 水虎十二品之図 (Illustrated Guide to 12 Types of Kappa), 1850, by Juntaku .

Kappa from ‘Kaikidan Ekotoba’ monster scroll   Repelling kappa with a fart. 1881. By Yoshitoshi

Left: Kappa from ‘Kaikidan Ekotoba’ monster scroll, a mid-19th century handscroll that profiles 33 legendary monsters and human oddities, mostly from the Kyushu region of Japan. It is now in the possession of the Fukuoka City Museum, Japan
Right: Repelling kappa with a fart. 1881. By Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年 (1839-1892)
Deffence Against Kappa: Beating Kappa at their own game.

Kappa from the Hyakkai-Zukan by Sawaki Suushi   No. 1 print from <i>Utamakura</i> (Ama diver and Kappa)  

Left: Kappa (a famous water monster with a water-filled head and a love of cucumbers) from the Hyakkai-Zukan By Sawaki Suushi (佐脇嵩之) (1707-1772).
『百怪図巻』より「かわつは (河童)」
Right: Shunga, colour woodblock print. No. 1 out of 12 illustrations from a printed folding album Utamakura. A female diver for abalone shellfish (ama), seated on a rock, observes with a mix of horror and fascination as her companion is set upon and violated beneath the waves by two scaly river creatures called ‘kappa’.
Utamakura (歌まくら, "Poem of the pillow") is a book of 12 erotic prints attributed to Utamaro, published in 1788.

It was believed that, if one was confronted with a Kappa, there were a few means of escape. Kappa are obsessed with politeness, so if a person makes a deep bow, it will return the gesture, the water in the plate on its head spills out and it is rendered unable to leave the bowing position until the plate is refilled with water from the river in which it lives. If a person refills it, the Kappa will serve that person for all eternity.
A similar weakness of the kappa involves its arms, which can easily be pulled from its body. If an arm is detached, the kappa will perform favors or share knowledge in exchange for its return.
Another method of defeat involves sumo wrestling or shogi. They love martial arts like sumo wrestling, and games of skill like shogi. A Kappa sometimes challenges a human being to wrestle or engage in other tests of skill. This tendency is easily used to encourage the kappa to spill the water from its sara.
Kappa also accept challenges put to them, as in the tale of the farmer's daughter who was promised to a Kappa in marriage by her father in return for the creature irrigating his land. She challenged it to submerge several gourds in water and, when it failed in its task, it retreated and she was saved from the promised marriage.
Kappa have also been driven away using their aversion to variously, iron, sesame, or ginger.

Kappa are not entirely antagonistic to human beings. They are curious about human civilization, and they can understand and speak Japanese. They may even befriend human beings in exchange for gifts or offerings of nasu (茄子, Japanese eggplant), soba (そば or 蕎麦, buckwheat noodles), nattō (なっとう or 納豆, fermented soybeans), or kabocha (カボチャ, 南瓜, winter squash), but especially cucumbers, the only food Kappa are known to enjoy more than human children. Japanese parents sometimes write the names of their children, or their own names, on cucumbers and toss them into waters believed to be infested with Kappa in order to mollify the creatures and allow the family to bathe. In some regions, it was customary to eat cucumbers before swimming as protection, but in others it was believed that this act would guarantee an attack. There is a cucumber-filled sushi roll known as Kappamaki.

Kappa are proud and stubborn, but also fiercely honorable; they never break any promises that they make. Kappa possess keen intelligence and they are one of the few yokai able to learn human languages.

Kappa may also be tricked into helping people. Their deep sense of decorum prevents them from breaking an oath, for example.
Once befriended, kappa may perform any number of tasks for human beings, such as helping farmers irrigate their land. Sometimes, they bring fresh fish, which is regarded as a mark of good fortune for the family that receives it. They are also highly knowledgeable about medicine and the art of setting bones; according to legend, these skills were first taught to humans by friendly Kappa. . Due to these benevolent aspects, some shrines are dedicated to the worship of particularly helpful kappa. There were also festivals meant to placate the kappa in order to obtain a good harvest, some of which still take place today. These festivals generally took place during the two equinoxes of the year, when the kappa traveled from the rivers to the mountains and vice versa.

Kappa are revered in Shinto as a kind of water god. It is not uncommon to see offerings of cucumbers made at riverbanks by devout humans; in return, kappa are known to help people by irrigating fields, befriending lonely children, competing with adults in sports and games, and so on.

Similar folklore can be found in Asia and Europe. The Japanese folklore creature Kappa is known in Chinese folklore as 水鬼 (Shui Gui, Water Ghost), or water monkey. Kappa may also be related to the Kelpie of Scotland and the Neck of Scandinavia. Like the Japanese description of the beast, in Chinese and in Scandinavian lore this beast is infamous for kidnapping and drowning people as well as horses. The Siyokoy of the Philippine islands is also known for kidnapping children by the water banks.

Kappa bronze statue at Mizuki Shigeru Road,Sakaiminato,Tottori Prefecture   A statue of kappa in Shiki city, Saitama prefecture  

Left: Kappa bronze statue founded at Mizuki Shigeru Road (Sakaiminato City 境港市, Tottori Prefecture 鳥取県)
Right: A statue of kappa in Shiki city, Saitama prefecture

Statue of kappa on Tanushimaru platform (Fukuoka, Japan)   The old story of Kappa from Kappabuchi, waters of Tōno in the Iwate Prefecture  

Left: Statue of kappa on Tanushimaru platform (Fukuoka, Japan) 田主丸駅ホーム上の河童像.
Right: The old story of Kappa from Kappabuchi, waters of Tōno in the Iwate Prefecture
The Tono area is reputedly the home of the Kappa. (Reference: Kappabuchi Tour)

 Statues of male and female kappa at Sougenji-Kappa-Dera-Temple, Tokyo, Japan   Japanese Wood Netsuke. Kappa sitting on a sea shell.  

Left: A paired male and female kappa statues at the Sogenji Buddhist shrine (Sougenji-Kappa-Dera-Temple) at the Asakusa district in Tokyo.
Right: Japanese Wood Netsuke. Kappa sitting on a sea shell.
This is from the collections at the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm but it has been on display in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska museet) since 2011




A hairy kappa is called a hyōsube (ひょうすべ) in the mountains as Yama-no-Kami Tōno Monogatari, Kunio Yanagita records a number of beliefs from the Tōno area about women being accosted and even impregnated by kappa.