The Yokai of Japan: Spirits and Demons of Folklore

Yokai of Japan

The Yokai of Japan are the demons and spirits passed down from generation to generation in Japanese folklore. With anime such as Yokai Watch, the tales of these mythic beings are still as relevant as ever, so I thought I’d introduce some of Japan’s most famous creatures of the dark. 

While in the West, we have stories of vampires and werewolves – in Japan, there are thousands of tales of long-nosed demons and faceless ghosts. Why does Japan have such a rich yokai monster culture? One reason for this is the culture of ghost stories in Japan. Everyone knows a good ghost story will send a cold shiver down your spine – that’s why during the peaceful Edo period, ghost stories boomed as a way of beating the summer heat. 

Here are 6 if Japan’s greatest Yokai! 

(1) Kappa 

The kappa may appear cute in anime and manga, but the kappa of Japanese folklore will keep you awake at night. The kappa the lives in ponds and rivers and has a turtle-like shell. The kappa’s favorite foods are cucumbers and… children. While some stories say giving a kappa a cucumber will save your life, other stories say this will attract them and ensure your death. 

Kappas have a small basin of water on their head if you knock the water out the kappa will be unable to move. If you refill the water, the kappa will be eternally indebted to you. 

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                                                                                  (A sign to keep kids out of the water)

(2) Tengu

Tengu are bird-like demons. They are well-known for their red faces and long noses. Although the tengu was originally a bad omen, during the 17th-century, they became known as a yokai of protection. They are quite foolish and can easily be deceived. Despite having wings, they are known for riding mountain boars.

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(3) Oni 

Oni are another yokai that often appear in anime, as well as Japan’s cultural bean-throwing festival (mame-maki). Often drawn with red or blue skin, these ogre-like demons often carry huge steal clubs around with them. They are several times stronger than a typical human. Oni were originally the souls of evil humans who wander the plains of hell. Even in legend, they rarely come to earth. 

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(4) Spirit Umbrellas and Spirit Items 

According to Japanese folklore, an item that is mistreated may become an evil spirit once it becomes 100 years old. One of the most common items are umbrellas and parasols (probably because they are easily broken and thrown away). They don’t really cause harm to humans, but they are well-known for their tricks and mischievousness. 

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(5) Spirit Fox

Powerful spirits in Japan are often seen as deities and are the protectors of mountains and rivers. During the 4th-century, the fox spirit became a bad omen. Once every hundred years, the fox spirit grows an extra tail. If the spirit reaches 900 years old, its hair will change gold (similar to the nine-tails in Naruto and Pokemon). 

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(6) Yuurei Ghost 

Ghosts (yuurei) are a class of yokai. They come in many shapes and forms, just as they do in the West. Yuurei are the spirits of humans who were tied to the world of living by feelings of revenge of hatred. The most common yuurei are young women who wear white with a white cloth hat. If you don’t keep your wits about you, they could lure and seduce you to your death. 

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The Yokai of Japan come in many shapes and forms. While I only listed 6, there are actually thousands – some that are only known in certain areas. Even today, as ghost stories and horror movies continue to be created, new yokai and monsters are born. Some, like the tanuki are thousands of years old, while thanks to movies, The Ring’s Sadako could also be considered a yokai. You can see them all over Japan in one way or another, so keep your eyes peeled! 

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