10 Horrifying demons and spirits from Japanese folklore

 Mental Floss:

Oni (demons) and yurei (ghosts) have played a role in Japanese culture for thousands of years, and stories of new spirits continue to be told today. Much of this list is comprised of hannya, which in Noh theater are women whose rage and jealousy turned them into oni while still alive. Here are just a few tales of demons, ghosts, and women you don’t want to mess with.


Kiyohime was a young woman scorned by her lover, a monk named Anchin, who grew cold and lost interest in her. Realizing he had left her, Kiyohime followed him to a river and transformed into a serpent while swimming after his boat. Terrified by her monstrous form, Anchin sought refuge in a temple, where monks hid him beneath a bell. Not to be evaded, Kiyohime found him by his scent, coiled around the bell, and banged loudly on it with her tail. She then breathed fire onto the bell, melting it and killing Anchin.


There are many variations of this popular Japanese tale. Yuki-onna is usually described as having white skin, a white kimono, and long black hair. She appears in snowfall and glides without feet over the snow like a ghost. She feeds on human essence, and her killing method of choice is to blow on her victims to freeze them to death and then suck out their souls through their mouths.


Shuten Dōji is described as more than 50 feet tall with a red body, five horns, and 15 eyes. There’s no need to fear this demon, though. In a legend from the medieval period, warriors Raikō and Hōshō infiltrated Shuten Dōji’s lair disguised as yamabushi (mountain priests) to free some kidnapped women.

The oni greeted them with a banquet of human flesh and blood, and the disguised warriors offered Shuten Dōji drugged sake. After the demon passed out, the warriors cut off his head, killed the other oni, and freed the prisoners.


Also originating in the medieval period, yamauba are generally considered to be old women who were marginalized by society and forced to live in the mountains—who also have a penchant for eating human flesh. Among many tales, there is one of a yamauba who offers shelter to a young woman about to give birth while secretly planning to eat her baby, and another of a yamauba who goes to village homes to eat children while their mothers are away. But they’re not picky; they’ll eat anyone who passes by.

Yamabuas also have mouths under their hair. Delightful!


In another tale of a woman scorned, Uji no hashihime prayed to a deity to turn her into an oni so she could kill her husband, the woman he fell in love with, and all of their relatives. To accomplish this, she bathed in the Uji River for 21 days, divided her hair into five horns, painted her body red with vermilion, and went on a legendary killing spree. Besides her intended victims, anyone who saw her instantly died of fear.


Tengu are impish mountain goblins that play tricks on people, featured in countless folktales and considered purely evil until about the 14th century. They were originally depicted as birdlike, with wings and beaks, though now the beak is often replaced with a comically large nose. They are known to lead people away from Buddhism, tie priests to tall trees and towers, start fires in temples, and kidnap children.

Many legends say the tengu were hypocritical priests who must now live the rest of their lives as mountain goblins as punishment. Locals made offerings to the tengu to avoid their mischief, and there are still festivals in Japan dedicated to them today.


A revenge story made popular by the famous kabuki drama Yotsuya kaidan, Oiwa was married to a rōnin (masterless samurai) named Iemon; he wanted to marry a rich local’s daughter who had fallen in love with him, and, in order to end their marriage, Oiwa was sent a poisoned medicine. Though the poison failed to kill her, she became horribly disfigured, causing her hair to fall out and her left eye to droop. Upon learning of her disfigurement and betrayal, she accidentally killed herself on a sword. Her ghostly, deformed face appeared everywhere to haunt Iemon. It even appeared in place of his new bride’s face, which caused Iemon to accidentally behead her.

Oiwa’s spirit followed him relentlessly to the point where he welcomed death.


This story begins as so many horror stories do: With an overly-confident man who boasted to his friends that he didn’t fear to cross Agi Bridge or the demon rumored to reside there. As oni are known for their ability to shape-shift, the demon at Agi Bridge appeared to the man as an abandoned woman. As soon as she caught the young man’s eye, she transformed back into a 9 foot green-skinned monster and chased after him. Unable to catch the man, the demon later changed into the form of the man’s brother and knocked on his door late at night.

The demon was let into the house and, after a struggle, bit off the man’s head, held it up and danced with it before his family, and then vanished.


In an urban legend from 1979 that swept through Japan, Kuchisake-onna wears a surgical mask and asks children if they think she is beautiful. If they say yes, she takes off the mask to reveal her mouth slit from ear to ear and asks the question again. The only way to escape is to give a noncommittal answer, such as “you look OK.” Barring that, you can distract her with certain Japanese candies. But if the children say yes again, she will cut their mouths to make them look like her.


With a demon for just about everything, why shouldn’t the Japanese have a few for their bathrooms? Aka Manto, one of the more popular demons, hides in women’s bathrooms. In one version of the story, Aka Manto asks women if they would like a red cloak or a blue cloak. If the woman answers “red,” Aka Manto tears the flesh from her back to make it appear she is wearing a red cloak. If she answers “blue,” then he strangles her to death. Unfortunately, if you encounter Aka Manto, there may be no escaping: Some versions of the story say if you don’t answer or if you pick a different color, he will immediately drag you to hell.

Additional Sources: Japanese Ghosts & Demons: Art of the SupernaturalJapanese Demon Lore: Oni, from Ancient Times to the Present; “How the Demon at Agi Bridge in Omi Province Ate Somebody,” from The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales.

Fan parody of Ghostbusters set in Tokyo is totally “crossing the streams”

tokyo ghostbuster 9

RocketNews 24:

Genre streams that is! There isn’t an ’80s movie that is more perfectly matched for an anime makeover than Ghostbusters. The story is flawless, the ghosts would feel right at home, plus all the crazy special effects could be easily accomplished through animation. The fact that they were able to do all of that in a live-action movie is part of what makes it such a classic.

This parody simply nails the movie, but you don’t have to take our word for it, you can see for yourself after the jump.

The YouTube channel Nacho Punch is no stranger to 1980s-style anime parodies, but this one feels just right. Set in Tokyo and drawn in a style of animation perfect for the era in which the movie and original animated series were born, the Tokyo Ghostbusters really shine in their one-minute debut.

▼“Who you gonna call?”

tokyo ghostbuster 8

Since this parody is set in Japan, a few of the familiar Ghostbuster details have been changed to fit the Land of the Rising Sun. The team chows down on curry udon and travels around busting ghosts in a Japanese hearse.

tokyo ghostbuster 5

The role of Slimer is played by a green version of Whisper from Yokai Watch.

tokyo ghostbuster 1

The rest of the ghosts and baddies are assembled from some other very popular youkai (demons/monsters) from Japanese folklore. You can see Rokurokubi (long-neckedyoukai), Kappa, and Karakasa Obake (the one-eyed umbrella).

tokyo ghostbuster 6

tokyo ghostbuster 7

Just as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rumbles through the streets of New York City, a giant Doraemon is the oversized terror in this parody. The Tokyo Ghostbusters climb up Tokyo Tower in order to get a better vantage point to fight off the robot cat ghost menace.

tokyo ghostbuster 10

It’s a wonder why this mash-up didn’t happen sooner. The cartoon TV series of The Real Ghostbusters did a fine job of expanding on the universe after the movies, but a Japanese anime version done in the 1980s style adds a little more wackiness that is always welcome with the Ghostbusters name. Great work, guys!

Get your chills on the rails with Kyoto’s Ghost Train

TY 8

RocketNews 24:


Fear is commonly held to be a cold sensation, which is how we ended up with English phrases like “bone-chilling” and “a chill ran down his spine.”

Those idioms may not translate directly into Japanese, but Japan has also traditionally thought of feeling cold as part of being scared.

Figuring that when life hands you horror lemons, you make horror lemonade, long ago Japanese society decided to use this to its advantage, which is why in Japan summer isn’t just the season of lightweight kimonos and all-you-can-drink beer gardens, but the time for ghost stories, too.

But in this modern age, maybe you’re too busy to sit around candlelit rooms in old manor houses swapping creepy tales with your friends. So if you’ve got an active lifestyle and need to keep moving while you get your terror on, a ride on Kyoto’s ghost train might be in order.

Even by the standards of Japan’s elegant former capital, Arashiyama is a tranquil place. Located on the western outskirts of Kyoto, the district is famous for its scenic Togetsukyo Bridge and bamboo groves.


YT 5


One of the easiest ways to get to Arashiyama is by using the Keifuku railway line. Just hop on at Shijo Omiya Station conveniently located in central Kyoto, and ride all the way to Arashiyama Station at the end of the line. The trip takes a little over 20 minutes, and since you’re consistently moving farther away from the population center and closer to beautiful natural surroundings, it makes for a relaxing ride.

Unless, of course, you’re on the Yokai Train.


▼ They’re not nearly as friendly-looking as their counterparts from video game series Yokai Watch.

YT 6


Every summer, Keifuku infests a few of its trains with yokai, the supernatural creatures that feature prominently in Japanese folklore. Different linguists have made compelling arguments for translating yokai as ghosts, goblins, or monsters, but we’re also satisfied with Keifuku’s official English name for their spooky carriages.


▼ Haunted Train

YT 4


The company has yet to release a time table for the 2014 Yokai Trains, but Japanese website Kyoto no Sakura reports that the service will be starting on August 1. Fittingly, the yokai trains only run after dark, with their window shades shut and the only illumination coming from interior black lights.


YT 7


Adding to the atmosphere is the eerie background music played inside the yokai train. Oh, and one more thing to keep in mind: The Yokai Train runs both ways from Shijo Omiya and Arashiyama, but it doesn’t stop at any of the usual stations along the way. Once the doors close, you’re trapped with the yokai until the end of the line.

Having the intestinal fortitude to travel with ghostly entities isn’t without its advantages though. A ride on the Yokai Train costs 200 yen (US $1.98) for adults, a 20-yen savings compared to the price for Keifuku’s human-only trains.


▼ A Yokai Train ticket from 2013

YT 3


Kids’ tickets are cheaper still at just 100 yen, but even they’re not the most economical way to make the trip.


YT 1


That’s because yokai can ride for just 50 yen. Since Keifuku is, first and foremost, a rail company, it doesn’t employ a team of mystics, mediums, and exorcists to officially verify passengers’ yokai status. Instead, that judgment call gets left to station attendants, who have the power to bestow the discount on anyone who “looks like a yokai at first glance,” so if you’re looking to get some summertime use out of your Halloween costume, this could be your chance.

Just don’t be surprised if no one wants to sit next to you when you transfer to another line on your way home.



Special subway cars in Kyoto are perfect for travelling anime fans

KM 2

Kyoto is best known as a bastion of Japan’s traditional past, where the visual and performing arts developed during the feudal era still command the highest respect. Japan’s former capital is also making a bid to become a center for modern popular culture as well, though. 2006 saw the opening of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and the city also plays host to the annual Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair.

Kyoto’s love for anime is truly a two-way street, as the city serves as the setting for numerous animated series. Apparently the relationship between anime and Kyoto has progressed to a point where the two feel comfortable with an overt display of public affection, in the form of a special subway train plastered with anime graphics.

The collaborative slice of public transportation is a joint effort between the Kyoto municipal government and organizers of the Manga Anime Fair. Two of the six cars on the train are decorated with images from four series set in Kyoto.

KM 9

Inari , Konkon, Koi Iroha is a supernatural love story that follows middle schooler Inari Fushimi and her dealings with fox spirits enshrined at the real-life Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, easily one of the coolest places in Japan.

KM 1

KM 11

Japanese folklore is also the inspiration behind The Eccentric Family, which follows the daily lives of a group of shape shifting tanuki raccoon dogs in modern-day Kyoto.

KM 3

KM 12

Kyosogiga takes an even more fantastical approach, with a story that unfolds in an alternate-reality Kyoto where humans, spirits, and robots coexist. The series does feature beautiful real-life locales, however, such as Kosanji, Kuramadera, and Genkoan Temples.

KM 5

KM 13

Finally, Hakuoki started off as a dating game for girls wherein the heroine is romanced by members of the Shinsengumi, a 19th century police/vigilante group whose exploits in Kyoto are frequently and dramatically romanticized in Japanese fiction. The franchise has since grown to include anime adaptations, and the Kyoto anime subway features designs from the second animated theatrical installment, which just opened on May 8 in Japan.

KM 7

But while the giant-sized characters adorning the outside of the cars do a fine job of promoting their respective anime, by themselves they won’t accomplish the other aim of the project, encouraging more people to ride the subway. Realizing this, the designers have also decorated the subway cars’ interiors with even more scenes from the shows. You and a friend can even pass the time by reading the lines of dialogue printed next to the door in your best anime character voices.

▼ The graphics cover up some of the windows, but it’s the subway, so it’s not like passengers are missing out on the view.

KM 2

▼ On the one hand, this angle really drives home the stubborn opposition between these two. Still, when the doors slide closed and they rush towards each other, isn’t it going to look like they’re about to kiss?

KM 4

▼ Yes, she is pointing a rifle at a group of children. We’re assuming it’s less deplorable in context.

KM 6

▼ We’re guessing, based on this guy’s good looks, that more girls will be willing to sit next to him than us when we were bleeding from the mouth on the train.

KM 8

The special train runs on the Karasuma Line. It’s scheduled to be in service from now until the end of May, so if you time your trip right, Kyoto could satisfy your desire to see temples, cherry blossoms, and the latest anime characters all in one fell swoop.

Source: Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair

Check out this link:

Special subway cars in Kyoto are perfect for travelling anime fans


Artist Profile: Kaneko Tomiyuki



Japanese artist Kaneko Tomiyuki was born in Saitama prefecture, 1978. Since childhood, he has been particularly interested in Japanese folklore and the spiritual world. His interest has led him to study in the Tohoku prefecture, which was the birthplace of “Legends of Tono”.

As an undergraduate student he studied Japanese style painting in Tohoku University of Art & Design and graduated the postgraduate of the same university in 2009. Even after he finished studying, he continues to “substantiate” mythological creatures such as: yokai, spirits and the gods by painting. In this first exhibition at Mizuma Action, as well as his representative work, his most recent works will be exhibited. Varying from drawings to the many detailed paintings that visualize his personal visions of the Yokai world will cover and fill the walls.

Kaneko believes that the stratum of unconsciousness called the “Manas-vijnana” in Sanskrit (the seventh stratum of the eight within the world of Yogacara) is the origin of “evil” in everyday life, beginning with Yokais and many other evil creatures. Compared to the animalistic nature of the eighth stratum, “Alaya-vijinana”, “Manas-vijinana” is the unique feature of human and the unconscious emotion of attachment. It is always around us and constantly puts us into trickery.

However, this unconscious emotion of attatchment is what makes humans human. The human’s strength to struggle is where all art is created, and by intercrossing with localized imagination it has formed as the yokai. Please come to our gallery to speculate the observing eye of KANEKO Tomiyuki, and the wonderful world of the yokai.

Check out this link:

Artist Profile: Kaneko Tomiyuki

0700_1378309065 0700_1378309013 0700_1378308865 0700_1378308519 0700_1378308286 0700_1378308728 0700_1378308575 0700_1378308236 0700_1378308392 0700_1378308639