The Yokai Encyclopedia (妖怪事典)

May 10th, 2010 in Misc

Japan has some awesome ghosts. For many (myself included), it took artist Shigeru Mizuki to bring them to life. Being an foreigner, it is difficult for me to understand the cultural references since I did not grow up with them. Things like the Boogieman and other ghost stories that scared us all as kids. That is probably why I find the mythology and lore associated with Yokai really fascinating to read, but I still can’t visualize them the way most people do here. So, thankfully this material wound up in the hands of a talented comic book artist, who already had experience personifying the supernatural, and yielded one awesome book concept.

I first came across this book on PinkTentacle, but didn’t look into it further until one of my school’s librarians noticed that I had one of the yokai drawings on my desk. Turns out our library had the first and second volumes available!

Here are some of my favorites:
(I tried to find information about each, but a few were obscure or had multiple names, so this might not be entirely accurate. Let me know if you catch any mistakes.)

Ittan-momen (いったんもめん)
This yokai is pretty well known from GeGeGe no Kitaro, floating alongside Kitaro as a recurring character.  I was surprised to learn that it is originally from Kagoshima, and specifically in Koyama which is about 25 minutes from my house. Pretty sure I’ve heard this guy flying around my apartment building at night…



Tsurube-otoshi (釣瓶おとし)
This name translates to “falling well-bucket” and comes in a few incarnations, but is depicted here as disembodied heads.

Kawatengu (川天狗) / River Tengu
Apparently this is rarely seen, but known to create fireballs and annoy fishermen in the Tokyo area [ref].

Katakirauwa (片耳豚) / “One Ear Pig”
The spirits of baby pigs with one ear and no shadow. They can steal a person’s soul by running through their legs. [ref]

Hohonade (頬なで) / “Face Brusher” or “Cheek Brusher”

Notsugo (のつご)

Kuchirake-onna (口裂け女) / “Slit-mouth Woman”
This is a tragic character, from what I gather, who was once the beautiful wife (or mistress) of a samurai. She either cheated on him or made him furious with vanity, whichever was worse to a samurai,  and he cut her mouth from ear to ear. The story goes that she now roams the streets endlessly asking strangers if she is pretty. Answering “Yes” or “No” and you’ll likely end up with a similar slit-mouth, but a “so-so” or “I must be going” might get you off the hook. [ref]

Gashadokuro (がしゃどくろ)
A giant skeleton made from the collected bones of people who have died from starvation. You have to run quick or they’ll pluck you off the ground and bite your head off.

Dokuronokai or Me-kurabe / “Skull staring contest”
Legend goes that Kiyomori, the general in the late Heian period who started the first Samurai dominated government, began to have many other-worldly visions towards the end of his life. One of these fever-induced visions were the dokuronokai,

Baketafurugeta / “Old Ghost Sandal”


Tenagababaa / aka Tenaga-jin
Part of the duo Ashinagatenaga: one with long arms, the other (Ashinaga-jin) with long legs. Found in Kyushu, the two work in a pair to catch fish… or in this case, small children.


This little guy is a frog with a human face “who guides the souls of the newly deceased to the graveyard.” [ref]

Ushiuchibou / “cow-whipping boy”
These creatures are all black and can never be seen clearly. They are known to sneak into stables at night and make, but they don’t whip the animals. They make small cuts in cows or horses to suck their blood. Unexplained deaths of livestock are usually blamed on the Ushiuchibou.

Kenmon / “the spirit of banyan”
Supposedly introduced from Java, these tree dwellers have been seen less after WWII due to loss of their habitat: Banyan trees.

In swamp areas, this temptress lures unsuspecting farmers close to the water then drags them in.

Wakasanoningyo / “Mermaid of Wakasa”
Prized and revered among fisherman as the rare “ningyo” (mermaid) meat gives you ridiculously long lifespan, both a blessing and a burden. Wakasa is a town located in Fukui prefecture.

Oppashoishi (おっぱしょい)
From Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku, a giant rock was named after a deceased sumo wrestler. If you walked past at night it would call out to you “Oppasho Oppasho” which means something like “to become burdened with…”. Apparently the rock was too much of a “burden” to be carried by another wrestler and was dropped, splitting in half. Since then the voice has stopped calling out to people at night.



A ritual disciplinary demon that takes the form of a Tengu.

Batabata or Tatamitataki
A monster that makes a noise like a something dropping or beating on tatami mats in the dead of night.

Ragaramoyuurei / some kind of ghost (ゆうれい)

Gatagatabashi / “Rickety bridge”
The bridge which crosses over into the land of the dead. Sights and sounds of a scary old bridge at night.

Tsuchikorobi / “Earth Roller”
A cyclops creature that rolls around the forest in the form of a ball of soil.

Described as a woman riding around on a wheel of fire… Legend has it that some terrible old man ran over a beautiful lady with his one-wheeled cart (specific to the Edo period) carrying the first crop of the year. Now her spirit possesses it and likely brings bad luck to farmers.

Chuushinkozou (ちゅうしんこぞう)

Kasa-obake / “Paper umbrella ghost”
Kasa-obake are Tsukumogami, “artifact spirits” that animate hundred year old objects.

I posted scans here since I thought most people would never really have access to these books. Of course, all credit goes to the artist Shigeru Mizuki.

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