If you love Japanese culture, we are sure you already heard about the yokai Japanese demon
The Yokai are monsters or supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore. The word Yōkai means "spirits", "demon" or "ghost". Their origin comes from the Middle Ages with sculptures, paintings prints, and nowadays in manga and video games.
However, the question is: where those creatures come from? What are they and what is their link with the Japanese culture?
You will learn in this article everything you need to know about Japanese yokai, and we will present you the 12 most dangerous yokai from Shintoism!
WHAT IS A YOKAI?
Yōkai means ghost, demon, monster, and also supernatural phenomenon in Japan. This term derived from Chinese remains quite mysterious. Moreover, its kanji writing designates the strange and extraordinary character. You have probably already seen Hayao Miyazaki's famous animated film, Princess Mononoke, with the little spirits of the forest? Well, these are typically yokai. Mononoké, which can be translated as "vengeful spirit" or "strange thing".
1. Yokai shinto
The yokai are derived from Japanese legends, mainly from Shinto, Buddhism, Chinese history and tales from foreign countries. Originally, these chimeric creatures represented the fear of the unknown and the unexplained torments suffered by the Japanese. As time went by, they acquired new powers, marking the people's growing interest in the link with the invisible. A distinction is made between the traditional yokai and the yokai invented by authors inspired by folklore, as the Japanese appreciate these strange creatures, especially in the Edo period.
2. Yokai Art
The yōkai are an integral part of Japanese culture and traditional Japanese arts. Among the known works are the temples dedicated to Kitsune kami, the illuminated scrolls of the night procession of the hundred demons, the ceramic statues of Tanuki, the prints of the fantastic creatures of Hokusai, the representation of Gashadokuro, a giant skeleton by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
Beliefs, traditions, superstitions, or simple objects of entertainment, the yōkai are also represented in many festivals and in the media. They symbolize both the inexplicable and the morality taught to children through Japanese tales.
3. Japanese Yokai Culture
For the past fifteen years or so, manga has been all the rage in the world, developing the attraction for Asian culture and supernatural creatures, such as Yuki Midorikawa's The Yōkai Pact of Yōkai. In the same way, you have seen the resurgence of video games like Yo-kai Watch and Japanese animated films like Naruto, Mon Voisin Totoro or the Ayakashi series.
The Japanese manga Gegege no Kitaro (or Kitaro the Repulsive) tells the story of Kitaro, a boy-like yokai who tries to bring peace between the world of yōkai and the world of humans.
Having human, animal, or object characteristics, each yokai has its own particularity and history. Furthermore, did you know that some creatures have magical powers such as the ability to metamorphose? These are called "obake".
If you see a yokai, before you get scared, be aware that there are several kinds of them: the dangerous, the wicked, the mischievous, the jokers and the benevolent. While most of them are signs of bad luck, some of them can bring you good luck. The trick is to know how to recognize them.
12 DANGEROUS YOKAI
1. Kitsune yokai
This multi-tailed fox-like yokai may be benevolent, malicious or just plain mischievous, but what is certain is that it has more than one trick up its sleeve. The Japanese Kitsune is a mischievous animal that has more and more powers over time, such as the ability to blow fire, manipulate souls and change shape. It is also the messenger of Inari, a Shinto deity.
If you wish to know more about it, we advise you to read our article on the fox kitsune yokai
2. Yurei yokai
This Japanese ghost with the appearance of a corpse dressed in a kimono and long black hair, comes straight from hell. Unable to go to the afterlife, he is stuck in limbo for eternity. The yurei inspired many Japanese works in the 19th century. They terrorized the Japanese in the manner of Our White Lady. Doesn't it remind you of a certain horror movie called The Ring? A piece of advice: if you see a yurei, pass quickly your way!
3. Oni demon
It's a demon from Japanese mythology that looks like an ogre. This terrifying monster is often depicted with horns and sharp teeth. If it was particularly frightening at the time, it also became a protective spirit of the home in exchange for offerings. Very present in Japanese folklore, this giant of the mountains often has red or blue skin. On New Year's Day in northern Japan, there is a ritual where the inhabitants wear Oni masks to frighten disobedient children.
We recommend you to read our article on Japanese mask meaning if you want to learn more about it
Among the yokai, animals represent many spirits. The Tanuki is a species of Japanese dog similar to a raccoon. If you meet this magical animal with a very special look, which can change shape at will, it is a harbinger of luck and prosperity. In Japan, don't hesitate to visit the Tanukidanisan Fudô-in temple, renowned for its health benefits.
No, your mind is not twisted, it's his testicles that this tanuki is carrying on his shoulders. Indeed, one of the particularities of this yōkai is to be equipped with an oversized scrotum that can reach the size of 8 tatamis. By inflating his testicles, he can then use them as a drum, a weapon, an umbrella and even as a fishing net!
He's a scarlet-faced goblin with a very typical long nose. Originally half-bird, it becomes more and more human over the years. It is a mountain deity once known for its dangerousness. Indeed, the tengu, pros of martial arts, like to torment men, especially the proud. Today, they are often considered as good yokai benevolent people who protect the mountains and bring prosperity. You can see a lot of Manga characters with a tengu mask.
6. Bakeneko cat
This Japanese cat that haunts the home has the power to speak and raise the dead. In its evil version, it can devour its master to take his place in the house. Now you'll think twice before you take a kitten into your home. I reassure you, don't become Bakeneko just any cat. For that, he must correspond to age and weight criteria or have a long tail.
7. Akaname yokai
This japanese monster feeds on the dirt of poorly maintained houses with his big tongue. You can meet it at nightfall, in your bathroom or in your toilet if it is too filthy. It may even attack humans who are seriously unhygienic. So, to avoid it, I advise you to polish your earthenware well and stay clean.
In Japanese culture, hannya is associated with a goddess of vengeance. The character of the demon hannya is also very popular in Japanese Noh theatre. The roles are often played by men.
It is said that the origin of hannya can be traced back to lady rukio. This Japanese nobleman was so jealous of Genji wife that she became a yokai demon. If you want to know more about this evil deity, we advise you to read our article on the hannya mask meaning.
Human by day, she turns into a monster by night with a neck that stretches out infinitely. They play bad tricks on humans and sometimes try to eat them. However, there are Rokurokubi who ignore each other and think they are totally human. Still others have their heads detached from their bodies. Enough to lose one's mind...
10. Yama Uba
Like the witches in fairy tales, Yuma Uba is an old Japanese woman who metamorphoses to trick the unfortunate ones who find themselves in her path and devour them. This untidy-looking woman wears a worn-out red kimono and lives in the mountain forest. So, if you wander in the woods, be careful not to get lost!
There is a large colorful spider species called "Joro spider" that can be seen in Japan. The Japanese legends say that when one of these spiders is more than 400 years old, she develops mysterious supernatural powers...
That Japanese spider demon yokai is scary if you're afraid of spiders. It is said that this Japanese monster has a beautiful female face to seduce men into his trap. Once trapped in its web, it slowly devours humans.
Kappa is a boy who prowls around watering holes. He looks like a turtle with a shell on his back and webbed ends. The top of his skull has a bowl filled with water that must be constantly balanced to maintain his strength. Its evil power is to lure humans and children into the water to drown them. He remains very polite despite everything. Well, that's something.
There are a lot of other yokai around the world, so keep your eyes open.
WHERE TO SEE REAL YOKAI ?
From old Japanese paintings of the Middle Ages to animated films, through the prints of the Edo era, the yokai have always fascinated the Japanese, by their mystery and originality.
Through today's manga and animated films, these supernatural beings will never cease to amaze us.
If you are fascinated by the Japanese folklore, I recommend you see our haori clothes collection. The kimono are for women and men. Design is focussed on those amazing demons and Japanese folklore.