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Monday, March 27, 2023

Cool Creatures, Spirits, and Yokai from Folktales

If you happen to’re a fan of Japanese popular culture, anime, manga, or motion pictures, then you definately’ve in all probability skilled Japanese folklore.

Folklore in Japan is commonly an inspiration in a variety of media you see. Take, for instance, Naruto and the nine-tailed fox (known as 狐, kitsune) or Bleach’s Hollows that are a type of Japanese ghost known as youkai. Many legendary Pokemon are primarily based on Japanese folklore creatures, too.

Even Sailor Moon has free inspirations from Kaguya-hime – a narrative you’ll study beneath!

Japanese folklore additionally has big cultural significance. A number of the tales inform how Japan got here into existence and why it’s the “Land of the Rising Solar.” Others inform the tales of how the Emperor was chosen by the heavens to rule, which is the place the identify 天皇 (tennou, “heavenly emperor”) comes from.

So what’s Japanese folklore known as? It’s known as 民間伝承, minkan denshou, in Japanese.

Inside these tales, you’ll study extra about Japanese tradition and mythology. Particularly concerning the function of 神, kami, the spirits and deities from Shinto beliefs.

Japanese Folklore Creatures

There are some Japanese folklore characters and creatures that come up loads in Japanese mythology. Just like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, these creatures have taken on a lifetime of their very own and seem in a variety of Japanese popular culture.

Phoenix: The Immortal Hybrid Animal

It’s powerful to say what probably the most highly effective Japanese legendary creature is. However many will say the phoenix, known as houou (鳳凰) in Japanese, is certainly one of them. (Sure, just like the legendary Pokemon.)

This folklore creature originated in China. It’s stated to have a physique lined in scales and a turtle shell on its again, and to be a mixture of a snake and goose.

The rationale it’s thought-about one of the vital highly effective Japanese folklore creatures is as a result of it’s the image for all issues good, immortal, and smart. As a kami, it represents constancy and longevity.

Kappa: Don’t Let Them Close to Your Behind!

Kappa (河童 in kanji, or additionally written in hiragana as かっぱ) are humanoid reptilians that dwell in rivers. They’re typically small, inexperienced, and a bit turtle- and frog-like. They’re water spirits, and are sometimes thought-about each kami and youkai.

Kappa in Japanese folklore love cucumbers. (Previous-school Harvest Moon followers in all probability know this!) They’re one of many few youkai who can converse human languages, and so they’re very good and expert in medication and agriculture.

Kappa are identified for serving to convey luck to farming efforts and befriending lonely youngsters. In addition they like to wrestle.

However kappa can be violent in the event that they aren’t revered, and they are often crude. In folklore, some kappa are identified to harass, kidnap, or assault ladies, or to eat people alive. After they do that, they normally go for… the butthole.

Yup. Like one other Japanese ghost story concerning the butthole eye, kappa are identified to like what’s known as 尻子玉, shirikodama, a flesh ball contained in the anus. And so they’ll do something to get it.

Kitsune: The Highly effective Shapeshifters

You’ve little question seen kitsune (狐), in every single place in Japan and popular culture! They’re Vulpix and Ninetails from Pokemon, the nine-tailed fox from Naruto that I discussed, and even video video games like Okami.

In Japanese folklore, kitsune are staples of Japanese tradition and mythology. However they’re a bit completely different from their anime depictions.

The tales go that kitsune can shapeshift into people (particularly, stunning ladies). They’re additionally thought-about messengers for the kami Inari. If you happen to go to Inari Shrine, you’ll see many fox statues.

The extra tails a fox has, the extra highly effective it’s. That is the place the nine-tailed fox legend is available in.

From China initially, the story tells of a robust fox spirit that shops the power of nature, the solar, and moon, in its tails. As soon as it has 9, it turns into immortal.

Apart from the 2 sorts of foxes in Japanese folklore talked about right here – those who serve Inari and people which can be highly effective fox spirits – there are additionally differing types. Its believed that there are 13 sorts of legendary kitsune, every representing a component or side of the forces of nature.

Otters: Mimickers Who Simply Wish to Drink

Otters in Japanese folklore are known as kawauso (獺). In folklore, otters love alcohol. They’re typically seen pretending to be or shapeshifting into people so as to snag some sake.

These tales say these otters will disguise themselves with a giant straw hat and fake to be a beggar baby. They like to mimic sounds they hear, and so they’re typically caught of their disguises as a result of when talked to, they’ll solely say no matter they final heard.

For probably the most half, otters are playful and pleasant. They simply need booze.

Tanuki: The Mischievous Racoon Canine

Tanuki (狸) are in all probability one of the vital recognizable folklore creatures. If you happen to’ve performed Animal Crossing, this one as Tom Nook!

Tanuki are identified for his or her playful spirits. They’re tricksters, humorous, and light-hearted. They’re stated to have the ability to shapeshift.

In accordance with lore, should you hear a flute or drums in the midst of the night time, it’s a tanuki.

Creepy Japanese Folklore

In Japanese folklore, youkai are monsters, ghosts, and different unusual entities that trigger hurt or mischief. These Japanese monsters in folklore are sometimes depicted as evil, creepy, or dangerous, though not all youkai are dangerous.

For instance, Studio Ghibli’s movies are full of youkai of each selection, from cute and useful to creepy and evil. Assume No Face in Spirited Away and Haku, the dragon primarily based on the story of Orochi.

Oni (鬼) are sometimes demons, orges, and different massive scary creatures. It’s stated that oni are evil people reborn or remodeled, however not all the time. The Titans in Assault on Titan are one such instance. They’re typically murderous, and really evil.

Obake (お化け) or bakemono (化け物) are one sort of youkai which can be shapeshifters. One well-known obake is jorogumo, or “girl spider.” Very similar to a black widow, they prey on males whom they seduce after which eat.

One well-known Japanese city legend a few youkai spirit known as Teke Teke. She’s stated to be the ghost of a girl who fell onto the subway tracks, her physique reduce into items by the subway, and died. Now, she haunts the subway as an onryou, a vengeful ghost. She drags herself round, making the sound “teke teke,” and if she catches you, she’ll reduce you in half too.

Although she now not has legs, she’s very quick. So don’t be fooled!

Yuki onna is one other well-liked youkai spirit. Referred to as “snow ladies,” they’re stunning ladies with lengthy black hair and snow-white pores and skin. They wander round throughout snowstorms, luring males to their deaths.

Amikiri (網切) is a youkai that’s considerably like a scorpion with crab claws and a chook beak. How massive is the Amikiri in Japanese folklore, you ask? Nicely, it’s fairly small, like a shrimp. These youkai primarily identical to to chop fishing nets and destroy a fisherman’s day.

8 Well-known Japanese Folklore Tales

What are probably the most well-known Japanese folktales? These are some everybody is aware of in Japan, so it is best to know them too!

Izanagi and Izanami

The Japanese have a ebook known as the Kojiki (古事記), which is the oldest acknowledged ebook in Japan. It paperwork oral tales and myths from early Japan, and far of Japanese mythology comes from it.

The Japanese have their very own gods and mythology. It goes that the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami created the Japanese islands by means of their union. That they had a bunch of deity youngsters (very similar to Zeus in Greek mythology).

Izanami died in childbirth although, and Izanagi was distraught. After a harrowing journey to the underworld (known as Yomi) to convey her again unsuccessfully, he got here again to the floor and created much more deities, together with the solar goddess.

Izanagi, again from the Underworld, continued to have energy although and is the reason for demise.

Amaterasu Ookami: The Solar Goddess

In accordance with the Kojiki, the identify of the goddess of the solar is Amaterasu Ookami (天照大神).

She was born similtaneously Tsukuyomi (月読), the god of the moon, and Susanoo (スサノオ), the god of the ocean and storms.

Amaterasu fights along with her brother Susanoo on a regular basis. Izanagi received mad and banished Susanoo to the Yomi, so Susanoo went to the heavenly world to say goodbye to Amaterasu.

However Amaterasu didn’t consider he got here in peace to only say goodbye. They received right into a battle, and Susanoo killed certainly one of Amaterasu’s individuals.

Scared and upset, she fled to a cave the place she hid. This brought about all of heaven and earth to fall into darkness.

The opposite gods finally got here up with a plan to lure her out. Primarily, that they had a enjoyable god get together filled with laughter and nudity proper in entrance of her cave. Amaterasu grew to become curious and finally got here out. She shined her mild on the world once more.

Susanoo was banished from heaven, ended up within the Izumo Province, and had youngsters. Amaterasu’s youngsters would finally go on to change into the royal household and emperor of Japan.

Momotarou and Oni Island

That is probably the most beloved Japanese folklore story! In the future, a girl discovered an enormous peach floating downstream. She took it house, and out got here a boy!

The boy instructed the lady and her husband that he had been despatched from heaven to be their son, as a result of they have been lonely and wished youngsters however had none. They named him Momotarou (桃太郎). Momo (桃) means “peach” in Japanese.

He was type, sturdy, and hard-working. In the future, he heard that oni have been hurting the individuals who lived within the countryside with him. He determined to go do one thing about it, and his mother and father despatched him with dumplings for his journey.

Alongside the way in which, he met a monkey, a pheasant, and a canine. He provided every of them certainly one of his scrumptious dumplings in the event that they joined him, in order that they did.

Collectively together with his new buddies, sturdy Momotarou went to the island the oni lived on and defeated them. In return for letting them dwell, Momotarou obtained treasures to convey house and made them promise to by no means harm the people once more.

Hanasaka Jiisan

A very good and sort previous man and his spouse lived in a village. They discovered a pet who had been abused by his proprietor wandering towards them, in order that they took him in. They liked the pet a lot, and the pet grew deeply hooked up to them too.

In the future, the canine helped the previous man dig a gap, and so they discovered a bunch of gold. Jealous, his former proprietor took the canine and instructed him to seek out him gold too. When the canine couldn’t do it and solely discovered bones, the person grew to become enraged and killed him.

The previous couple have been devastated. They buried the canine of their yard.

The previous man noticed the canine once more in a dream. The canine instructed him to construct a mortar the place he had been buried. When the previous man did so and added steamed rice desserts as an providing, the rice turned to gold.

The neighbor, jealous once more, took the mortar and tried it himself. However it didn’t work, and he burned it in rage.

The previous man took the ashes again house. His canine visited him once more and instructed him to sprinkle the ashes on cherry blossom timber. When the previous man did so, the timber bloomed superbly. The daimyou (feudal lord) was so happy by the attractive timber, he despatched the previous man numerous items.

The jealous neighbor tried it himself, and as a substitute he received ashes within the daimyou’s eyes. He was thrown in jail, then thrown out of city, and was by no means capable of finding a spot to dwell once more for his evil methods.


Just like the story of Momotarou, a pair wished for a son, however couldn’t have one. In the future, they have been blessed by a toddler, however he was solely about 1 inch tall – which, again in historical Japan, was known as a solar.

So that they named him Issun Boushi (一寸法師), or “One-solar (-inch) Boy.”

In the future, the boy went to work for a wealthy household, and their daughter was kidnapped by oni. So the boy tried to save lots of her.

The oni ate the boy, however he was good and he stabbed the oni with a needle he used as a sword. The oni cried out in ache and spat the boy again out.

The oni had a magic hammer – and when the boy touched it, he grew to be six ft tall!

Ultimately, the boy married the daughter he rescued and wielded the hammer as his weapon.

Omusubi Kororin: The Rolling Riceball

This one is a well-liked youngsters’s folklore story. In the future, an previous man was out working and stopped to eat the lunch his spouse made for him up on a hill. His spouse had made him onigiri (おにぎり), or rice balls.

The person unintentionally dropped the rice ball, and it rolled and rolled down the hill right into a gap. The “rolling” sound of one thing small like that is the Japanese onomatopoeia korokoro (ころころ).

When the person went to get his rice ball, he heard voices from inside the outlet singing, “The rice ball got here rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling.”

The previous man thought this was unusual and amusing. So he rolled one other rice ball into the outlet. Once more, he heard the tune. However this time, when he leaned in to hear, he fell into the outlet.

Inside have been a bunch of mice, overjoyed by the meals. So that they provided to offer him a reward of gold cash.

Their neighbor (yep, that darn neighbor once more!) received jealous. He went to the outlet pretending to be a cat to scare the mice so he may steal their gold. As a substitute, the mice beat him up and despatched him on his approach – and he was by no means so grasping after that once more.


Tanabata (七夕) is a summer season competition in Japan celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month. That is the someday a 12 months when Orihime and Hikoboshi, two starcrossed lovers, can see one another.

The story goes that Princess Orihime (the Vega star) was organized by her kami father to satisfy with Prince Hikoboshi (the Altair star). They fell head over heels in love, however so consumed by their love, they uncared for their duties.

Orihime’s father grew to become enraged. He separated the 2 with the Milky Approach and solely allowed them to see one another annually.

And that day is Tanabata. In actuality, it’s when the 2 stars are closest to one another within the sky!


Kaguya-hime (かぐや姫) is the story of a kid mysteriously discovered by a childless man. Kaguya-hime was discovered by a woodcutter amongst bamboo, and he adopted her.

Kaguya-hime introduced wealth and luck to her father as a result of he typically discovered gold within the spot the place she had been found. Kaguya-hime was additionally very stunning, and everybody wished to marry her. She refused to marry, although.

Then someday, she introduced she was truly the princess of the moon and can be returning house. She disappeared with barely a hint.

Dive Into Japanese Folklore

Did you get pleasure from studying about Japanese mythology and folklore tales? Which one is your favourite?

If Japanese folklore is your factor, I wrote a complete article on Japanese ghost tales to study much more. There are additionally some actually cool books about it, akin to The E book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore.

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Caitlin Sacasas

Content material Author, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a copywriter, content material strategist, and language learner. Apart from languages, her passions are health, books, and Star Wars. Join along with her: Twitter | LinkedIn

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

View all posts by Caitlin Sacasas

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