A Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. Ced's visits focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.
There are few things in life more annoying than an unwanted house guest or visitor. When it’s a creepy Japanese Yokai, though, the experience could drive you insane.
1. Mokumokuren (目目連)
As rustic and as atmospheric as they are, traditional Japanese homes are a nightmare to maintain.
This is due to the amount of wood and paper used during their construction. For example, living spaces are always partitioned by Shoji sliding walls, these typically made of wood and paper. Needless to say, it doesn’t take a lot to damage the paper surfaces. Or for holes to appear everywhere.
Followed by which Mokumokuren stage their appearances. These being ghostly, unsleeping eyes that pop out from the holes.
If you’re wondering, Mokumokuren are essentially harmless; that is, apart from them being incredibly creepy and annoying. That said, with Japanese art often depicting entire Shoji walls full of distressed Mokumokuren eyes, one wonders whether they rapidly proliferate the moment a pair appears.
Worse, there is scant information about what happens if you try to patch the holes. Do the eyes simply disappear? Would there be ghostly bloodcurdling screams if the eyes are poked? Would you go blind in retribution?
Such questions will keep you up at night. While the eyeful Yokai watch your every move, every minute.
2. Kasa Obake (傘おばけ)
In Japanese folklore, there’s an entire category of Yokai based on common household items. Known as Tsukumogami (付喪神), these are old household tools and fittings that have been possessed by spirits.
For example, the Bakezōri (化け草履) is an animated sandal that nosily prances about in the night. The above-featured picture shows a Chōchin Obake (提灯お化け), or ghostly paper lantern.
The Kasa Obake is the umbrella version of a Tsukumogami, and is usually depicted as having one eye, a wagging tongue, two arms, and a sandal-wearing foot where the handle is. Nowadays world-famous thanks to replicas of it being sold as souvenirs at Japanese tourist areas, the Kasa Obake is likely considered by many foreigners as an adorable Yokai, because of its somewhat Kawaii i.e. cute appearance.
Nonetheless, having one in your home is still decisively a nuisance. For a start, just imagine a wet and filthy one enthusiastically hopping all over your carpets. Or worse, having to chase after one when you need to go out during a downpour.
3. Akaname (垢嘗)
Like the Mokumokuren and the Kasa Obake, the Akaname is physically harmless. However, chances are, you’d find it even more unbearable than the other two house Yokai.
An unkempt, goblin-like creature of sorts, the Akaname possesses a sticky long tongue, this for the purpose of lapping up filth at places like toilets and bathtubs. Its name literally means “filth licker,” and other than dirt, it also doesn’t mind insects, fallen hair, or even human waste.
Shy in disposition, this pint-sized Japanese monster generally avoids humans too, meaning it would patiently wait for you to finish your business before coming into your bathroom/toilet to feast. While its modus operandi could serve as a useful, regular reminder to keep bathrooms and toilets clean, don’t you think the notion of having one around is still utterly repulsive?
Not to mention, there’s no “folkloric evidence” that an Akaname would stick to one feeding spot. Your toilet could be visited after the creature is done crawling all over the grimy public ones in your neighborhood.
4. Kanbari Nyūdō (加牟波理入道)
As disgusting as the above-mentioned Akaname is, it could still be tolerated, as long as you don’t think too much about it.
On the other hand, that’s not the case at all for the Kanbari Nyūdō.
Also a toilet Yokai, this lascivious, hairy Japanese monster in priest robes only appears on New Year’s Eve, for the purpose of spying on you as you do your business. Worse, if you’re to its liking, it might even lovingly stroke your back. Or lick you with its long, long tongue.
Those who are molested then suffer bad luck for an entire year. The salt on the injury being, victims also develop constipation.
Without a doubt, one of the most disgusting, and invasive, and perverted Yokai to have about your home. To say the least.
5. Tenjō Kudari (天井下)
In the Japanese language, this Yokai’s name means “from the ceiling” or “descending from the ceiling.” Specifically, it refers to an obscene, extremely ugly, naked old woman, who drops down from the ceiling for no other purpose other than to terrify inhabitants.
Throughout the world, attics are viewed as creepy and secretive places. Many books and movies have prominently featured the “dark attic” trope too.
Within the Land of the Rising Sun, there have also long been stories of unwanted family members being confined within attics, with the Tenjō Kudari itself likely the product of such rural legends. Incidentally, these creatures are described as having unusually long tongues too. It’s easy to guess what they use those snaky tongues for, after dropping down with a shriek behind you.
6. Sakabashira (逆柱)
Japanese folkloric and Shinto beliefs state that there are spirits in many natural objects. When such spirits are not accorded their due respect, or improperly handled, chaos usually follows.
In the case of the Sakabashira, or “reverse pillar,” this is the poltergeist created when a wooden house pillar is erected in the reverse direction of the original tree. The pillar transforms into an unhappy Yokai and causes disturbances such as trembles and weird noises. In the worst cases, the Sakabashira might even invite bad luck and fires.
In medieval and pre-modern Japan, fire is considered one of the worst threats to homes. Actually, there is probably no comparable calamity.
In other words, this is a noisy, extremely unhappy, and even suicidal Yokai. It is, without doubt, one of the worst supernatural aberrations to have in any home.
7. Yanari (家鳴)
Yanari, or “home cry,” is more of a creepy phenomenon than a Japanese Yokai or monster.
Literally the weird noises of structures and/or inexplicable shakings, some traditions believe that such phenomena are caused by imps or spirits that have taken up unannounced residence in a home. Presumably, the reasons for the disturbances range from harmless pranks to far more sinister motives.
In the case of the latter, the most prominent example was an alleged haunting that took place in Tokyo in 1901, one that was featured by the Niroku Shinbō newspaper. After a couple’s younger daughter died in infancy, their family was besieged by tragedies, misfortunes that included the remaining daughter’s death.
Following which, their vacated home repeatedly exhibited Yanari symptoms after midnight. Supposedly, the situation was so bad, many neighboring families considered moving away.
Naturally, it was also presumed that the disturbances were caused by the grieving spirits of the original family. What happens if new occupants shift into the cursed home is best left unsaid.
8. Ashiarai Yashiki (足洗邸)
The final Yokai on this list is as terrifying as it is bizarre, and as it is rude.
A gigantic disembodied leg, one that is filthy as well, this terrifying Yokai stomps through one’s ceiling and refuses to leave. That is, until you wash it.
In other words, this bizarre Japanese monster wrecks your home then requests that you perform a service considered demeaning in most cultures. A service that it demands with a ghostly, thunderous voice.
One of the weirdest Yokai ever, and undoubtedly one of the foulest too, little else is known about this creature. In fact, only one story is related to it.
In that story, a samurai residing in Edo i.e. old Tokyo was tormented by this creature. Night after night it appeared and demanded the same leg-washing service.
However, after the samurai swapped residence with a friend, the Yokai never again reappeared.
A truly macabre story, the ensuring infamy resulted in the manor it happened in being named as a local “wonder.” Specifically, one of the Seven Wonders of the Honjo (district).
As for why it happened, no one knows. It could be the deed of a unique Yokai or the prank of magical beings. It could also be that the original owner was guilty of some nefarious crime, one that resulted in supernatural punishment from an angered divinity.
8 Creatures of Japanese Folklore by Region in Japan: The Yokai
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Are you aware that Pokémon could be considered as modern Yokai? A deliberate effort too to introduce Yokai culture to younger audiences?
- Yokai.com. (n.d.). http://yokai.com/.
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, March 12). 妖怪. Wikipedia. https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%A6%96%E6%80%AA. [In Japanese]
- metmuseum.org. (n.d.). https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/78693.
- 8 Types of Yokai. Japan Talk. (n.d.). https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/yokai.
- ヘッドルーム. (1994). RPG幻想事典逆引きモンスターガイド〈東洋編〉. Softbank Books. ISBN 978-4890525515.
- 湯本豪一. (2007). 図説 江戸東京怪異百物語. 河出書房新社. ISBN 978-4309760964.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Ced Yong
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on August 14, 2020:
Thanks for reading, Mary! I feel also that many such spirits reflect actual historical living conditions. I bet in some rural parts of Japan, there were a lot of peeping toms at outhouses. LOL.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 14, 2020:
I have not known these Yokai before so it is very interesting to me. Each culture has its own form of spirits in houses.