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There are a few terms to describe Japanese ghosts. I have introduced "obake" and "yuurei" in the previous article. In this article I will tell you about "youkai," and look at the characters for them. Youkai literally means, "bewitching apparition." They include monsters, goblins, and ghouls. They usually appear at dawn or dusk. Unlike yuurei, which are the souls of the dead and downright scary, youkai are comical, bizarre and mischievous in some way. Here are some youkai.


Oni, demons or ogres, are one of the most famous youkai. They are huge and have horns. The color of their body is red, blue, or black. They usually carry a big iron club (kanabou). They are best known for guarding the gate of  Buddhist hell. They also often appear in folktales. (Momotaro, Issun-boshi etc.) They are dumb, cruel, and malicious. 

On Setsubun (Feb. 3rd), there is a custom to drive away evil sprits. People scatter soybeans outside of doorways, shouting "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi! (Demon out, Good luck in!)." Click here to learn the kanji character for "oni".

Here are some expressions including oni.

Oni ni kanabou
(Literally means, 
"Oni with an iron club")
To make one invincible.
Oni no inuma ni sentaku
(Literally means, 
"Do laundry while oni are away")
When the cat's away, 
the mice will play. 
Oni no kubi o totta you
(Literally means, 
"As in beheading oni")
To achieve a major success.
Oni no me nimo namida
(Literally means, 
"A tear even in an oni's eye")
Even the hardest heart 
will sometimes be moved to pity.
Kokoro o oni ni suru
(Literally means, 
"To make one's heart an oni's")
Harden one's heart against pity.

Click here to see the masks of oni.


Kappa are supernatural creatures which live both on land and in water. They are as tall as a four or five year old child. They have a beak-like snout, and fins on their hands and feet. They also have a shell on their back, and a water-filled dish on their head. As long as the dish is full of water, kappa keep their supernatural powers. Kappa are known for dragging people into the water and  pulling out their livers through their anuses. 

Although kappa harm people sometimes, there are also many tales where they have helped people. They are very curious. They often appear in cartoons because of their lovable images.

Kappa love sumo wrestling and cucumbers. That is why cucumber sushi rolls are called "kappa maki". "Okappa" are bobbed hairstyles because they look like the kappa's hairstyles. Kappa are excellent swimmers. There is a saying "Kappa no kawa nagare (a drowning kappa)" which means, even an expert can make mistakes sometimes.  


Female monsters with long, flexible necks. They look just like ordinary humans during the day, but at night, they extend their necks to frighten or spy on people. They sometimes turn their human faces into those of demons.


A snow woman, appears in a white kimono on a stormy night. She causes travelers to become lost and freeze to death. Click here to read the story of "Yuki-Onna" by Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo). 


A one-eyed goblin, literally has a large eye in the center of its face. It looks like the shaved head of a priest. It does not play tricks, but just scares people. 


Tengu is also a youkai. Click here to read about "tengu." 

Japanese Ghosts: (1), (2) 

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