Tomorrow is Halloween. A time when all kinds of ghosts and ghouls are said to start lurking the Earth.
Few people are unfamiliar with vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, trolls or the infamous bogeyman. Most of these come from European legends, and have kept young children checking under their beds at night for many years.
Like most countries, Japan has its fair share of terrifying things. Here are some of them:
Rokurokubi are monsters which appear in human form (usually as women). They are able to stretch their necks indefinitely; and in some legends, they eat people or drink their blood. Similar to these are the nukekubi. The two are often mixed up, but the nukekubi aredemons which can detach their heads; their heads fly around at night looking for people to munch on.
Worried about going to the toilet at night? Akaname may be waiting for you. This demon, whose name literally means filth licker, is said to inhabit dirty toilets. Their legends probably encourage cleanliness.
Then there are the kappa. These green water sprites are said to be more mischievous than evil. However, looking back into the old legends, kappa are often blamed for luring children and animals into the rivers in order to drown and eat them. Even today, signs by rivers showing Kappa drowning people are very common, as a way of warning children about the dangers of swimming in the river.
Oni—which can be translated as Japanese devils—are also very well-known monsters. They are hideous ogres; usually red, with grotesque faces and two horns growing from their heads. They are said to originally be the spirits of things which caused disasters and calamities.
Oni—with their big metal clubs—are now thought of as demons who lurk in the dark, waiting to devour unsuspecting victims. The festival of Setsubun in February, is a period when people throw beans at an oni (usually someone in a devil mask) to drive evil away.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to monsters in Japan, and they are legendary creatures known collectively as yōkai. Many of them take human form, only revealing themselves at night or when enraged. They provide a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and beliefs.
*: This blog was originally written on 30th October.