Zombies, giant skeletons, inkspots that come alive in the night… the bizarre world of Yokai is always one step ahead of our imaginations. Otherwise known as mononoke, yokai are Japanese supernatural monsters, demons and spirits with the ability to shape shift and wreak havoc upon humans. They appear in hundreds of Japanese folkloric stories and can be mischievous or seriously dangerous. The best way to interact with them is to keep a respectful distance, but they can also be signs of good luck and fortune. Keeping with the spirit of Halloween, we’d like to introduce you with a few spooky friends making their rounds throughout Japan , as illustrated by famed yokai painters like Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Sawaki Suushi.
Contrary to popular belief, not every ghost that haunts us means us harm. Honne onna are female yokai that cannot let go of their beloved even after death. Every night they rise from their graves and visit their lover, appearing as the young, beautiful women that they were in the prime of their life. The honne onna’s lover is often too overcome with joy to notice anything is wrong, but those unclouded by love can see through their disguise to their true form: rotting, skeletal corpses half-wasted away. The honne onna spends the night and leaves in the morning, and each night she drains the life force of her lover while he grows sicker and weaker. A honne onna is unaware that she is a living corpse; she exists purely to continue the love she had in life, even if it harms her lover in the end. Without intervention, he will eventually die from these encounters and the two of them will be forever united in death.
Perhaps the most unappetizing yokai in our list, nuppeppo looks like a large, flabby piece of flesh and closely resembles a blobfish with legs. Appropriately, the name is a corruption on the Japanese slang word for wearing too much makeup. Nuppeppos are not aggressive creatures, but they enjoy disgusting people with their rotten meat smell, which can often cause people to swoon with revulsion. Though they’re on the rarer spectrum of Yokai, sightings have been recorded at night around graveyards and old abandoned temples. Though their appearance is shocking and unpleasant, don’t be too quick to run away; it’s said that if you eat the flesh of a nuppeppo, you can gain incredible power (that is, if you can keep it down). Edo period pharmacists also record the flesh of nuppeppo as a powerful medicine with curative properties. But be quick about it- these pranksters are notoriously fast and difficult to catch.
If you find yourself wandering around the countryside in the middle of the night, you might want to step up your pace: gashadokuro are giant skeletons that creep up on unsuspecting victims, crushing them mercilessly or biting off their heads. Formed from the bones of slain soldiers and victims of famine left for dead without proper burial rites, gashadokkuro personify the anger and sorrow felt by those souls at the injustice of their death. Unable to pass on, those spirits remain long after the flesh has rotted from their bones, empowering their bones into a powerful supernatural force. A gashadokkuro is formed by the bones of hundreds of these victims coming together, and lives on until the energy and malice from their bodies has completely run out. These creatures are rarer today than they were in the past, since war and famine are not as common as they used to be. Gashadokuro get their names from the “gachi gachi” sound of chattering teeth and rattling bones.
Suzuri no Tamashii
Suzuri no Tamashii are malevolent spirits born from an inkstone that has been used to copy the same manuscript over and over again. Over time, this inkstone begins to take on aspects of the story itself, creating phantom sounds and even bringing other writing tools to life to wreak around the writing desk. Stories of war and cursed soldiers can affect these inkstones, making the ink ripple like the waves of the sea, or cry out like the slain warriors.
Tatsu are Japanese dragons and the oldest recorded supernatural creatures in Japan. Similar in appearance to Chinese and dragons, they have long, scaled bodies, sharp teeth and claws, and can be bearded or horned. As opposed to their fire-breathing Western counterparts, tatsu have a powerful connection to the water, going as far as to be considered water gods. They can disguise themselves as humans and are rarely seen transforming into their original form. Tatsu live in splendid palaces at the bottom of the sea, often guarding large amounts of treasure and magical items that they will occasionally lend out to worthy heroes. They can be villainous or wise, offering help or tormenting humans as they please. According to legend, the Japanese imperial family is supposedly descended from a dragon-god of the sea (as well as other deities), making the emperor a direct dragon descendant.
WORDS BY MAGALI ROMAN