The nuppeppō (ぬっっぺっぽう), or nuppefuhofu (ぬっぺふほふ?), is a yōkai appearing in the Edo period. He is depicted as a mass of flesh on a single head; with indistinguishable wrinkles on his face and body.

Concept of Nuppeppō

In the scrolls, it has no more than a name and a picture, and almost no explanatory text, but for its name and the passage "There is a monster (bakemono) called nuppeppō.

It has neither eyes nor ears" (ぬっぺっぽうといふ化けもの有り。目もなく耳も無く Nuppeppō to ifu bakemono ari. Memo naku mimimo naku) by the sharebon Shingoza Dehōdai Mōgyū (新吾左出放題盲牛) (1781), is seen as a type of nopperabō.

In an old illustrated book manuscript (year unknown) found in the Shisui Library, Inui Yūhei portrayed a yōkai called a "nubbehho" (ぬっべっっほう), explaining that "it is said to be the disguised form of an old toad, similar to the fox or tanuki."

The image of the "nubbehhō" comes with the words, "a monster shaped like a sweet potato, possessing many wrinkles and four short limbs. " In the Shingoza Dehōdai Mōgyū it is also found written that "it sucks the fat of the dead, eating as much as it can by helping itself with a needle.

In the past, they came disguised as doctors, but now they come in their original form..." (死人の脂を吸い、針大こくを喰う。昔は医者に化けて出てきたが 、今はそのまま出てくる。。。。。?).

In addition, yōkai researcher Katsumi Tada notes that while in modern times, the nopperabō is known as the yōkai without eyes and nose, in ancient times it had the form of the nuppepō with no differentiation in face and body.

It is said to be smeared with white facial powder, called "whitening" (白化). "Bleached," the nuppepō is said to first pose as a human, approach a person and speak as if he were friendly, taking advantage of the person's letting his guard down, he would show his true form.

In literature in the early Shōwa and Heisei periods, it was written that it was a yōkai that appears near abandoned temples, this comes from the passage "in the eaves of ancient temples, the nuppepō appears" from the book Yōkai Gadan Zenshū Nihonhen Jō (妖怪画談全集日本篇上) by folklore scholar Morihiko Fujisawa;

it has been suggested that Fujisawa's statement of "appears in temples" is nothing more than an invented original creation, based on the background drawing in the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō. 

In addition, some publications note that it is a yōkai that is born from dead flesh, so that, when it passes by, it leaves the stench of rotting flesh, the original source of this is unknown.

Similar tales of Nuppeppō

In the Bunka period in the Isshōwa (一宵話 lit. A Night Tale), there is a story similar to the nuppepō. In 1609 (Keichō 14), in the courtyard of Sunpu Castle, someone who looked like a mass of flesh appeared.

He was the size of a small child, his hands had no fingers, and he could even be described as a "flesh person."

It was thought that someone of that shape and, on top of that, who would enter a high-security castle, would obviously have to be a yōkai, but when they tried to capture him, he was so fast that it proved impossible.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was living in Sunpu Castle at the time, ordered that person to be expelled, so the servants stopped trying to capture him and instead took him from the castle to the mountains.

Someone who later heard this story and was well informed about pharmaceutics pointed out that this being was the Feng (封) mentioned in ancient Chinese texts, and in the Bái Zé Tú, lamenting a missed opportunity because eating its flesh is a panacea that bestows great power.

Nuppeppō's Etymology

The name nuppeppō is a linguistic shift from the derogatory slang nupperi (ぬっぺり) , which is used to describe a woman who applies too much makeup.

This is most likely a reference to the creature's flabby appearance, which is similar to the flabbiness of a face under too much makeup.

Nuppeppō's Description

The nuppeppō appears as a mass of flesh with a face formed by folds of fat. Although largely amorphous, fingers, toes, and even rudimentary limbs can be attributed as features.

The origins of nuppeppō are unknown. However, it is sometimes described as being formed from the flesh of dead humans, in a manner similar to Frankenstein's monster.

Behaviors and powers of Nuppeppō

The nuppeppō is passive and almost completely harmless, but is said to have a repulsive body odor that rivals the smell of rotting flesh. Those who eat the flesh of the nuppeppō are said to receive eternal youth.

The nuppeppō wanders aimlessly through the deserted streets of villages, towns and cities, often at night towards the end of the year, also cemeteries and in abandoned temples.

It is usually a solitary creature, but there have reportedly been sightings of them in groups. If encountered, the nuppeppō is unlikely to cause any harm to a human. However, its shape and foul odor can cause shock and alarm.

Nuppeppō References in Japanese culture

  • Illustrations of the Nuppeppō can be found as early as 1737 in the Hyakkai Zukan by author Sawaki Suushi and in the Bakemono no e of the late 17th century. Later illustrations also exist, such as the works of Toriyama Sekien; beginning with his first book Gazu Hyakki Yagyō (1776).
  • Makibokusen in the 18th century, wrote a scroll describing the appearance of a creature that matches the description of the nuppeppō of Tokugawa Ieyasu's shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu's castle. According to the story, Tokugawa ordered the creature to be sent to the mountains unharmed so that it could be kept safe and free from human settlement. Tokugawa later learns that the creature is mentioned in Chinese literature, endowed with powers of rejuvenation.
  • Author Mizuki Shigeru also depicts the nuppeppō in his iconic manga and anime series GeGeGe no Kitarō, as well as in his encyclopedic book of yōkais, Yōkai Jiten.The nuppeppō has also appeared in several film productions, most notably in the Yokai Monsters trilogy. In Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare, the nuppeppō is seen alongside a roster of other traditional yōkai who aid in the defense of a Babylonian invader.
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