Are you at the right place ?

Are you at the right place ?



Yōkai (妖怪?, "spirit," "ghost," "demon," "strange apparition") are a type of supernatural creature in Japanese folklore. They are often depicted as evil or simply mischievous spirits demonstrating everyday or unusual annoyances.

Yokai Origins


The word yōkai is composed of the kanji 妖, "attractive," "bewitching," or "calamity," and 怪, "apparition," "mystery," "wary. "1 Yōkai derives from Chinese: 妖怪; pinyin: yāoguài; lit. "weird monster," also called in Korean yogwi (hangul: 요괴), refers to a "living being, form of existence, or phenomenon to which the qualifiers extraordinary, mysterious, bizarre, strange, and sinister can be applied. "

Yokai are called in Okinawa majimun, and evil spirits yanamun.

Synonyms for yōkai

Instead of yōkai, they are also called ayakashi (妖), mononoke (物の怪), or mamono (魔物). The word mononoke (written 物の怪) carries the meaning of "monster," "ghost," or "spirit," and the literal meaning is "the spirit of a thing" or "strange thing. "

The word is used to refer to an unexplainable event; in addition, both inanimate objects and the spirits of humans and other creatures can be called mononoke. Several anime make use of mononoke, the most famous is probably Princess Mononoke (where the word has been simplified into hiragana: もののけ).

Yokai Characteristics

Yōkai range in behavior from mischievous to malicious, and occasionally bring good or bad luck to those they encounter. They often possess animal attributes, such as the kappa, which resembles a turtle, or the tengu, which has wings. At other times, they may have more human features; some resemble inanimate objects and others have no discernible forms.

The yōkai usually have supernatural spiritual powers. Shape-shifting is one of the most common. The yōkai who have the ability to metamorphose are called obake.

Japanese folklorists and historians use the term yōkai to refer to "supernatural or unexplainable phenomena to those who witness them." During the Edo period, many artists, such as Toriyama Sekien, created yōkai, either ex nihilo or inspired by folklore. Several yōkai of their creation (kameosa and amikiri, see below) are mistakenly considered to be beings of legendary origin.

Types of Yokai

There is a wide variety of yōkai in Japanese folklore. In general, yōkai is a generic term, and can be used to encompass virtually all monsters and supernatural beings, possibly even including creatures from European folklore (the bugbear of English folklore is often included in Japanese folklore to the point that some mistakenly believe it originated there.

Yokai Animals


Many native Japanese animals are believed to have magical qualities. Most of these are the henge (変化), which are shape-shifters (o-bake, bake-mono) and often appear in human form, mostly embodied as women. Some of the most well-known animal yōkai are:

  • tanuki (raccoon dog);
  • kitsune (fox);
  • hebi (snake);
  • mujina (badger);
  • bakeneko (cat);
  • tsuchigumo and jorōgumo (spider);
  • inugami (dog).


One of the best-known aspects of the yōkai in Japanese folklore is the oni, which is a kind of ogre descending from the mountains, usually described as having red, blue, brown, or black skin, two horns on its head, a wide mouth filled with fangs, and clad only in a tiger-skin loincloth.

He often carries an iron kanabō or a giant mace. The oni are most often described as demonic beings, but they may occasionally personify an ambivalent natural force. They are, like many obake, associated with the northeast direction. The oni controlling lightning have a higher strength and status than other oni.


Tengu are goblins from Japanese mythology who have many supernatural powers and knowledge of martial arts. Tengu are originally extremely dangerous demons and enemies of Buddhism. But after centuries they changed their nature from spirits of the damned to active defenders of the Dharma.


  • Tsukumogami are a separate type of yōkai and obake, usually comprising household objects that come to life on their hundredth birthday. This type includes:
  • bakezōri, straw sandals;
  • biwa-bokuboku, lute;
  • chōchin-obake or burabura, paper lantern;
  • kasa-obake, old umbrellas;
  • kameosa, old sake jars;
  • morinji-no-kama, kettles;
  • mokumokuren, paper screens with eyes.

Yokai Human transformations


Many of the yōkai were originally ordinary humans. They were transformed into something horrible, grotesque because of an extreme emotional state. For example, women who suffered from intense jealousy were transformed into oni, female demons represented by hannya masks.

Other examples of human or humanoid yōkai transformations are:

  • rokuro-kubi, humans who are able to extend their necks at night;
  • ohaguro-bettari, a spectral face, usually female, displaying only a large, black, cruel mouth;
  • futakuchi-onna, a woman with a ravenous, monstrous maw on the back of her head;
  • dorotabō, the walking corpse of a farmer who haunts his land.


Some yōkai have extremely specific habits, for example:

  • azuki arai, a yōkai who will always be found washing azuki beans;
  • akaname, found only in filthy bathrooms, it spends its time licking up the dirt left behind by careless owners;
  • ashiarai yashiki, a gigantic foot that appears in the rooms of a house and asks the terrified owner to wash it;
  • tōfu-kozō, a small monk who carries a tray with a piece of tofu.

Yokai History

Ancient times and Middle Ages


In the first century, a book from China, entitled 循史伝, (Xún shǐyún) (= After the Story) , mentions that a "specter (yōkai) had been in the imperial court for a long time. The king asked Tui the reason for this.

He replied that there was great anxiety there and recommended that the imperial chamber be emptied" (久之 宮中数有妖恠 (妖怪) 王以問遂 遂以為有大憂 宮室将空), the use of "妖恠" "(yāo guài)" then means "phenomenon that surpasses human understanding".

Illuminated scroll of the night procession of the hundred demons, unknown artist, Muromachi period.
In the Shoku Nihongi (772), it is stated that a "Shinto purification is carried out because a yōkai appears very often at the imperial court (大祓、宮中にしきりに、妖怪あるためなり)."

The use of the word yōkai does not mean a particular thing, but strange phenomena in general. In the Bedside Notes of Sei Shōnagon (11th century), it is noted that "there are persistent mononoke (いと執念き御もののけに侍るめり)" ; there is also an indication from Murasaki Shikibu that "the mononoke has become quite terrifying (御もののけのいみじうこはきなりけり)."

This is the first appearance of the term mononoke. In Taiheiki (1370), in the fifth volume, it is stated that "Sagami no Nyudo was not afraid of yokai at all.

Edo period


All kinds of yokai fly out of a wicker laundry basket, Omoi Tsuzura (おもゐつづら), Yoshitoshi.

Masayoshi Kitao's Bakemono chakutocho (1788) was a kibyōshi diagram book of yōkai, but it was prefaced with the statement: "it can be said that the so-called yōkai in our society are a representation of our feelings falling under fear (世にいふようくわいはおくびょうよりおこるわが心をむかふへあらわしてみるといえども...). "

Already at this time, while there was research on yōkai, people were questioning whether or not yōkai really existed.

In response to a massive expansion of printed publications, especially collections of hyaku monogatari ("One Hundred Tales") tales, kashi-hon bookstores, which offered rental of such books, flourished and gained popularity.

These books gave the public the impression that the characteristics of each yōkai were the same throughout Japan, and this mistaken view spread throughout the country.

For example, before the Edo period, there were plenty of interpretations about yōkai, which were classified as kappa, but because of these publications, the notion of kappa became entrenched in what is the current notion of kappa. So, including other kinds of publications, in addition to the yōkai born from popular legends, many new yōkai were created, based on wordplay.

Toriyama Sekien's Gazu hyakki yagyō is an example. And, when the hyakumonogatari kaidankai became popular in the Edo period, it was thought that one of the reasons for the appearance of new yōkai was due to a request for storytellers to talk about yōkai that were not yet known to society. There were examples where individuals simply created new yōkai as with the karakasa and tōfu-kozō.

They are also frequently depicted in ukiyo-e. Artists such as Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, Kawanabe Kyōsai, and Hokusai drew popular yōkai; there are also books, such as the Hyakki yagyō, created by artists of the Kanō School.

In our time, toys and games such as karuta, sugoroku, pogs frequently use yōkai as characters. As a result, with the development of publications, the representations of yōkai that were kept within temples and shrines have become more familiar to people. For this reason, the yōkai, after being so feared, became a benevolent symbol.

Meiji Era and after


With the Meiji Restoration, the translations and ideology of Western publications began to have an impact and foreign tales were particularly sought after.

The binbōgami, yakubyogami, and shinigami are said to have originated from the Brothers Grimm's Godfather Death and the Italian opera, Crispino. Because shinigami have been depicted in classical literary performances (rakugo), among others by the author San'yūtei Enchō, these creatures were mistakenly identified as some sort of authentically Japanese yōkai or kami.

Despite this misunderstanding, they held a considerable place in Niponese culture.

At the same time, Japanese classical culture was devalued and songs, dances, and books of legends were lost. Scientific thought was considered superior and yōkai and other superstitions were questioned.

But from the late Edo period through the Showa and Heisei periods, the publications of the folklorists of the time, as well as respect for folklore, played an undeniable role in preventing the disappearance of Japanese folk culture.

Contemporary Era

From the modern era to the present, yōkai have been reintroduced in various kinds of media and are well known to all ages and genders. The pre-war kamishibai, the manga industry, kashi-hon stores (which continued to exist until 1970), and television all contributed to making yōkai known and familiar.

Nowadays, they are a tourist attraction to revitalize various regions, such as the places described in the Tōno monogatari in Tōno in Iwate prefecture, and in Tottori prefecture, birthplace of Shigeru Mizuki. In Kyoto there is a store called Yokaido, a renovated machiya (traditional Kyoto style house), whose owner organizes tours with, as their theme, the yōkai of Kyoto.

Thus, yōkai appear in legends in various forms, but traditional oral accounts told by elders are rare; the unique regional situations and background are not easy to gather. For example, the classic yōkai represented by the tsukumogami may only have a reality for those who live close to nature, such as the tanuki (raccoon dog), kitsune (fox), or mujina (badger).

Also, in the suburbs and other areas, even though people live in an agricultural environment, some objects are no longer used, such as the inkstone, the kama (large cooking pot), or the tsurube (bucket for well water). And there are yōkai that are reminiscent of the old ways of life such as the azukiarai and dorotabō .

Therefore, even country people, born between 1925 and 1935-except for those who have migrated to the city-will feel that these things that turn into yōkai are "unfamiliar" and "unintelligible." This is true in classical rakugo because, although people understand the words and refer to them, they are not able to imagine that it could have any reality.

The modernization of society has thus had a negative effect on the place of yōkai in classical Japanese culture.

On the other hand, the yōkai introduced by the media are not limited to those in classical folk sources and, exactly as in the Edo period, new fictional yōkai appear, as evidenced by the stories about kuchisake-onna or Hanako-san, giving rise to new yōkai.

Beginning in 1975, starting with the popularity of kuchisake-onna, these affabulations took on the name yōkai in the media. This terminology has also been used in recent publications on urban legends and author Bintarō Yamaguchi uses them frequently.

During the 1970s, many books were published that featured yōkai, whether they were encyclopedias, illustrated reference books, dictionaries, or children's horror books, but along with classic yōkai such as folklore, kaidan, and essays, it has been shown through contemporary research that these yokai did not originate in classical culture and were newly created.

Well-known examples include the gashadokuro and the jubokko. Arifumi Sato, for example, is known to be a creator of modern yōkai and Shigeru Mizuki is a mangaka of yōkai.

In writings about yōkai, it is possible to find recently created yōkai, and Mizuki himself, through GeGeGe no Kitaro, has created 30 new yōkai. The fact that some criticism has emerged about the mixing of traditional yōkai with recent yōkai has brought traditions and legends back into focus.

However, given that many writers of the Edo period, such as Sekien Toriyama, created many yōkai, there is also another view that it is pointless to criticize contemporary creations without doing the same for classic ones.

In addition, there is a favorable opinion that says that introducing various yōkai characters through these books nurtures the creativity and emotional development of today's young readers.

Yokai In the media

Various kinds of yōkai are encountered in folklore and in art and literature inspired by folklore.

Lafcadio Hearn's collection of Japanese kaidan, titled Kwaidan or Stories and Studies of Strange Things, includes stories of yūrei and yōkai, such as Yuki-onna, and is one of the first Western publications of its kind. In Japan, yōkai are particularly dominant in manga, anime, and J-Horror.

Mangaka Shigeru Mizuki, creator of series (GeGeGe no Kitaro and Kappa no Sanpei) helps maintain the presence of yōkai in the popular imagination. Drawn and Quarterly, for the English version, has published some of his works on yōkai, such as Kitaro and NonNonBa, available in French version from Éditions Cornélius.

The same goes for Hiroshi Shiibashi, the mangaka who created Nura: Lord of the Yokai (ぬらりひょんの孫, Nurarihyon no Mago).

In contemporary fiction, yōkai are a recurring theme. They were the stars of the 1960s film series Yokai Monsters. Takashi Miike directed a remake of it in 2005 under the title The Great Yokai War. They often have major roles in Japanese fiction.

In the fantasy novels The Sisters of the Moon by Yasmine Galenorn, one of the characters named Morio is a yōkai kitsune (fox demon).

Yokai In video games

In Yo-kai Watch, the hero befriends yōkai mostly inspired by traditions. However, for a few, the sources of inspiration are more modern. These games are often compared to Pokémon where some creatures are also inspired by yōkai.

Many yōkai can also be found in Ōkami, a game inspired entirely by Japanese mythology, as well as in the Touhou Project game series, which has made yōkai important characters in its universe. Present in Gensokyo, they often fill the role of antagonists.

They are implanted as one of the main hostile entities in Nioh, and are featured in the second case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies.

Finally, in Animal Crossing, characters refer to them. For example, Admiral is a kappa, Tom Nook is a tanuki and Rounard is a kitsune.

In Monster Hunter Rise, the majority of the new monsters are direct references to yōkai. For example, the Aknosom is a Kasa-obake and the Tetranodon is a kappa.