3 Frightening Japanese Monsters from Traditional Folklore

  • CULTURE
  • The list of legendary creatures from Japanese folklore and mythology is long. Most of them can be categorized as yokai (妖怪), a term which is made up of the Chinese characters for “bewitching, attractive” and “apparition, mystery”, and is used to describe a class of supernatural monsters. There is a wide variety of yokai in Japanese folklore, including countless types of shapeshifters, demons and ogres, goblins, and even ordinary household items that have come to life.

    Yokai intro

    A large number of yokai revolve around “human transformations”. They were originally ordinary human beings who transformed into something horrific and grotesque, usually due to a traumatizing event or an extremely emotional state.
    Let’s take a look at three intriguing yokai who have transformed from ordinary women to scary monsters.

    1. Futakuchi-onna

    Yokai futakuchi onna

    Futakuchi-onna (二口女) literally means “two-mouthed woman”. As this name already suggests, the futakuchi-onna has two mouths – a regular one on her face and a second one on the back of her head.
    There are different stories regarding the origin of the futakuchi-onna, but most of them are connected to how little a woman eats. For example, there is one about a woman who is married to a miser and rarely eats. To counter this, a second mouth mysteriously appears, demanding food and often mumbling spiteful and threatening things to women. If it is kept hungry, the mouth would scream horribly, and cause the woman tremendous pain. Eventually, the mouth gains control over the woman’s hair, which starts to move like a pair of snakes, allowing it to reach the woman’s meals and feed itself.

    2. Rokurokubi

    Yokai rukurokubi

    The origin of the name “rokurokubi” (ろくろ首, 轆轤首) is unclear but it is often translated as “long-neck woman”. There are two types of rokurokubi, the ones who can stretch their necks up to the point where they look like a snake’s body and the ones whose heads come off and float around on their own.

    3. Ohaguro-bettari

    Yokai ohaguro-bettari

    The ohaguro-bettari (お歯黒べったり), or “nothing but blackened teeth”, is usually dressed in a white wedding kimono and can be spotted loitering around temples and shrines late at night. She then calls young single men over to her–who rarely manage to resist her charms–only to reveal a horrific face consisting of nothing but a blackened mouth. It is said that the ohaguro-bettari is the spirit of an ugly woman who was unable to marry.

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