How Many of These Ghosts from Japanese Folklore Do You Know?

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  • You’ve probably come across the term “yokai (妖怪)” in Japanese. These are supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. They encompass several legends from all parts of Japan and all periods of Japanese history. The ancient times were abundant with these kinds of folktales which have been passed from generations to generations. Until now, they can be felt in Japanese culture and in this article, I will be introducing three yokai in the country.

    1. Azuki Arai

    The Azuki Arai is also known as the “bean washer” or the “bean grinder,” although people in different regions call it different names. It lives in remote forests all throughout Japan. It likes spending most of its time near streams where it washes red azuki beans while singing. It looks short with big round eyes and likes squatting by the riverside. It is very shy and doesn’t like to be seen.

    According to tales, most people have never seen the Azuki Arai but have only encountered its singing. It is said that if you happen to pass by and hear its singing, you’ll slip and fall into the river. If you ever spot one, though, it is said to bring you good luck.

    2. Onikuma

    The Onikuma is also known as the “demon bear.” It lives in mountainous forests and is an omnivore. It is said that the Onikuma used to be a common bear living in the forest but over time transformed into a yokai. It has a large distinct size and walks on two legs. Just like ordinary bears, it keeps away from humans.

    The Onikuma is nocturnal and scavenges for food at night. It is very powerful and can also become violent with a human encounter. This is very rare, though. Some people hunt and kill the Onikuma, especially when they start stealing livestock from villages. Special tactics are needed in order to do this.

    3. Zashiki Warashi

    Zashiki Warashi are house spirits who appear ghost-like. They are also considered guardian spirits of the house. They are fond of mischief but are said to bring good luck to the houses they haunt. They also come in many names depending on the region. The most popular alternative nickname being “Zashiki child.”

    Zashiki Warashi can often be found in rooms where the tatami mat is, such as the sitting room. They can appear as girls or boys in traditional clothes. They like it when you leave out treats, such as candies, for them. However, it is said that only the children and the house owners can see them, so most of the time, people don’t believe them.

    The first sign of Zashiki Warashi haunting a house is children’s footprints. Voices may also be heard. Usually, only one spirit haunts the house, but there are also times when multiple spirits exist. Zashiki Warashi often befriend the children in the house. They would play, sing songs, or recite nursery rhymes with them. Some people believe that if you drive away the spirit, it will bring bad luck to the family.

    There are many urban legends involving yokai sweeping through the country. There is an ever-growing collection of such tales as years pass by, but of course, it’s up to you whether you will believe them or not.

    Featured image: jp.fotolia.com/