Japanese Mythology and Folklore – Yōkai

This article is the first in a series of articles in which I will discuss Japanese mythology and folklore. Mythological stories and religious rites permeate to our time, and are an important part of Japanese culture, so they cannot be ignored. This time I will talk about yōkai.


The yōkai They are what we might call “ghosts” or “monsters” in the West. They can have semi-human forms, such as kappa (monster similar to a turtle) and the tengu (monster part bird, part human), they can be almost human, as in the case of the yuki onna (snow woman), or not having a distinguishable shape. There’s also yōkai who have the ability to shapeshift, known as obake. Much of the Japanese imaginary has been transmitted to the present day thanks to artists such as Toriyama sekien.

popular culture

The yōkai remain a fundamental part of Japanese culture, and have even permeated popular culture, appearing in series of anime. For example, another way of referring to yōkai is with the word Mononoke, which became popular thanks to the film titled Princess mononokeby Studio Ghibli. Many characters that appear in the series Pokemon are inspired by these yōkai.

The yōkai They can be classified into different categories, according to their appearance or the role they play in Japanese mythology.


  • Animals: Animals that are considered as yōkai they actually exist in Japan, but magical qualities are attributed to them. They include the tanuki, the kitsune, hebi (snake), mujina (badger), ōkami (Wolf), bakeneko (cat), tsuchigumo Y jorōgumo (spiders) e inugami (Wolf).


  • Oni: The oni They are ogres that live in the mountains, characterized by having red, blue, black or brown skin. They also have horns on their heads and fangs on their mouths. They wear tiger skin loincloths and carry a kanabo (weapon similar to a club) or a giant sword. They are usually associated with evil, and they are inhabitants of the northeast of the Japanese archipelago.


  • Tengu: They are a species of demons capable of flight, considered at first as malevolent enemies of Buddhism, but with the passage of time they were considered defenders of the dharma, the natural law in Buddhism.

moku moku ren

  • Tsukumogami: This classification is totally different from the previous ones, since objects that are 100 years old enter here. According to belief, these objects acquire a life of their own and an awareness of their existence. Sandals, musical instruments, lanterns, umbrellas, or teapots are some tsukumogami.

rokurokubi onna

  • Human transformations: Beings that were previously human and who underwent a horrific transformation after going through an emotional state. For example, very jealous women become oni. Here are creatures such as women with extremely long necks, women without faces, people who died violently or people who when they died had a resentment.