8 Hilariously Nonthreatening Monsters from Japanese Folklore

Japanese folklore and horror stories are known for their psychologically terrifying ghosts and monsters that prey on the minds and bodies of humans. For some of the most horrific examples, one need look no further than the Japanese horror boom of the early 2000′s, with the likes of The Ring and The Grudge introducing the west to a new, iconic generation of supernatural villains.

But there’s also a lighter side to Japanese folklore, where bumbling spirits cause only mild annoyance, actually enhance your daily life, and otherwise generally botch the whole job of haunting mankind and teaching vague moral lessons about treating your parents with respect and such. Here are our top eight most hilariously nonthreatening monsters – called Yokai – from Japanese stories:

Nurikabe

The Nurikabe is a sentient wall that’s said to be impossible to walk around or climb. It doesn’t seem to have any nefarious intentions and can’t kill you because it’s, you know, a wall. But the Nurikabe manages to bungle even the relatively easy job of sitting there and impeding your nightly jog: it’s said if you knock on the lower left corner of the Nurikabe, it will disappear and you can go on your way. So essentially it’s the ghost of a stubborn door that just needs a good kick.

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Nurarihyon

The Nurarihyon is said to resemble an old man with an oversized gourd-shaped head and is apparently the leader of the 100 most recognizable Japanese yokai. It poses no threat to humans and has a penchant for entering people’s houses while they’re away and drinking their tea, which rates a nuisance factor just slightly below coming home from vacation to find your milk spoiled while you were away.

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Mujina

The Mujina are shapeshifting badgers that can change form to look like humans. They’re known for jumping out at unsuspecting travelers at roadsides and commanding them to “Drink water, drink tea.” This is legitimately good advice for staying hydrated and it’s the same thing your decidedly non-supernatural doctor will tell you before charging you an outrageous copay.

It should be noted, however, that some versions of the Mujina story describe it as a faceless ghost, which is obviously a lot more disturbing than an apparently regular guy advising you to get plenty of fluids.

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Mokumokuren

Mokumokuren refer to haunted paper screens that, after being damaged, sprout countless eyeballs that look down on you while you sleep, which is totally creepy and the stuff of nightmares. That is, until you hear the “only” way to banish the ghost is to patch up the holes in the paper screen – ie, perform the bare minimum household maintenance expected of a normal human being. Add to this the fact that the ghostly eyes are apparently so helpless that a story tells of some dude just plucking them out of the wall and making a killing selling them to an eye surgeon, and you have a ghost pretty ripe for employment at Monsters, Inc. after they changed their fuel source to laughter.

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Ubume

These are ghostly old women that hang around sparsely populated areas with an infant in their arms. If they spot a passing human, they’ll ask the unwitting victim to hold their baby “just for a second, honestly,” and then run away for good, leaving the hapless human stuck with a suckling baby and probably child support payments.

Ha, just kidding: apparently, over a matter of minutes, the baby becomes heavier and heavier until the person can no longer hold it and drops it on the ground, only then to find out it was just a giant boulder the whole time while the old crone cackles wildly from behind a tree and then goes off to knock on some doors and run away or something.

It’s worth noting that there are an abundance of ghost babies that turn into boulders in Japanese folklore, which probably says a lot about Japanese attitudes towards child rearing.

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Kami-Kiri

This literally means “Hair Cutter,” so you can sort of guess what the creature’s mischievous deed of choice is going to be. Back in feudal days when long hair was a status symbol, this admittedly sort of scary-looking monster’s antics were probably feared, but these days it’s simply providing a volunteer service most of us happily pay for on a regular basis.

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Sorry, Pokemon fans. The lore says nothing about being able to catch one of these in a Pokeball.

Tofu-Kozo

The Tofu-Kozo is a ghostly young boy dressed like a monk that walks around offering up its plate of tofu for people to eat. About the only thing gross or dangerous about this ghost is that it apparently has a habit of licking the tofu it offers up and some versions of the Tofu-Kozo tale tell of the tofu turning poisonous after a person has eaten more than half. If you believe this more sinister version of the tale, any bodily harm can be avoided by steadfastly refusing tofu offered to you by slobbery young children, which is something you ought to have been doing from the beginning anyway.

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Shirime

Shirime means “ass eye,” and the story goes that a wandering samurai first encountered the Shirime, which had the appearance of a man who – having seen the samurai – frantically stripped off its clothes and bent over to show the samurai its titular ass eye. In fact, it appears the Shirime lives for nothing more than to show people its ass eye, which is just as likely to ruin your day as someone sending you a trick goat.se link, but at least you’ll come away unscathed.

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The samurai then muttered, “That just won’t do at all,” and went on with his day.

With literally thousands of yokai detailed in various old-timey Japanese stories, there are plenty more that will perform some household chore for you or just get their rocks off showing you their weird anatomies, but a lot of them have the unfortunate side-effect of causing you to die instantly when you look at them, so we’re pretty sure we’ve cornered the eight most nonthreatening yokai ever spoken of with this bunch. Still, let us know in the comments if you’ve got other nominations.

All photos via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “8 Hilariously Nonthreatening Monsters from Japanese Folklore

  1. Ah, tanukis! Best described by Will Ferguson in Hitching Rides With Buddha as “Creatures of folklore in Japan: raccoon-dogs with huge bellies and gigantic testicles who roam the forests drinking sake and trying to seduce young maidens by passing themselves off as noblemen.”

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