Japan’s folklore has some of the strangest and most imaginative monsters to be found in human mythology. Take a look at these illustrations if you want to know what they look like!
Japanese folklore has some truly imaginative and outright bizarre yokai, or supernatural monsters. The sheer amount is by itself staggering, but what truly strikes us is some of the monsters’ rather original features. From their appearance to their mischiefs, it’s no wonder they have captured the imagination of a nation for centuries. Sure, some are terrifying, like Oyajirome, a particularly disgusting monster with a single eye on the back of its head and a claw on its one-fingered hand. But then again, others are patently funny. What minds conjure up a monster whose sole purpose in existence is to stalk people and… cut their hair? Yep, that’s all it does. To be fair, that was a horrific thought for people in Japan during an era when long hair was the only fashion (and when losing your mane meant social disgrace), but still.
Nothing showcases Japan’s captivating creativity when it comes to monster-related folklore better than a beautifully painted scroll, estimated to be from the Edo period (18th or 19th century), known as the Bakemono zukushi. This work of art depicts all the major yokai from traditional Japanese mythology, in full color and with strangely charming designs.
Thanks to the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, we can all enjoy a superb digitalization of the scroll. For your pleasure, here’s a compilation of the strangest Japanese monsters illustrated in the Bakemono zukushi.
Odoroshi (おどろし): a scary face with a red-skinned body covered entirely by long black hair. That would be a great Halloween costume.
Mi-no-kedachi (身の毛立) is a strange, hunchbacked yokai featuring a dense coat of body hair on its torso.
Buraribi (ぶらり火) might look like a phoenix, but those flames are supposed to be supernatural and far less glamorous than the fire-bird. It looks happy, though.
Sara-hebi (さら蛇) is not unlike Nure-onna, a blood-sucking monster with the body of a snake and head of a woman.
Boukon (亡魂), with its pale, blue skin, long hair, and extremely skinny body except for its protruding belly, is a tormented soul wandering the world of the living.
Oyajirome (親白眼), the one-eyed, one-clawed monster that will probably haunt your nightmares. It’s looks straight out of a Guillermo del Toro film (well, probably the other way around).
Akashita (赤舌) is a cloud-dwelling floating head with a red tongue and a mouth big enough to swallow the world whole. Sounds like fun.
Nobusuma (のぶすま): a shapeless lump of brown skin with sharp hair, teeth, and claws. I have no idea how this creature is supposed to move, but it probably looks as unnatural as it looks funny.
Uma-shika (馬鹿). Now, this one’s particularly disturbing. An exceptionally strange, horse-like creature with elf ears, a phallic horn, and a single eye bulging from the top of its head. Yeah…
Yamawaro Yamawaro (山童), a cyclops-like mountain dweller, is often said to be a kappa that has drifted far from water. They do look friendly enough, don’t they?
Hajikkaki (はぢっかき) may look like a deformed Pokemon, but don’t let its appearance fool you. It’s probably really cute when you get to know it.
Rokurokubi & Inugami
Here we see Rokurokubi (ろくろくび), a woman with a flying head and neck like a noodle, next to Inugami (犬神), a dog spirit.
Daichiuchi (大地打), a bizarre and muscular monster with the face of a bird that always carries a mallet, ready to crush any unsuspecting victim.
Ushi-oni (牛鬼) is certainly a terror for the arachnophobes out there. A horned sea monster, this creature certainly haunted some children’s dreams.
Uwan (うわん) haunts abandoned buildings, and we can all tell it would fit right in in Monsters Inc.
Dōmo-kōmo (どうもこうも), a terrifying yokai with pale skin and two heads on one neck. You don’t see that every day.
Yuki-onna (雪女) is a ghostly long-haired woman that only appears on snowy nights or during terrible snowstorms. She can be a treacherous and murderous monster whose name means, unsurprisingly, “snow woman.”
And finally, here’s Kami-kiri (髪切), the utterly scary hair cutter, known for feeding off human hair. It sneaks up on you and cuts your beautiful curls with its razor-edged claws.
There’s no doubt Japan has some strange creatures in its mythology. But then again, which culture doesn’t? These unique monsters do stand above the rest, however, when illustrated in such a detailed, colorful, and, let’s face it, comical manner. Which one’s your favorite?
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