New Kickstarter!

Hey everybody! I am launching a Kickstarter in just a few days!

Coming soon to Kickstarter!The Palace of the Dragon King is my fifth illustrated yokai encyclopedia. Following in the footsteps of my previous four books, it features over 100 illustrations and descriptions of yokai, mythical, and folkloric creatures from Japan — with a special focus on sea monsters and the servants of the dragon king who lives at the bottom of the sea!

Visit the Kickstarter preview page now and sign up for a notification when the project launches!

A-Yokai-A-Day: How Genshin of Mt. Hiei Saw Hell and Came Back

🦇 Happy Halloween!!! 🦇

Tonight’s is the final story in this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed these stories and my paintings (and my wife’s, when my broken arm kept me from painting)!

Of course, I will continue to translate and illustrate Japanese folktales throughout the year, but starting tomorrow it will be my patrons who get to read them, instead of me posting them here on my blog. So if you’d like to read my newest stories, learn even more about yokai, and keep up with what I’m working on (including news about when my next Kickstarter will launch…) sign up at my Patreon!

If you want more stories and art, you can also order my books from Amazon, or even get the special collector’s editions from’s web shop. (Books ship from Japan, so order soon if you want them in time for Christmas!)

Tonight’s story features another famous historical figure: Genshin. One of his claims to fame is a book called The Essentials of Rebirth in the Pure Land, in which he describes in graphic detail the Buddhist hells and urges Buddhists to aim to be reborn in the Pure Land, a cosmic realm not unlike heaven, free from pain and suffering, filled with the sweet music of karyōbinga and gumyōchō, where anybody at all can strive to attain buddhahood without the distractions that are found in any of the other realms of existence. After reading this story, it seems no wonder that Genshin is an expert on hell!

There are two yokai named in tonight’s story. One is an oni, which we are all familiar with. The other is a rasetsunyo. Rasetsunyo means “female rasetsu,” and rasetsu is the Japanese word for the Sanskrit rakshasa (the females of which are called rakshasi). Rasetsu are powerful evil spirits which live on earth and feed upon human blood. They can fly, change their shape, and even become invisible. They have vampire-like fangs, and are especially good at seducing humans. But from this story, it appears they are no match for the power of an oni.

The purple cloud at the end of the story is a symbol of the Western Pure Land of Amida Nyōrai. When a devout practicioner is on their death bed, it is said that Amida comes to them on a purple cloud and takes them away to Gokuraku Jōdō. The final scene demonstrates the salvatory powers of Genshin’s prayers.

How Genshin of Mt. Hiei Saw Hell and Came Back

During the reign of Emperor Ichijō, a virtuous teacher named Genshin lived on Mt. Hiei. One time, while traveling down the mountain to the capital, it suddenly started to rain, and a beautiful woman came running up to him from behind and cried in anguish. When Genshin asked her what was the matter, she replied:

“I am a rasetsunyo. I serve an oni who commands me to deceive humans, by taking the form of a woman when approaching a man, or the form of a man when approaching a woman, and bring them to the oni to eat. The oni said that if I don’t catch anyone, it will eat me instead. I haven’t caught anyone today, so I will surely lose my life. I pray that by your dharmic power I might be saved. I humbly beg you. If you think I speak falsely, then follow me and see.”

She went away, and Genshin went after her. They reached a mountain ridge, and night fall. Genshin followed her deeper into the mountains, and they came to a gate. The woman knocked on the gate, and the terrifying voice of an oni was heard. The gate opened, and the oni was furious at her lack of prey. Many oni gathered around her, spitting flames from their mouths. They tore off the woman’s limbs, ripped them into pieces, and devoured them in a dreadful scene.

Genshin took pity upon her. He returned to Mt. Hiei, and he recited scriptures and performed a solemn memorial service for her. That night, the woman came to him in a dream, riding on a purple cloud, with a beatific expression on her face. She turned to Genshin and said:

“Thanks to my teacher’s dharmic power, I was reborn in heaven, and I became a buddha.”

She bowed three times, and then went off into the west.

a blue-skinned, haloed rakshasi rides a purple cloud from the sunset

A-Yokai-A-Day: How Hashii Yasaburō Ferried a Ghost

Tonight’s story is one of my favorites in Shokoku hyakumonogatari. Something about the ghost being upside-down is so creepy and visually striking. Not only that, it’s part love story, part revenge story, and the ghost is both sympathetic and terrifying. Good stuff!

Upside-down ghosts are no stranger to Japanese folklore. In fact, there’s even a name for it–sakasa yūrei–and one appears in 1853’s Kyōka hyakumonogatari as well. As for upside-down yokai, sakabashira also comes to mind, and carries the same notion of being placed upside-down as a method of torture. Another famous example is the upside-down woman’s head from Inō mononoke roku. The upside-down position kind of mirrors the position of those suffering in mugen jigoku, the endless hell from which there is no redemption; falling, head first, into the pit for all of eternity.

There’s only one day left of A-Yokai-A-Day, so I hope this one gives you sufficient chills!

How Hashii Yasaburō Ferried a Ghost

Among Lord Oda Nobunaga’s retainers was a samurai named Hashii Yasaburō who was well-versed in both the literary and military arts. Later, while in Kiyosu in the service of Lord Bingo, he maintained a deep romantic relationship with Lady Inuyama’s son, to whom he traveled eleven kilometers to see every night.

One night after his night watch was over, he went to Inuyama, when it suddenly started pouring rain. The night was terribly dark and lonely. Along the way there was a river ferry. He called out for the ferryman, but he must have been sleeping downstream, as he did not answer. Yasaburō stood resting by the water’s edge and gazing up and down the river, when a fire appeared upstream. He watched it get closer and closer, and he saw a woman with long, disheveled hair, flames billowing from her mouth, walking upside-down on her head. Yasaburō drew his sword and called out, “Who’s there!”

The woman let out a painful cry and said, “I am the wife of the headman from Yamura across the river. My husband conspired with his mistress, and strangled me to death, and then buried me upside-down so that my spirit could not come back upstream to get him. I want to avenge my death, but it is difficult to cross the river upside-down like this. Ah! I hoped to meet a person brave enough to take me across the river. I have been watching the people who cross here, and there is none as brave as you. Please, show me compassion and take me across the river!”

Yasaburō agreed, and he called the ferryman. “Take that woman across to the other bank in your boat,” he said. But upon seeing the woman, the ferryman threw down his oars and fled.

Yasaburō retrieved the oars, picked up the woman and put her in the boat, and then rowed to the opposite shore. Then the woman pointed towards Yamura and flew towards it. Yasaburō followed her to the village headman’s house. He stood at the gate and listened, and he heard a woman’s scream, “Agh!”

Shortly after, the woman came out of the house, the mistress’s head dangling in her hand. She turned to Yasaburō and said, “Thanks to you, I easily took care of my nemesis. I am grateful.” Then she vanished without a trace.

Afterwards, Yasaburō went to Inuyama and stayed until dawn. On his way home, he stopped at Yamura and asked, “Did anything happen here last night?”

One of the residents told him, “The village  headman recently took a wife, but last night, for some reason, somebody ripped off her head and left.”

Yasaburō was mystified. He told Lord Bingo everything that happened, then he went to the upper reaches of the river and dug. Sure enough, he dug up the remains of a woman who had been buried upside-down. It was an unprecedented scandal, and the village headman was executed for it.

a ghost in burial kimono, standing on its hands

A-Yokai-A-Day: How A Wager Led to a Child’s Decapitation

With only three stories left in this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day, it’s time for me to plug my Patreon again. If you like these stories and illustrations, I do this year-round, not just in October! And the only reason I’m able to make them is because my patrons support me enough for me to do this full time. Becoming a patron means you’ll get weekly stories and artwork, so if you want to keep this going all year round, even just $1 a month gets you insider access, and helps me a lot. (Plus you can get cool rewards like yokai postcards and art prints.) Become a patron here!

The yokai in tonight’s story is only described as a bakemono,” which isn’t helpful because that really just means monster. However, from its behavior we can make a decent guess as to what it might be. Care to wager?

If I had to bet, my money would be on this being a tengu. We’ve already seen several tengu stories this month, and aside from just being common yokai, they tend to go after foolish people who bite off more than they can chew, and especially those with an excess of pride. That definitely describes our story’s leading man. (Tengu also live deep in the mountains, which is where all this strangeness begins.)

Tragically, as is often the case in kaidan, the one who suffers most is not the man who started it all, but his family.

How A Wager Led to a Child’s Decapitation

In a certain mountain village in Kishū, five or six samurai were gathered one night and chatting, when they made a wager:

“If you go about two kilometers from the village, there is a shrine near the mountain ridge. There is a river in front of the shrine, and from time to time, corpses wash up along this river. Let’s make a bet that if anyone is willing to go tonight to that river and cut off the finger from a dead man, we will all give that person our swords.”

However, not one of them said they were willing to go.

Then, a greedy and cowardly man said, “I will go.”

He went back to his house and told his wife, “I made such-and-such a wager, but my heart trembles so much that I cannot go.”

Hearing this, his wife replied, “It’s already too late for you to go back and change the wager. I’ll go there, and cut off the dead man’s finger. You stay here and watch the house.” Then, she strapped her two-year-old child to her back, and went out to the shrine.

In front of the river there was a forest about 100 meters deep. She passed through that terribly eerie place and arrived in front of the shrine. She went down beneath the bridge and found the corpse of a woman. She took out her wakizashi and cut off two fingers, and tucked them into her pocket. When she went back to the forest to return home, a scratchy voice called out from above the forest:

“Watch your step!”

Terrified, she looked down and saw something wrapped in a small straw bundle. She picked it up, and it was quite heavy. Thinking that it was surely a gift from the gods and buddhas out of pity for her, she picked it up and went home.

The man was waiting impatiently for his wife to return. He was hiding under his blanket and shivering with fear, when a sound like twenty men stamping their feet came from the roof.

“Why aren’t you going to the place you wagered you would?”

The man was even more terrified, and he shrunk back and held his breath. Just then, his wife came home. At the sound of the front door opening smoothly, the man was sure that a bakemono had come inside. He screamed and fainted.

The wife called out, “It’s me! What’s the matter? What’s going on?”

The man came to his senses and he was overjoyed. The wife took out the fingers from her pocket and handed them to the man.

“By the way, something wonderful happened,” she said. And she opened the straw bundle, only to see that it contained the head of the child she was carrying on her back. She was terrified, and she screamed and cried, and she quickly unstrapped her child from her back to find that there was only a headless corpse. Seeing this, the wife grieved and lamented, but there was nothing that could be done.

But, because he was a greedy man, the husband took the fingers and received the swords from the people he wagered with.

the hands of a corse, two fingers chopped off one of them, lie on the ground

A-Yokai-A-Day: How the Obsession in Love Letters Became an Oni

Tonight’s story features another oni and another chigo. The chigo here is presented as a sex symbol, the embodiment of the ideal male youth. The oni is born from the strong, obsessive attachment of the long-distance admirers, and the bored apathy of the uninterested chigo. (Tonight’s oni is also very similar to Toriyama Sekien’s fuguruma yōhi.)

An interesting part of this story is that it stars Ikkyū, a character who is only somewhat known in the West but is extremely famous in Japan. Ikkyū was a real person, but there are so many stories about him that he has become a legendary figure as well. He’s beloved for being a mischievous monk who breaks all the rules but still always winds up on top. He does everything a monk is not supposed to do; he eats meat, he drinks sake, visits brothels; but he is also able to perform miracles, and shows those who criticize him how their perception is wrong. One of my favorite stories about him is when he meets the courtesan Jigoku tayū.

In tonight’s story, true to form, Ikkyū does the opposite of what most monks would do. He fearlessly enters a haunted temple when any normal person would run away. When the oni tries to kill him, he does the opposite of what any priest would do; he neither prays nor recites scripture, nor screams. He just sits there, chill, and watches. I love it.

How the Obsession in Love Letters Became an Oni

In a place called Kūhachi in Iga Province, there were sixty temples. When Ikkyū was training and the sun set here, he looked around the temples for a place to stay, but there was not a single person around. Ikkyū thought this was odd, so he checked every last temple, until at a certain temple he discovered a beautiful chigo all alone.

Ikkyū approached him and said, “Please let me stay here.”

“Certainly. But every night a monster comes to this temple and takes a person,” the chigo said.

“I am a monk, so that does not bother me,” replied Ikkyū.

“Very well then, please stay the night,” said the chigo. And he let Ikkyū into the reception hall, while the chigo slept in the next room. Around midnight, several flames the size of temari came out from under the veranda of the chigo’s room, floated towards the chigo’s heart, then suddenly transformed into a six-meter-tall oni and came into the reception hall.

“Where is the monk staying in this temple tonight? I’m going to catch and eat him!”

The oni searched around the room. Since Ikkyū neither prayed, nor chanted, and just sat there unfazed, the oni was unable to find him. Before long, dawn broke, and when the oni looked like it was about to return to the chigo’s room, it disappeared.

Ikkyū was mystified and said to the chigo, “Show me underneath the veranda where you slept.”

Under the veranda, Ikkyū found countless blood-stained letters. When he asked about them, the chigo told him that people from all over had fallen in love with him and were sending him love letters, which he never replied to but just tossed them all off of the veranda. The obsession of the writers of those letters had piled up more and more, until it became the oni which visited the chigo every night.

Ikkyū retrieved all of the letters, piled them up and burned them away, then recited scripture. After that, there were no more strange occurrences.

a green oni wreathed in pink flames emerges from a pile of love letters

A-Yokai-A-Day: The Tanuki Who Transformed into an Old Woman at Nabari, Iga Province

Tonight’s story is another one featuring a tanuki, and like the one from last week, it has a bloody ending. This time, though, the yōkai is a lot more dangerous.

The ending of this story matches a pattern that is seen in several yokai stories from all around Japan. Aside from a wild animal disguising itself as an old woman, discovering the pile of bodies underneath the floorboards seems to have been a popular folklore trope. We see it in story patterns like senbiki ōkami, although that is with wolves and not tanuki.

Anyway, this story serves as a reminder that even the furry little critter yōkai are sometimes vicious man-eaters!

The Tanuki Who Transformed into an Old Woman at Nabari, Iga Province

In Iga Province, there is a mountain village to the southeast of a place called Nabari. In this village, every night, one by one people were disappearing. Nobody knew who or what was responsible. One person had their child taken, another person had their parents taken, and the crying and grieving was too painful to watch.

One day, a hunter from that village went into the mountains at dusk. A person came at them from out of the mountains, and when he looked to see who it was, it was a hundred-year-old woman, with disheveled white hair scattered in all directions, and shining eyes. Her appearance was inhuman, so the hunter immediately nocked a crescent-headed arrow and recklessly fired it with a loud twang. It looked like he hit, but the woman got away.

In the morning, the hunter went back to that spot and found a trail of clotted blood that went here and there among the mountains. He followed the trail of blood back to his village, to a small hut behind the village headman’s manor. The hunter was mystified. He asked the village headman, “Who lives in the small hut behind your house?”

“My mother lives there,” he replied. “She is retired. She hasn’t been feeling well since last night, and she won’t eat or let anyone near her.”

The hunter replied, “Well, I have a strange story about that…” And he told the headman everything that had happened.

The headman was also mystified. He went to the small hut, but his mother realized out what was going on, and in an instant she tore through the wall of the hut and ran off. They looked into the bedroom and found a pool of blood the size of a rug. When they looked under the floor, they found countless human bones, including the hands and feet of a child, which had been chewed up and discarded there.

After that they searched the mountains and found the corpse of an old tanuki whose chest had been pierced by an arrow. The headman’s mother had earlier been eaten by this tanuki, which then disguised itself as her and took her place.

a small hut in the forest with a blood trail leading to it and bones underneath the flooring

A-Yokai-A-Day: Watanabe Shingorō’s Daughter and Her Affection for a Chigo in Wakamiya

Tonight’s story is another one dealing with attachment. And once again, snakes are used as a symbol for that attachment.

One term that might be unfamiliar to some readers is chigo. This term pops up a fair amount of yōkai stories, and while it literally just means a child, it refers to young boys who were apprenticed to temples but too young to shave their heads and officially become monks. Chigo served as pages and attendants to elder priests, who often dressed them up and had pederastic relationships with them. This adds a layer of complexity to the situation between the boy and the girl in the story. Was the reason he was disinterested in her that he simply did not like her that way? Was it because he was still too young to see this girl as a romantic partner? Were her affections towards him so strong that they made him uncomfortable? Or was he maybe being pressured by an elder lover at the temple to break things off with her? The ambiguity in the story means each reader will probably see it slightly differently.

Watanabe Shingorō’s Daughter and Her Affection for a Chigo in Wakamiya

There was a man named Watanabe Shingorō in Kamakura. He had a fourteen year old daughter. One day she went on a pilgrimage to Wakamiya, and when she first laid eyes upon the priest’s chigo, she fell so deeply in love that she became gravely ill from lovesickness.

The girl confided her feelings to her mother, and so her father, who had been worried about her illness, sought out a good intermediary and contacted the chigo’s parents. The chigo’s parents gave their permission for the girl to begin seeing the boy.

However, as the chigo was still very young, he did not have very deep feelings towards the girl, and the idea of marrying her disinterested him. The girl’s spirit grew ever weaker, and finally she died. Her grieving parents had her cremated, and placed her bones in a box in a certain room with the intention of interring them in Zenkōji in Shinano.

Later, the chigo also became ill, and although various remedies were tried, they had no effect. Afterwards, he did not like to be near other people. His mother and father were perplexed, and so they spied on him through a crack in the door to discover him sitting across from a giant serpent and speaking with it. His parents were so grieved and saddened by this that they asked priests and yamabushi to pray for his protection, but these had no effect either, and finally he died.

When they buried the chigo in the mountains west of Wakamiya, a giant serpent was found in the coffin entwined around the chigo’s corpse, and they had to bury it together with the chigo. Later, when the daughter’s remains were taken to Zenkōji to be interred, the mother discovered that all of the bones had either turned into or were currently transforming into tiny snakes.

How terrifying a thing it is that the daughter’s attachment possessed and finally killed the chigo.

a pair of hands holds a bone urn containing ashes, bone chunks, and white snakes