A-Yokai-A-Day: Inugami

Yikes! Today’s yokai took a long time to finish! I’m sure some of you were wondering where the heck today’s yokai was… Well, here he is, and I hope you’ll find that the extra bit of wait time was worth it!

This yokai was done by special request for a friend who came to my Hyakki Yagyou gallery show in Fukui in August. We asked everyone what their favorite yokai was, and more than one guest was adamant about the Inugami, so I just had to do one. And truly, it is an awesome yokai! I hope you enjoy it!



Inugami (犬神)

Inugami are a kind of familiar, or spirit of possession, which are found in Kyushu, Shikoku, and elsewhere in West Japan. They are very similar to fox spirits like Kitsunetsuki, however Inugami are more common in those areas where foxes are not found. There is even evidence of an ancient tradition of Inugami worship stretching from Western Japan down to Okinawa. Powerful sorcerers were said to be able to create these spirits through monstrous ceremonies and use them to all sorts of nefarious deeds. Inugami are also known as In’game and Irigami in various local dialects.

How long the practice of creating Inugami begun is unknown, however, by the Heian period (some 1000 years ago, at the height of classical Japanese civilization) the practice had already been outlawed, along with the use of other animal spirits as tools of sorcery. According to legend, the creation of an Inugami is accomplished like this: the head of a starved dog must be cut off (often this was accomplished by chaining a dog up just out of reach of some food, or else burying it up to its neck, so that it would go berserk out of desperate hunger and its head could be cut off at the point of greatest desperation). Then, the severed head is buried in a street — usually a crossroads where many people pass. The trampling of hundreds or thousands of people over this buried head would add to its stress and cause the animal’s spirit to transform into an Onryou (a a malificent spirit with a serious grudge). Occasionally these severed heads were said to fly about, chasing after food — such was the power of the spirit’s hunger. The head was then baked or dried and enshrined in a bowl, after which the spirit could be used as a kind of fetish by a wicked sorcerer, doing whatever he or she commanded for the rest of time.

Like other Tsukimono, or possession spirits, they are beings of powerful emotion and are very good at possessing emotionally unstable or weak people. They do so usually by entering through the ears and settling into the internal organs. Signs of Inugami possession are chest pain, pain in the hands and feet or shoulders, feelings of deep jealousy, and suddenly barking like a dog. Other victims develop intense hunger and turn into gluttons, and it is said that people who die while possessed by an Inugami have markings on their body like a dog’s tooth and claw marks. Not only humans, but animals like cows and horses, or even inanimate objects, could be possessed by Inugami. Tools that were possessed by such a spirit were said to become totally and completely unusable.

People who found themselves possessed by an Inugami, or even if it was only suspected that a person was possessed, were in for an unfortunate treatment. The only way to be cured of an Inugami-tsuki was to hire another sorcerer to remove it. This could take a very, very long time. On the other hand, as binding souls in this manner was illegal and certainly frowned upon, if an inugami-mochi family was even suspected of bring evil upon another family, the accused family member was forced to apologize and then leave his comfortable estate (for usually it was the upper class who were involved in such black magic) and live on the outskirts of town, secluded from family, friends, and aristocratic life. Even if the victim was eventually cured, the accused family member (and all of his offspring for all generations to follow) usually had to maintain his solitary lifestyle, separated from the rest of society, as he was viewed by others to be wicked and tainted.

The technique for creating these fetishes was passed down along bloodlines, and such families are known as Inugami-mochi. These Inugami-mochi families kept their Inugami hidden in the back rooms of their houses, under their beds, in dressers, or among water jars. It is said that a family owned as many Inugami as there were members of the household, and when a new person joined the family, they too received their own spirit. Inugami were treated like family members by Inugami-mochi families, and most of the time would quickly run out to do their master’s bidding any time their master wanted something. However, like living dogs, occasionally a resentful Inugami might betray a master that grew too abusive or domineering, savagely biting him to death. And while Inugami, like other familiar spirits, were created to bring wealth and prosperity to their families, occasionally they might also cause a family to fall into ruin.

Are you interested in yokai? Can’t get enough of strange Japanese culture? Then you should check out my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, on Amazon.com and learn the story behind over one hundred of these bizarre monsters!

8 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Inugami

  1. Do you think you’ll be able to do one on the Kejōrō, the Ao-bōzu, the Karasu-Tengu or the Yosuzume? Partly because I think the people who already read your book would be extremely interested in learning about many yōkai not in it and partly because you’d probably be able to easily create a sequel to it by just putting together entries from A-Yōkai-A-Day.

  2. Oh, whoops. I guess I must’ve under the impression that the Ko-Tengu and the Karasu-Tengu were two different yōkai. Anyway, love your work. And since I was throwing ideas your way anyway, the Ōkami would do nicely to complete the animal-yōkai set together with the foxes, cats, raccoons, weasels and most recently dogs you’ve already covered. Speakig of foxes, would there be any point to elaborating on the Kyūbi? Sure, it’s technically kitsune but the kyuubi seem to have traits unique to them as well as stories, like the famous tale of Tamamo-no-Mae. Sorry for the millions of requests, I just love yōkai and your book along with the A-Yōkai-A-Day sries is not only the best depictions of yōkai since Toriyama Sekien, but probably also the greatest english-language resource of information.

  3. No need to apologize for the requests, I really appreciate them! 🙂 I’m glad to hear from people who are as enthusiastic about yokai as I am. I do plan on adding more about kitsune in my next book, including more on famous kitsune like Tamamo no Mae (whom I’ve covered before). Definitely post a comment whenever you have a yokai you want to see, and I’ll do my best to get around to them at some point. Thanks for reading!

  4. Pingback: A-Yokai-A-Day: Kanashibari | MatthewMeyer.net

  5. Pingback: Chapter 3 Postcript: Haruka’s Guardian | de's journal

  6. hi Matt i want to ask you, is there inugami story in your book “The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore”?

  7. Hi Margareth! My inugami entry is in my book The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits. The Book of Yokai was written by Michael Dylan Foster, not by me. I don’t remember inugami being a part of it, however.

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