A-Yokai-A-Day: Onihitokuchi

Today the Kickstarter breached 600% funding, and over 200 backers! It’s very exciting. New stretch goals will be announced on the Kickstarter page soon. In the meantime, it’s A-Yokai-A-Day:

“oni bite”


Probably everybody reading this recognizes the “oni” in the name of today’s yokai. So you probably have a pretty strong idea in mind of what this yokai is going to be about. And you’d be right! “Oni,” the famous yokai, plus “hitokuchi,” the word for a single bite or a mouthful.

Onihitokuchi is not a creature, actually, but a phenomenon. While “yokai” is most often used to describe certain creatures, the word actually encompasses much more than just monsters and spirits; it also covers strange occurrences, like curses and illness, sleep paralysis, and people going missing. Onihitokuchi is an example of the latter.

Put simply, onihitokuchi is the word for when someone is gobbled up by an oni in one bite, and is never seen again. It’s somewhat related to the concept of kamikakushi (i.e. being “spirited away” by yokai), the main difference being that with kamikakushi the victim usually returns sometime later, having been changed somewhat. In the case of onihitokuchi, they’re never coming back.

Toriyama Sekien’s Onihitokuchi

The most famous example of onihitokuchi comes from the Heian period story collection Ise monogatari. Toriyama Sekien references this story in his illustration of onihitokuchi. Although the main characters are unnamed in the original version of Ise monogatari, popular interpretations placed well known historical figures in the roles of the main characters, putting the story in a historical and literary context which the Edo period literati would have been familiar with.

Long ago, Heian period poet and playboy Ariwara no Narihira lusted after Fujiwara no Takaiko, a beautiful and high ranking noble lady. Because of the difference in their social status, it was impossible for them to have a legitimate relationship. One night, Narihira snuck into Takaiko’s room and kidnapped her. He fled into the wilds with the girl, when a terrible storm struck. He found a run down old shack and they sheltered there, Takaiko in the far back end of the shack, and Narihira guarding the entrance with his bow and arrow. In the morning, when the storm had cleared, Narihira went to retrieve Takaiko from the shack, but she was not there. She had been gobbled up by the oni who was living in the shack, and there was no piece of her left. Even her death screams had been covered up by the thunder during the night.

Onihitokuchi – as it will appear in my Patreon project

4 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Onihitokuchi

  1. That’s terrible! It’s a shame that the KIDNAPPER wasn’t eaten. I notice in a lot of Japanese stories that the… perpetrator let’s call him, often does not suffer true punishment. Or maybe he did?

    Another fascinating, and disgusting, story!

  2. That’s a common theme in folklore all around the world, but especially in Japanese folklore: women often get the worst end of every bargain.

    Historically, of course, the real Takaiko wasn’t eaten by an oni. She later became the empress dowager and mother to the emperor. So she turned out OK in the end.

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