A-Yokai-A-Day: Nikusui

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What could be more quintessentially Halloween than a vampire? Today’s yokai fits that description. Like with many western vampire stories, there’s a deeper, underlying cautionary tale. Read on to learn more!


“meat sucker”

Nikusui are vampiric yōkai which hunt late at night on mountain roads. They usually appear in the form of young, beautiful women about 18 or 19 years old.

They prey upon young men traveling alone by lantern light. They appear from out of the darkness and begin to flirt. They ask their prey to lend them their lantern. When they get close enough, they snuff out the light. Then, in the pitch dark, they bite into their victims and suck the meat from their bodies, leaving nothing but skin and bones.

Occasionally nikusui will approach lone men in their bedrooms. They use sex to seduce and weaken their prey. Then they can suck the meat from their prey at their leisure.

To protect against nikusui, villagers who live near the border between Mie and Wakayama Prefectures avoid walking at night without a spare light source. Those who absolutely must travel through the mountains night protect themselves by preparing spare lanterns and burning coals. If a nikusui steals their lantern, they can throw burning coals at them to keep them away.

Tales about nikusui are cautionary tales, warning young men to keep away from strange women. A beautiful woman could “snuff out a man’s fire,” draining his money and distracting him from more important things. Less metaphorically, there was a real folk belief in a sickness called jinkyo—weakness in men caused by the loss of semen. Overindulgence in sexual activity was believed to drain a man of his virility, leaving him weak and anxious. Losing too much semen could even be lethal. Therefore, sexual promiscuity was frowned upon not only due to social mores, but for health reasons too. Nikusui represent the dangers of young men overindulging in their lust.

A hunter named Genzō was hunting late at night on Mt. Hatenashi. All of a sudden, a beautiful young woman of about 18 or 19 years appeared before him and laughed with an eerie “ho ho.” Though it was night, she carried no lantern. The young woman asked to borrow Genzō light. Genzō had a very bad feeling about her. He carried a blessed bullet with a prayer to Amida Buddha incribed upon. He loaded that bullet into his rifle and threatened the girl. She fled into the darkness, Genzō continued on his way.

A short time later, a terrible monster over 6 meters tall rushed out of the darkness at him. Genzō fired his rifle with the holy bullet at the monster. The monster fell, and Genzō was able to get a closer look at the monster’s true form: a bleached white skeleton inside a loose bag of skin, with no meat at all.

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