A-Yokai-A-Day: Taka-onna



Only about one week left until Halloween! I feel like I have Halloween fever now, having been painting monsters for so long. I’m starting to see yokai in my sleep! Of course, it certainly doesn’t help much that all the while I am painting, I am listening to Halloween web radio or watching horror movies. They say that when you paint, your emotions are imbued into the artwork, and I find that to be true when I am happy or angry or sad… so if I can keep myself at a constant level of scared-ness, that should translate well into my paintings too, right?? Or maybe it will just cause some kind of psychological trauma…

Anyway, I decided to have a bit of fun with today’s yokai and paint her on a different-sized shikishi. This longer shape is called a tanzaku, and I used them last year to paint the five Hyakki Yako panels.  Of course, the shape of today’s yokai certainly works nicely on this tall type of board.


Today’s yokai is another aptly-named one: taka-onna, meaning “tall woman.” (Another reading of her name can be taka-jo, but the meaning is the same.) Her origins are somewhat obscure and come from a few different sources, but in all the stories there are a few key similarities. She appears as a normal woman some of the time, but when she shows her monster form, she elongates her body up to a few meters tall. Her favorite activity in peering into 2nd story windows and scaring whomever is inside. She is always malevolent, and either homely or quite ugly.

Taka-onna is probably most well-known from Toriyama Sekien’s illustration of a woman stretched out to a 2-story-tall height and peeking into a brothel in a red-light district. Like yesterday’s yokai, I guess prostitute monsters were popular in the Edo period. Unfortunately, other than the picture and the name, Sekien tells us nothing at all about her.

Other accounts of taka-onna don’t necessarily put them outside of a brothel, but their actions are basically the same: stretching their bodies like rubber bands and peeking into 2nd story windows.

In one story, a rich farmer notices his 5-year old son has gone missing. He orders his servants to search for him, but over a few days, one-by-one his servants go missing too. Eventually he realizes that his wife is behind the disappearances, as she has been eating the servants! He witnesses her hiding out in his well, and she is able to stretch all the way from the bottom, and out the top. Being a smart farmer, he ran away from the house and never saw her again.

In a few other accounts from other prefectures, she doesn’t do anything harmful other than peeping and being generally creepy.

Anyway, murderous or not, it would certainly cause quite a fright to anyone thinking they were safe and alone on the 2nd floor of their home, when all of a sudden they notice a hideous, haggish woman has been staring at them for who-knows-how-long!

1 thought on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Taka-onna

  1. Pingback: A-Yokai-A-Day: Kejōrō | MatthewMeyer.net

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