A-Yokai-A-Day: Onibaba

Arararrghhgh I just spent an hour writing up a nice long and full of detail post about today’s yokai, with three separate stories to go along with it, and right when I saved it, $#@%ing WordPress crashed and took all the work with it. It looks like I’ll have to work through sunrise now…

So anyway… as I was saying… Today’s yokai is famous all over Japan, not just among yokai or ghost enthusiasts. Everyone has heard a story of an onibaba, as a fairy tale or a bedtime story or what-have-you. They go by different terms often, whether onibaba, or yamamba, or yama-uba (as I painted for last year’s yokai project), or even a name, like The Goblin of Adachi, or Kurozuka.


There are a number of very famous onibaba stories, but perhaps the most famous one tells the story of the demon of Adachigahara. In this story, a wealthy couple has a child who, for the entire 5 years of her life, has never spoken a single word. The couple consults a doctor, who tells them that the only way to cure their daughter is by feeding her the fresh liver of an unborn fetus (sure, why not?).

They call their daughter’s nanny and put the task of retrieving the liver onto her shoulders. Rightfully expecting that it will take some time to find a willing baby liver donor, the nanny gives her own daughter a protection charm, kisses her goodbye, and leaves on her long journey.

The nanny travels for days, months, and even years without finding anyone willing to give up their baby. Eventually, her travels take her to the moors of Adachigahara, in present-day Fukushima. Here she finds a cave and decides to hole up and wait for a pregnant woman to pass by on the road. It takes many more years, but eventually a lone pregnant woman does pass, and the nanny leaps out of the cave and slays her, taking the fresh liver from her womb. It is only after the deed is done that the nanny notices the young woman is wearing the very same protection charm that she had given her daughter so many years ago!

The knowledge of what she had done weighed so heavy on her that the nanny went insane and transformed into a yokai. And she remained there, on the moors of Adachigahara, for many many years, catching and eating travelers who would pass by. She is even so famous that a Noh play, called Kurozuka, was made after her story.

My wife’s favorite onibaba story, and the last one I will write tonight because my eyes are beginning to close as I write, tells of a young priest living at a temple way out in the mountains. One fall day he begs the temple master to let him go chestnut gathering in the woods. The master at first refuses, stating that the woods are too dangerous and that a horrible yamamba lives there. But the boy says there is no such thing and insists so much that the priest relents and lets him go. But he gives him three magical prayer charms just in case.

The boy spends the whole day gathering chestnuts, going deeper and deeper into the mountains. Before he knows it, night falls, and he is stranded out in the woods. He fumbles for his way back home, and he eventually stumbles onto a cottage, where the kind old woman living there offers to put him up for the night and share his chestnuts with him. The boy is happy, and they dine on the nuts until he can eat no more, after which he goes to sleep.

He awakens from his deep sleep to a strange noise, and looking up at the sliding paper door, the boy sees the old woman sharpening the largest carving knife he has ever seen, as well as human bones scattered all over the place. The woman looks over her shoulder, revealing her demonic face, horns, and tongue, and tells the boy that she will eat him! He begs her at the very least to let him use the toilet first. She agrees, but sensing a trap, she ties a rope around him so that he can not escape.

In the bathroom, the boy quickly unties himself and pulls out his prayer tokens. He wishes on the first one that it will help him get away, and as the old crone calls out asking if the boy is finished yet, the charm answers for him: “Not yet!” The boy is able to slip out the window while the charm continues responding to the hag. Finally, she grows impatient and opens the door anyway, and she is enraged to see that she has been duped!

Onibaba rages after the boy, catching up on him with demonic speed. The boy uses his second charm to summon a great river, which blocks onibaba from catching him, and he escapes again. However, onibaba opens her great big mouth and soon she drinks every last drop of water in the river, and continues her chase.

When she catches up to him again, the boy uses his final charm to call an ocean of fire to engulf the witch. While it slows her down a bit, onibaba is able to spit up the entire river she just drank and douse the flames, and she continues her chase, rapidly closing in.

The boy finally makes it to the temple, with the yamamba hot on his heels, and he bursts in and begs the priest to help him. The priest, in the middle of his dinner of sticky mochi balls, hides the boy in one of his large pots. Onibaba bursts into the temple and demands that the priest hand over the boy, or she will eat them both. The priest says there is no boy here, but if onibaba can defeat him in a magic contest, he will let her eat him instead. Seeing that there is no way a mortal can defeat a yokai in a magic contest, the old witch agrees.

The priest asks her how big she can grow, and she instantly grows as tall as a mountain, laughing down at the puny little old man. He feigns being impressed, and then asks her if she can shrink down to the size of a bean. Onibaba complies again, instantly becoming a tiny little speck. The man then picks up a mochi ball and pops the bean-sized onibaba into it, and he eats the bean-mochi in one bite!

The end, and definitely now it is bed time for me!



There are only 2 days left until Halloween, and that means only 2 yokai left in this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day project! Check back again tomorrow for another awesome ghost story!

And don’t forget to stop by my Etsy store on your way out. You’ll help support my projects like this one, and you can get a beautiful signed, matted print that is guaranteed to give you nightmares!

8 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Onibaba

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

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  4. Pingback: Onibaba: The Demon Hag | Part Time Monster

  5. You are 100% correct! I’m not sure how that got in there, but yes, Adachigahara is in Fukushima. Thanks for pointing that out! I’ve edited the post to correct the mistake.

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