A-Yokai-A-Day: Nikusui

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.

Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hosogyo

It’s been a very busy three-day weekend! I barely had time to post Saturday and Sunday’s yokai, and today I was busy all day long and wasn’t able to paint anything new. Fortunately, I was prepared for this. Every year I expect that there will be a couple of days where I’m not able to do a whole painting and translation, and so I prepare a secret stash of finished yokai in September that I can use to fill in the gaps. Today I’m dipping into my secret yokai stash.

Funny enough, today’s yokai fits right in with the ones we’ve been looking at recently. It’s not from the Matsui Bunko Hyakki yagyo emaki, however it is a rare yokai and it doesn’t have much in the way of a story to it. Today’s yokai came from a very old book debunking the yokai sideshows that were popular around the country. It exposed “mummified” kappa as the taxidermy creations that they were, and documented similar misemono (sideshow attractions) that were springing up across the country during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

This book doesn’t quite debunk this yokai, but it does describe the creature and the reports of the local fishermen who claimed to have captured it. Click below to visit yokai.com and find out the whole story!


Want more yokai? Visit yokai.com and check out my yokai encyclopedias on amazon.com! Still want more? You can sign up for my Patreon project to support my yokai work, get original yokai postcards and prints, and even make requests for which yokai I paint next!


July Update

May and June have gone by in a flash, as I have been so busy working on the book as well as the Patreon that I haven’t had a moment to even think about updating the blog! We are also having our house remodeled so that has taken up a lot of my attention.

It’s been a busy couple of months for yokai painting. Here are the images you may have missed if you haven’t been following the Patreon or my social media:


Happy New Year!

It’s 2018 already! Well it has been for a week, but with all the vacation followed by the bustle of getting back into things, it is just starting to sink in.

There’s only a few yokai left to post before the Book of the Hakutaku is complete! It’s hard to believe it’s that close to being packed, and that the Patreon project is that close to having produced 100 yokai!

In case you missed it, December produced four yokai:




Himamushi nyudo

And of course, more are coming this month!

There is still time to pre-order The Book of the Hakutaku on BackerKit. Pre-order backers will have their books signed by the author, and also have the opportunity to get collector’s editions, bookmarks, and yokai apparel that are only available through the Kickstarter/pre-orders. Pre-orders will close most likely in February, so there is still a little time left, but don’t miss your chance!

November Yokai Update

The blog has been quiet since the last A-Yokai-A-Day post and the end of the Kickstarter. That’s because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to post here until now.

Now that the Kickstarter is over, there may be some of you who missed the date or didn’t hear about the project in time, but you still want to get your hands on the collector’s edition hardcovers, or the awesome yokai apparel. The Book of the Hakutaku is now on BackerKit, so you can still become a part of it even if you missed the Kickstarter! BackerKit backers will still be able to order any of the add-ons that were available during the Kickstarter, including hardcovers, slipcases, bookmarks, and clothing! They will also be able to have their books signed, and even have their name listed in the book’s acknowledgments as a backer. So don’t fret if you missed the Kickstarter, you can still be a part!

What you may have missed if you’re not part of the Kickstarter or my Patreon, is the yokai paintings that have been completed this month. I’ve been working my way through the sketches from this year’s A-Yokai-A-Day. Here’s what’s been done so far this month:





On a side note, I visited Kyoto on Thanksgiving, and I found an interesting sight. At Kiyomizu Temple there was a small shrine dedicated to removing curses. I took a few photos to share on the blog:

This is a kind of “curse disposal area.” If you suspect you’ve been cursed, you can write down your name and birthday on a paper doll and drop it into the water.

The paper dolls will slowly dissolve in the water, taking your curse with them! You may remember reading in The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits about this exact sort of thing. In old times, curse dolls would be tossed into rivers to purify them; today, with concerns about pollution, a water bucket is a much more eco-friendly solution!

Interestingly, that’s not the only curse-related area in the shrine. Check out this tree below:

See the holes in that tree? Any guesses what they were made from?

The god of this mini shrine will supposedly answer one prayer, no matter what it is. Consequently, many people have used their one prayer to curse people. According to the shrine, the holes on this tree are the scars left behind by nails and dolls, from people performing the Ushi no Koku Mairi!

I love visiting yokai-sites in real life. There’s something of a bridge between the supernatural and the real world at these locations, as well as a connection between past and present. I wonder who the people were who nailed into this tree? And who they were cursing, and why…

A-Yokai-A-Day: Hoko

Slipcases were made available on the Kickstarter project yesterday, and I am in the process of coming up with more slipcase designs for the other two hardcovers. In addition, more t-shirt and hoodie designs will be posted soon, so if you’re interested in yokai apparel, you have something to get excited about!

On to today’s yokai!

“evergreen lord; refers to the penghou”

Hoko, from the Wakan sansai zue

It is said that an old man once cut a camphor tree with an axe, and blood came out from the tree. Inside that tree lived a hōkō.

The hōkō comes from China and appears in a number of Chinese and Japanese chronicles. It is a nature spirit which inhabits 1000-year old trees. It resembles a black dog with no tail and a human-like face. Being a tree spirit, it is said to be similar to a kodama or a yamabiko, although Toriyama Sekien goes out of his way to specifically mention that it is a separate animal from the yamabiko. (Understandable, since it does resemble the yamabiko quite a bit.)

Hōkō are recorded as being edible; the ancient Chinese records that mention them include accounts of them being stewed and eaten. Apparently they taste sweet and sour, and similar to dog meat.

Toriyama Sekien’s hoko

Hōkō is the Japanese pronunciation of its Chinese name, Penghou, and thus does not translate perfectly into Japanese. Legends of the creature generally refer to it being found inside of camphor trees. However, the first characters in its name can refer to a different kind of evergreen: the sakaki (Cleyera japonica), which is an important sacred tree in Shinto. The second character in its name was used as a title for feudal lords. It’s not really clear that these were the intended meanings in the original Chinese though. Supposedly, its name was first recorded in the Hakutaku zu (“The Book of the Hakutaku”), a book written many thousands of years ago which has since been lost to history—so the true meaning of its name is difficult to decipher.

Hoko, from The Book of the Hakutaku

A-Yokai-A-Day: Shokuin

The Book of the Hakutaku has passed 1000% funding, and more stretch goals are being added. Today’s yokai, Shokuin, will be appearing in the book as one of the over 100 fully illustrated entries.

“torch shadow”

Shokuin as he appears in the Shan hai jing

Shokuin is an impressive beast. He originally comes from China, and was brought to Japan in the Sengaikyo (Chinese: Shanhaijing; “The Classics of the Mountains and Seas”), an encyclopedia of fantastical Chinese mythology. In China he is known as Zhuyin or Zhulong. (Shokuin is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters that make up Zhuyin.)

A lot of yokai were lifted from the Shanhaijing by authors like Toriyama Sekien—some of them more or less word for word, others undergoing a bit of a transformation and reinterpretation, depending on how much liberty the authors decided to take. Shokuin doesn’t undergo too much of a change from his original form.

Sekien describes Shokuin as a god who lives at the foot of Mount Shō, near the northern sea. He has the face of a human, and the body of a red dragon. His body is 1000 ri long (a ri is an ancient unit of measurement which varies quite a bit from age to age and place to place; and 1000 is a number which means “a whole lot,” so suffice it to say, Shokuin is big—at least a few thousand kilometers long).

Toriyama Sekien’s Shokuin

There’s a bit more information about him in the Shanhaijing which Sekien referenced. When Shokuin opens his eyes, it becomes daytime, and when he closes his eyes, it becomes night. When he breathes in it becomes summer, and when he breathes out it becomes winter. So not only is he big, but he is so big that he is responsible for the seasons and the days! He does not need to eat, drink, or breathe, but if he does breathe it causes huge storms.

Judging by his size and the unique side effects of his blinking and breathing altering the day/night and seasonal cycles, it seems that Shokuin was a personification of the sun, or at least a kind of solar or fire deity in ancient China. He appears in a number of other Chinese sources, but like all good mythology, there are contradictory “facts” about precisely where he lives and other details.

It has also been speculated that Shokuin is a deification of the aurora borealis. This makes sense when we consider that his home mountain is placed in the north sea, i.e. the Arctic circle. It’s also interesting to note that an ancient Chinese word for the aurora was “red spirit.” It’s easy to imagine the feelings an ancient explorer would have felt traveling far north and seeing the northern lights—a giant red line dancing back and forth across the sky. It’s only natural he might think it was a writhing red dragon thousands of kilometers long.

Shokuin, appearing in The Book of the Hakutaku