Nue is a legendary yōkai  or mononoke from Japanese Mythology. Appearing in the Heike Monogatari, it has the head of a monkey, the limbs of a tiger, the body of a Japanese Raccoon Dog and the front half of a snake for a tail.


The nue is one of the oldest yokai recorded, having its first appearance in the Kojiki (712 CE), an account of the early histories of Japan. It also appears in the Heian-period encyclopedia Wamyo Ruijusho (938 CE), and again in the Heike Monogatari (1371 CE), a record of one of Japan’s bloodiest civil wars and most tragic family clans. It has the head of a monkey, the body of a tanuki, the tail of a snake, and the limbs of a tiger. In ancient times it was thought to be a kind of nocturnal bird it’s call is supposed to sound like that of a White’s thrush and thus its name is written with a kanji that contains the meanings “night” and “bird.”



In the closing years of the Heian period, at the place where the emperor lived, the Seiryō-den,  appeared a cloud of black smoke along with an eerie resounding crying voice, making the Emperor quite afraid. Subsequently, the emperor fell into illness, and neither medicine nor prayers had any effect. They soon found out that this strange cloud of black smoke was a monster, the Nue. It was described as  "something that cries with the voice of a nue, its true nature unknown", and was not given a name. But nowadays, this particularly famous monster is usually identified as a "nue" although, originally, the nue were stated to be a bird that resembles the green pheasant, but their precise identity is unknown.

A close associate remembered Minamoto no Yoshiie using an arrow to put a stop to the mystery case of some bird's cry, and he gave the order to a master of arrows, Minamoto no Yorimasa, to slay the monster.
Kuniyoshi Taiba (The End)

Kyoto Nue Taibi, Utagawa Kuniyoshi,1852

One night, Yorimasa went out to slay the monster with his servant Ino Hayata using an arrow made from an arrowhead he had inherited from his ancestor Minamoto no Yorimitsu and the tailfeathers of a mountain bird. An uncanny black smoke started to cover the Seiryō-den. Yorimasa shot his arrow into it, there was a shriek, and a nue fell down around the northern parts of Nijō Castle. Instantly Ino Hayata seized it and finished it off. In the skies above the imperial court, two or three cries of the common cuckoo could be heard, and it is thus said that peace had returned. After this, the emperor's health instantly recovered, and Yorimasa was given the sword Shishiō as a reward.

The Nue's remains

There are several accounts of what was done to the nue's corpse. According to some legends, like the Heike Monogatari, as the people in Kyoto were fearful of the curse of the nue, they put its corpse in a boat and floated it down the Kamo River. After the boat floated down the Yodo River and temporarily drifted upon the shore of Higashinari County, Osaka, it then floated into the sea and washed up on the shore between Ashiya River and Sumiyoshi River. 

It is said that the people in Ashiya courteously gave the corpse a burial service, and built a commemorating mound over its tomb, the Nuezuka.The Settsu Meisho Zue states that "the Nuezuka is between Ashiya River and Sumiyoshi River."

According to the Ashiwake bune, a geography book from the Edo period, a nue drifted down and washed ashore on the Yodo River, and when the villagers, fearful of a curse, notified the head priest of Boon-ji about it, it was courteously mourned over, buried, and had a mound built for it. It is further said that as the mound was torn down at the beginning of the Meiji period, the vengeful spirit of the nue started tormenting the people who lived nearby, and so the mound was hastily rebuilt.

According to the Genpei Seisuiki and the Kandenjihitsu the nue was said to be buried at the Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto Prefecture, and it is said that a curse resulted from digging it up in the Edo period.