Yōkai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons from Japanese folklore. The word 'Yōkai' is made up of the kanji for "bewitching"; "attractive"; "calamity;" and "spectre"; "apparition"; "mystery"; "suspicious".
They can also be called ayakashi (妖?), mononoke (物の怪?), or mamono (魔物?). Yōkai range eclectically from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them.
There are a wide variety of yōkai in Japanese folklore. In general, yōkai is a broad term and can be used to encompass, virtually, all monsters and supernatural beings, including creatures from European folklore on occasion.
Many indigenous Japanese animals are thought to have magical qualities. Most of these are henge (変化?), which are shapeshifters that often appear in human form, mostly women. Some of the better known animal yōkai include the following:
- Tanuki (demonic raccoon dogs)
- Kitsune (demonic foxes)
- Hebi (demonic snakes)
- Mujina (demonic badgers)
- Bakeneko (demonic cats)
- Tsuchigumo and jorōgumo (demonic spiders)
- Inugami (demonic dogs)
One of the most well-known aspects of Japanese folklore is the oni, which has the traits of demons and ogres, usually depicted with red, blue, brown or black skin, two horns on its head, a wide mouth filled with fangs, and wearing nothing but a tigerskin loincloth. It often carries an iron kanabo or a giant sword. Oni are depicted as evil.
A goblin from Japanese mythology that has several supernatural powers and skills in martial arts, the tengu were originally extremely dangerous demons and enemies of Buddhism. Over centuries, their behavior changed from spirits of the damned to active defenders of Dharma.
Tsukumogami are an entire class of yōkai and obake, comprising ordinary household items that have come to life on the one-hundredth anniversary of their birthday. This virtually unlimited classification includes:
- Bakezōri (straw sandals)
- Biwa-bokuboku (a lute)
- Burabura (a paper lantern)
- Karakasa (old umbrellas)
- Kameosa (old sake jars)
- Morinji-no-kama (tea kettles)
- Mokumokuren (paper screens with eyes)
There are a large number of yōkai who were originally ordinary human beings, transformed into something horrific and grotesque usually during an extremely emotional state. Women suffering from intense jealousy, for example, were thought to transform into the female oni represented by hannya masks.
Other examples of human transformations or humanoid yōkai are:
- Rokuro-kubi (humans able to elongate their necks during the night)
- Ohaguro-bettari (a figure, usually female, that turns to reveal a face with only a blackened mouth)
- Futakuchi-onna (a woman with a voracious extra mouth on the back of her head)
- Dorotabō (the risen corpse of a farmer, who haunts his abused land)
Some yōkai are extremely specific in their habits, for instance:
- Azukiarai (a yōkai who is always found washing azuki beans)
- Akaname (only found in dirty bathrooms and spends its time licking the filth left by the untidy owners)
- Tofu Kozo (a small monk who carries a plate with a block of tofu)