Nekomata (猫又) from the Hyakkai-Zukan (百怪図巻)

Popular Japanese Monsters

In Japanese folklore, yokai or “strange apparition” are a group of supernatural entities and spirits. With Halloween just around the corner, Japan is a natural at celebrating the event with as much pomp just like in the US. Tales of the macabre abound where ghostly ghouls, creepy crawlies, and supernatural spirits haunt the unbeknownst.

Here are some of Japan’s spooky creatures that you may bump into, not just on Halloween but on any night.Nekomata ねこまた from Bakemono no e (化物之繪, c. 1700), Harry F. Bruning Collection of Japanese Books and Manuscripts, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Nekomata ねこまた from Bakemono no e (化物之繪, c. 1700), Harry F. Bruning Collection of Japanese Books and Manuscripts, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Nekomata – a kind of cat yokai, nekomata are mentioned in Japanese and Chinese classic ghost stories, folklore, and essays. There are two different types of cat yokai, those that live in the mountains and domestic cats that have grown old and have turned into a supernatural being. Nekomata were frequently depicted in the Edo period books such as in the Hyakkai Zukan (published in 1737) where it includes an illustration of a nekomata in the form of a woman playing a shamisen.

Kawaya no Kami – known as the toilet god born from the excrement of the goddess Izanami. Kawaya no Kami is said to be the protector of those who use toilets. People honor him by keeping their toilets pristine and decorated. Sometimes, people even dine there to symbolize eating the food which was left by the god. Before using the toilet, people are also said to make their presence known by coughing because Kawaya no Kami is said to sometimes take the form of a blind man hiding at the bottom of the toilet and holding a spear.

Nuppeppo (an animated lump of decaying human flesh) from the Hyakkai-Zukan 日本語: 『百怪図巻』より「ぬつへつほう(ぬっぺふほふ)」

Nuppeppo (an animated lump of decaying human flesh) from the Hyakkai-Zukan
日本語: 『百怪図巻』より「ぬつへつほう(ぬっぺふほふ)」

Nuppeppo—an even more bizarre Japanese mythical creature is the nuppeppo, which appears to be an animated lump of human flesh and fats with a horrible body odor. This blob seems to have a face and some semblance of fingers and toes.

Nuppeppo are considered harmless and are thought to roam around empty streets at night, or in abandoned temples or cemeteries.

Mikaribaba (箕借り婆) – a supernatural creature whose stories originated from the Kantō region. Mikaribaba is depicted as a one-eyed old woman who would visit people’s homes each year on the 8th day of the 2nd month and the 8th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. It would borrow human eyes. People would avoid leaving their homes on these days. They would also practice leaving a bamboo basket (zaru) on a tip of a bamboo stick at the edge of the roof to make it appear that the stitches in the basket are eyes that would draw the Mikaribaba away from the people inside.