[Top 15] Japanese Mythology Creatures And What They're Famous For

Top Japanese mythological creatures
Japanese monsters or Yokai

15. Kappa


Japanese summers are infamously hot and sometimes the beckoning call of a glistening cool riverbed might just be too great a temptation to resist! However, best refrain from taking a dive because surely the kappa is lurking, waiting for you to just get a little too close and...SPLASH! The Kappa will drag you to your watery grave, never to be seen again! Somewhat a cross between a turtle and a monkey, this is one scaly encounter you best avoid!

Kappa are best known for…

  • On top of their heads, they have a hollow plate that stays full of water while they are on land. If they bow too far forward, the water will spill and they will be forced to serve your bidding!
  • For some reason, Kappas are said to love cucumbers… If you ever suspect an angry Kappa in nearby waters, offer a cucumber and make a friend for life!


14. Tengu

Kyoto Tours Japan

The Tengu, literally translated as a “sky dog”, can be equal parts mischievous and equal parts helpful. That is of course depending on their mood! Characterized by their long red nose, monk robes, and powerful yet tiny wings, Tengu are thought to be the inhibitors of the mountains and choose to bring chaos and trouble to travelers simply for the fun of it!

Tengu are best known for…

  • When elephants were first introduced to Japan, unsure what to call the strange creature many referred to them as Tengu given that they both were characterized by a long nose.
  • In Japanese, if you are arrogant, people will call you a Tengu as the creature is said to look down on humans, hence their enjoyment of causing trouble!


13. Oni

Sessen Doji Offering His Life to an Ogre (Japanese Oni), hanging scroll, color on paper, c. 1764

Perhaps one of the most feared monsters in all the land of the rising sun, the Oni is a brutish beast towering at over 3 meters tall and is typically said to wear the skin of a tiger as a loincloth as their only form of garb. The Oni can be red, blue, or even white and is said to be of short temper, solving problems with a large iron bat rather than with its brain!

Oni are Best Known For…

  • Getting caught by an Oni is not going to end well! That’s why in Japanese, the game of tag is called Oni goko or “acting like an Oni”! Players must run from the Oni like their life depends on it!
  • The Japanese holiday of Setsubun is dedicated to warding off terrifying Oni through a bean throwing ceremony! Every year on Setsubun, Japanese families throw beans and chant “Out with the Oni, in with the good luck!”


12. Kitsune

The moon on Musashi Plain (fox) by Yoshitoshi

While just a regular fox may not sound like such a mythological creature, in Japan it is believed that foxes or “Kitsune” hold special magical powers and can even transform into humans! Kitsune love to use this power to play tricks and prank unsuspecting humans and so if you feel like someone you know is acting just a little bit off, it might just be a Kitsune looking for a bit of fun!

Kitsune are best known for…

  • It is said that with age a Kitsune grows wiser and for every 100 years a Kitsune lives, it grows an extra tail. However, the lifespan of a Kitsune is less than 1,000 years and so the maximum number of tails a Kitsune will ever have is always nine or less.
  • Kitsune are renowned to take the form of beautiful women and live the lives of humans! However, it is said that if a Kitsune gets careless or perhaps indulges in some alcohol, their tail will pop right out and give them away!


11. Rokuro Kubi

Rokurokubi from the Hokusai Manga by Katsushika Hokusa

Imagine waking up to see your head already halfway out the door! Welcome to the life of a Rokurokubi; a yokai that by day appears to be just an average woman but at night, her head stretches incredible lengths and wanders the city searching for mischief or even sometimes revenge! 

Rokurobi are best known for…

  • Unlike most Japanese yokai, Rokurokubi are born humans and are often transformed by magic or a curse into this frightening state!
  • The favorite food of the Rokurobi is thought to be lamp oil. In many legends, some women cursed to be a Rokurokubi actually may not realize that they are indeed one and the first telltale sign is that the oil in their home is always depleted in the morning!


10. Aka Manto

An artist's depiction of Aka Manto

Using a public bathroom is never a pleasant experience for anyone but to sit down and realize that a ghost was haunting your toilet? Aka Manto hides in the last stall of public or school toilets and when the victim sits down, he will ask you to make a choice between red or blue toilet paper. Red, and he’ll slash you until you are drenched red in your own blood! Blue, and he’ll strangle you to death until you turn blue! Not the most considerate fellow when it comes to bathroom privacy now is he?

Aka Manto is best known for…

  • So what happens if you try to outsmart Aka Manto by saying a color other than red or blue? If you say a color such as yellow, Aka Manto will become enraged and drag you down to the underworld through, you guessed it, the toilet!
  • It is said that the only way to beat Aka Manto is to simply reject his offer of red or blue paper when offered. If ignoring him is all it takes, maybe in reality all he ever wanted was attention after all?


9. Obariyon

A history of Japan

Imagine walking through the forest when a cute little sprite calls out to you and playfully jumps on your back. Sounds harmless right? It is of course until the devilish Obariyon begins gradually expanding itself until it gets big enough to crush you alive! Best to free yourself, or better kill it while it’s still small and cute. Or else before you know it it’ll be too heavy for you to even take a single step!

Obariyon are best known for…

  • In some versions of the story, Obariyon are invisible to the naked eye and so if you feel like it’s getting harder and harder to move, it might just be the little bugger trying to get the jump on you!
  • In Niigata dialect, Obariyon means “give me a piggyback ride”! It is said that if you are successful in making it all the way home without being crushed to death, then you will surely receive a large fortune as a reward!


8. Yamauba

Classic depiction of a Yamauba by Edo Period artist, Sawaki Suuji

Yamauba or “mountain crones'' take on a variety of different roles throughout Japanese mythology. In some legends, the Yamauba will help travelers along their way and will offer rewards if heroes do them favors. In other legends, they seek only chaos and will attack those that venture to close. In any version of events, however, it is universally agreed that they are U-G-L-Y! However best not to mention that to their face!

Yamauba are best known for…

  • In some stories, it is said that the Yamauba have a second mouth at the top of their head and will go after the young and beautiful! In one legend in particular, a Yamauba even attempted to eat an infant out of jealousy of his youth and flawless skin!
  • Yamauba are created when young girls are accused of a crime and sent into exile. Over the years, they become bitter and their malice transforms them into the mountain witches of legend.


7. Amanojaku

A picture of "Amanojaku" by Jippensha Ikku

A kind of small Oni, Amanojaku is an instigator and brings out the darkest, most evil nature of its victims. Throughout history, Amanojaku are thought to have been the cause of many wars because they bring out the worst in people and encourage humans to take the path of the most violence under any circumstance.

Amanojaku are best known for…

  • In the famous story Urikohime, an Amanojaku kills Princess Uriko and fools her parents into thinking that he is her by wearing her skin. The parents then arrange a marriage between the false princess and a wealthy nobleman's son. However, on the day of the wedding, a crow alerts the family of the Amanojaku's presence and he is beaten to a pulp.
  • Amanojaku is very stubborn and refuses to do what people say. One way to defeat the Amanojaku is to tell it to do something and surely it will do the opposite.


6. Tanuki

Hayao Miyazaki’s interpretation of the Tanuki in Pom Poko

Much like the Kitsune, the Tanuki is another Japanese animal that exists in real life, but is accepted to possess magical powers like a spirit! The Tanuki, or raccoon dog in English, is like the Kitsune in that it can transform its physical form to become anything from a dog, a log, or even another human! However, unlike the Kitsune, the Tanuki’s true goal in doing so is simply just to make others feel and look stupid! Not very nice now is it!

Tanuki are best known for…

  • Tanuki need to place a leaf atop their head in order to transform. Additionally, One of the more unusual traits of the Tanuki is the large and malleable testicles that the Tanuki will often transform to become things such as drums, boats, weapons, or even a parachute if in need.
  • Tanuki have addictive natures which is why they are encouraged not to take the form of humans for too long. In many cases, Tanuki have been known to become addicted to alcohol, tobacco, or even gambling which is never a good habit to pick up on!


5. Jorōgumo

Jorōgumo from the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō by Toriyama Sekien.

The Jorōgumo is born when a golden orb spider reaches the age of around 400 years and transforms into a beautiful woman. Living secluded solitary lives, the Jorōgumo builds her nest in abandoned places such as caves and old houses and lures her prey back to her web. The favored prey of Jorōgumo is young men in search of love and upon falling in love with the arachnid temptresses, will follow her back to her lair only to be bound by spider silk before being eaten alive!

Jorōgumo are best known for…

  • The Jorōgumo relishes the pain of her victims which is why before chowing down on the men she catches, she will poison them with a weak venom so that she can watch them suffer slowly as they waste away in her web.
  • The Jorōgumo can control all other spiders, even spider demons that can breathe fire or shoot acid lest a hero seeks to put an end to the Jorōgumo’s heinous rein.


4. Nurikabe

Nurikabe (ぬりかべ) from Bakemono no e (1700)

Ever feel like no matter which way you go, there is always something blocking your path? The Nurikabe is a large wall-like yokai that will mysteriously appear in the middle of the night to block a traveler’s path. Go right, he goes right. Go left, he goes left. The dance will carry on until either he gets bored or you figure out how to defeat him!

Nurikabe are best known for…

  • Despite being invisible, the Nurikabe is incredibly strong and will not budge no matter how hard you push! So how to get around? Find a stick and start tapping the ground in front of him. This should scare him off and you can carry on your merry way!
  • In modern pop culture, the Nurikabe is actually the direct inspiration for the Thwomp in the Super Mario series!


3. Yatagarasu

A Yatagarasu Tarrot Card

Yatagarasu is a three-legged crow and is the messenger and confidant of the goddess of the sun Amaterasu. According to some of Japan’s oldest legends, Yatagarasu led the first emperor of Japan through the mountains to where he would be able to establish the sunrise kingdom of Japan. Throughout history, Yatagarasu has also helped countless heroes and leaders discover sacred sites, find hidden truths, and uncover the weakness of savage enemies. A friend and a sign that your path is of virtue, Yatagarsu is one crow you always want to have around!

Yatagarasu is best known for…

  • Yatagarasu also appears in Chinese and Korean lore as well. In both cultures, he is depicted as symbolizing the sun and is greatly respected and venerated.
  • While crows are typically regarded with wariness and suspicion in the west, on account of Yamagarasu, seeing crows in Japan is actually thought of as a good omen and a sign that fortune is coming your way!


2. Shīsā

Shīsā at Shuri Castle

Further south than the majority of the monsters on this list, the Shīsā is a lion dog hailing from the beautiful islands of Okinawa! Fiercely loyal to their owner and their cause, the Shīsā sits outside temples, palaces, and grand estates in order to protect those inside from evil spirits and bad fortune! In addition to being fierce protectors and warriors, they also make exceptional friends that will continue to guard the lineage of their masters even after their masters pass away.

Shīsā are best known for…

  • Temples tend to feature Shīsā in sets of two. The male will have his mouth open to frighten away unwanted visitors and the female will have her mouth closed to keep in good fortune!
  • The Shīsā has various forms and names not just all over Japan, but all over the world! Shīsā lion dogs can be seen guarding important buildings, shrines, and palaces all over China, Korea, Vietnam, and even Egypt!



Drawing of a kirin (qilin) by Kanō Tannyū, 1666

Kirin are best known for…

  • In the popular Japanese anime film Princess Mononoke, the Kirin is one of the direct inspirations for the Deer god “Forest Spirit” as its face remains uncannily peaceful and it will only make itself known in peaceful times.
  • When the Japanese first encountered giraffes, they were thought to be so strange that they must be the creatures from the myths, hence in Japanese the word for giraffe is “Kirin”.

Settled deep into the reticent mountains of Northern Japan, Alex's love for storytelling perhaps was born from his core yearn for adventure.
Gamer Since: 2006
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