This page describes some animals/critters/races that appears in Japanese Legends.
Of course, legends varies from place to place. A legend describes a monster very different from that another legend says. Descriptions on this page is ONE of such legends.
Oni is the Japanese roughly equivalent to western demonic ogre.
Their physical manifestation is huge, muscline, fanged, horned like a bull, with red, blue or black skin. Their body are unbelievably tough. Even disembodied a limb, it reconnects and heals instantly. An oni usually have a kanabo, a large spiked iron bar, which is very destructive weapon when an oni wield it. Some Legends say oni hates soybeans, but some others say not.
Oni are considered to be highly intelligent. It is said oni can transfrom into a woman to hide their true form. Though their homeworld is Jigoku (the Hell), some oni are found in this world, and a few are living in cities hiding their identity. They are love to eat human meat.
It is also said that one with an extreme anger will transform into a oni. There are many folklore that a woman with fierce jealousy became a hannya, a female oni.
There are many legends in which heroes challenge dreadful oni and slay them.
The tengu is a supernatural race far more powerful than human, considered as the spirit of mountains.
There are several types of tengu, such as:
- Daitengu, or "major tengu"
- Kurama Tencu, or "tengu of Mt.Kurama"
- Karasu Tengu, "kotengu" or "minor tengu"
Daitengu, the most typical tengu, is described as a tall man with very tall nose and red face (The tall nose is considered as the symbol of tengu).
Though they have no wing, they can fly.
They wear a pair of geta (Japanese wooden sandals), carrying a magic fan made of bird feather that can make a hellish tornade.
Many legends describe tengu wearing yamabuse (Japanese mountain monks) costume. Some legends say that fallen yamabuse become daitengu.
Karasu tengu is another common tengu. A karasu tengu is rather small, with a head and wings of black crow. They serve to daitengu.
It is said that tengu don't want human society to become stable and powerful, so they intervene to evoke war and civil disorder.
Some people say that the history of Japan have been manipulated by tengu.
Tengu often encourage and help the people to fight against the ruler. A legend says Mitamoto-no-Yoshitsune, a national hero in 10th century, was trained by kurama tengu in his childhood.
Kappa is a malign water spirit living in the river.
A kappa looks like a bit more dreadful version of Mutant Ninja Turtles, with green scaled skin and a flat head.
It is believed that they steal someone's shirokodama (a bowel) and kill him.
They are very powerful, and very fond of Sumo (Japanese wrestling). A Kappa often challenges his victim to play sumo.
They also love to eat cucumber very much, and that is why cucumber sushi is called "Kappa-maki."
Their weakness is dehydration. Their head must be always kept wet, or they die.
Fujin / Raijin
Fujin is the god of wind, and Raijin is a the god of thunder, who are depicted in Chinese legends. Both are thought to live above the crowds.
Fujin is usually depicted as a muscled man with a big cloth sack, which is filled with numerous winds. When he opens his sack, a blast of wind blows.
Raijin is usually depicted as a muscled man with a series of drums around him, with which he made the rumbling of thunder.
Raijin looks like a Oni, and the two are often confused.
A legend of Chinese Buddhism says that the two gods were originally evil demons opposed Budda. So Budda ordered his army of heaven to capture the two demons. After a severe battle between demons and 33 gods, demons were caputered finally. They have been working for the heaven since then.
The kamaitachi is a monster of weasel with keen sickles, which gashes its victim with an extreme swiftness. The word kama means "sickle," and itachi means "weasel."
It is said that three kamaitachi join a team and assult its victim. The first kamaitachi knocks down the victime, the second one gashes, and the third one heals the wound. The gash wounded by kamaitachi is deep, but bleeds very little. Kamaitachi is so swifty that none can see its true form.
Nowadays scientists think that kamaitachi is the vaccume bubble created in the air. When someone touches such a bubble, his skin and muscle break to form a deep gash.
It was widely believed that certain wild animals transformed themselves into human and play trick on people. Such animals are called henge. Among wild animals, kitsune (fox) and tanuki (racoon dog) were the masters of transform arts. There are numerous folklores about kitsune and tanuki.
A kitsune usually transforms into a woman, and seduce a male. She can breed with a human male. A tanuki transforms into a man, often a priest, or an artifact, and play trick on people. Most of them are in mountains, so hunters and woodsmen are the primary victims. They can cast a illusion to turn leaves into money bills, horse excrements into a dinner, and so on. But often their transformation is not complete, and a careful wise man can find their tails in their back.
A Tanuki are also called Mujina in some district. Thus these two are the same species. There is a court decision that the two are same about a hundred years ago. A new law restricted to hunt tanuki, and a hunter claimed that he was hunting not tanuki but mujina. Unfortunately, he lose.
The Gaki is a race appearing in Buddhist preaches.
When somebody died, he is reborn as another creature, in another world. There are six courses for rebirth below.
- Reborn as another man/woman in this world
- Reborn as an animal in this world
- Ascend to the paradise, called Gokuraku
- Fall to the hell, called Jigoku
- Reborn as a shura, suffering endless battles
- Reborn as a gaki
For example, he will fall to the hell if his life is full of crime. And, he will reborn as a gaki in the world called gakido if he dissipated foods in his life.
In the world gakido, gaki suffer from endless hunger and thirst. There are very little foods and water Gaki never killed from hunger. They continue to hunger, and their hunger never be satisfied. They eat everything they can, even their children. This is the punishment for those who wasted precious foods.
It is said that a gaki wanders to this world sometimes. Though he would eat everything, he prefers human flesh and blood especially. Such a gaki is considered as a ghoul-like monster. Of course they are as intelligent as a normal man.
A gaki is described as a very thin, only-bone-and-skin man.
A konaki jiji is a monster that can manipulate its own weight. It takes the form of a small baby with a face of an ugly old man, and lie by a road to wait for a victim. When the victim picks the baby up, it starts crying. As it cries, its weight increases more and more. Finally its enormous weight crashes the victim.
The name konaki jiji means "an old man crying like a baby."
A Nurikabe is a huge invisible wall that blocks a passenger on a road or an array. When you don't reach your destination though you have been walking for longer time than usual, it must be blamed to nurikabe.
It is said that sometimes nurikabe manifests its visible form. It looks like a huge stone wall with pairs of small legs and arms.
A Ittan-momen looks like a long white cloth flaring in the are. It frighten people by appearing suddenly in the night, and suffocate the victim by wrapping the mouth and the nose with itself.
Ittan is a Japanese old unit of cloth length. The word momen means "cotton."
A shikigami, or simply Shiki, is a familiar of Onmyo-Shi .
A shikigami is conjured by a Onmyo-shi. Its ability is defined by its master's ability.
A shikigami looks like a small oni , though it can change its form into an animal or a bird.
A shikigami of a powerful Onmyo-shi can possess and manipulate an animal. One of a really powerful Onmyo-shi can possess a person. So it is very useful to assassinate someone.
However, a shikigami is also very dangerous for its summoner. A shikigami often escapes the control of its master, goes berserk and kills him.
When a Onmyo-shi battles another Onmyo-shi, he send his shikigami. If the opposite Onmyo-shi detects the shikigami assassin, he can turn it with his magical power. The turned shikigami attacks its original master with doubled strength. This is called Shikigami Gaeshi.
Abe-no-Seimei is known as the most powerful Onmyo-shi in the history. Legends say that he had twelve shikigami, though an average Onmyo-shi could hardly have two shikigami simultaneously.
The Shachihoko is a Chinese sea monster, which consists of tiger's head and fish's body. Its body is covered with poisonous stings. It can transform into a tiger when it gets to shore.
A shachihoko is usually swimming near the mouse of a whale. It is watching the whale to keep the law of sea, "a whale may not eat large fish but only small fish." If the whale eat a large fish, the shachihoko will get in its mouse and bite its tongue to kill.
In medieval Japan, fuedal castle-carpenters put a pair of shachihoko statues on the top of castle's roof, just like a gargoyle. Two golden shachihoko of Nagoya castle are very famous.
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Copyright © 1998-2006 Phillip Riley
Last Updated Sat Aug 11, 2007