Japanese character, Youkai

Japanese traditional culture

Hello, it’s Yuko!

In the old days, Japanese people used to listen to scary ghost stories and get chills on their spines in order to survive the hot summer.

I hate ghost stories because I’m scared! However, there is “Youkai” that is likely to be confused with the ghost.

Youkai is one of the popular cultures in Japan which interests foreigners. Today, I would like to talk about the youkai!

Definition of Youkai

What is Youkai?

Youkai are monsters that are depicted as symbols of strange phenomena that go beyond human power and common sense, and things that cannot be helped by our own power. Youkai are sometimes called “Mononoke”.

It has long been believed that God dwells in everything in Japan. In that thought, negative events and existence were considered as the work of youkai. Youkai were considered as one side of the same coin with God.

Now that idea has faded, youkai are recognized as a kind of character and are popular among children.

Difference between Ghost and Youkai

A ghost is the spirit of a dead person or the soul of a person who could not become a Buddhahood. In other words, Japanese ghosts are, in principle, a change of “people.”

Ghosts often appear in a frightening and eerie form, as they appear to relieve unrequited thoughts, reviews, and grudges. Also, ghosts only appear in front of the person who made the regret and the people involved.

On the other hand, youkai are often drawn with a slightly comical character, and are characterized by their charm. It is often involved in people’s lives and appears in front of an unspecified number of people.

Shigeru Mizuki, a leading youkai manga writer

How youkai spread

Youkai have a long history in Japan and appear in Japan’s oldest book, “Kojiki”.

However, many Japanese in the old days had a low literacy rate, and it was common to hear information about youkai by word of mouth.

The literacy rate of Japanese people increased dramatically in the Meiji era, and it was only recently that information about youkai became widely recognized and familiar to the general public.

Among them, Shigeru Mizuki is said to be the leading writer in youkai manga. Shigeru Mizuki is the creator of a youkai manga called “GeGeGe no Kitaro”.

About Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki was born in Osaka and raised in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture. At Sakai Port, many stone statues of youkai appearing in “GeGeGe no Kitaro” are displayed in the city.

He was late for school in his childhood, slept during class, fought a lot etc., and always had a self-paced personality. Even after he got a job as an adult, he was too self-paced and got dismissed many times.

The misery of the war he experienced when he was convened in World War II changed his outlook on life. He also he lost his left hand in the war.

Meanwhile, he deepened exchanges with the Tolai people, the indigenous people of the battlefield, and remembered his way of life as a human being.

After the end of the war, after returning to Japan, he worked as a manga artist, but it did not become popular, and at the age of 45, he finally became a popular writer with “GeGeGe no Kitaro”.

Masterpiece, Gegege no Kitaro

“GeGeGe no Kitaro” is a story in which the main character, Kitaro, and his fellow youkai fight against bad hostile youkai, and there are many stories that complete one episode.

It is no exaggeration to say that it is the first youkai manga that has spread the image of youkai to the world. “GeGeGe no Kitaro” has a charming and unique character, so please read it.

Famous Yokai

Japan’s Three Great Yokai


Oni are youkai that have frequently appeared in stories and traditional performing arts since ancient times. It usually has horns growing from its head and is shaped like a gold rod.


Tengu that is said to live in the mountains. His face is red, his nose is high, and he usually has a fan. He can fly around in the air and play tricks on humans, but he is often portrayed as a relatively good youkai.


Kappa lives on the waterside such as rivers. The whole body is green, there is a “dish” on the head, and there is a webbing on the hands. His favorite food is cucumber and he is good at sumo. If the “dish” on his head dries or cracks, he will die.


Ittan momen

Ittan momen is a white cloth youkai that flies in the sky and wraps around the enemy’s face and neck to hold its breath and kidnap children. “Ittan” is a unit that expresses the size of the cloth required to make one kimono, and is about 37 cm wide and about 12.5 m long. “Momen” refers to cotton fabric.

Zashiki warashi

It’s a youkai in a tatami room (Japanese-style room), about 5 or 6 years old. He mischiefs the owner of the house. There are legends that if people can see zashiki warashi their family members can be happy and rich.


A youkai with a monkey face, a raccoon dog body, tiger limbs, and a snake tail. In the Heian period, Nue often appeared and threatened the emperor with an eerie cry, so many Nue exterminations were carried out.


A youkai with a height of about 3m and a weight of 1 ton that stands in front of the opponent and obstructs passage. When fighting, he can fall down on the enemy and crush them, or he can stand up and protect his friends.

A youkai with a cuteness that you can’t hate. Did you have a favorite youkai?

A fantasy creature, youkai, who has been involved in Japanese life for a long time. If you look at the anecdotes of youkai, you can get a glimpse of Japanese life, thoughts, and trends.

In modern times, it is also a character loved by people, such as “GeGeGe no Kitaro” and “Yokai Watch” that was popular among children a while ago.

I have been to Mizuki Shigeru Road before. The stone statues and bronze statues of youkai that appear in places throughout the city were loved by people. I hope this column will lead to your interest in youkai.


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