Japanese mythology, a mixture of animistic beliefs and sacred religion that mixes divinities with spirits and animals, has a macabre side that is reflected in a pantheon of demons, dragons, and monsters. Find out the most fascinating Japanese mythical creatures and their magical powers.
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Japanese mythology owns a rich universe of fantastic creatures halfway between animals and spirits. Most of them are Yokai (demons), whether as spirits, ghosts, monsters, or animals.
Yokai are stronger than humans and have magical powers that are often used for evil purposes. These Japanese mythical creatures live in forests, streams, houses, and fields, so be careful not to ever cross paths with one of them. Their weapons are deception and transformation.
Human beings cannot defeat a Yokai, but there are higher forces that can, such as taijiya (demon hunters) or Buddhist monks who fight the Yokai with Buddha's blessing. There are, however, a number of Yokai who are good and can live with humankind. There are even some Japanese mythical creatures known as semi-demons.
Below are the four Japanese mythical creatures that represent the cardinal points:
This Japanese mythical creature is a turtle with a coiled snake called Genbu represents the North and symbolizes the earth and winter. It is inspired by the black turtles of the north and, under the influence of Chinese religion, carries the value of honorability. Female turtles cannot mate with male turtles, but they can mate with snakes. Hence their shape.
However, in Japanese mythology, this fact caused the word 'turtle' to spread over time as a synonym for an unfaithful woman, and the value of honor began to lose its purity.
This Japanese myth involves Suzaku, which represents the South and would come to be like a version of the Phoenix bird linked to fire and summer. It is also the protector of the city of Kyoto and is the only Japanese sacred animal that gives its name to a constellation.
As a divine being, Suzaku was consolidated in the Japanese folklore by the influence of the Chinese tradition introduced in the Japanese mythology, like a great bird of vermilion color and a brilliant plumage that defends the city from the cardinal point of the south opening its jaws and throwing great balls of fire against the enemies.
During the Han Dynasty, the tiger was a sacred animal revered as the king of all beasts, and when Chinese tradition introduced its mythological universe into Japan, it came to represent one of the cardinal points, the West, like a great white tiger that symbolizes wind and autumn.
In addition to defending and protecting, the Byakko tiger guided good rulers in their decisions and their good deeds. Therefore, in addition to fierceness and strength, this great white tiger treasured the qualities of wisdom and justice.
It is the second dragon of the four sacred creatures of Japanese mythology, but unlike Suzaku, Seiryu is blue and represents the cardinal point of the East, water, and spring. It is revered in many parts of Japan and is reproduced in a large statue at the entrance to the temple of Kiyomizu.
In the same temple, there is a great source of water that according to popular beliefs is provided by this Japanese mythical creature itself, and it is recommended to drink its water once a year as a sign of worship to one of the four protectors of the city.
Japanese mythology, based on animistic tradition and belief in spirits, is full of fantastic creatures with animal-like appearance and magical powers. Many of them are Yokai (demons), and they produce fear and terror.
These kinds of Japanese spirits are incarnated in a demonic creature that absorbs the souls of women who died during childbirth. They also represent the mothers who left their children to die, making them a fearsome being hated by all.
It is one of the most feared Yokai and has its origin in the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons that during the Tokugawa dynasty collected all kinds of spirits and supernatural creatures. Among other Japenese mythical creatures, this compendium includes the legend of Ubume, in which a wandering spirit in the shape of a woman with a dead baby in her arms appears begging among passers-by before disappearing.
During ancient Japanese dynasties, it was common to bury humans alive under bridges, dams, and castles to appease the wrath of the gods and protect them from natural disasters. According to this Japanese legend, a mother and her son served as a sacrifice, and since then their spirit has tried to take revenge on humans.
With an ambiguous interpretation within Japanese mythology, in some regions, Shinigami is known as a positive being who accompanies the deceased on the journey to the afterlife, and in others, it is described as a terrifying being who induces humans to death.
Shinigami is the Japanese mythical creature that would be the equivalent to the Grim Reaper, but in this case, besides visiting the person when they have to die, they are in charge of provoking their death and deciding how they will die.
Since suicide is frequent in Japan, Shinigami has eventually been considered the spirit of suicide. In fact, the impact of this Japanese mythical creature role in the time of the death of people is such that Shinigami has inspired decisive characters in animes such as Death Note: in this case, the Shinigami is the being who dropped among mortals the notebook in which they would write the names of those who are going to die.
Moreover, the looks of the Shinigami is most disturbing, because it is described as an emaciated being formed only by skin and bones, with a demonic face, long white hair and two red horns emerging from the skull. They carry a small dagger in their mouth with which they cut people's lives.
The Japanese fox is one of the most popular and widespread Japanese mythical creatures, representing wisdom, experience and divinity. The particularity of these beings is that they increase their wisdom with age, so the older they are, the wiser. They are also more intelligent the more tails they have, reaching a total of nine.
According to Japanese mythology, these foxes may change their appearance, but they do not use it to deceive but to change themselves into faithful and friendly protectors. Kitsune are spirits that when they reach nine tails, around 1,000 years old, turn golden.
There are two types of Kitsune or Japanese foxes: the zenko, good or celestial foxes that act as emissaries of the god Inari, and the yako, or mischievous and malignant foxes. In ancient Japan, men used to live near foxes and attributed divine qualities to them.
Within the rich Japanese folklore, Kappa are one of the most important demons (Yokai) of Japanese mythology. Their appearance is like a frog the size of a child with a shell and the head of a turtle.
That's why Kappa live in streams and rivers. The powers of Kappa come from a cavity full of water that they have in their head and that is their source of life. They are very feared beings because they steal vegetables, harass women and kidnap children. In fact, Kappa are known because they love to kill children.
The only way to escape such terrible creatures is to show them fire or bow, as they are guided by the Japanese code of conduct. Kappa have as a virtue that they speak the Japanese language. Fun fact: They love cucumbers!
Tanuki are related to the Japanese raccoon and have large testicles and great magical powers. Their great power is to confuse and deceive the people of the forest by putting a magic leaf on their head to distort the reality and vision of others.
Thanks to a magic leaf, Tanuki becomes a beautiful woman and makes the disoriented walker believe that they're in a house in the middle of the forest. After a feast, people will fall asleep and wake up the next day with empty pockets.
The reputation of Tanuki as tricksters and merchant thieves is well known. Initially, they were deified as lord of all the elements of nature, but with the advent of Buddhism, they lost their divine character.
Halfway between spiders and the black widow, this terrifying spirit of ancient Japan has the body of a great arachnid that lives to be 400 years old and has magical powers that allow it to take the shape of an attractive woman to trick men and then kill and eat them.
According to Japanese mythology, Jorogumo lives in dark caves or in holes in the farthest corners of the woods, as she is essentially a demon with an appetite for solitude. However, they are dangerous beings when they are hungry, and when they come across humans, especially if young men, they do not hesitate to use their wiles.
Originally, Jorogumo was a woman who lived in the woods and attracted young men with the sound of her instruments. While they were hypnotized, this Japanese demon became a huge spider that immobilized the victim with silk threads and then devoured them. They are intelligent and cunning beings.
This is one of the best-known Japanese female names: Yuki-onna, the woman who leaves people frozen with her breath. She is another of the most fascinating mythological creatures in Japanese folklore. She lives in frozen areas and presents herself as a pale lady who appears when it snows and attracts disoriented walkers to turn them into pure ice when she throws her breath at them.
She is one of the most beautiful Japanese spirits and her origin is linked to a woman who died of hypothermia during a snowstorm. In the past, popular Japanese beliefs gave her an evil and deadly personality, but over the centuries her image has been softened and even in some places she is revered as a protector against snowstorms.
Another legend about Yuki-onna, much more macabre, says that in the middle of a storm she can appear in your house asking for shelter and, if you let her in, she kills you while you sleep. Some versions describe her as a bloodsucking vampire.