Takaonna – The Tall Woman

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

The takaonna (tall woman) is a yokai with an interesting hobby. If she is walking along, and sees a two-story brothel, she stretches the bottom half of her body so she can peek in on men enjoying the delights inside. It’s said that the takaonna was a homely woman who could never attract male companionship, changed into a yokai by her own desire.

Takaonna were first illustrated by Toriyama Seiken in his The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons (Gazu Hyakki Yagyo ). He drew a picture and a name, but with no story or explanation for the stretching yokai.

Folklorist Fujisawa Morihiko first recorded the story of the ugly woman peeking into brothel windows in his book Complete Discussions of Yokai (Yokai Gadan Zenshu), although he speculates that the local legends of the takaonna probably came from people seeing Toriyama’s illustration, then imagining a story to go along with it. Novelist Yamada Norio furthered the legend of the takaonna in his book Travels in the Weird Tales of Tohoku (Tohoku Kaidan no Tabi). Yamada tells of a woman consumed by jealousy and lust but too ugly to get a man, who then transforms into the takaonna and menaces anyone enjoying the pleasures of the flesh that she was denied.

There is a possible (but obscure) connection to a more horrible creature from Wakayama prefecture, a female demon called the takanyobo (tall wife).

It is said that the takanyobo was once the wife of Kijishi, a woodcutter of Kizaku village. She was a strong woman who would go and cut wood with him in the forest. He thought he was a lucky man to have such a wife, but she was actually a yokai. Kijishi was a successful woodcutter, and he always kept a servant. But the servant wouldn’t stay long. Over a year, Kijishi went through 30 servants. It was only when his own baby also disappeared that Kijishi discovered the truth at last—his yokai wife had eaten them all.

Kijishi confronted his wife and threw her into a well. He thought to let her die down there, but to Kijishi’s surprise she stretched the bottom half of her body right to the top of the well, then clambered out and made her escape into the night.

Translator’s Note:

The kanji for the tall woman is exactly what it says 高 (taka; tall) + 女(onna; woman). She is most likely an original creation of Toriyama Seiken, who apparently wasn’t feeling very creative because he didn’t give her a story. Fortunately the people of the Edo period filled in for him, and came up with a nice little urban legend based on his image.

I think the connections are obvious between the takaonna and the later kuchisake onna (split-mouth woman). Both yokai are urban legends more than folklore, both are hideously ugly women, and both have a grudge against the beautiful people they can never be, and the love (or sex) they can never share.

Further Reading

For more female yokai stories, you should read:

Bakeneko Yujo – The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo
Nure Onago – The Soaked Woman
The Long-Tongued Old Woman

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bill Ellis
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 17:19:50

    Interesting: in American legend-trip traditions, a female spook or bogie sometimes appears who comes to peek in the windows of couples parked on lovers’ lanes and watch them make out. In one such (associated with Walhalla Drive in Columbus, Ohio), when she appears, “the male becomes impotent or the girl just can’t get it on anymore” (Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults, p. 189).

    Reply

  2. Zack Davisson
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 11:22:53

    I love how you can always seem to find some Western equivalent! Is there any story behind the Lover’s Lane peeker, or just an urban legend like the takaonna?

    Reply

  3. Blue Satan
    Nov 23, 2012 @ 15:38:18

    Oh, such a nice and interesting legend! Every day i discover a new yokai especies!

    Reply

  4. Blue Satan
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 03:29:26

    One question… Do you accept requests of yokai? If that´s the case, i would like you to make posts of some yokai like Satori, Hashihime and Haku Taku!!

    Reply

  5. Zack Davisson
    Nov 24, 2012 @ 12:32:41

    I am more than happy to take requests! I have a couple that I am planning to do, but then I will get to your list.

    Reply

  6. Blue Satan
    Nov 25, 2012 @ 22:52:08

    One more thing: I`ll like to add the Yokai Nue to my list, that will remain this way:
    -Satori
    -Hashihime
    -Haku Taku
    -Nue
    Thank you one more time!

    Reply

  7. angrygaijin
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 23:10:25

    Sheesh, yeah… All the good female woodcutters turn out to be yokai or something.

    ^_^/

    Reply

    • Zack Davisson
      Dec 12, 2012 @ 20:11:37

      If there is one thing I have learned about Japanese folklore–whenever you encounter a strange or beautiful woman in the forest (or the ocean, or the river, etc … ) run away! She is most likely a yokai.

      Reply

  8. Xeaoring
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 09:08:26

    Evening. I have a question, I’ve seen a variation of this called Hasshaku-sama. She’s apperantly eight feet tall and wears a white dress and hat. She stalks children and kidnaps them, but I haven’t been able to find more info than that. I was hoping you had more details.

    Reply

  9. Zack Davisson
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 09:24:22

    Hasshaku-sama is not a traditional yokai. She is an internet meme that comes from the 2Chan boards. You have pretty much listed all the details about her right there. There isn’t much more to tell.

    Reply

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