Zashiki Warashi

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Yokai Daihyakka

Zashiki warashi are a yokai from the Tohoku region of Japan.  They live in the rafters of ceilings or in old storehouses.  One of the mysteries of zashiki warashi is that they always take the appearance of small children, and never of adults.

In Iwate prefecture, zashiki warashi are said to appear in many of the local Elementary schools, and play with the children.  At nine o’ clock, dressed in a white kimono, the zashiki warashi slip through cracks in the door and play around between the desks and chairs, having a great time.  Of course, only the children can see the zashiki warashi as they romp around the classroom.

Also, about a hundred years ago in Tokyo, zashiki warashi were said to live in the storehouse of a man named Umehara Sotoku.  Whenever any human went into the storehouse they would suddenly be overcome by the need to urinate and would have to flee running from the storehouse.  It was said that this was due to the presence of the zashiki warashi.    Also, sometimes at night the sound of something striking a metal pole could be heard.

One year, there was a fire near that house and the flames rapidly spread.   The family was busy bringing the furniture out of the house when a child that no one knew was seen running out of the storehouse and helped carry the furniture into the cellar for safekeeping.   Even though they tried, no one got a good look at his face.  When all of the goods and people were safely in the cellar, the door was shut tight but the small boy was no were to be seen.

That old storehouse was nothing special, the kind that could be found anywhere.  But high up on the shelf that was used to store charcoal there was a box about 15 by 16 centimeters that no one ever touched.  Most likely that was the home of the zashiki warashi.

The old storehouse did eventually burn down in a fire in the middle of the Meiji period, and from then on the zashiki warashi was never seen or heard from again.  I wonder where it went?

Further Reading:

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On Zashiki Warashi


Yokai of the House

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Yokai Daihyakka

 Shiryo – The Dead Spirit

Shiryo are the spirits of those who died and did not receive the proper respect after death.  From this, they change to become a form of yokai.

In the forty-nine days following death, if a family does not visit the grave, or set tea in remembrance before the family Buddhist altar,  instead of moving on to become a protective ancestor spirit the dead soul will return as a grudge-bearing Shiryo


Long ago in Kashima district in Noto (Modern day Ishikawa prefecture), when the bells sounded on New Year’s Eve to ring in the coming of the new year, the Amamehagi came creeping dowm from the mountains.

If they found any children out after dark, the Amamehagi would strip the skin from the children’s feet and wear them as shoes.

Needless to say, in those olden times all the children of Noto went to bed early on New Year’s Eve.

Funa Yurei

Translated from Nihon no Obake Banashi

Long ago, it was said that when a boat put out to sea on New Year’s Eve it was sure to catch the eyes of funa yurei.

Funa yurei are said to be the souls of drowning victims.  Bitter and wrathful towards the living, they rise up from the bottom of the sea to attack boats.

One time, at Mizushimanada in the Seto Inland Sea (West of modern day Okayama prefecture) a lone boat crossed the water heavy with goods for the New Year’s festival.  Due to the nature of its cargo, the boat had no choice but to cross on New Year’s Eve and was now being tossed about by the white-capped waves.

“What, do you fear to go sailing on New Year’s Eve?  Are we boatmen to have our livelihoods ended out of fear of the funa yurei?  The sky may be black as ink without a star in sight, but the wind is favorable and if we hold our course steady we will at be back home before we even left!”

Cheering themselves up in this manner, the boatsmen continued along the pitch-black sea.  For a time, everything was good. Their sales were full of wind, and they were traveling so fast it was as if they were flying over the water.  But suddenly the skies opened up, and a hammering rain began to fall.

“Damn!  This is some pretty bad stuff coming down on us…”

The boatsmen didn’t stop their work for evne a moment, and kept the boat steady on as the violence of the rain increased.  Suddenly, the boat ground to a halt as if something had moved up behind it and grabbed itl  The wind fell to a dead calm.

“What just happened?  Where is our wind?”

Then, just as suddenly, they were blasted by a fierce breeze that seemed to have come straight from the heart of winter.

“Everyone!  Push us ahead!  Heave to those oars!”

To the shock of the boatsmen, the boat held its ground, frozen to the spot as if it had set down roots.

“Wha…what is that?”

From deep under the water, something was drifting up towards the boat.  It looked almost like floating balls of cotton.

“No!…it can’t be!”

The white shapes moved relentlessly upwards, increasing in size as they approached.  The boatsmen could see them now; wrapped in kimonos as white as snow, their hair floated wildly in the water.   From below there was a ghastly light illuminating their faces.  There was no doubt these were the dreaded funa yurei.

“Lend us a hishaku…lend us a spoon…”

Their ghostly hands stretched up from the waves, and their voices carried their bitter grudge toward the living.

It is known that, if you should find yourself in such a situation and overcome by fear you actually had over the hishaku spoon they are requesting, then you are as good as dead.  Before your eyes, the single hishaku spoon will split into multiple spoons, and arms beyond you ability to count will stretch out from the ocean.

“Ei ya!  Ei ya! Ei ya!”

Singing their loathsome song with voices filled with hate, the funa yurei will ladle water from their infinite spoons until you boat is swamped.  And if this is not enough to sink your boat, they will reach up and drag it to the bottom of the ocean.  How many hundred of ships have been sunk in this manner?

“No no no…not to you…we will never lend you a spoon!”

But these boatsmen, shivering so badly they could barely hold their oars, refused absolutely and pulled the water with all their strength. This did not discourage the funa yurei.   Slowly the boat moved slowly forward in the water, followed closely by the funa yurei.

“Go away!  Just go away!”

The boatmen took their oars and began to beat with all their might on the heads of the funa yurei.

“Lend us a hishaku…lend us a spoon…”

A funa yurei grabbed hold of one of the oars and pulled with such strength that one of the boatmen was dragged into the ocean.


Letting go of the oar, he clambered up the side of the boat upsetting the lantern they had used to guide their way through the black night.   Sparks flew off of the lantern, and the funa yurei fled before the power of the flame.    With that, the boat that had been held almost still in the water suddenly broke free and sped along smoothly.

“Ahhh….thanks to that lantern…”

The boatmen pulled with all of their remaining strength for the shore.

The funa yurei are found not only in the Seto Inland Sea, but anywhere in the waters surrounding Japan.   Always they ask for the hishaku spoon.

Because of this, some boats carry a specially prepared hishaku spoon with holes drilled in it.  This way, when the pass over the spoon the funa yurei are unable to fill the boat with water and they can make their escape.

This legend comes from Okayama prefecture, from an Edo period book called “Kasshi Yawa.”   A fishing villiage in this area still sells specially made hishaku spoons with holes that are said to ward off the funa yurei.

The Yurei Rock of the Cemetery

Translated from Nihon no Yurei Banashi

Long ago, in a village deep in the mountains, there was a large hexagonal rock.  The rock was cut in two diagonally, starting from the top.  It looked exactly as if it had been cut by a sword. Everyone in the village called it the yurei rock.  The reason behind this name is the story to follow.

When we say “long ago,” in this instance we mean about a hundred years ago.  At that time, the monk at the village temple would gather the young men of the village together after dusk to teach them reading and writing. 

Amongst these young men, there was a boy named Horiishi Kage

One night, as he always did, Kage went home from the lessons alone.  It was a lonely village road.

The path home took Kage by the village cemetery.  Illuminated by the moonlight, Kage saw a beautiful young woman in an elegant kimono making mysterious gestures before the graves. 

“Eh?  What is she doing?”

Kage stopped in his tracks, and stared at the young woman.  She didn’t seem to notice Kage, and with a flick of her wrist threw a small stone into a hole that she had dug near a grave.

“Listen to this!  Here what I am asking of you!”

What she was doing was an old style of prayer, where you dug a small hole in the dirt and flung in a small stone.  If it was done well and with true intention, it was said that your prayer would succeed.

Kage has been standing and watching this the whole time.  He watched until the very end then silently slipped away.   But the next night when walking home, he saw the young woman perform the same ceremony, and she did it again the next night, and the next night again.

Kage wondered about the mystery, and decided to ask the young woman what she was doing.

“Miss, why do you do this night after night?”

She answered:

“You are Horiishi Kage.  I know that you come here every night to watch me.  To tell the truth, I have been praying night after night that you would someday speak to me.”

“Eh? That I would speak to you….?”

“Yes.  That was my prayer.  And now it has come true.  Come this way. There are many things I wish to talk to you about.

With that said, the young woman stood up and walked into the darkness.  Kage was intrigued by the mysterious beauty, and so he followed her.

As the young woman walked in front of him, Kage noticed that she glowed with a pale light.

“Ah, this is no ordinary girl.  Indeed.  Meeting her in a cemetery this way…she must be a yurei.”

Thinking this, Kage began to shiver with fear.  So afraid, so afraid was Kage that he felt that this must be a dream.  In a trembling weak voice, he said to her:

“My lady, I…I must be going home now.”

Just as he said that, the young woman turned to face him.  She was still beautiful, but her face was pale, drained of all color, she stared at him with glowing eyes.


Overcome with fear, Kage drew his sword from his sheath and in a panic screamed loudly and slashed blindly at the young woman. 

“Whoosh!”  “Whoosh!”  “Whoosh!”

In the darkness, the sound of the slashing sword rent the air.

After slicing wildly with his sword, Kage returned to his senses and fled home without looking back.

The next day, Kage snuck back to the cemetary where he had met the young woman. But instead of her slashed body, as has he had feared, he found nothing.  Instead, he saw the hexagonal rock that had always been there, only now it had been cleaved as if by a slashing sword.

When he thought he had been cutting the young woman, in truth he had cut the rock.  From that time on, whenever the villagers saw the rock they said:

“Ah…that is the yurei rock.”

“It’s true. That rock is cursed by some young woman.  That is the yurei rock.”

From that time, more than a hundred years have passed.  But the villages never forgot the story of the yurei rock.

But there was once a rich man who was building a magnificent garden.  He found what he felt was the perfect rock to place in his garden, but when he tried to move the rock, it split in two.

“No problem!  I will just fix the rock back together!”

He summoned a local stone cutter, who used his skills to put the rock back together, where it was placed in the garden.

“Good…good…this is a fine garden for me.”

The rich man went and enjoyed his garden every day. But one evening a young woman who was a servant in his household came rushing up to him, her face pale.

“My lord!  Your rock…your rock…it is glowing with some terrible light!”

She was shaking with fear.  It was then that the rich man remembered that he had found that perfect stone in a cemetery.

“I seem to remember that rock was had some sort of old scary story about it…they called it the yurei rock or something…with a rock like that in my garden, who knows what will happen!!  I had better return it to the cemetery where I found it!”

Without delay, the rich man had the rock returned to the cemetery.  He then had the local temple monk hold services for the lingering spirit.

This is a folktale from Fukushima prefecture.  At sometime the yurei became connected to that rock.  There is a similar story in Gifu prefecture as well.

The Smoking Husband

Translated from Konjaku Monogatari

A man from Yamato province had a daughter, who was in love with a skillful flute-player from Kawauchi province.  The two were married, and they lived together for two years that were full of love and happiness.

Sadly, the husband was struck by a sudden illness and died.

The woman was overcome with sadness, and would do nothing but cry and mourn her husband.  Other men came to her earnestly and with good intentions, but she would not even distain to look at them, and filled her life only with memories of her dead husband.

Three years passed in this way, until one summer night when the woman lay crying at home, she thought she heard faint strains of the flute music her husband once played.  Listening closely, she heard a voice from the next room, saying “Please open this door and let me in.”  There was no mistake.  It was her husband’s voice.

The woman peeked through a gap in the boards of the door, and saw her dead husband standing there.  He was playing a song that he had composed for her long ago.

He looked exactly as he had when he was still alive, and when seeing him the woman was chilled to the bone and overcome with fear.  She looked closer, and saw smoke escaping from the folds of his hakama trousers that covered his kimono, even where they were bound by a cord.  When the husband spoke, more smoke came from his mouth.

“What is this?  You were so sad and weeping and longing for me that I could get no rest!  But now that I have come back to see you, you sit there shivering in fear?  If that is the kind of greeting I get then I will just go back.  For this I withstood the scorching heat of Hell?”

And with that said, the man disappeared.

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