Aoandon – The Blue Lantern Ghost

Translated and Sourced from Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

In the 100 candles game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, when the last story is told and the last light extinguished, something is said to appear from the darkness. For some in the Edo Period, that “something” had a name—Aoandon, the Blue Lantern Ghost.

Who is the Aoandon?

Toriyama Seiken originated the legend of the Aoandon in his kaidan-shu Konjaku Hyakki Shui (今昔百鬼拾遺; Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past). According to Toriyama, the Aoandon is a female spirit with long black hair, two horns poking out of her head, black, sharp teeth, and dressed in a white kimono. She is a sort of merger of the Aoi Nyobo (Blue Wife) and Hannya (Devil Woman) of traditional Japanese folklore.

The name Aoandon (青行燈) means very simply “Blue Lantern,” and is a reference to the blue-tinged lanterns that became popular as the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai game evolved.

Toriyaam Seiken’s Aoandon

Written on Toriyama Seiken’s Aoandon picture:

“When the final lantern is doused, and the shadows hang heavy, the Aoandon appears. In modern games of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, the lanterns are covered in blue paper giving an eerie light. People gather on dark nights to trade stories of evil things. But to talk about evil things is to summon them.”

Blue Lanterns and Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

The game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai started out very simple; a hundred lit candles were placed in a room, and as ghost stories and weird tales were told in order, a single candle would be extinguished. With each story the room got progressively darker. When the final candle was expunged, some supernatural creature was said to be summoned.

Exactly what was summoned was never made clear. In one of the earliest recordings of a Hyakumonogatari Game, in the kaidan-shu Tonoigusa (宿直草), the game was played in a cave by a group of samurai. When the last candle was being put out, a giant hand appeared to come down from the ceiling. A quick slash of a the sword showed that the hand was nothing more than a spider, whose enormous shadow cast by the last candle had appeared as a giant hand.

As the game left the warrior caste and moved into the realm of the townsfolk, it evolved. In order to create a spookier atmosphere, candles were replaced by specially prepared blue lanterns to give the gathering a more mysterious feel—an early form of mood lighting. These lanterns, called andon, consisted of paper panels in bamboo frames set over candles or oil lanterns. Normally the paper was white, but for Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai gatherings the white paper was replaced with blue. (Andon can still be seen all over the world nowadays, although most of them are electric instead of burning actual candles or oil.)

The game got even more sophisticated over the centuries, and even a little bit more lazy. Instead of lighting a hundred lanterns, sometimes oil lamps were prepared with specially made wicks that counted down from one hundred. Which each story, part of the wicks was cut, bringing the light down until the final cut. Some games would place the lantern in a room away from the main gathering place, next to a mirror. After each story, the storyteller would have to walk alone into the room, cut their wick and then stare into the mirror.

Many gatherings actually cut their event short after the 99th tale, with no one being brave enough to walk into the room for the final story.

Speak of the Devil, and the Devil Appears

It has long been a tradition in Japan that talking about ghosts and monsters attracts ghosts and monsters. They need the right atmosphere to appear, and the 100 candles Hyakumonogatari Game was all about setting the right atmosphere. If you talk about it, it will come.

But until Toriyama Seiken wrote about the Aoandon in his Konjaku Hyakki Shu, there was no consensus on what appeared. Toriyama did what he often did when inventing new yokai; he took a common phrase or word and imagined a spirit to go along with it. In the case of the Aoandon, he imagined the extinguishing of a blue lantern, and the ghost woman that might be waiting in the dark, or looking back at you from a mirror.

Like many of Toriyama’s creations, there were attempts to craft a story onto the Aoandon. Artists Kondo Misaki imagined a woman consumed by jealousy who transformed into a yokai and was cursed to haunt these blue lanterns, waiting for her chance to appear. When the mirror aspect of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai was invoked, she served as Japan’s version of Bloody Mary, a test of courage and the tricks your mind can play on you when you are alone with a mirror in a darkened room.

Translator’s Note:

The Aoandon is not exactly the most exciting yokai—pretty much a name and a picture—but since this is officially my 100th post on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (and my blog finally lived up to its name) I thought it was time for the Aoandon to appear. I am nothing if not a traditionalist.

However, this particular game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is far from over. I have lots more yokai to do and many more Japanese ghost and monster stories to translate for you. Thanks for reading!!

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

Bakeneko Yujo – The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo

Sourced and Translated from Japanese Wikipedia and Other Sources

After enjoying the delights of one of the famed courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure district, a young samurai settles into his futon to sleep off his illicit encounter. But in the middle of the night he suddenly awakens, and sees his beautiful companion hunched over a rotting fishbone, stripping the flesh away with her teeth. The dim lantern-light casts an inhuman, cat-like shadown on the wall. The samurai shudders with the knowledge that he has passed the night with no human being, but one of the dreaded bakeneko prostitutes of Edo.

The bakeneko prostitutes were a common urban legend / folklore during the Edo period. Stories of them appeared in kiboshi illustrated storybooks, sharenbon accounts of the pleasure districts, kabuki plays, and in ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Most stories follow the same basic pattern—a customer of one of the beautiful courtesans spends a night in pleasure, then curls up to sleep. He is awoken in the middle of the night to see the woman dimly outlined, either with the head of a cat or casting a cat-like shadow, while gorging herself on fish or other sea food popular with cats.

Most of the stories stop there, but darker legends continue with the yokai prostitute then turning to slake her hunger on some human meat, provided by the customer of course.

The Bakeneko Serving Maid of Shinagawa

The bakeneko prostitute legend is thought to have begun as a rumor—or urban legend if you like—of a bakeneko working as a meshimori onna, a type of low-rent waitress/maid/prostitute, at the Ise Inn in the Shinagawa-juku area of Edo, one of the fifty-three stations of the Tōkaidō sea highway.

The gossip spread as gossip does, and soon enough people were writing about it with a fervor. In 1775, “The Courage of Genji at the Sumo Tournament” has a scene with a bakeneko prostitute scattering fish all over the room with her mouth. This scene was adapted into an ukiyo-e woodblock print, with what looks to be a human arm. Whether this is part of her costume or her meal is left up to the imagination of the viewer.

The legend appeared in rapid succession slightly re-told in several books. In 1776 it appeared in Urikotoba (The Words of Seller), and in 1798 in Haratsuzumi (Belly-drumming), which has the bakeneko prostitute chomping on shrimp. In 1796, one of the scarier legends from the book Koame Shuame Miko Matsukasu (Anticipation of Things Seen in the Rain) tells of the customer peeping in on his companion to see her in cat-form gnawing on a human arm.

The stories were often told as true accounts, as traveler’s tales of wanderers who stayed at the inn and survived an encounter with the supernatural creature.

The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo

Interpretations of the story changed over time, and spread away from Shinagawa to the Yoshiwara pleasure districts of Edo. More rumors of bakeneko prostitutes spread, but instead of a creature of horror they attracted fascination—customers went in search of any ladies of the night rumored to be bakeneko in disguise. Artists sold prints of samurai walking with their bakeneko mistress happily in tow, not at all bothering to disguise her cat head.

Ever the clever businesswomen, the courtesans of Yoshiwara were quick to capitalize on this new fad. Many adopted names that ended with –no, such as kono – because that was reminiscent of the name of the famed serving wench of Ise inn. Women kept cats as pets, and plied their companions for expensive fish and seafood treats, anything to play up the image and create the mystique that their companion for the night was something more than human.

Truth Behind the Legend?

Like with many yokai, there have been attempts to rationalize the story of the bakeneko prostitutes with actual history. The most popular account is the most simple—it was considered bad manners for courtesans to eat in front of their customers. The women were there for the man’s pleasure, and so while men could feast and drink all night, their women had to suppress their own hunger. Once the customer was snoozing, I’m sure many a clever woman took advantage of the time to snatch some leftover nibbles from whatever had been on the menu. And the hunched over posture, trying to hide the illicit snacks, could have appeared as a cat to a tired, drunken man awakening in the middle of the night.

Neko or Neko?

A further connection between cats and sex lies in the word neko. Cat in Japanese is neko, using the kanj i猫. But you can also use the kanji 寝子 (ne ; sleeping + ko; young girl) to draw an obvious allusion to the delights of the Yoshiwara.

Modern Cat Girls

An obvious connection can be drawn between the bakeneko prostitutes of Edo and the modern cat-girl phenomenon. Japanese comics, animation, and video games are filled with cat-eared and cat-tailed girls who can transform into cats like a true bakeneko. And real-life girls even buy nekomimi “cat ears” to wear as accessories. What people think of as a modern fad actually has deep historical roots.

Japanese men have been attracted to cat-creaztures for hundreds of years. And it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

Translator’s Note

I found this legend while I was doing research for my bakeneko article, and I promised I would give a deeper account of it someday. So here it is! This legend shows how deeply people believed in the reality of yokai and the supernatural during the Edo period. Many took the rumors at face value, and spent good money for the chance to spend the night with what they believed to be a supernatural creature.

Further reading:

Read more yokai magical animal tales on

Bakeneko – The Changing Cats

Kasha – The Corpse-Eating Cat Demon

Nekomata – The Split-Tailed Cat

The Cat’s Grave

The Tanuki and the White Snake

The Appearance of the Spirit Turtle

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