Kosodate Yūrei – The Child-Raising Yūrei


Translated and Sources from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara, Nihon no Yūrei, Inga Monogatari, and Other Sources

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Yūrei require a tether, something to connect them to the physical world, something strong enough to prevent them from moving on to the next world. Depending on the nature of this bond, a different type of yūrei can manifest. The bond of a mother to her child is one of the oldest and strongest of these tethers.

What Does Kosodate Yūrei Mean?

The kanji for the kosodate yūrei is descriptive. Kosodate (子育て) means child-raising. An alternate term substitutes amekai (飴買い) for the amekai yūrei meaning the candy-buying yūrei. Variations of the story can be found all over Japan, but most kosodate yūrei stories follow a consistent pattern.

The Legend of the Kododate Yūrei


There are multiple versions of the kosodate yūrei told all across Japan. Most of them follow an identical pattern. This version is told in Nihon no Yūrei by Ikeda Yasaburo as a personal recollection of a story that had been told to him:

“The name Tsukiji nowadays brings to mind a bustling fish market in Tokyo, but it was not always so. In the olden days, the area known as Tsukiji was packed with temples, mostly belonging to the Honkan-ji temple complex. The area was also covered in cemeteries.

Along the banks of the Sumida River that flows near Tsukiji, there were also stands selling fresh fish and the sweet sake for children known as amazake. In one story, late every night a woman clutching a child would come to a certain amazake dealer to buy the sweet sake from him, which she would then give to her child to drink. The sake dealer, sensing something mysterious about this woman, followed her from his stall one night and watched her as she made her way towards the main hall of the temple, where she disappeared like a blown-out candle. When she vanished, the sake dealer could hear the cry of a baby coming from somewhere in the cemetery. Tracking the sound to a freshly-dug grave, the sake dealer enlisted the help of some others to dig up the grave, and when opening the coffin discovered a crying baby nestled in the arms of its mother’s corpse.”

The legend has its origins in China, where it can be traced back to the book Yijian zhi (1198; Records of Anomalies), with the story of the mochikae onna, the rice cake-buying woman:

“One time, a woman who was pregnant died, and was buried in the ground. After that, a nearby rice-cake dealer began to have a strange customer come night after night, an odd woman carrying a baby. The woman always bought a rice cake for the baby. The dealer was suspicious, and stealthily tied a red string to the woman the next time she came in. After she left, he followed the red string and found that it led to a grave hidden under some bushes. After telling the bereaved family, they dug up the grave to find that the woman had given posthumous birth in her coffin. The bereaved family happily took the child to raise, and had the mother’s body cremated.”

Rokumonsen – Six Coins to Pay the River Crossing

Kosodate Yurei Painting

Another part of the kosodate yūrei legends are the use of rokumonsen, the six coins placed with dead bodies in order to pay the toll across the underworld River Sanzu. In many versions of this legend, the kosodate yūrei is using these coins. Often the story continues for five nights, until the body is dug up and the final coin is found resting in her dead hand.

Many other merchants receive even less. In several of the tales, the mother uses the tanuki trick of passing off leaves as coins, and the merchant is left with only a wallet of foliage after the true nature of the woman is discovered.

But coins or leaves, the loving mother rarely buys food for her child, no rice or nourishment, but often the small sweet candies or toys that a child would crave, caring more for the baby’s happiness than its welfare.

Kosadate Ame

Kosodate Ame

Kosodate yūrei remain a popular figure in Japanese folklore. To this day, a small shop in Kyoto still sells kosodate ame—child-rearing candy—and claims to be the very shop where the kosodate- yūrei came to buy candy.

Translator’s Note:

The kosodate yūrei is so similar to another type of ghost—the ubume—that they can almost be considered a different name for the same spirit. There are differences, however. The ubume is closely associated with blood, and with the Buddhist hell of Chi no Ike, the Lake of Blood, where women who died while pregnant were said to be consigned. Ubume also try to get someone to hold their baby, which kosodate yūrei never do.

Utsuro Bune – The Hollow Ship

Utsuro Bune Print

Translated and Adapted from Toen Shōsetsu, Hyōryū kishū, Ume no Chiri, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

Legend or fact? In the early 1800s, a strange iron ship with crystal windows drifted ashore off the coasts of the Hitachi province, modern day Ibaraki prefecture, where it was found by locals. By most accounts, inside was a mysterious woman with pale, pink skin and white-frosted red hair. She spoke an unknown language and clutched a square box made of some pale material, which she would not release. Unsure of what to do, the locals packed her back in her ship and pushed her back to sea.

It would seem to be a fairy tale, but the same woman and the same mysterious ship has been recorded drifting to shore in different locations, and the various accounts match each other almost exactly. Ufologists have co-opted the story claiming it is evidence of an early UFO siting, although this is extremely dubious. After all, the “F” in UFO stands for “Flying,” and that is something the Utsuro Bune definitely did not do. It is strictly a boat. Other’s claim it is some form of early submarine, or an attempt at a new technology for ocean-going vessels. Whatever the Utsuro Bune was, it remains a unique entry in Japan’s weird history.

What Does Utsuro Bune Mean?

In defining Utsuro Bune, the “bune” part is easy. 舟 (bune) means “boat,” plain and simple. “Utsuro” presents more of a challenge. When written, the hiraganaうつろ (utsuro) is used almost exclusively, giving no clue as to the exact definition. There are a few different meanings that could be attached. The most common translation is “empty” or “hollow.” Another reading is “quiver” like a quiver for arrows.

Another, obscure usage of utsuro describes the hollowed-out tree trunk of a sacred tree. There is some speculation that “utsuro bune” originally described a hollowed-out tree trunk into which a sacrificial victim was stuffed and then put out to sea; although there is very little evidence for this other than the name.

The Legend of the Utsuro Bune

The oldest account of the Utsuro Bune comes from a book thought to have been published in 1815, called Oushuku Zakki (鶯宿雑記; Miscellaneous Notes from the Nightingale Inn). The one-sheet text and illustration gives a short description of the event, and lays down the basic facts.

Oshuku Zakki Utsuro Bune

The most well-known account—and the most detailed—comes from Kyokutei Bakin and his book Toen Shōsetsu (兎園小説; Stories from the Rabbit Garden). Kyokutei lived in the late Edo period. He was what was called a bunkajin, meaning an intellectual, a cultured man of letters. Kyokutei was brimming with curiosity, and like many in the Edo period had a passion for the supernatural and the weird. He hosted a monthly gather of knowledge-seekers such as himself, called the Toenkai, Meeting of the Rabbit Garden. Kyokutei and his fellow bunkajin would gather to swap tales and share interesting or weird stories they had heard—something like what we would call a Writer’s Circle in the modern parlance.

The Rabbit Gardern knew all of the best weird tales of the day. They swapped first-hand accounts of yōkai and yūrei and urban legends, anything with the ting of the occult. The Utsuro Bune was a type of tale was called a michi tono sogu (未知との遭遇, eye-witness account). They chose the best of these stories and Kyokutei edited them and compiled them into the Toen Shōsetsu collection. Several of Japan’s famous weird tales come from that edition.

Kyokutei’s account of the Urotsu Bune is unusual for being so specific, even though it was written 22 years after the incident occurred. It is highly possible—and even probably—that one of Kyokutei’s “rabbits” read the account of the Miscellaneous Notes from the Nightingale Inn and decided to fill in the details.

Urotsu Bune no Banjo – The Foreign Woman in the Hollow Boat

Translated from Toen Shōsetsu

Utsuro Bune Tales from the Rabbit Garden

On the 22nd of February, in the 3rd year of Kyowa (1803), in the Year of the Ox, a strange object that looked like a small boat was spotted off the shore of Tsuruhama. The fisherfolk who lived in that area observed the strange vessel and took to their boats and rowed out to meet it. With great effort, they towed the mysterious objects into the shallows and drug it onto the beach. It was unlike any boat they had ever seen.

The vessel measured about 3.30 meters tall and 5.45 meters wide. It was round as a ball, and resembled a covered incense burner. The top half was made of what looked like red-lacquered rosewood, with windows patterned like folding screens—only with glass panels instead of paper. The whole thing was sealed watertight; with the seams plugged with something like pine pitch. The bottom of the vessel was bound with ribs of metal—possibly bronze or iron. It is speculated that the metal plating protected the boat from impact with sea rocks. Everyone was much amazed when the top swung open, as if hinged by some hidden latch or mechanism. Then the woman appeared.

Her face was a pale pink color, and her hair and eyebrows were vivid red. Here hair hung down her back, and had been lengthened with strips of something white, either animal fur or a kind of fabric. The extensions had been covered in white powder, almost like flour. What it was exactly, we have no way of knowing. Her dress was elegant and of strange material, tight at the top and loose at the bottom. The village women were very interested in seeing how she had achieved the effect of her hair and dress, but it remained a mystery.

When the villagers attempted communication with the woman, she responded in an unknown language. She was about 1.5 meters tall, and carried a square box. This box appeared very important to her, and she would not release her grip on it for an instant. She would not let anyone even get close to it.

The villagers checked the interior of the mysterious ship, and found two sheets, and two small containers of water (the water supply was insufficient for survival, so the ship must have had some means of generating fresh water). There was some form of baked goods and some kind of meat twisted together like a rope that served as provisions.

The villagers had a discussion about what to do with the strange woman and her boat. An elder of the village proposed the idea that perhaps she was a princess of some distant country. Perhaps the princess had been married, but took a commoner as a lover. As punishment, her father the King had her lover’s head chopped off and put into a box, then the princess was placed in this odd vessel and abandoned at sea. After all, he reasoned, you couldn’t directly execute a beloved royal princess. This way her life was in the hands of the gods.

The elder said that would explain her devout attachment to the box, and her resistance to relinquishing it or letting anyone look inside. The elder said he had heard of things happing like that before, and he remembered some story of a woman washing ashore in similar circumstances long ago.

It was decided that the best thing to do would be to put the girl back into her hollow boat and return her to the sea. It seemed cruel, but the villagers did not want to interfere with the intentions of some foreign state. So they put the girl back in and rowed her back out into the deep sea and set her adrift again, leaving her to her fate.

It was also noted that the inside of the hollow boat was covered in strange writing. Some suggested that perhaps it was the writing of Great Britain, or perhaps the girl was some lost princess from the distant country of America. But there was no way to know for sure.

Other accounts of the Usturo Bune soon surfaced, each with a slight variation. If you believe all the accounts, the poor girl kept drifting ashore to various spots in Japan, each time only to mercilessly returned to the ocean. It seems no one was willing offer her a helping hand.

Translated from Hyōryū kishū (1835: 漂流紀集: Diary and Stories of the Castaways)


Hitachi province, Shakehama. An odd boat looking the same as this illustration drifted ashore. Inside was a woman between the ages of 18-20, with a pale complexion, red eyebrows, and hair that matched the red color of her eyebrows. Here teeth were white, and her lips a deep crimson. Here arms were slender, and she could be considered beautiful. She was well-mannered and calm. As you see in the picture, she was carrying a wooden box that seemed to be very important to her. We do not know the contents as she would allow no one to handle the box. She spoke, but not in a language that could be understood by any of those present. We assume she is a foreigner, not only by her strange speech but because her features and coloring are not those of a Japanese or other Asian person. Inside her strange vessel she has some provisions, what looks like baked goods and some meat that has been treated in some manner. But the exact contents are unknown to us. She has a large tea cup. The construction of her ship was also unknown, made of equal parts metal, wood, and some form of ceramics. Inside we could clearly see the writing that is reproduced on this picture.

Description of the Boat: It was about 3.3 meters tall, and 5.4 meters wide. The body appeared to be lacquered rosewood bound with iron or bronze. There were windows made of crystal or glass. The woman appeared to be about 18-20 years old. She had a pale complexion, with red hair. There was writing on the left side of the ship, reproduced faithfully.


Urotsu Bune no Banjo – The Foreign Woman in the Hollow Boat

Translated from Ume no Chiri – (1844; 梅の塵 : The Dust of Plums)

Utsuro Bune Color

This happened in the spring of the 3rd year of Kyowa (1803), in the vicinity of Haratonohama. A strange vessel drifted ashore.

This vessel was shaped like a hollow sphere, looking something like an iron cooking pot. Around the circumference it was edged like the lip of a pot. The top half of the sphere had the appearance of black lacquer, and was covered in windows. The windows looked like shoji paper screens, and were covered in some sort of pitch. The bottom half of the sphere was bound with iron ribs, as protection from rocks. It looked like the high-quality iron that comes from the Western countries. It was 3.60 meters tall and 5.40 meters wide.

Inside the strange vessel was a lone woman, who appeared to be about 20 years old. She stood roughly 1.50 meters tall. Here skin was as white as snow, and her long black hair hung down her back like a plume. The beauty of her face was enough to render us all speechless. Her clothes were like nothing we had ever seen before, made of some remarkable and mysterious fabric.

She spoke no language that we could understand.

She carried a small box, the contents of which are unknown. Under no circumstances would she allow others to hold the box or even get near it.

Inside the boat, there were two sheets laid down as some sort of carpeting. They were softer than anything we had ever felt before. For food, she had some sort of baked goods, and some kind of meat. We saw a single drinking bowl like a large tea cup. Everything was patterned with some sort of design, but we could not determine its meaning.

Truth Behind the Legend?


Who knows. This is one of those fanciful bits of history where the real story will probably never be known. It is VERY different from other weird tales of the Edo period, by virtue of being so specific in detail and lacking any supernatural element.

The Utsuro Bune is a classic case of “the legend has grown in the telling.” Modern legend trippers have taken up the story, added their own details, and twisted the story like a modern game of telephone. Modern Japan has embraced the legend—and commercialized it like their own Roswell—creating a recreation/play space of the Utsuro Bune at one of the locations where it apparently touched shore.


But at the core is always Kyokutei’s original account of a strange woman in a strange boat. And that mystery is good enough without embellishment!

Translator’s Note:

I discovered the Utsuro Bune completely by accident, and then became hooked on it. A little too much, I think, because I started researching and translating Utsuro Bune legends when I should have been working on other things!


The Kabuki Ghost of Kohada Koheiji

Kohada Koheiji Hokusai Full

Translated and Adapted from Fukushu Kidan Asaka no Nema and Japanese Wikipedia

To learn more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

What happens when a man who is a master of playing a yūrei in kabuki dies and becomes a yūrei himself? That is the question answered in the strange story of Kohada Koheiji, the kabuki actor who finally assumed the role he was born to play.

The Strange Story of Revenge in Asaka Swamp

Matsusuke Onoe I as Kohata Koheiji by Toyokuni
Kohada Koheiji was a third-rate kabuki actor struggling to make a living on the Edo kabuki stage during the time of Ichikawa Danjūrō II (1688-1758). Kohada lacked both natural talent and experience, and could not be cast in a role. Feeling sorry for him, Kohada’s drama instructor bribed a director to cast Kohada in some role—any role. Just so that Kohada would finally be able to take to the stage.

The director took one look at Kohada and saw that he bore a natural resemblance to the yūrei characters of kabuki. His skin was white, his eyes dark and sunken, and his hair long and unruly. The director thought he could save some money on make-up and costume and cast Kohada in the yūrei role of the play.

While it wasn’t exactly his dream role, Kohada saw this as his big break and threw himself into studying. He went to the morgue to observe dead faces, and learned how to slack his face muscles and hold his body like a dead man. His diligence and hard work paid off, and Kohada was an overnight success. His fame spread, however his skill was limited. He could only be cast in yūrei roles, which led his fellow actors to nickname him Yūrei Kohada.

Kohada had a wife named Otsuka whom he was deeply in love with. Otsuka, however did not return the affection and thought Kohada was an embarrassing fool. Behind his back she was having an affair with a fellow actor named Adachi Sakuro. Together they hatched a plot to get rid of Kohada.

Kohada Koheiji Utagawa-Toyokuni

When they were away together on a tour, Adachi invited Kohada to go fishing. Suspecting nothing, Kohada went out with Adachi on a boat into the Asaka Swamp. Once they were far out from shore, Adachi surprised Kohada, pushing him off the boat and holding him under the water until he drowned.

Adachi was thrilled with his deed, and hurried back to let Otsuka know that he had cleared the path to their love. But he was not the only one. Kohada was not content to lie dead at the bottom of the swamp. He rose again a yūrei, and went to meet Adachi and Otsuka in Edo.

As might be expected, Kohada was a fabulous yūrei. More than any man alive, he had practiced enough to perfect the role. His new dead self looked exactly has he had on the stage, and he knew every trick to elicit terror in the cheating, murderous couple. He haunted them relentlessly, driving them had and eventually to their own unnatural deaths.

The Historical Kohada Koheiji


Kohada Kojeiji was a popular figure in Edo period romance fiction and kabuki theater. His story and image appear in numerous plays and art, including Hokusai’s famous portrait of his skeletal form peering over the mosquito net.

It was always assumed that the story was true. It was passed around town as an urban legend, with bits and pieces being gathered and attached here and there. The story was finally written and published in the 3rd year of Kyowa (1803), written by Santō Kyōden with illustrations by Kitao Shigemasa, under the title Fukushu Kidan Asaka no Nema (復讐奇談安積沼; The Strange Story of Revenge in Asaka Swamp). It was adapted for the kabuki stage in the 5th year of Bunka (1808), written and directed by the playwright Tsuruya Namboku VI under the title Iroe Iri Otogi Zoku. (彩入御伽艸; Colored Nursery Tales).

We know the details of Kohada Koheiji’s story thanks to Yamazaki Yoshishige, a historical investigator who wrote the journal Umiroku (海録; Record of the Sea) from 1820 to 1837. Yamazaki investigated the story of Kohada Koheiji, and found that glimmers of the story began around the 1700s. Piecing everything together, he discovered the model for the story, a traveling entertainer whose name was actually Kohada Koheiji. Kohada had apparently been a terrible actor who killed himself out of despair for his lack of talent. His wife was not saddened by the loss, and asked a friend to help cover up the embarrassing death, hoping to report Kohada as missing or run off. They did not do a good job, and the deed was uncovered.

The real wife was rumored to have an affair with the real Adachi Sakuro, and Kohada’s body was discovered in Chiba prefecture in Inba Swamp. When that story became news, it was only a small leap from the true story for townspeople to speculate that Kohada’s wife and Adachi had actually killed Kohada. From there, the story gained traction as the details were filled in and the supernatural elements added.

Kohada’s Haunting


Like another kabuki ghost, Oiwa, Kohada is said to still be haunting the kabuki theater. He is said to especially haunt those who take on his role in kabuki adaptations. The only way to get out of this curse is to make an offering at his grave before taking on the role. Ever since the Edo period, actors taking on the yūrei roles were thought to take their lives into their own hands.

During the Edo period, children were less afraid than the adults. They had a saying of “Yūrei aren’t scary! Look, I’m eating Kohada!” referring to the small shad fish called kohada.

Translator’s Note:

I did a translation of the story of Kohada Koheiji for Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and figured I would post it here as a little preview! (Which, if you haven’t preordered yet, please do! Cue the quick sales pitch—it is getting down to the time when books stores will place their initial orders, and having strong preorder sales will make all the difference!!! If you enjoy my translations and articles on hyakumonogatari.com, the best way to support the site and show appreciation is to preorder a copy of my book! Thank you!!!)

Kohada Koheiji is an interesting figure in that he is one of the few male yūrei from the Edo period to show up consistently in art. Oiwa, Otsuyu, and Okiku were regular attractions in ukiyo-e, but only Kohada joins their ranks for the men’s team. Artists almost universally chose the scene of Kohada peeking over the mosquito netting for their work. Because it is so darn spooky!



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