Nebutori – The Sleeping Fatty


Translated and adapted from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Ehon Hyakumonogatari, and Japanese Wikipedia

A tale as old as time; in a drunken night of revelry, you climb in bed with a beautiful girl but wake up the next day sleeping besides a giant fat woman. What happened? That hot, sexy gal must have been infected by that insidious yokai disease nebutori – the Sleeping Fatty.

What Does Nebutori Mean?

Nebutori can be written a few ways, all of which are disgusting. The most common is寝肥 which combines 寝 (ne; Sleep) + 肥 (butori; dung, night soil … you know; poop). The term is a play on words, rhyming with 寝太 , meaning寝 (ne; Sleep) + 太 (futori; to gain weight, fat).

Nebutori is a yokai disease. It only infects women, and makes them fat while they sleep–either suddenly or gradually. It is considered an infectious disease, like a bacteria. Women infected with nebutori don’t necessesarily eat more—they just get fat while they sleep. (And yes, it is just women. I have never seen a nebutori tale involving men. Sorry.)

The term has spread into modern Japanese, where it is sometimes used in context to sudden or inexplicable weight gain. Nebutori is also used to describe weight gain in elderly women, especially those on a high-calorie / low-exorcize diet.

Sad Stories of Nebutori

Nebutori originates from the Edo period Ehon Monogatari (絵本百物語; Picture Book of 100 Strange Stories). The story is short and sweet.

A man goes out for a night on the town. After a marathon drinking sessions, he meets and beds a beautiful young girl. They fall asleep next to each other, but in the middle of the night, the man is awoken by a thunderous snore—louder than a passing carriage. He opens his eyes and is shocked to find that—instead of the beautiful girl he went to bed with—he is sleeping next to an enormous mass of quivering flesh.

I found a different story while researching, but I am not sure of its literary origin. It comes from Okushu (modern day Aomori and Iwate prefectures). It doesn’t really seem to describe a case of nebutori—just a woman slowly gaining weight over time—but that is how the tale is listed.

A man and his wife lived together. When they married the wife was slim and beautiful, but she caught nebutori and ballooned in size. The couple owned ten futons, and seven were spread out for the wife to sleep on. Eventually the man became disgusted with this gigantic wife and divorced her. That’s why wives in Okushu are warned to be on the lookout for catching nebutori.

Nebutori and Tanuki Possession

This is an additional tale that is sometimes called nebutori, although in truth it is a case of tanukitsukai—tanuki possession. This story, coming from the 1828 book Shichuso (視聴草; Tales of Looking and Listening).

An elderly woman named Yachi lay on her death bed, breathing her last. To the stunned surprise of her assembled family, Yachi suddenly sprang up and declared herself healthy, but starving. The family brought forth food they had prepared for the funeral service, and the old woman ate it all. But Yachi was still ravenous. While waiting for more food to be prepared, she drank sake and sang boisterous songs. The family was pleased to have Yachi so energetic again, but perplexed. They summoned a doctor to examine her.

The doctor could find nothing wrong with Yachi. Meanwhile, her body was swelling to enormous proportions and she soon outgrew her clothes. The family dug out the winter clothes to try and drape around her, and as they took away her light summer kimono they noticed something strange—the inside was covered in the hair of some kind of beast. The family grew suspicious, and placed a paper and pen next to Yachi asking her to write down her next menu request. With this promptly done, the family knew something was wrong—Yachi could neither read nor write.

That night, the family secretly moved an image of the Amidha Buddha into Yachi’s room. With that done, they saw a shocked tanuki crawl from Yachi’s mouth and flee into the night, leaving behind the dead body it had occupied for awhile.

Translator’s Note:

Is anyone feeling like they caught a case of nebutori after Thanksgiving? Although nebutori isn’t really from overeating—it is more like the yokai equivalent of beer goggles. A drunken guy goes to bed with a hotty and wakes up with a notty. It couldn’t have been a drunken mistake, right? Best to blame it on a yokai disease!


Nebutori is another example that shows just how wide the definition of “yokai” can be. There is no creature here, no monster. Just a “yokai disease” that infects ordinary people.

Further Reading:

For more Thanksgiving-inspired tales of overeating yokai, check out:

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

Suppon no Onryo – The Vengeful Ghosts of the Turtles

Suppon no Yurei – The Turtle Ghost

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm


Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, and Kaii Yokai Densho Database

It starts with a high fever and some stomach pains, and ends with a giant mouth poking out of your own stomach, speaking in your own voice demanding food and drink. It’s bad enough getting sick, but you don’t want to catch a yokai disease. Especially you don’t want to get infected by an oseichu, a mimicking roundworm.

What Does Oseichu Mean?

Oseichu is made up of three kanji – 応 (O; affirmative, agreements ) + 声 (sei; voice) + 虫 (chu; worm, bug). The three kanji translate roughly into “Voice Mimicking Bug,” all though the word “bug” refers more to the infectious disease type than the insect type.

The term osei (応声) is really only used in relation to this yokai. In fact, sometimes the “chu” is dropped altogether and it is just called an osei.

The Oseichu of Chusaburo

This is a story from the 16th year of Genroku (1703 CE). The laborer Shichizaemon lived with his family in Tokyo. One day, his son Chusaburo was struck down with a terrible fever and pain in his stomach. The illness continued, and after a few days they could see a boil growing form the son’s belly. The boil kept growing larger and spreading until it resembled a massive, human mouth. Everyone in the family was shocked when the boil finally opened its mouth, and began speaking in Chusaburo’s own voice. The voice began demanding food, and anything shoved into the giant mouth soon disappeared. The mouth was never satisfied and demanded more and more food, while Natsaburo was slowly starving to death, deprived of sustenance.

Shichizaemon tried every medicine he could find, and summoned exorcists and sorcerers of all type to help the misfortune of his child, but to no avail.

At his wit’s end on how to help his son, Shichizaemon sent for the famous doctor Kan Gensai. The renowned physician took one look at Chusaburo and declared that he was infected with an Oseichu. Dr. Gensai whipped up a special blend of six medicines, and fed them directly into the extra mouth protruding from Chusaburo’s belly. After the first day, the mouth ceased to speak and the boil reduced in size. By the second day, Chusaburo expelled a giant worm from his anus—33 centimeters long. The worm looked like a lizard, with an arrow shaped head and long body. It tried to run away, but everyone in the room immediately set upon it and beat it to death.

With the Oseichu expunged, Chusaburo made a complete recovery.

Yokai Diseases and Mysterious Bugs

The oseichu is thought to have come to Japan from China, where there are similar stories based off of real-life parasitic worms like roundworms. Oseichu is a good example of how yokai can be many things, from giant, one-eyed monsters down to strange, infectious diseases. Oseichu are not a type of monster, but are considered a type of kibyo (奇病; Strange Illness) brought on by kaichu (怪虫; Mysterious Bugs). It is easy to see how roundworms can become yokai. A sudden fever and feeling of hunger, finishing with a large worm being expelled from the anus—that must have been terrifying to those who weren’t aware of what was happening.

The oseichu is found in three Edo period collections; the Shin Chomonju (新著聞集; New Collection of Famous Tales), the Shiojiri (塩尻; Salt’s End), and the Kanden jihitsu (閑田次筆; Continued Tales of a Fallow Field).

Both the Shin Chomonju and Shiojiri tell tales similar to The Oseichu of Chusaburo, with only slight variation. Shin Chomonju sets the story in Tokyo, while Shiojiri says the mysterious illness occurred in the Abura no Koji district of Kyoto. Shiojiri also says the medicine took 10 days instead of 2.

The Kanden Jihitsu tells a similar, but different story. In the 3rd year of Genbun (1738) , a side show manager running a Misemono (Seeing Things) show in Tamba province (modern day Kyoto) heard a rumor about a woman infected by an oseichu. He immediately went to her house to attempt to recruit her for the show, and was stunned to find an authentic case of the disease. An unmistakable voice came from the woman’s belly. The woman’s husband was ashamed of her condition, however, and would not allow her to be displayed. The disappointed side show manager went home empty handed.

Translator’s Note:

It’s November, and that means Thanksgiving Day in the US! And Thanksgiving Day means eating so much your stomach hurts afterwards, and that got me thinking about Oseichu.

Oseichu is an odd yokai. It doesn’t appear very often in yokai collections. I would like to that’s because it is gross, but yokai have never let being gross bother them! This one is clearly a supernatural version of a natural disease/parasite – the roundworm. Something I hope I never have to experience in real life!

Further Reading:

For more bizarre yokai, check out:

Jinmenju – The Human Faced Tree

Inen – The Possessing Ghost

Kejoro – The Hair Hooker


Manekute no Yurei – The Inviting Ghost Hand


Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Other Sources

Late at night, when you have to get up to go to the bathroom, a mysterious hand beckons you from a wall. That’s strange enough, but when you go into the room the hand was inviting you to, no one is there. Most likely, you have encountered the yurei of someone who died in that room long ago—they want something, but have only the strength to manifest a single hand to plead with you.

These kinds of stories are typical in Japan, especially in yurei in houses. Generally, they want nothing more than for someone to acknowledge their presence, and read a sutra in their honor at the local temple. Manekute no Yurei tend to gather around houses near temples, or the particularly pious, those who they feel will be able to perform the desired ceremony.They are spooky, but amongst the least dangerous of the types of yurei.

Here is a typical story from the Edo period:

An abbot was making a trip to Akiyama village, when he heard the sounds of footsteps behind him. The abbot was particularly sensitive to ghostly matters, and knew at once what it was. “Ah, that is a poor, lost soul who died in the terrible drought in this village awhile back. So sad to think it is still hanging on long past its time.”

When he arrived at the village, the abbot prepared a copy of a Buddhist sutra. This done, he returned to where he had heard the footsteps and waited for dark. Sure enough, a milk-white hand thrust out to him from the darkness. The abbot laid the sutra in the disembodied hand and began to chant the memorial service for the dead. The unknown yurei disappeared and was never heard from again.

Translator’s Note:

Another yurei story for Halloween, this one short and sweet compared to the last tale of bloody revenge. The Manekunote Yurei (招く手の幽霊; meaning招く手 (manekute; inviting hand) +幽霊 (yurei) is one of those ghosts where there was probably a story or two about it, and Mizuki Shigeru made up a name the phenomenon to include in his yokai encyclopedia. I haven’t found any other reference to the Manekunote Yurei, except for those that specifically site Mizuki as a source. However, like many of his stories the Manekunote Yurei has escaped Mizuki’s pages and into the popular imagination.



Pictures of a Manekute no Yurei on a TV show from this site.

But naming aside, this is another story that illustrates one of the fundamental principles of yurei, Japanese ghosts—they want something. Western ghosts can linger in a place like psychic residue, or play over and over again like a strip of looped film. But not Japanese ghosts. They are bound to this world by a specific desire, and when that desire is satisfied they move on. One of the most basic desires—and the most common—is the desire for more ritual. Yurei need to be properly feted before they can peacefully move on to the afterlife.

The unusual element of this story is the disembodied hand. It is atypical for yurei to manifest only a hand, and the will of the dead person must be weak indeed if that is the best that they can do.

Further Reading:

For more tales of random body parts, check out:

Tanuki no Kintama – Tanuki’s Giant Balls

Kyōkotsu – The Crazy Bones Yōkai

The Speaking Skull

The One-Armed Kappa

The Severed Heads Hanging in the Fowling Net

Tanuki no Kintama – Tanuki’s Giant Balls


Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, Japan Times, OnMark Productions, and Kaii Yokai Densho Database

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

Who’s got big balls? Tanuki have big balls! Anyone who has seen Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pom Poko) knows that tanukis’ nut sacks are capable of amazing magical feats—from being stretched out into giant tarpaulins to transforming into magical treasure ships. And the Japanese people aren’t shy about their love for tanukis’ giant balls; images of well-endowed tanuki can be seen all over Japan, from ubiquitous statues in from of shops and restaurants to bank commercials to anime to … pretty much anything.

Pom Poko Tanuki Balls Parachute

What Does Tanuki no Kintama Mean?

Tanuki (狸) gets mistranslated into English as all sorts of things, mostly badger or raccoon or the neologism “raccoon dog.” None of these really fit. Badgers (穴熊; anaguma) and raccoons (洗熊; araiguma) have their own Japanese names. “Raccoon dog” doesn’t really mean anything, so I personally just like sticking with the Japanese name—tanuki works better than anything else.

Now those giant balls …

Utagawa Giant Tanuki Balls

The common Japanese word for testicles is kintama (金玉), which translates literally as “golden” (金; kin) + “balls” (玉; tama). In Japan, large testicles (or a large scrotum, to be precise. It’s the nut sack, not what’s in it that matters.) are a symbol of wealth and prosperity, not sexual prowess. An alternate name, kinbukuro (金袋; money bags), makes the connection even stronger. Even more so when you consider that tanuki scrotums were once sewn into wallets and carried as literal “money bags.”

And while kintama might just be slang, in the tanuki’s case these “golden balls” have a historical precedence.

Traits of the Tanuki

Utagagwa Tanuki Balls Raincoats

As yokai, tanuki are known to have several magical powers and interesting traits. They are henge, shape-shifters, with abilities on par with and sometimes even exceeding those of kitsune (foxes), the most powerful of Japan’s magical animals. Tanuki are also famous for their belly drums (See the Belly Beating of the Tanuki) and their love of sake, food, and generally being the lazy, loafing tricksters of Japanese folklore. And their giant balls.

But they weren’t always like this. The familiar tanuki that we know today—with the prodigious belly, straw rain hat, sake bottle, and pendulous testacles—is a relatively modern invention. It actually comes from the 20th century.

Early depictions of tanuki show a realistic animal. Japanese tests are almost completely mum on tanuki for most of history. There is mention of the mujina (狢), a mythical animal associated with the tanuki in some areas, from around the 8th century.

nichibunken tanuki

Tanuki appeared in early encyclopedia starting from the 1600s, like the 1666 Kinmōzui ( 訓蒙図彙; Collected Illustrations to Instruct the Unenlightened) by Nakamura Tekisai (中村惕斎). These early works are only collections of animals, and rarely mention tanukis’ supernatural powers. One of the earliest mentions of a tanuki as a magical creature comes from the Wakan Sansai-zue (和漢三才図会; Illustrated Sino-Japanese Encyclopedia) compiled by Terajima Ryōan (寺島良安), a doctor from Osaka. The tanuki entry does not go into detail, but states that “like a kitsune (fox), an old tanuki will often transform into a yokai.”


Toriyama Sekien (鳥山石燕) included tanuki in his 1776 Gazu Hyakkiyakō (画図百鬼夜行; Illustrated Night Parade of 100 Demons), but again this tanuki looks like a regular animal.


The depiction of tanukis evolved slowly, with new stories adding new elements and transforming them slowing from the realistic animals to the cartoonish figured seen all over Japan today. The big round stomach and accompanying belly-drumming didn’t become attacked to tanuki lore until the 18th century. Several stories of tanukis’ belly-drumming appear around this time, although their famous nut sacks are still regular size. They didn’t develop elephantitis until later.

Tanuki Belly Drum

The reason for the appearance is gold.

Gold Nut Sack Pounding

Utagawa Tanuki Balls

Owaka Shigeo traced the origins of tanukis’ magical scrotums in his book about Japanese metal working, Hagane no Chishiki (鋼の知識; Knowledge about Steel). He claims the myths began from goldsmiths and metalworkers in Kanazawa prefecture. In order to turn malleable gold into delicate gold leaf, they would wrap the gold in animal skin and pound it into thin sheets. They discovered that a certain part of a certain animal was the best for the business.

In biological terms, tanuki scrotums are rather large. This is an evolutionary trait to help the randy males succeed in the fierce competition for mates. And from a metalworking perspective, tanuki scrotums were both soft and strong enough that they could take the heavy pounding and stretch out to extraordinary size. It was said that, using a tanuki scrotum, even a small piece of gold could be stretched out into an 8-tatami mat big sheet of gold leaf. (Some said a 1000-tatami mat sheet, but that seems excessive.)

Utagawa Tanuki Balls Fishing

Because of this, tanuki scrotums became known for their ability to “stretch” money and make it go further. Savvy marketers started telling tales of the magical properties of tanuki scrotums, selling them as good luck charms and wallets telling buyers that the scrotums would “expand their wealth” in the same way they stretched nuggets of gold into massive sheets.

This association between wealth and tanuki testicles continues to this day. In modern times, Tanuki are said to embody “Eight Virtues,” with their large scrotums signifying luck with money.

Ukiyo-e Artists and Tanuki Balls

Utagawa Tanuki Balls Daruma

Once the myth of tanuki and their magical, giant balls hit the cities, the imagination of Edo period artists went wild. It really was too good of an idea, and made much too interesting of a motif, so artists expanded on the “stretching scrotum” idea. Suddenly, tanuki were using their nut sacks as weapons, sail boats, swimming pools, fishing nets, umbrellas … there was no limit. All of the great artists of the ukiyo-e period got in on the fun, out doing each other with even more outrageous pictures of tanukis’ magical scrotums.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi did a particularly cool set of tanuki testicle prints that you can see here.

Utagawa Tanuki Balls Archery

It was thanks to ukiyo-e artists that the idea of tanuki and their magical, giant balls became a permanent part of Japan’s folklore and popular culture. In fact, I think it shows that the addition was more of an artistic one than a storytelling one—there are many Edo period stories about tanuki, but most of them focus on either shape-shifting or belly-drumming. I have read few tanuki tales where their scrotums play a significant element to the story.

tanuki_balls punch

All the Rest

The rest of the tanukis’ outfit—the straw hat, sake jug, and pay slip—didn’t show up until even more recently. The iconic image of the tanuki that we know and love today is really a product of the Taisho era (1912-1926), when more and more shops started using tanuki for advertising or as statues out in front of their shops.

Translator’s Note:

This article was largely sourced through the amazing website OnMark Productions. Anyone who wants to know everything about tanuki (and other aspects of folkloric and Buddhist Japan) should make that site their destination. I got most of my information from there, and only used additional sources to confirm and add a bit of flavor to the article.

Further Reading:

For more tales of tanuki, check out:

The Belly-Beating of the Tanuki

The Tanuki Song

The Tanuki and the White Snake

The Writing of the Tanuki

Kori no Tatakai – The Fox-Tanuki Battles

The Tale of the Hashihime of Uji

Toriyama Sekien Hashihime of Uji

Translated from the Heike Monogatari

During the Imperial reign of the Emperor Saga, there lived a courtly lady consumed by jealousy. So powerfully was she in jealousy’s grip that she made a pilgrimage to the shrine at Kifune and cloistered in prayer. For seven days, she devoted herself to a single-minded wish: “Oh great and powerful Kami of Kifune, grant me the powers of a devil while I am still living. Make me a fierce being, terrible to behold. Let my outer form match the flame of jealousy that burns so brightly within. Let me kill.”

That great miracle-working Kami of Kifune understood the depths of her desire, and heeded her call. “I am moved by pity and by the sincerity of your prayer. If you wish to become a living oni, to change into a monstrous form, get thee to the Kawase river in Uji. Perform the ceremony I shall now teach you, and then return to submerge yourself in the waters of the river. Do this for 21 days.” This courtly lady saw and heard the manifestation of this celestial being, and was in rapture.

The woman returned to the capitol city and made her preparations. She found a secluded spot where she could work her magic. First, she twisted the long strands of her hair into five horns. Then she ground cinnabar for her face and vermillion for her body until she was as bright red as an oni of legend. Finally, she crowned her head with a three-pronged trivet, and set in it three torches of burning pine. In her teeth she clenched two further torches.

Her preparations complete, she ran south down Yamato-oojidori, torches blazing in the deep night, skin bright red and with an iron crown resting on her eyebrows. Her every aspect was that of an oni, and all who saw her collapsed, dying of terror at the manifested horror they had seen. At the end of her path was the Kawase river, where the lady dutifully sank beneath its waters. As promised by the Kami of Kifune, after 21 days she transformed in living body into an oni, the dread Bridge Princess called Hashihime.

In this way the Hashihime took her revenge on the man who was the target of her jealousy, and all of his relatives above and below. Her wrath knew no boundaries. When she slew men, she appeared as a woman. When she slew women, she appeared as a man. All in the town were a’ feared of her, and during the Hour of the Monkey none dared leave their dwelling.


At that time, the lord Minamoto no Yorimitsu had four brave fighters and protectors. Known as the Four Heavenly Kings, they were Watanabe no Tsuna, Kimitoki, Sadamichi, and Suetake. Of these Tsuna was the greatest.

Yorimitsu had business in the town of Ichijo Omiya and dispatched Tsuna as a messenger. Tsuna arrived on horseback in the dead of night, the famous sword Higekiri (Beard Cutter) tucked into his obi. He planned a short trip, and to soon return with a message for his master. Yet when he crossed the Modari Bridge over the Hori river, on the Eastern side he saw a beautiful woman of a bit more than 20 years of age. Her skin was as white as new-fallen snow, so much that she had the visage of a yurei. Yet he saw the flair of her under-kimono peeking out—red as the red-blossomed plum tree. She bore a sash across her chest, and a sutra in the folds of her sleeves.

She stood on the bridge, facing South. She was quite alone. Tsuna mounted the bridge from the West, and the sound of his horse cracking the silence of the night.

The woman called out, “What business is yours? I am making a pilgrimage to Gojo. It is dangerous to travel alone at night. You gave me a scare!” Her tone was overly familiar for such a meeting. Tsuna answered “Come upon my horse. It would be my pleasure to help you on your errand.”

Tsuna brought his horse near and dismounted, then lifted the woman into the saddle. She held the warrior tight, as he spun his horse around and headed West. The woman directed him towards Shogimachi, saying “Great sir, in truth I am not on a pilgrimage to Gojo. My home lies a little bit outside of the capital. If you would do me the honor of taking me as far as the gates, I would be in your debt.”

Tsuna complied, saying it would be his pleasure to see the lady home. With that, the woman changed into the form of an oni, saying “It is I who shall be taking you to Mt. Atago!” She grabbed Tsuna’s topknot and flew into the air taking Tsuna with her. Tsuna was caught off guard for only a moment, before drawing Higekiri and slicing off her arm mid-air. He looked into the sky and saw the North Star as he plummeted to earth. Tsuna flees, the hand of the severed arm still holding his topknot. Where the hand held tight his hair had turned white as snow.


Tsuna gave Lord Yoshimoto quite a shock when he returned, severed arm still firmly in place. The sorcerer Abe no Seimei was summoned, who advised Tsuna to be given seven days leave, during which time he must pray to the two Deva kings for release from the arm.

Translator’s Note:

Part one of the long-requested Hashihime. I will do a standard entry next with the history and different versions of the yokai, but I thought it might be fun to translate the actual Heiki Monogatari passage on Hashihime instead of just referencing it. Apparently I have a strange idea of fun … Heian period Japanese is hard!

This is only one version of the tale of the Hashihime of Uji. Because the Heiki Monogatari comes from an oral tradition, there are multiple versions of every tale. The second tale, of Tsuna and the sword Higekiri cutting off the arm of an oni, is only sometimes connected to the Hashihime (and even then only marginally). Other times he meets the oni at the Rashomon gate and cuts off its arm there. The tale follows with the oni coming back to Tsuna in some hidden form and stealing back its arm.

Further Reading:

For more tales of dangerous women on, check out:

Ushi no Koku Mairi – Shrine Visit at the Hour of the Ox

Nure Onago – The Soaked Woman

Takaonna – The Tall Woman

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