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

Shirime – Eyeball Butt

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

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

In old times, this was a yokai found on the roads leading to Kyoto. The legend goes that late at night, a samurai walking down the street when a man in a kimono stepped in to block his path and said “Excuse me … just a moment of your time … “ The samurai readied himself for an attack, and shouted back “What do you want?”

The man suddenly shed his kimono and stood stark naked. He then bent over and showed his ass to the samurai, which had a single, huge eye. When the eye opened, it shown with a bright light. The samurai screamed with fright and fled from the mysterious monster.

The poet and artist Buzon included the shirime in his collection “Buzon’s Yokai Picture Scroll” (蕪村妖怪絵巻), which is the only known source of the story. It is a variation of the nopperabo legend, and the shirime is considered to be a type of nopperabo.

Regular nopperabo surprise people by suddenly showing them a featureless face, smooth as an egg. The shimire species of nopperable can give a double surprise, first showing the featureless face then bending over and exposing the eyeball butt. The shirime doesn’t have any bad intentions or evil purpose. It just thinks it is fun to surprise people.

Shirime Pom Poko

Shrimime’s Cameo in Pom PokoTranslator’s Note:

The shirime’s name is pretty self-explanatory; 尻 (shiri – butt)目(me – eye). The term can also be used to mean to look down on someone, or to look askance at.

Like many of this type of yokai, there isn’t much more to the story than a mischievous creature that likes to startle people. Japan has a high tolerance for body humor and grotesqueness, and the shirime is a good example of this.

Further Reading:

Check out other butt-related tales from hyakumonogatari.com:

Kappa to Shirikodama – Kappa and the Small Anus Ball

Yūrei-zu – A Portrait of a Yūrei, a Japanese Ghost

Translated from Mikzuki Shigeru’s Yokai Zukan

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

The moon hangs in the sky like the blade of a sickle, giving off a dim glow. A ghostly air permeates the scene, and from a thicket of bamboo emerges the form of a single yurei.

An emaciated body wrapped in a kyokatabira, the traditional white burial kimono, this figure is the very epitome of a yurei. Our eyes are instantly drawn to the clenched teeth from which dangles a pale, severed head. Held tightly by the hair, the yurei shows no sign of allowing its precious bounty to drop, and its expression challenges anyone to make it try. And while the eyes of the dead, severed head are closed, the eyes of the yurei look as if they could pop out of their eye sockets at any moment. An unearthly light surrounds the yurei and its head. The scene is blood curdling.

The head is painted in vivid colors, but we do not know its story. There must have been some terrible curse, some tragic event, to produce such a terrifying circumstance.

Although there are other paintings along similar themes, in this work the artist Kawanabe Kyosai has emphasized the horror, the eerie nature of the image. Kyosai is known as a master of yurei paintings, and surely this is one of his masterpieces.

Translator’s Note

This is Mizuki Shigeru’s commentary on a famous painting by Meiji-era artist Kawanabe Kyosai (河鍋暁斎; 1831-1889). Known as the last great painter in the Japanese style, Kyosai was said to be the inheritor of Hokusai and the other great ukiyo-e masters, although he did not study under Hokusai.

This painting, titled simply Yurei-zu (幽霊図), meaning “Picture of a Yurei,” is india ink on silk and was painted in 1870 – The 3rd year of the Meiji period. The painting is currently housed in the Fukuoka City Museum.

The story of this particular painting is not known, and indeed there may be no story. Kyosai painted a few portraits of yurei carrying severed heads. The reason for this is usually related to a story from Kyosai’s youth. As a nine-year old boy, he found a severed head by the side of a river, and brought it home to study and play with it like some discovered toy. When his parents found the head and ordered Kyosai to throw it back in the river, he did so only after he drew the head from every angle, fully studying his gruesome find.

Further Reading:

Check out other yurei art from hyakumonogatari.com:

Hokusai’s Manga Yurei

More Hokusai Manga Yurei

Kyōkotsu – The Crazy Bones Yōkai

Kyokotsu Mizuki Shigeru
Translated and adapted from Hyakiyako Kaitai Shisho and other sources

Be careful when you pull up a bucket of water from an ancient, abandoned well. You might get more than you bargained for if a kyokotsu 狂骨—which translates literally as “crazy bones”—springs up from the bucket like a Jack-in-the-Box to deliver its curse.

Clad in a white burial kimono, kyokotsu almost look like a classical yurei but they lack the black/white contrast due to shocks of white hair that spring from its bleached-white skull. Kyokotsu appear as little more than bones wrapped in a shroud, springing from a well.

The yokai is best-known from Toriyama Sekien’s Edo-period yokai print-book “Konjyaku Hyaku Kishui” or  “Supplement to the Hundred Demons of the Past.” Author Kyogoku Natsuhiko also recent featured a kyokotsu in his book “Dream of the Kyokotsu.”

Sekien’s original woodblock print was accompanied by this text:

“Kyokotsu rise from the bones in the well. It is said that whosoever commits the horrendous act of abandoning august bones will find it impossible to abandon the horrendous wrath that follows.”

Sekien’s text seems to explain that kyokotsu appear from a well in response to some wrongdoing and bearing a terrible grudge. Seiken also claimed that the regional-dialect term “kyokotsu,” meaning “violent” or “furious,” is an allusion to this yokai. However, while such a term does exist, specifically in Tsuki-gun in Kanagawa prefecture, there is no concrete evidence linking either the term or Seiken’s picture to an older folktale.

It is much more likely that the opposite occurred, that Seiken heard the term “kyokotsu” and decided to invent a yurei to match—much like if an English-language author decided to create a monster called “Lazy Bones” after the pre-existing term. To get the image for his yokai, Seiken was probably just playing on works, combining the local term “kyokotsu” (crazy bones) with “gyokotsu,” which means bones from which all of the meat has fallen off. He might also have been influenced by the words “keikotsu” or “sokotsu” which can mean drifter or wander, but also can be phrased as “someone from the bottom.” It seems likely that Seiken was influenced both by these words and by the old belief of an inexhaustible grudge that can come from the bottom of wells.

There are several Japanese folklore stories—involving both yokai and yurei—that involve the bottom of a well. In Japanese folklore, water was a channel to the world of the dead, and the bottoms of wells were directly connected. Wells also served as a convenient hiding place for murders committed in the dark of the night, and the superstitious believed that any such-disposed of corpse was capable of a powerful curse. Those who died from falling in wells, by accident, suicide, or murder, were thought to transform into shiryo and haunt the well. The spirit connects to the well itself, rather than where they were murdered, and their curse is likely to fall on anyone who used the well and not specifically targeted to the murderer.

A cursed set of bones is another typical trope in Japanese folklore and does not need to be connected to a well. In her book “Nozarashi Monogatari,” the literary scholar Sawada Mizuho wrote a similar story of a weather-beaten, abandoned skull that gets its revenge.

The biggest difference between the kyokotsu and typical Japanese folklore tales of skeletal ghosts is the element of disparity between the spirit form and the physical remains. In most stories, the spirit resembles a typical Japanese yurei—with a physical, full human body—even while the discovered remains are nothing more than a pile of rotting bones. The kyokotsu is rare in that Sekien drew the spirit in skeletal form as well. Because of this, kyokotsu is most often identified as a type of yokai, being a possessed skeleton, rather than a type of yurei, a Japanese ghost.

Translator’s Note:  The manga series “Bleach” has a character called Katen Kyōkotsu that uses the same kanji as this yokai, but seems to have no other relationship.

The Speaking Skull

Translated from Nihon no Yurei Banashi

The Man who materialized before the Temple Gate

This is a tale that comes from about 1300 AD.   There was a temple in Nara prefecture called Kanko-ji, where lived a monk named Doutou.  Doutou had come from Koma province (modern day of northern Chosen peninsula), and was a very tender-hearted and compassionate person.  He noted one day that travelers had difficulty crossing the Uji river due to lack of a bridge, and so he supplied the funds from his personal savings to build a bridge for everyone’s use.  Acts such as this earned Doutou the respect and honor of everyone who knew him.

One day, Doutou was walking through the valley of Mt. Nara with his disciple Manryo.  Quite by accident while glancing on the wayside, he saw a skull that had tumbled down from somewhere.  The skull seemed to have had a hard time, being covered in mud and looking like it had been kicked around by travelers on the road. There was very little meat left clinging to the bone, and then only in small places.  Doutou felt very sorry for the poor skull, and turned around to talk to his disciple Manryo.

“Look at this poor skull, of nobody knows who.  People have been picking on it even when it is dead.  In order to protect it from this shameless behavior, the least we can do is place it in some tree away from trampling feet.”

As his mastered commanded, Manryo took the skull high up into a tree away from where it would be seen, and covered it with some branches to keep it hidden.

This happened on the evening of the closing of the year.

Soon after, a man appeared before the gates of Kanko-ji, asking to be shown inside.

“I have humbly come down from the mountains, with a request to see the one they call Manryo with my own eyes.  Could you please bring me before him?”

The man was infallibly polite in his greeting and manners, so the young man tending the gate guided him to Manryo.

Though Manryo had never seen the man before, his face had an odd familiarity about it.  This is what the man said:

“I am a man who is deeply indebted to you.  You have done me a tremendous service, and now I would like to return your generosity.  Although I have brought nothing with me now, I beg of you to return with me to my home so that I may properly repay you.”

For his part, Manryo did not understand at all.  However, because the petitioner had come with such heartfelt enthusiasm, he felt that the man must be telling the truth.

“How could I deny such a request from one so earnest?  I will come with you to your home.”

There was nothing for Manryo to do except for to accompany the man out of the temple gates.

A crime revealed

When he arrived at the man’s house, Manryo was presented with a dazzling feast.

“Please, please…take only your favorites, and lots of them!  Please!”

While saying this, the man began to enthusiastically gorge himself.  Manryo still wondered what he had done to deserve such rich rewards, but when he asked the man how exactly he had been of service, the man was quick to shut Manryo up by shoving delicious delicacies at him.  There seemed to be no end to the offered morsels.

Manryo, still a young man and given to worldly pleasures, was unable to resist.

“Alright, I will hear the reason later.  For now, I will simply enjoy the proffered feast!”

With that decided, Manryo dug into the food with as much enthusiasm as his mysterious companion.  Never in his life had he tasted such delicious foods, and he was eager to try them all.  Between the two of them, empty plates piled up like a mountain.

Eventually, enthusiasm gave way to physics as Manryo could stuff no more food into his eager body.  Thinking to relax, he was startled as he saw the man’s face suddenly turn a violent shade.

“Honored Manryo!  My brother who murdered me has just arrived!  There is no time to hesitate.  We must flee from here!  Come with me!”

Hearing this, Manryo was shocked out of his pleasant repose.

“What? What exactly are you saying?”

His voice trembling, the man answered.

“Many years ago my brother and I had a business together. From that business I was able to save 30 kin of gold (about 18 kilograms).  My brother himself saved nothing, and thought it easier to kill me one night and steal my 30 kin of gold.  For the longest time my body rotted in the forest, until nothing was left of me but my skull.  People walking along the road who saw me would only kick my skull out of the way like an inconvenience. It was terrible. But then, beyond all hope you came along and lifted me up from the dirt and saved me from my fate.”

“I thought about how I could possibly repay such a kindness, and so I came to your temple this evening to invite you to my house for this feast.”

To say that Manryo was surprised by this confession would be a gross understatement.  But even in his panic and confusion he realized that being caught in this house by the murderous brother was undesirable, and so he jumped to his feet.  But he was too slow in trying to escape, and he heard the door creak open and someone enter the house.

The shock was too much for him, and Manryo froze in fright.

The person at the door, however, was not the feared brother but instead the brother’s son accompanied by their mother.  She saw Manryo standing rigidly in her living room and shouted in fear.

“Ahhh!!! A monk! Why are you here inside my house!”

Manryo let the story he had just heard poor out in every detail.  He turned back to look over his shoulder and get confirmation from the man who had led him to this house, only to see nothing.

The mother listened to Manryo’s story with as much shock as Manryo had.  It was nothing like what she had heard before.   The mother was very angry towards her son who had killed his younger brother.  She looked down at the brother’s son and told him in her strictest voice.

“Your father is a terrible person!  You must pray for the spirit of your murdered uncle, and apologize for your father’s crime!”

The young boy did as he was directed, and removed his father from his heart to be replaced by honored instead his uncle who had been good and kind.

This story comes from the “Nihon Ryoiki,” Japan’s oldest collection of folktales and legends. That folktale collection was written in the 13th year of Konin (822 AD), and is mostly a collection didactic tales for teaching Buddhism.

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