Are these cute or just scary? Japanese spirits and ghosts!

From time immemorial, Japan's horror stories always featured youkai, the Japanese word for ghosts and monsters. It's said that people gave the name "youkai" to phenomena that people couldn't understand. Some youkai are really scary at a glance, but when you look at them closer they're actual rather charming or funny. Check out these youkai that fall under that category.


Japanese Culture




The youkai represented in the famous anime GeGeGe no Kitarou.

What are youkai?

Yōkai (妖怪ghostphantomstrange apparition) are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore. The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for "bewitching; attractive; calamity" and "apparition; mystery; suspicious". They can also be called ayakashi ()mononoke (物の怪), or mamono (魔物). Yōkai range eclectically from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features (such as the Kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the Tengu which has wings), other times they can appear mostly human, some look like inanimate objects and others have no discernible shape. Yōkai usually have a spiritual supernatural power, with shapeshifting being one of the most common.Yōkai that have the ability to shapeshift are called obake.

Youkai have appeared in art and folklore for since ancient times.

This illustration depicts ogres, monsters, goblins, and ghosts performing their nightly procession.

Charming ghouls

Youkai were created from folk beliefs and so things that were familiar in everyday life became youkai.
These are unique youkai that also appear in Shigeru Mizuki's famous manga "GeGeGe no Kitarou."

Konaki Jiji (old man crying)

This is a malicious youkai that appears as an old man. He appears before people crying, and once you hold him, he turns heavy like a stone in order to crush people to death.

Ittan-momen (one bolt of cotton); photo by kyu3

Though one of the beloved characters in GeGeGe no Kintarou is an Ittan-momen, in reality it's a scary youkai that wraps around people's faces and necks in order to suffocate them.

Sunakake Babaa (sand-throwing hag); photo by puffyjet

She's a youkai who throws sand at people without revealing herself. Is it a trick or a threat?


One theory is that it's a youkai called the sea priest.
He appears slippery as an eel and runs away unexpectedly, making it an elusive youkai.
There are also images of them as jellyfish or octopi.

Nurikabe; photo by puffyjet

This youkai is a wall that stands before people and blocks their way with its large body.


It's an old umbrella that has grown an eye and legs.
It's unsure whether it pulls pranks on people or not.

It's perfect for learning about Japanese youkai! The anime "GeGeGe no Kintarou"

If you think these youkai aren't scary but rather kind of adorable and you want to learn more about them, you should definitely check out the anime GeGeGe no Kintarou.
If you see the manga in stores, you should also pick it up.

The main character of GeGeGe no Kintarou, Kintarou, and his father, Medama Oyaji; photo by puffyjet

GeGeGe no Kitarō (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎) is a manga series created in 1960 by mangaka Shigeru Mizuki. It is best known for its popularization of the folklorecreatures known as yōkai, a class of spirit-monster to which all of the main characters belong. It has been adapted for the screen several times, as anime,live action and video games. A new anime series has been made every decade since 1968.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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