Yōkai: Supernatural Japanese Monster Art

On November 15, 2014 by Tim Newman


Yōkai are a group of supernatural Japanese monsters, kind of similar to our notion of ghosts. The kanji (or symbol) that describes the Yōkai is made up of two other symbols meaning “bewitching; attractive; calamity” and “apparition; mystery; suspicious”. Sounds good already doesn’t it?

The Yōkai have a spread of traits from mischievous right the way through to downright dangerous; some appear in human form, some are more nebulous and others still can shapeshift on demand. They’ve been filling Japanese children’s dreams and nightmares for centuries.

Hyakki Yagyo Emaki Artist unknown, Muromachi Period

Why am I bringing them to your attention? Well, as always, it’s because I found some really cool old Japanese paintings of these Yōkai. There’s a really modern feel to them even though they are mostly from the Edo period (1603 – 1868).


The Yama-warau are a one-eyed bunch who like to muck about. They are well known for breaking into people’s houses and taking a bath or stealing food. Lumberjacks pay the Yama-warau in liquor and rice balls for assistance in moving trees.

yōkai Yama-warau


Rokurokubi are like an ancient Japanese Mr Tickle. There are two types, those whose necks can stretch indefinitely…

yōkai Sawaki Suushi


…and those who can remove their heads all together:

yōkai Rokurokubi



The Ouni yōkai  are unattractive mountain hags. They turn up at people’s homes late at night and ask for lodging. If the family is kind and lets them stay she spins butt loads of yarn for them and disappears before morning. She ain’t no looker though.

yōkai Ouni


The Mikoshi-nyudo is a googlie eyed, goblin with a stretchy neck. They are huge and likely to bite your throat out. Apparently it’s best to look at their feet and never try to look up to their face.

yōkai Mikoshi-nyudo

Next up a weird bird-like hair-cutter…


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