Japanese folklore has intrigued people from around the world, and many mythical stories have been adapted as horror movies, anime, graphic novels, manga, and books. Several books such as 'Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales' and 'Child-life in Japan' were published in the 20th century to introduce the rich Japanese culture to the world. The characters from these stories created a lasting impression on their readers.
Most of Japan's folklore and mythological tales are inspired and influenced by their religious beliefs, Shinto and Buddhism. However, stories from ancient India also make up some parts of Japanese folklore. With themes of kindness, greed, and magic, the tales feature supernatural creatures, monsters, and spirits that possess characteristics of nature.
Japanese Fairies: Yōsei
In Japanese folklore, the term yōsei is used for fairies. Although the word originates from Japan, in modern times, this word refers to Western legends. According to an ancient folk belief from Iwate Prefecture, this creature from the Japanese folklore could resurrect the dead. There are stories about the people of Mt. Horai who were tiny fairies with no knowledge of the evil around them, which kept them young forever. Some tales relate to the race of small people known as Koro-pok-guru in the Ainu folklore. Kijimuna is another example of a fairy-like being in Japenese folklore who was known as tree sprites.
The Magical Fox; Kitsune
Japanese folklore has tales of kitsune or foxes that possess magical powers and intelligence. Thought as the messengers of the kami (divine being) Inari, the foxes could transform into human form, usually as beautiful women. In these stories, the foxes are portrayed as clever tricksters than evil monsters. A recurring character in pop culture, shown in the Pokemon, Okami, and Naruto, is the nine-tailed fox. Believed to be omens, the nine-tailed fox originated in China.
The Japanese Tengu
Japanese folklore is filled with stories of the yokai, but the tengu is a character that most modern Westerners are familiar with. At first glance, he presents himself as a superhero with the ability to fly, magical powers, extraordinary physical strength, and secret martial arts skills. But the tengu is much more than just a comic book creation- it is part of Japan's history and has meaningful connections to Japanese religion and culture.
Like the kitsune and tanuki, the tengu was originally an animal that transformed itself. As the kitsune is connected to the religion of Shinto, tengu is closely associated with Buddhism. A sworn enemy of the faith, the tengu is known throughout history to lure people away from the path to enlightenment. Believed to be like demi-gods than the tricksters yokai, they command respect and submission from the others.
The Legend of Jorogumo
The Joroguma is a yokai in the form of a spider that can transform itself into a beautiful and seductive woman when it wants to lure and eat a human. It is said that the reflection of a joroguma will remain that of a spider even when it is in human form. In Japan, some spiders are believed to possess supernatural powers. One of these, the jorogumo, is the most well-known arachnid yokai. Their body size is between two to three centimeters long, but they grow in size as they age; some grow large enough to prey on small birds. Known for their striking colors, large size, and strong webs, these spiders can create havoc and destruction on young men. Jorogumo lives a solitary life, both as yokai and spiders. When the golden-orb-weaver reaches the age of 400 years, it develops magical powers and begins feeding on humans rather than insects. Intelligent and cold-hearted, they build their nests inside caves, forests, and empty houses. They are skillful tricksters and powerful shapeshifters who spend their lives appearing as attractive and young women.
The Tiny Korobokkuru
The korobokkuru originates from the Ainu myth, who are people native to northern Japan and Hokkaido. According to stories, the korobokkuru were a race of tiny people who participated in trade with the Ainu. One day, a man from the Ainu ambushed a korubokkuru to find out what they looked like as no one ever saw them. Incredibly shy, he felt angry and embarrassed by the confrontation. The tiny person fled, and the korobokkuru disappeared forever, never to be seen again.
The Haunted Tskumogami
The name tsukumogami is given collectively to a type of yokai, which are magical and haunted household objects. According to the faith of Shinto, everything has a spirit, so in Japanese folklore, inanimate objects can become alive. This transformation occurs on the 100th birthday; an object can inherit a soul after serving people for a whole century. If the magical object has been ill-treated in the century, it becomes vengeful and causes harm to its current owner. Because of this, people in Japan are careful to buy second-hand things because if the object's previous owners were unkind, the tsukumogami would unleash its wrath on the new owners. The powers of a tsukumogami range from being slightly irritating to murderous; they are also known to come together with objects of their kind to intensify their impact and scare factor.
The Spirits of Shikigami
Shikigami is believed to be the spirits used by onmyoji, who are the users of the art of onymodo. The onmoyoji practiced a form of divination and magic which included the summoning and control of magical spirits of shikianegami. The shikigami are supernatural spirits that are controlled by the power of their masters. In spirit form, they are invisible but usually possess paper manikins to take up physical form. Depending on their masters' power, they can even possess other physical objects, animals, and sometimes, people.
From magical foxes and shapeshifting raccoons to vengeful objects and human-eating spiders, Japanese folklore is rich with extraordinary and supernatural creatures born from people's religious beliefs and ancient culture. Many of these characters have jumped from the pages of myth to comic books and movies, spreading Japanese folklore in all parts of the world.