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Keith Lin's Top 5 Yokai

To Celebrate this Halloween Month we thought we'd ask our in house Japanese Ghost Master here at Shop Nine and Three Quarters what his favourite Yokai were! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Yokai they are ghost, phantoms, supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore and make amazing tattoo subjects as they are rich in history and usually have super interesting and unique designs.

There are hundreds of different types of Yōkai! Some are malevolent, some mischievous. Some will even bring you good fortune if you happen to see one. Their appearances vary as much as their behaviours and some can have animal qualities while others can appear more human, there are also many Yokai that look like objects.

Yōkai usually have spiritual or supernatural power, with shapeshifting being one of the most common. In the Edo period, many artists created yōkai inspired by folklore and their own ideas.

So now you've had the run down, here is Keith's favourite Yokai of all time (In no particular order)

1- Kappa (pronouced KAH-pah)

Kappa's have a beak-like mouth, shell on back like a tortoise, water-filled “bowl” on top of head and a strong fishy smell. Also it is claimed that the kappa have 3 anuses, which I for one am not keen to verify. They also love cucumbers!

The amphibious kappa is found in bodies of water in japan, like rivers and swamps and there are even some tales of Kappas hiding in smaller ponds more inland. Kappas were used by adults to scare kids away from playing near waterways as the kappa were said to ambush and drown their victims and consume their “shirikodama” which is a mysterious organ humans apparently have in their colon. This again I cannot verify. Kappa remove this delicacy by going punching up the poop chute- OUCH!

If you encounter a kappa,there are a couple of ways you could attempt to escape.

1- the kappa needs to have the “bowl” at the top of its head filled with water from its home body of water. So one way to escape is to bow deeply to the kappa. The kappa is inclined to do the same, and in doing so will spill the water from its head, thus losing its power and forcing it to return to get it filled again.

2- as they are also fond of cucumbers, having a few to throw for them to fetch while running in the opposite direction seems like a logical thing to do.


The waterproof skin of the kappa is called amagawa and raincoats in Japan are also known as amagappa.

Cucumber sushi is also known as kappa maki

2-Bakeneko (Bah-keh Neh-koh)or Neko-mata (Nek-koh Mah-Tah)

The 2 names seems somewhat interchangeable and bakeneko is translated as monster cat and nekomata is translated as forked cat.

How to recognise the Bakeneko- they are generally bigger than normal felines and walk upright on their hind legs. They also have 2 tails (forked tail). They also seem to be fond of drinking oil used for lighting lamps. This probably came about because back in the day, the oil used to light lamps often contained fats which the house pet would sometimes take a lick of. With lamps being placed above ground, the cats would have to stretch up to get the oil. Viewed behind a paper screen with the flickering lamp creating monstrous shadows, thus the legend was born!

It is said that once cats reach between the age of 11 or 40 depending on who you ask, its tail splits into two and it acquires supernatural powers like shapeshifting and control over the dead. Felines who have suffered unusually cruel lives or deaths will also return as vengeful ghost cats! These cats attack and devour humans.

The moral of this yokai is not to abuse cats or any animals really. Only pats and love!

Fun Fact

Most cats in japan appear to be of the tail-less or bobtail variety which makes me wonder if the cats with long tails weren’t popular due to the possibility of turning into a yokai

3 Tofu Kozo pronounced Toh-foo Koh-zo

Literally translate as Tofu Boy =)

How to recognise the Tofu Kozo. About 1m in height with a a conical straw hat, wearing a kimono and sandal, geta or barefoot. He is also always spotted carrying a plate of tofu adorned with a momiji(japanese maple) leaf.

Seeing a young boy in traditional clothes and carrying a piece of tofu doesn’t scream danger but beware! If offered said tofu, please politely and gently refuse. The victim consumes the tofu and a virulent fungus grows within the body, eventually draining the life as the spores grow.

Disclaimer: consuming normal tofu does not cause fungus to grow in the body!

4/5/6 (more of a combo/group)

Kara-kasa (kah-rah Ka-sah) Haunted Umbrella

Bura-bura (Boo-rah Boo-rah) or Bake Chochin (Bah-keh Choo-cheen) Haunted Lantern

Bake-zori (Bah-Keh Zoh-ree) Ghost Sandal

How to recognise these

Paper lantern with a weird leering face that floats around with ghost flames.

Lacquered paper umbrella with creepy eye jumping around on either one or two legs.

The ghost sandal is often broken and has legs and eyes.

These belong to a group called Tsukumo-gami or artifact spirits. The Kara-kasa and chochin are often seen together as they are found in similar places and made of similar materials. Tsukumo-gami are usually normal every day items turned into mischievous spirits due to neglect or mistreatment. They are thought of as the human expression of the remorse felt when throwing away an item one has owned for many years.

They do not harm as such but rather shock with their presence. They are merely upset about being abandoned after years of useful service.

The way to prevent household items from becoming vengeful spirits is to take care of your items. Carelessly handled or neglected items are likely to reanimate as one of these artifact spirits.

If you'd like your own spooky little Yokai Keith would love to design one for you ^-^ so send us an email!

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