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Folk creatures in Japanese folklore are known as Yōkai, or mystic apparitions. Here are some of the most interesting and strange ones:
Kappa are probably the most well-known Yōkai, and are small, goblin-like creatures who live in rivers and lakes. They have a bowl-like dent on the tops of their heads, which must be filled with the water from their native pond. If the water is spilled from this bowl the kappa loses its power, and might even die. They are generally mischevious, and might even try to drag people into the water to drown them. However, kappa are obsessed with good manners; if you make a deep bow to one they be forced to mirror you, and will spill their water. Kappa also have a soft spot for cucumbers, which are sometimes left out as offerings to placate the creatures, often with people’s names carved into them as a gesture of goodwill.
Ashiarai Yashiki is a spirit in the form of a huge disembodied foot and leg, usually covered in dirt or even blood. The Ashiarai Yashiki smashes through roofs into people’s homes, and demands that they wash it! Failure to comply and wash the giant foot would result in death and misfortune.
Tsukumogami is a belief that any object that has reached its 100th birthday will become alive and self-aware. The objects would be possessed by friendly and harmless spirits, or mean and vengeful ones, depending on how it was used during its lifetime. One type of Tsukumogami is a Kasa-obake, which is what old umbrellas turn into after 100 years. They look like umbrellas with one eye and one leg, and a long drooping tongue. Another is the Boroboroton, a tattered futon or sleeping mat which comes to life during the night, throws the sleeper to the ground and tries to strangle them.
The akaname is the personification of the fear of using a dark bathroom late at night. It is a small red creature which comes out at night and licks up all the dirt which has accumulated in the bathroom.
Ōnamazu are gigantic catfish allegedly living in the rivers and oceans of Japan. They behave much like smaller, non-mythical catfish, digging in the slime of the river or ocean beds, and thrashing around if disturbed or excited. However, because of the Ōnamazu’s enormous size, these thrashings are so violent that they can cause devastating earthquakes. Usually they are kept under control by the god Kashima, who keeps them in place with a large rock, but occasionally he lets his guard down: the Ōnamazu were blamed for the 1855 Great Ansei earthquake, which caused the deaths of 7,000 people and destroyed much of Tokyo. Following this disaster many prints were produced showing the god sleeping and the catfish destroying the city .
Nurikabe appear as walls or obstacles that impede people walking at night. This Yōkai can extend itself infinitely, so walking around the ‘wall’ is impossible. However, you can make the creature disappear by knocking on the ground in front of its lower left. Nurikabe provide a nice explanation for why travellers get lost.