Yokai : Bewitching Apparitions

Yokai are spirits of Japan, a vast category incorporating thousands of different spirits of all kinds, some anonymous but many with individual names and agendas. Yokai are essentially all spirits of Japan with the exclusion of the kami. The word Yokai is variously translated into English as “Demon”, “ghost”, or “monster” but none of these categories are exactly synonymous perhaps because Yokai form such a huge, diverse clan of spirits.

Yokai encompass Fox Spirits, Kappa, Oni, and Tengu as well as individual spirits like Hone-Onna and Yuki-Onna. Unlike the kami, Yokai have no hierarchy or pantheon—they are independent operators. One Yokai may have nothing to do with another. Some are kind, some are cruel, others range anywhere on the spectrum in between. Should you ever be menaced by threatening Yokai, summon Shoki the Demon queller to vanquish them.

The science of studying Yokai is called Yokaigaku, essentially “Yokai-ology.” Many scholars of Yokai have also traditionally been artists who enjoy painting their portraits. Among the earliest and most influential is Toriyama Sekien (1712–1788), whose published works include The Illustrated Night Parade of One Hundred Yokai and the Illustrated Bag of One Hundred Random Yokai.

During the later Edo era (1603–1867),children collected cards, known in Japanese as karuta, that featured images of individual Yokai, perhaps the precursors of modern Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards.




Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai or the “Gathering of One Hundred Candles” is a Japanese Spiritualist parlor game/ritual. (As with Western Séances, whether it’s purely a game or a ritual depends on participants’ intent.) The tradition was invented by samurai. Participants gather at night in a room lit solely by one hundred candles. Each takes a turn telling a ghost or supernatural story. After each story, one candle is extinguished so that the room becomes progressively darker. Theoretically, when the last candle is extinguished, some sort of Yokai should manifest. (Different sources claim, it may be one Yokai or one hundred.) Knowledgeable players may attempt to invoke a specific spirit; others enjoy being surprised. The Yokai may or may not be pleased to appear. A game of One Hundred Candles may be observed in the second volume of the manga series xxxHolic (Del Rey Publishing, 2004).


Reveling Yokai parade on summer nights in the nocturnal procession called Hyaki Yakko, the “Night of One Hundred Spirits.”


  • Fox Spirits
  • Hannya
  • Hone-Onna
  • Kami
  • Kappa
  • Neko-Mata
  • Nure-Onna
  • Nurikabe
  • Obake
  • Oni
  • Shoki
  • Tanuki
  • Tengu
  • Tsukumogami
  • Wanyudo
  • Wild Hunt
  • Yama Oba
  • Yuki-Onna


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.