The earliest versions of a tengu describe it as somewhat of bird-human hybrid, including wings or a beak, the latter of which became elongated noses. When you see a traditional Japanese mask with a red face and long nose, that's a tengu!
Originally depicted as demons and symbols of war, their image changed over time. Tengus are still powerful beings, but they’re now seen more as protective spirits, guardians of the forests and mountains, and are sometimes considered a type of kami or god. They are often shown with red faces and holding feather fans that can summon strong winds.
Also called a “river-child,” a Kappa is a frog or turtle-like yōkai, described as a demon or imp. They’re green but humanoid, with webbed hands and feet and shells on their backs. They live in rivers or ponds and are said to like eating cucumbers. A Kappa’s weakness is a liquid-filled dent in its head, which can’t dry up or spill while the creature is out of the water.
If that all isn’t weird enough, Kappas are said to assault people from underwater, stealing a fabled “shirikodama” organ from a victim's anus. Kappa are also known for being quite lecherous, so best to avoid them whenever possible.
Nure-onna, or the Snake Woman, is a reptilian yōkai with the head of a woman and the body of a snake. She’s said to feast on humans and can live in seas or rivers.
Tales of these creatures have been around since the Edo period (1603-1867). Even more threatening, according to texts the Nure-onna is huge. Their tails were said to be about 327 meters long, that’s 1072.83 feet!
Originating from legends dating back to the 14th century, this yōkai or ogre leader was somewhat of an evil king. He was said to dwell in a lair in a mountain, though the specific location is debated, with Mt. Ōe or Mt. Ibuki being the most likely.
Shuten Dōji kidnapped people, mostly women, and forced them to be slaves before being devoured. He loved sake and was decapitated by Minamoto Raikō, a hero from Japanese folklore. Shuten Doji can be considered a type of oni more specifically.
This yōkai, also written as Yamamba or Yamanba, is a mountain ogress (oni) or witch. A majority of stories have her living in the mountains. In some, she is said to be kind and gentle, dressed in clothes made from tree bark, and nurses lost children.
In darker tales, she is said to be more dangerous, capable of spiriting people away or attacking—sometimes eating—trespassers on her mountain. In one version, she’s even bulletproof. Her only weakness was said to be her soul that was hidden in a flower.
Hone-onna, which translates to “bone woman,” is a skeleton yōkai from Toriyama Sekien’s 1779 “Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki.” In the story, a female skeleton carrying a peony lantern visits the home of a man she loved when she was alive.
In some versions, Hone-onna was told she was ugly when she was alive. But the most uplifting part is how her lasting love for the man, who in turn comes to love her, allows her to live on.
Though the Hone-onna began as a folktale about one woman, now the urban legend is that any woman who dies with an undying love in her heart has the potential to become a hone-onna. The appear young and beautiful as they did in life to the one who loves them, but others who aren't influenced by love for her will see her true form, the skeletal figure of a dead body. As Hone-onna "lives" on with her lover, she slowly sucks out his life force, weakening him until he dies and they are forever united again.
Kuchisake-onna, or the Slit-Mouthed Woman, is definitely one of the deadlier beings on this list. She conceals her face with a fan or mask and wields a sharp weapon, like scissors or a knife.
It’s said that she asks people whether they think she’s attractive. If you say “no,” she’ll kill you immediately. If you say “yes,” she’ll remove the mask to show her mutilated face and then ask the question again. You’ll die if you say no, but if you say yes, she’ll cut the corners of your mouth to resemble hers. Ouch!
Kuchisake-onna is said to be the vengeful spirit of a woman who was maimed in life, either on accident by a doctor or dentist, or purposefully by jealous women or as a punishment for adultery. According to lore, you can try to escape the Slit-Mouthed Woman by telling her she looks “average” or try bribing her with money or candy.
Yes, another female yōkai! Yuki-onna is a spirit, also known as the Snow Woman, among other names. Her origins date back to at least the Muromachi period (1336 -1573), but her story has many versions. Though beings like Yuki-onna, Kushisake-onna and Hone-onna might seem more like spirits and thus yūrei, there is an important difference: yūrei are only spirits and are often limited to stay in one place, but Yuki-onna and Hone-onna both can appear anywhere and both are physical beings that can interact with their surroundings.
When it comes to how she came into being, two versions deal with a woman disappearing, either vanishing in a bath and leaving only icicles or turning into snow and blowing away. In many stories, Yuki-onna will ask you to hold a child, which could either freeze you to death (if you accept) or result in you being pushed down a snowy valley (if you refuse).
Many stories about Yuki-onna have her preying on people lost in a snow storm, making her a personification of hypothermia. While other tales paint her as being more benevolent, simply beautiful, capable of love, and appearing during snowfall.