An Introduction To Japanese Yōkai: Karakasa-kozō

Amongst the numerous hobbies that I enjoy, is the study of Japanese history and culture. Nestled deep in Japan’s long history are countless tales and records involving the supernatural and extraordinary. The most striking are those that surround the Yōkai. Yōkai are spirits, demons, or otherwise supernatural entities. And they are numerous, popping up all over Japanese recorded history. Even powerful leaders like Toyotomi Hideyoshi have pondered their existence and meaning. Many Yōkai are perceived to be friendly or benign. Many are seen to be a bane to the people they come in contact with, often causing mischief and problems wherever they appear. Some are even seen as holy, and tied directly to the various gods in the Shinto religion. This series is an introduction into the very deep world of the Japanese supernatural.



Karakasa-kozō[pronounced: kah rah kah sah koh zo-] is a Chinese-style oiled paper umbrella that has come to life. To break down the name: Kara roughly means – China(or Chinese), Kasa means – umbrella, and Kozō means – youngster or kid.   Another name that this Yōkai can go by is Kasa-obake (literally ghost umbrella).

A Karakasa-kozō is often seen as somewhat comical. But they can also appear quite terrifying. The stick, in which one would hold the umbrella, becomes a single leg and foot. One that often appears monstrous. Though, sometimes it can look like a human leg. A single eye and a mouth appears from the parasol. A long oily tongue, presumably oily from the design of the parasol, can usually be seen hanging out of the mouth and flailing around. They hop around on their single leg, and are able to blend in with other similar umbrellas. Some Karakasa-kozō even have the ability to grow arms and even a second leg.

Like the childish name implies(the use of the word Kozō ), they are juvenile pranksters, and really enjoy scaring people. Their most notable prank is to sneak up behind their victim and to lick them with their long oily tongues. This act is enough to scare any of its victims, as well as leave them feeling disgusted and in need of a trip to a bathhouse as soon as possible. 

Image source A two legged version

The Spirit Of An Object

A Karakasa-kozō is considered to be a Tsukumogami-type Yōkai. These are inanimate objects that become, well, animate. Generally these are tools such as; hammers, axes, and otherwise. But things like sandals, lanterns, and other objects have been depicted as these Yōkai. The belief is that if an object(really, any object) reaches an age of 100 years it becomes aware, and in essence, alive.

These Tsukumogami Yōkai later became staples in Japanese haunted houses, because of their everyday ties and uses. They even regularly appear in manga and anime that have a focus on Yōkai. Titles such as: ‘GeGeGe no Kitarō‘ or ‘Yo-kai Watch‘.

To further delve into the subject of Tsukumogami, you could take a look at the Shinto religion. Many Japanese have a belief that not just living creatures, but also inanimate objects have a life-force deep within them. Or a spirit. As a result of this mindset, for the most part, all things are treated with respect. The origins of these beliefs can be traced back to the polytheistic Shinto religion, where spirits of the gods are said to inhabit almost all things. From animals to waterfalls, and yes, even objects such as swords and umbrellas.

So with that thought, the concept of a 100 year old object coming to life as a Yōkai might not exactly be that tough to wrap your mind around. Right?

Image source A Karakasa-kozō with some other Tsukumogami. Bakezōri, or ghost sandals. And Mokumokuren, the ghost of torn Shoji (paper walls/doors)

The Japanese take so good care of their possessions, that they often look brand new. Even some 30, 40, or perhaps 50 years after acquiring them. Case in point are the numerous second hand shops in Japan. There are big chains such as, BookOff or 2nd STREET. And of course there are mom & pop places as well. These shops are everywhere, and within those walls lay everything from treasures and rare items to regular everyday wares that someone just didn’t need anymore. One thing you will often notice, though, is that older items are often in such great condition that they look brand new.

You can go into a BookOff and buy an original, almost 40 year old, Nintendo(Famicon) for relatively cheap. And not only will it still likely look as good as the day it was bought, it will still be fully functional. This is likely due to the original owners loving care and storage, as well as the staffs meticulous inspections and cleaning of the item prior to posting it for sale. To return to the Shinto mindset, this cleaning or even repairing of an old item is also likened to repairing the items life force, or spirit.

The belief that objects have a life force runs deep in Japan. Further examples take you in to the home. Whereas in the West it may be seen as acceptable to put your feet up on a coffee table while relaxing after work, in Japan this is generally seen as a taboo. In addition to being unsanitary, to put your dirty feet up on a table might also anger or even damage the table’s spirit. There are even rituals for blessing new and old homes where a priest will come and deliver the blessing. Because the home itself, of course, has a spirit within it as well.

So, do take care when you are looking for your new home. Or even when you are out shopping for antiquities. Because when you find that great looking table that was built a century ago, you just may be about to bring an angry Yōkai home with you. One that may just absolutely despise feet.

Yōkai Road

Image source
Shigeru Mizuki with Medama Oyaji(a talking eyeball and main character from GeGeGe no Kitarō) on his shoulder.

Manga artist Shigeru Mizuki(1922-2015), a veteran of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, was an authority on Yōkai, and spent most of his life studying and writing about them. He was the author of the widely known long running manga series GeGeGe no Kitarō, which centers on Yōkai lore. This series was also made into an anime.

In 1996 Mizuki had a street dedicated to his work in Tottori Prefecture, located in western Japan, where he was raised. On this street are well over 150 bronze Yōkai statues of various shapes and sizes. All situated in varying locations. There are also characters from his hit manga depicted in statue form.

A Karakasa-kozō, or Kasa-obake, can be found at Yōkai Road with its trademark oily tongue hanging from its mouth.

For further information about Yōkai, I highly suggest A website run by Matthew Meyer. He has studied Yōkai and Japanese folklore intensively, and has also released a series of books that he wrote, designed, and illustrated. All devoted to the subject. His books and website were a major source of information for this series, and I regularly reference them. They are:

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]

Click here for more Japanese Yōkai posts


All of these are true except for one:

Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

More about Robert | Robert’s contributions