An Introduction To Japanese Yōkai: Kowai

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.



Kowai [pronounced: Koh Why] are ghosts. Specifically, the ghost of an over eater when they were living. They absolutely loved to eat, a lot, and most likely it was eating that was the cause of their death. Kowai spirits carry that lust for food into the afterlife. And as a result of that, they are always searching for their next meal or snack. They can generally be found at night hanging around garbage heaps, outside food stalls or restaurants, eating out of gutters, or even eating off of the ground. Kowai have been known to attack or frighten food vendors just to get a scrap of food. They will stop at nothing to get something to eat, because they are always starving.

Kowai are quite terrifying to behold, and they are said to resemble a human with fox-like features(ref: Kitsune). Their eyes are bloodshot, their teeth long and sharp like that of a beast, and they have a long tongue that hangs out of their mouths. Often dripping with saliva, due to the prospects of something tasty to eat.

Historical Origins

Yōkai Kowai were originally found in an 1841 tome of spirits called the Ehon Hyaku-monogatari. The translation of that title is, Picture Book of One Hundred Stories. Kowai appeared in the first of the 5 volumes of this tome. It is thought that this Yōkai’s name is the origin of the daily used Japanese word Kowai, which means ‘Scary’. Though the kanji is quite different.

Yōkai Kowai’s kanji is 狐者異, which if broken down could mean “Strange Fox Person”. The first character is the kanji for fox.

The adjective Kowai, is written, 怖い in kanji. Completely different, but it has the same pronunciation.

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]


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.

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