Japanese Mythology: Gods and Demons

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

If there’s one thing that I think of when I think about Japan, it’s the rich culture.

This culture involves many things including some incredibly interesting mythology packed with tales of mighty Gods and evil demons that have forged amazing legends. 

Japanese Mythology
Japanese Mythology – All you need to know

However, unlike some other cultures around the world, Japanese Gods and demons aren’t as well known and I wanted to change that.

So, I’ve put together this introduction to some of the most intriguing Deities and Devils in Japan.

Japanese Gods

Japan’s main religion is called Shinto and within this belief system, there are a number of Gods which are known as Kami.

These holy spirits are highly respected and worshiped.

Let’s get to know some of them a little better. 

Booking.com

Izanagi and Iznami

Let’s start with izanagi and Iznami who are widely regarded as being the parents of all the other Gods.

Posterazzi
Izanagi and Izanami Japanese Gods Poster Print
$65.66

Posterazzi is your ultimate destination for top-quality posters and prints available on the internet.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Thanks!
02/08/2024 03:08 am GMT

It is said that these two Gods inserted a spear, encrusted with jewels into the space between earth and heaven.

This spear was used to stir up the sea and any drops that fell from the spear turned into the land. 

Izanami; the Mother of Gods, had a baby called Kagutsuchi but she died during childbirth.

Embrace Japanese culture at the Japan Objects Shop. Explore homes, kitchens, clothing, accessories, and more – shop now for exquisite treasures!

Izanagi became so deeply grief stricken that he attempted to bring her back from Death.

However, upon arriving at the Land of Death, he discovered her corpse, rotten and infested with maggots.

Instead of Saving Her – Iznami had no other choice but to leave her where he found her so he sealed up the door and left her.

But this enraged her spirit and she swore that she would kill 1000 souls every day as a way of punishing the world for the humiliation of being deserted.

But Izanagi was one step ahead and pledged that 1500 births would happen every day. 

Amaterasu

Known also as Amaterasu Omikami, this is the Goddess of the Sun.

In the Shinto religion, Amaterasu is known as one of the most important deities. There is a legend that the Imperial Family of Japan is directly descended from Amaraterasu.

@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_amaterasu
@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_amaterasu

As I mentioned earlier, Izanami and Izanagi were the mother and father of all the Gods.

And it’s thought that Amaterasu came from Izanagi’s left eye which he took out and washed away after finding his beloved wife in the Land of Death.

There are many stories surrounding Amaterasu but one of the most well known involves her brother, named Susano-O.

She fought with him and afterwards, fled to a cave where she hid, resulting in the whole world being plunged into darkness.

The other Gods had to have a celebration in order to get her to come out and she became so curious as to what was going on that she came out to investigate.

When She Emerged – There was a straw rope at the opening of the cave preventing her from going back inside. 

Being one of the most important Goddesses in Japanese culture, Amaterasu deserves her very own temple of worship and she has such a thing in the Mie Prefecture in Japan.

This is the Ise Grand Shrine which is one of the most important in the whole Shinto religion. 

Kannon

Buddhism is alive and well in Japan and one of the most important Gods is known as Kannon.

Goddess Kannon
Japanese Goddess Kannon

This is a Goddess that is known for her compassion and mercy but she has also been used by Christians. 

In the 17th century, there was a ban on Christianity in Japan meaning that people practicing this religion needed to come up with new ways of worshiping their own Gods.

As a result, many Christians would take the image of Kannon with a baby in her arms and use this in place of an image of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus. 

Raijin And Fujin

Raijin and Fujin are Gods of the weather, namely thunder, lightning and storms.

Raijin rules over thunder and lightning while Fujin rules over the wind. 

@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_raijin
@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_raijin

It’s not uncommon to see Raijin portrayed with drums and a hammer while Fujin is usually seen holding a bag that contains winds.

His long hair is often depicted blowing behind him.

While Japanese believers do fear these two Gods, they also have a deep seated respect for them.

They are believed to offer protection from enemies in the form of weather and there is a story that they created the Kamikaze Divine Wind back in the late 1200s which helped in the battle between the Japanese and the Mongols. 

Kagutsuchi

Kagutsuchi is the God of fire and the son of the Mother and Father of all Gods; Izanami and Izanagi.

Earlier, I talked about how Izanami died during childbirth; that was a result of the burning fire of her son, Kagutsuchi.

His father was so angry at what had happened that he cut off Kagutsuchi’s head and used the blood to birth even more Gods

Within the Shinto religion, Kagutsuchi is regarded as incredibly powerful and destructive.

As such there are several rituals with him as the focus. These rituals are designed to ward off the fire of Kagutsuchi and must be performed at least every six months.

Japanese Demons

In Japanese, demons are referred to as Yokai but this term can also cover things like supernatural monsters and other spirits.

There are also Oni and Yurie which are types of evil ghosts and while not classed as demons, are not something you’d want to awaken.

For This Reason – Most God-fearing Japanese people will tell you to leave them well alone. 

Yama Uba

You’ll sometimes hear Yama Uba being called the Mountain Ogress and these are elderly women that were kicked out of society and went to live in the mountains.

@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_yama-uba
@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_yama-uba

Since they are so bitter towards humankind, Yama Uba are said to go in search of human flesh. 

There are several stories about these demonic spirits that talk about the Yama Uba’s taste for flesh including one spirit who poses as a kindly woman offering shelter to pregnant ladies.

However, when the child is born, the Yama Uba reveals herself and devours it.

There are also stories surrounding going into the mountains where one might encounter a Yama Uba who will eat anyone who comes near.

It’s hard to spot them right away but the gruesome mouths underneath their hair will soon give them away. But it’s probably too late by then!

Kuchisake – Onna

Known as the slit mouth woman, this demon comes from an urban legend from the late 70s that took Japan by storm.

Perhaps not an ancient demon like some of those seen in Japanese folklore, it’s still as terrifying. 

This spooky entity is known for wearing a medical mask and approaches children to ask whether they think she’s beautiful.

When the answer is yes, Kuchisake-Onna removes her mask so you can see that she has a mouth split from ear to ear. 

After this, the legend goes that she will ask the question again but the only way to escape her is to tell her that she looks OK or you could try to sweeten her up with candy.

However, don’t make the mistake of telling her that she still looks beautiful because she’ll give you a split mouth to match hers!

Oni

The term Oni is often used to describe demons in general but they are specific creatures that are very popular in Japanese culture.

Oni demon in Japan
Oni

One of their most distinguishing features is their ghastly appearance.

They are:

  • usually very large
  • can be red, blue or white
  • and have horns

Oni are normally dressed in loincloths made from tiger’s skin and can be seen carrying huge clubs made from iron.

There are several reasons to fear Oni including their ability to invoke disaster and spread all sorts of nasty diseases.

On top of this, these demons are known to punish humans for their sins. They do this by peeling off their skin, smashing up their bones, eating them, and many other terrible methods of torture. 

What’s super creepy is that these demons are only created when an evil human being dies.

There are many different hells in the Buddhist religion and when an evil person’s spirit enters one of these, Lord Emna will turn them into an Oni.

Kiyohime

There was once a Japanese monk by the name of Anchin who had a lover called Kiyohime.

However, he began to lose interest in her and decided to leave her. When Kiyohime received the news that he was no longer in love with her, she took her revenge. 

@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_kiyohime
@en.wikipedia.org_wiki_kiyohime

Following Anchin to a nearby river, Kiyohime turned into a serpent and chased him.

But despite Anchin’s attempts to get away from her, she would ultimately succeed. 

Anchin headed to a local temple to seek protection from other monks. They hid him underneath a bell but Kiyohime was one step ahead and sniffed him out.

She wrapped her snake-like form around the bell and breathed fire upon it. Poor Anchin was burned alive.

Tengu

Another mountain dwelling demon famous in Japanese folklore is Tengu.

These are goblins that are known for playing tricks on humans and are believed to be the epitome of evil.

Tengu demon in Japan
Tengu

There are many tales of how Tengu draw people away from their Buddhist beliefs as well as stories of kidnappings.

It is thought that Tengu are the spirits of hypocrites who, in life, were banished to the mountains as punishment. 

There are festivals held in Japan where people place offerings before Tengu in order to stop themselves from becoming the victim of their tricks. 

Agi Bridge Demon

There was a rumor that an evil demon lived under the Agi Bridge but within that story, we also find an arrogant man who showed no fear in crossing this bridge, while his friends warned him to proceed with caution. 

The demon that lived here was an Oni and among their many abilities, they’re able to shape shift.

So, when the man first went to cross the bridge, the Oni appeared as a woman in distress.

But as soon as the man paid attention to the seemingly abandoned woman, she transformed into a hoffic monster that chased him.

This time, the man was lucky enough to get away so the demon shape shifted again, turning into the man’s brother.

He appeared at his door late one evening and the man, believing it to be his brother, allowed the demon in.

At this, the Oni bit off his head and paraded it around in front of the man’s family. He then disappeared.

The Lesson? Don’t cross the Agi Bridge with too much confidence!

Shuten Doji

Where giant demons are concerned, there aren’t many that exceed Shuten Doji who is believed to be over 50 feet tall.

His body is red and he has 15 eyes and 5 horns. 

This sounds like a terrifying image and it truly is but thankfully, Shuten Doji was killed and so we no longer need to live in fear. 

It is said that two warriors back in Medieval times, named Hosho and Raiko managed to get into the lair of this beast.

They did this by posing as mountain priests to free a woman held captive by the demon. 

Upon their arrival, the demons offered them blood and human flesh but the warriors offered Shuten Doji some poisoned sake.

Once he had lost consciousness, the warriors lopped off his head and murdered the remaining demons, freeing everyone held captive there.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an interesting story about Gods and demons then look no further than Japan.

This culturally and spiritually rich nation is bursting with legends and tales of supernatural beings that are truly intriguing.

About the author

Latest posts