According to Wikipedia, Yōkai (妖怪, ghost, phantom, strange apparition) are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore. The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for “bewitching; attractive; calamity”; and “spectre; apparition; mystery; suspicious”. They can also be called ayakashi (あやかし), mononoke (物の怪), or mamono (魔物). Yōkai range diversely from the malevolent to the mischievous, occasionally bringing good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features (such as the kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the tengu which has wings), other times they can appear mostly human, some look like inanimate objects and others have no discernible shape. Yōkai usually have spiritual or supernatural powers, with shapeshifting being one of the most common. Yōkai that have the ability to shapeshift are called bakemono (化物) / obake (お化け).
A blogger named Zack Davisson has a great blog about Japanese ghost stories and it is awesome. I have pasted his explanation of what Yōkai means in English below. You can find his work here.
Thanks to movies like “The Great Yokai War,” and comics and books like “Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan” and “Yokai Attack!,” yokai as a word is slowly making its way into the English language. People are becoming aware of Japan’s legacy of magic and mystery. But, “yokai” is entering English with a meaning almost-but-not-quite the same as the Japanese meaning.
It is kind of like the word “manga”—in English, manga has come to mean “Japanese comics.” Exclusively. But in Japanese, manga just means … comics. All comics. Regardless of national origin. Iron Man? Manga. Mickey Mouse? Manga. Rex Morgan, M.D.? Manga. Tin Tin? Manga. And it doesn’t even specifically mean books (That would be “manga no hon.”) “Manga” can mean toys, movies, games … anything comic-related. It has a vast meaning beyond the limited scope of usage that we have given the word in English. I digress.
Of course, yokai can refer to Japan’s menagerie of monsters. All of the beasties and spirits—the baku, the kodama, the yuki onna, the kappa.
According to yokai.com, The Abura- Sumashi is a rare yokai native to Kumamoto (map below.) It looks like a squatty, stout, humanoid with a large head like a potato or a stone, wearing a straw-woven garment. It is extremely rare to come across one. They are only found deep in the mountains or along mountain passes in the southern parts of Japan – in the places where wild tea plants grow.
Very little is known about the lifestyle and habits of this reclusive yokai. The most well-known Abura- Sumashi lives in the Kusazumigoe Pass in Kumamoto, but only ever appeared to travelers. Once, an old grandmother walking the pass with her grandchildren said, “You know, a long time ago, an Abura- Sumashi used to live in these parts.” And a mysterious voice called out in reply, “I still do!”
The name Abura-Sumashi means “oil presser,” and comes from the act of pressing oil out of the seeds of tea plants which grow in Kumamoto. Though its origins are a mystery, it is commonly believed that Abura- Sumashi are the ghosts of oil thieves who escaped into the woods. Oil was a very difficult and expensive commodity to make, requiring a lot of time and hard work to extract it from tea seeds, and so its theft was a very serious crime. Those thieves who went unpunished in life were reincarnated as yokai – a punishment for their sins in the afterlife.
A teenage girl is having a sleepover in Kumamoto. It is late at night and the girls decide to scare each other. They set out with a lantern and a walking stick. They walk to “the place.” The place where the Abura- Sumashi has been seen and heard. The wind is blowing quite wildly on this night and the girls have on their pajamas. The fabric whips in the wind. The experience doesn’t disappoint. They hear a loud, slow, deliberate voice saying, “It is I, the Abura-Sumashi, and I will steal your oil!” The lantern goes out and they can’t see. The girls are in a panic. They are at a place in this rural area that is flat land, so they aren’t in danger of falling off a cliff, but they can’t see where they are to get home. What happens next?
If you find this fun and interesting and decide to expand on it- let me know how this story continues in the comment section below, and as usual…happy writing!