From East to Southeast: A Look At Popular Japanese and Philippine Folklore Figures

They are part of every culture. Orally transmitted beliefs, myths, and legends that in its core are teachers of valuable lessons in life. Any child would have heard of it from grown-ups to give them advice. “Huwag ka’ng lalabas sa gabi, baka kunin ka ng maligno” (Don’t go outside at night or a ghoul will take you).

Folklores were once used to promote nationalism. Only in the 20th century did now-famous people such as the Brothers’ Grimm, Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm collected orally transmitted German tales and finally publishing the first series as “Children and Household Tales.”

Folklores have been transmitted from one generation to another to promote cultural heritage. They may scare you (such as tikbalang, tiyanak, rokurokkubi) or make you feel silly (such as kasa no obake) but one thing is for certain: these are all part of a movement towards promotion of unity through culture.

Tales Of the East

The Japanese folklore is heavily influenced by Shinto and Buddhism. It often involves humurous or bizarre characters and situations. The now generation is most probably familiar with its figures in manga and anime. Here are a few of them:

Yuki-Onna (Snow Woman)
The Yuki-onna’s story is about a woman who appeared before a young man and an old man who could not go back home because of a snowstorm. She breathed on the old man and killed him but not at the young man, sparing him for being “young and beautiful.” She told him not to relate what happened to anyone or she will kill him.
Years later, he met a woman named Oyuki (yuki means “snow”), married her and had children. One night, he told Oyuki how she reminds him of an incident that happened to him before when he met a Yuki-onna. Oyuki then stood up and revealed that she is the Yuki-onna. She couldn’t kill him because of their children, so she only melted away, never to be seen again. (1)

Kitsune (Fox)
There was once a powerful lord who heard the cry for help of a beautiful woman in the woods. He fell in love and married the lady. But when the lord learned that she is a kitsune, she was sent away (in some stories she was killed). (2)

Kasa no Obake (Umbrella Monster)
An umbrella with one eye and one leg which it uses to hop around. It’s not dangerous, just funny. (3)

A creature that looks like a turtle but with a beak and a plate of water on top of its head. It is associated with rivers and other bodies of water. In one story, the kappa tricked people into playing pull-fingers with it. The strong kappa pulled its victim into the river, never to be seen. A man in a horse played with him but suddenly urged his horse to run, pulling the kappa, and the water on its plate spilled. The monster mercifully promised to teach the man how to set bones in return for its freedom. The man asked another promise for it to never molest human beings. Decades later, a descendant of the man became a skilled bone surgeon because of the knowledge taught by the kappa. (4)

Rokurokkubi (Long-Necked Woman)
Usually women, they like to lick the oil used in indoor lanterns. They also love to scare regular humans by elongating their necks. Though during the day they appear normal, they combat the urge at night to elongate their necks. In some accounts, the rokurokkubi drinks blood and lives only to prey on humans. (5)

Nopperabo (Woman Without a Face)
The nopperabo’s agenda is simply to scare humans and nothing more. In a story, a lazy fisherman decided to fish in the imperial koi ponds near the Heiankyo palace. Despite being warned by his wife about the pond being sacred ground and near a graveyard, the fisherman went anyway. On his way to the pond, he is warned by another fisherman to not go there, but he again ignores the warning. Once at the spot, he is met by a beautiful young woman who pleads him to not fish in the pond. He ignores her, and to his horror, she wipes her face off. Rushing home to hide, he is confronted by what seems to be his wife, who chastises him for his wickedness before wiping off her facial features as well. (6)

Tsuru (Crane)
Similar to the story of the Yuki-onna, the tsuru had given the man who took her in an order that must not be broken. She told him never to witness her work on her beautiful kimonos. When the man did, he found out she was a crane and was using her feathers. She flew away and was never seen. (7)

Zashiki Warashi (Little Boy in The Room)
When this little boy (warashi) appears in a house, it will bring good fortune to those who live in it. It can be a little naughty but not dangerous. (8)

Tanuki (Raccoon Dog)
Pranksters by nature, a popular tanuki story involves a man and his wife who caught a tanuki. He wanted to cook the creature for his wife. When the man returned home, his wife gave him tanuki stew. Then his wife changed her shape to that of a tanuki. The man realized that he had eaten his own wife. (9)

Tales Of The SouthEast

The Philippine folktale is a collection of tales and superstitions about magical creatures and entities. Though not prevalent in present-day media and literature, these figures still hold some popularity for the now-generation.

White Lady
As the name implies, a lady dressed in white is seen walking on a deserted place on a quiet night. Most stories connect the white lady to schools and universities with very quiet nights. They usually don’t talk but if they do, are probably asking for directions as they are simply lost souls. Though some accounts tell of a white lady causing drivers to travel on a circle after seeing a white lady in a bridge. (1)

Kapre (Giant Tree Demon)
A tree demon with human characteristics, the kapre is always seen sniffing a tobacco. They usually dwell in big trees like acacias and mangoes. They’re not evil and would most likely appear to a human to offer friendship or love to a woman.(2)

Tikbalang (Man With Horse Head)
This creature takes travelers deeper into the forest to get them lost. It could take the form of a human that will escort its victim to the forest. (3)

Halimaw Sa Banga (Monster In An Ern)
Made popular by a movie, the halimaw sa banga is about a cursed woman who was buried inside a banga (ern). A family who brought it, became her target to seek her revenge.(4)

Tiyanak (Demon Infant)
Believed to be the child of the devil, the tiyanak in some accounts, is a fetus that a mother aborted in the forest. It could like a very innocent baby but changes its appearance to a demonic one with horns and fangs to kill its victims. (5)

Manananggal (Flying Viscera Sucker)
A beautiful woman can severe its upper torso and fly with bat-like wings in the middle of the night. It preys on pregnant women by landing on the roof and using its long tongue to suck the heart of fetuses or the blood of sleeping victims. (6)

Syokoy (Merman)
The syokoy differs from the merman of popular mermaid myths. It has no fish tail and possesses webbed hands and feet. Its body is also scaly and green and is believed to be mean-hearted compared to mermans. (7)

The duwendes are peace-loving creatures until their place of dwelling is disturbed. They can curse the one who disturbed them or possess the body of anyone who did them wrong or they hold affection for. (8)


japanese and philippine folklore figures images drawn by j.arboleda jr.