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Obake (お化け?) and bakemono (化け物?) are a class of yōkai, preternatural creatures in Japanese folklore. Literally, the terms mean a thing that changes, referring to a state of transformation or shapeshifting.

These words are often translated as ghost, but primarily they refer to living things or supernatural beings who have taken on a temporary transformation, and these bakemono are distinct from the spirits of the dead.[1] However, as a secondary usage, the term obake can be a synonym for yūrei, the ghost of a deceased human being.[2]

A bakemono's true form may be an animal such as a fox (kitsune), a raccoon dog (tanuki), a badger (mujina), a transforming cat (bakeneko), the spirit of a plant—such as a kodama, or an inanimate object which may possess a soul in Shinto and other animistic traditions. Obake derived from household objects are often called tsukumogami.

A bakemono usually either disguises itself as a human or appears in a strange or terrifying form such as a hitotsume-kozō, an ōnyūdō, or a noppera-bō. In common usage, any bizarre apparition can be referred to as a bakemono or an obake whether or not it is believed to have some other form, making the terms roughly synonymous with yōkai.[3]

In Hawaii

Due to the influence of a sizable Japanese immigrant population on the islands of Hawaii, the term obake has found its way into the Hawaiian Pidgin|pidgin vocabulary of the local people. Some Japanese stories concerning these creatures have found their way into local culture in Hawaii: numerous sightings of kappa have been reported on the islands, and the Japanese faceless ghosts called noppera-bō have also become well known in Hawaii under the name mujina. This name confusion seems to have stemmed from a story by Lafcadio Hearn titled "Mujina", a story about a badger (mujina) which takes the form of a noppera-bō, rather than being one itself, which first introduced the faceless ghost to the Western world.

Hawaiian folklorist Glen Grant was known for his Obake Files, a series of reports he developed about supernatural incidents in Hawaii. The grand bulk of these incidents and reports were of Japanese origin or concerned obake.[4]


  1. Mayer p. 89
  2. Daijirin and Daijisen definitions of obake.
  3. Daijirin and Daijisen dictionary definitions.
  4. Grant


  • Mayer, Fanny Hagin (March 1974). "Religious Concepts in the Japanese Folktale" (PDF). Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1 (1): 73–101.
  • Grant, Glen (May 1994). Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawaii. Honolulu: Mutual Pub Co.

Definitions from two major Japanese dictionaries:

External Links