Shirime of Japanese Yōkai Folklore

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Imagine yourself wandering the bustling streets of Tokyo one night. Tall buildings and city streets bathed in the warm streetlights and colorful neon signs, creating layers of dancing shadows. You navigate through the urban maze, listening to the din of conversations, and a voice suddenly calls out to you from a narrow side street. Drawn by curiosity, you step off the main road and into the quiet darkness. A person motions for you to come closer, but you wonder if you should turn around. You remember strange stories of supernatural creatures, terrifying tales that span back to Ancient Japan—maybe even longer. As you hesitate, torn between fascination and fleeing, the person approaches you. They close in quickly, circling you and closing off your means of escape.

Something is unsettling about the person, something you can't quite put your finger on. You grit your teeth as you realize they don't look entirely human. The person throws open their trenchcoat. You brace yourself for an encounter that will leave you questioning the line between reality and the supernatural, where ancient legends roam the neon-lit night.


What Are Yōkai?

Firstly, let's see how to pronounce that word. It's easier than you think because you can get a rough approximation of the Japanese sound by sounding it out just like it's spelled.

How to Pronounce Yōkai

(as in, ssup yo — but stretch out the o sound a little)
kai (as in kite)

You can listen to a few native Japanese speakers saying yōkai at

As always, when I bring up pronunciation, it's important to say it a few times to yourself out loud so that you have some practice when you need to scream it while running.

Yōkai are supernatural beings that have been a part of Japanese folklore for centuries (at least). There is a massive variety of types of yōkai that cover a broad spectrum of personalities, from dangerous to spooky to friendly. Each one has its own unique characteristics, traits, and stories. Throughout Japanese culture, yōkai play a significant role and appear in everything from ancient literature and art to modern movies, anime, and video games.

A traditional Japanese woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi titled 'The Heavy Basket' from the 1892 'Thirty-six Ghosts' series. The artwork measures 9.25 by 14.25 inches and portrays a chaotic scene where a group of mythical creatures, or yokai, are assailing an elderly woman. The characters are drawn in fine detail with expressive faces and dynamic poses, capturing a moment of supernatural confrontation in a monochromatic backdrop with selective color highlights.
The Heavy Basket by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1892. From the Thirty-six Ghosts series.

The Japanese word for yōkai consists of two kanji: 妖怪

In many instances, you can learn a lot about a word from the kanji. In this case, the first character 妖 means "mysterious" and the second character 怪 means "apparition". (If you speak Japanese, yes, I know I'm greatly oversimplifying this. Just roll with it.)

We'll be delving into one specific yōkai here called "shirime"—and briefly looking at a few others, but at least hundreds of them have been documented in some way. Many places in Japan even have statues depicting yōkai local to the area. There are other yōkai, like the shirime, known all over Japan, which means you could run into one anywhere in the country.

What Is the Shirime?

Out of the hundreds (or more) yōkai, this is one you aren't likely to forget—even if you never see it. It's just that memorable. But, as with all yōkai, if you need to scream the name of it as you are running, you'll want to know how to pronounce it. It's as easy as the word yōkai.

How to Pronounce Shirime

shi (as in she)
ri (as in reading)
me (as in metal)

That's a rough approximation. You can listen to a native Japanese speaker say the word Shirime here at

Just like we saw with the Japanese word for yōkai 妖怪, we can learn a lot about this particular yōkai by looking at the Japanese word for "shirime": 尻目

The first character 尻 means "butt" and the second character 尻目 means "eye".

Butt eye.

An illustration from the 1754 Buson Youkai Emaki depicting a shirime, a mythical Japanese creature. The creature appears as a humanoid figure bent forward, with its head down and back arched. Instead of facial features, there is a single large eye located on the lower back, suggesting the place of the anus. The figure is drawn in a simple yet expressive line art style, characteristic of traditional Japanese monochrome ink drawings.
An apparition in the shape of a man having an eye in the place of his anus) from the Buson Youkai Emaki, 1754. Yes, 1754. Japan has been dealing with the butt-eye epidemic for at least 270 years.

Shirime have been terrorizing Japan with their butt-eyes for at least hundreds of years. They aren't dangerous, but more of a nuisance. Supposedly. The earliest known appearance was from the works of Yosa no Buson, a poet from the Edo period (1603 CE to 1868 CE). Yosa no Buson is known for his profound contributions to art, and the shirime appeared in an illustration on one of his scrolls. Currently, there are no mentions of the shirime prior to this in any known folklore—leaving us all wondering where Buson originally heard about it.

The accompanying text from Yosa no Buson about shirime reads:

京、かたびらが辻ぬっぽり坊主のばけもの。 めはなもなく、一ツの眼、尻の穴に有りて、 光ることいなづまのごとし。

"In Kyoto, at the Katabira crossroads, there is a monster called nuppori-bōzu. It has no eyes or nose, but a single eyeball, located in its butthole, which shines like lightning."

(Thank you, Matthew Meyer, for the translation.)

Shigeru Mizuki, a legend in the realm of yokai literature, delved deeper into the lore of Shirime in his 1998 anthology "Mujara". He recounts a tale of a samurai on his way to Kyoto, whose journey takes a terrifying turn. A seemingly ordinary man blocks his path, only to transform before the samurai's eyes. Discarding his kimono, the man reveals his true form—a massive, luminous eye in place of his rear, casting a bizarre light. This shocking spectacle sends the samurai running for his life.

Illustration of a startled samurai encountering a Shirime, a peculiar yokai with an eye in place of its anus, under the moonlit night, with eerie willows in the background, from Mizuki Shigeru's Mujara.
Anyone who saw that would go running. Image credit: 百物語怪談会 Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

Bonus: Shirikodama

"Butt," you may be asking yourself, "Why an the butt?"

I have no idea. Yōkai can be quite bizarre. One theory (my theory, maybe someone else has come up with this) is inspired by the idea that "eyes are windows into the soul."

And, in old Japanese traditions...

Your soul is located up your butt (and around the corner?).

All butt jokes asside—this is actually a very real piece of folklore.

It's called "Shirikodama". In Japanese, it's spelled 尻子玉.

How to Pronounce Shirikodama

(as in she)
ri (as in ring)
ko (as in cola)
da (as in dark)
ma (as in mature)

You can listen to a native Japanese speaker say shirikodama.

The first character (shiri) 尻 means anus.

The second character (ko) 子 means small.

And the third (dama [okay, technically tama]) 玉 means ball.

All together, 尻子玉 (shirikodama) means "small anus ball." It's kind of self-explanatory, except for the whole it's-your-soul thing. According to Japanese folklore, the shirikodama is a small, hardened ball that houses your soul, and it is in your anus.

Remember how I said yōkai run the range from dangerous to spooky to friendly? While the shirime is mostly harmless, there is another very dangerous yōkai called the kappa (河童, "river-child") that kills people by ripping their shirikodama straight out of their bodies.

A detailed print from Toriyama Sekien's 'Gazu Hyakki Yagyō' ('The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons'), possibly from the mid-1700s, depicting a kappa, a creature from Japanese folklore. The kappa is crouching amidst lush vegetation and flowers, with its scaly, humanoid body, beaked mouth, and shell-like back. It has webbed hands raised as if gesturing or reaching for something and a water-filled depression on its head, characteristic of kappa lore.
Kappa. — From Gazu Hyakki Yagyō ("The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons") by Toriyama Sekien.

The full story on kappa is for another time, but if you ever run into a kappa, there are a few methods ensuring you stay alive. The simplest one is to take a very, very deep bow. The kappa keeps a small dish of water on its head (see above), and because they are obsessed with politeness, if you bow very deeply, it will bow very deeply in return—spilling its precious water dish. That's your cue to run.

Double Bonus Plus Ultra: Kanchō

On the subject of shirikodama—can you imagine what it would feel like if someone jammed their fingers straight into your soul (ball)?

If you ever travel to Japan and find yourself around young kids, you might find yourself in that exact situation. There's a prank that some young kids play in Japan that involves making a gun shape with their fingers and then jamming their finger gun straight into your ass while yelling, "KANCHO!"

A diagram illustrating the Japanese prank game 'Kancho' from Wikipedia. It features a 3D-rendered animation of a smiling girl with black hair, dressed in a typical Japanese school uniform, extending her index fingers in a gun-like fashion toward another person's butthole. The target's back is turned, and only the lower half is visible, wearing blue jeans. An arrow in the image points to the girl's hands to indicate the game's action.
Diagram showing how Kanchō is performed. Asanagi, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. It's a good thing Asanagi created this diagram in Second Life and licensed it under Creative Commons because I tried to generate a PG educational image using AI. I can't even talk about what AI generated. Let's just say that AI has a long way to go before it can safely depict kanchō.

As far as I know, there's no evidence connecting shirikodama and kanchō, but it does seem awful suspicious to me, so I thought I'd mention it and give fair warning for travelers. In any case, knowing how to properly perform kanchō might give you an alternative to running if you ever stumble upon a shirime.

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