story, science, technology and creativity

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Creative writing activity: Spooky writing stimuli from Kwaidan

The demons in Takeshita Demons originated in Japanese mythology and ghost stories from many years ago.

Many spooky Japanese stories appear in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a book published in 1903 by a Greek-born journalist named Lafcadio Hearn. A resident of Japan for nearly 15 years, Hearn translated the stories from old books or transcribed them after hearing the stories told.

The story starters below are taken from Kwaidan. A PDF of this creative writing activity is available.


What to do:

  • Read the story starters and see if you can guess what happens next.
  • Write your own end to the stories, or discuss your ideas in a group.

The story starters

1) Of a mirror and a bell

Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama wanted to make a big bronze bell for their temple. They did not have enough bronze to make the bell, so they asked people to donate their bronze mirrors to melt into bell-metal. One young woman donated her grandmother’s mirror to the temple, but she immediately regretted her actions. She remembered all the happy smiles her mirror had reflected, and longed for a chance to steal her mirror back… … …


Read the complete story.

2) Mujina

Late one night an old merchant was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka hill, when he saw a woman crouching by the moat, all alone and weeping bitterly. Afraid that she might try to drown herself, he stopped to help. The woman was well dressed and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl.

“Young lady,” he said. “Do not cry. Please tell me what the trouble is and I will try to help.”

But she continued to cry, hiding her face from him with her long sleeves… … …


Read the complete story.


Yokai featured in Takeshita Demons

Cover for Takeshita Demons: The Filth LickerSubarashii! Yabai!
Takeshita Demons
Things are going super-well for Takeshita Demons at the moment.

The Filth Licker is ready for pre-order in the UK and Monster Matsuri is in its 50-millionth-draft-phase, so getting where I want it (YAY!).

If you have read Takeshita Demons you will know that Miku Takeshita and her pal Cait run into lots of mythological creatures from Japan, known as yokai (妖怪).

Below I’ve included a bit of historical info on some of them: is your favourite demon in Book 1? Or will you have till wait till The Filth Licker comes out to see what’s in store for Miku and Cait at school camp?

Happy reading!
And PS: You can pre-order The Filth Licker here and get free worldwide delivery plus 25% off: BARGAIN!

Amazake babaa (literally: Sweet sake woman) 甘酒婆
This yokai takes the shape of an old woman with a gentle voice, but don’t be fooled. If you answer the door when she knocks, chances are you’ll fall ill with chicken pox.

Ittan momen (Animated cotton) 一反木綿
Ittan momen are long bits of cloth that can come to life in the night. They love to tangle around your body and might even try to suffocate you, so keep an eye on your curtains.


Click on the noppera-bo to read about sightings of this demon in England!


Noppera-bō (Faceless ghost) のっぺら坊
Is the person sitting next to you really who you think they are? Noppera-bō are experts at pretending to be other people, and they love to cause trouble. Just when you least expect it their features can disappear, melting away to leave their face as empty as a blank page.

Nukekubi (Cut-throat) 抜首
During the day you might mistake this yokai for a normal person, but be warned. At night, while its body is sleeping, its head can detach and fly around hunting for delicious things to eat (like children and puppy dogs).

Nure-onna (literally: Woman of the Wet) 濡女
With the torso of a woman and the body of a snake, this fearsome yokai has wicked claws and a long forked tongue. She’s strong enough to crush a tree in the coils of her massive tail.



O-kubi (literally: Big Throat) 大首
If you’re ever staring up at the sky and spot an enormous head in the clouds, watch out! Spotting an o-kubi usually means something awful is just around the corner…

Sakabashira (literally: Inverted pillar) 逆柱
Did it happen by mistake? Or did someone do it on purpose? Whatever the reason, if some part of your house was built upside-down, your entire house is doomed to be haunted.

Yuki-onna (literally: Snow Woman) 雪女
Tall, pale and icily beautiful, this yokai is a spirit of the snow. She leaves no footprints, preferring to float above the ground, and she can disappear in a puff of cold mist.

Zashiki-warashi (House ghost) 座敷童
This mischievous yokai haunts houses and usually appears in the shape of a child. If your house is haunted by a zashiki-warashi, count yourself lucky, but don’t forget to take good care of it. If your house ghost ever chooses to leave you, your luck will quickly end.


Japanese ghost stories: the yokai without a face

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo, was a journalist best known for Kwaidan, his book of super-spooky Japanese ghost stories.

Hearn’s ghost story “Mujina” appears in Kwaidan and features a faceless yokai he calls a mujina, also known as a noppera-bō.

“Mujina” is reproduced below…
ENJOY! And…as you read it, just remember that similar mujina sightings have been more recently reported in Hawaii!

MUJINA, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn

On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka, which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens; and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace.

Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas [rickshaws], this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset. All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.

The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:

One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family.

“O-jochu [young girl],” he exclaimed, approaching her, “O-jochu, do not cry like that!…Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.)

But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves.

“O-jochu,” he said again, as gently as he could, “please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! — only tell me how I may be of some help to you!”

Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve.

He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: “O-jochu! O-jochu! O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu! O-jochu!”

Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; — and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,— and he screamed and ran away.

Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it.

It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah! — aa!! — aa!!!”…

“Kore! kore! [Here, here]” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“No — nobody hurt me,” panted the other, “only… Ah! — aa!”

“Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers, not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman — by the moat; — and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”

“Ha! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face —which therewith became like unto an Egg

… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

Oooooooo! Spooky!

Interested in scary and strange Japanese mythology? You might also enjoy these posts:

Selective genetics or ghosts reborn? Legend of the Samurai crabs

Enma Daio, Datsue-ba, and one great reason to die with your clothes on

Japanese yokai memory game: test your memory, learn some Japanese and spook yourself out!

Do you love yokai and Japan? Check out these free resources. Have fun!

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More Takeshita Demons coverage

Over a weekend of sunshine, shopping (bought a celebratory bag full of cute things from Baby Gap) and great food (Brick Lane curry!), there’s been even more coverage of the Frances Lincoln award and Takeshita Demons...YAY:

– This great post from terrific writer and wonderful mentor, Julia Lawrinson. Julia mentored me (and still does :-)) while I was re-writing my first manuscript, One Weekend with Killiecrankie. We’re still looking for a publisher for this: perhaps Frances Lincoln will be interested? Thanks Julia for being such a support over the years!

ryoi_nopperabo1“First Diverse Voices Winner” at Write Away. The short list “included stories set in the Thai community in Sydney, a Polish extended family in the West Midlands, a Shona village in rural Zimbabwe and the camel train of the Queen of Sheba in the days of the Old Testament.” Wow!

“Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Book Award” at Paper Tigers. This post includes a brief description of some of the demons Miku faces in the book: the nukekubi (cut-throat) and noppera-bo (see “artist’s impression” on left), to give just two super-scary examples.

“Diverse Children’s Books Recognised at Awards Ceremony” at Community Newswire.

Sounds like Takeshita Demons the book is full-steam ahead (YAY!), but I’m still not sure what comes next. At my request, I’m having another shot at editing the manuscript before re-sending it to Janetta Otter Barry, who will be looking at it with a view to featuring it in her new line of children’s fiction.  More later in the week…