story, science, technology and creativity

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Halloween drawing challenge: spooky creatures, made simple

Halloween’s a crazy time of year…the perfect time to scare yourself silly, if you choose.

Me? I’m an absolute chicken. I’m super-scared of things that go bump. I hate scary movies. I’m afraid to read scary books. I can’t even check on my kids in their beds if the wind is blowing and the doors are banging. I’M A TOTAL SCAREDY-CAT!

But for some reason, I write scary books. And around Halloween time, hits to this blog double. Lots of people searching for monsters, demons, scary stories and Japanese ghosts.

So here’s what I offer as a compromise.

If you arrived here because you’re too scared to do anything but read blog posts, try this: print these pictures out and challenge yourself to a drawing adventure. You might just like it! (And remember, it’s NaNoWriMo for writers in November, so illustrators need an adventure too).

And if you arrived here because you LOVE scary stuff and you want more: print out these pictures and practise the drawing challenge anyway. Then draw these creatures in random places, like under your desk or behind your ear. Yeah. That’ll freak them out.

Ganbatte kudasai! Give it your best shot!

You can draw the child-eating nukekubi head (illustrated by the fabulous Siku for Takeshita Demons), or the spooky green monster in your bathroom: the akaname filth licker (illustrated by Toriyama Sekien, 18th Century master of all things yokai).

The hungry nukekubi: draw it on your friend’s windscreen.

Who’s that lurking in your outhouse?

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My top five mythical creatures: Japanese yokai I adore

Japanese mythical creatures

Discover more Japanese monsters here…

What are your top five mythical creatures? I outline my Big 5 for superb Kiwi book blog, My Best Friends Are Books.

So, what are my Top Five???

I love monsters, mythical creatures, spooky feelings and freaky things that go bump in the night. Woah. I get shivers just thinking about them.

My Takeshita Demons books are overflowing with spooky monsters and demons from Japanese folklore, called yōkai. Anyone who’s heard of Pokemon or Yokai-attack, played with Yu-Gi-Oh, read manga or even bought a lotto ticket has probably encountered a yōkai. (Remember that lucky cat with the beckoning paw?) There are hundreds of yōkai and they’ve been popular in Japan for hundreds of years. Some are hugely famous, like the nine-tailed fox or the shape-shifting tanuki, but others are obscure and strange. My books feature lots of different demons, but here are my top five from the series so far:

1. Akaname (The Filth Licker) 垢嘗

The demon you really want for a friend. He’s loyal and funny and he loves to clean, so you don’t have to. In traditional tales, he comes out at night to lick dirty bathrooms till they sparkle… In my books, he also cleans laundries, kitchens, dirty faces, you name it. Plus his super-sensitive tongue can taste out clues. He’s like a detective in a frog’s skin.

2. Sagari (Hanging horse-head) 下がり

This demon gets a prize for Weird Monster of the Year: It’s basically a horse’s head that floats around upside-down, has electric nose hairs, sharp teeth, and a habit of dropping on you unexpectedly. St-range! And dangerous!

3. Kodama (Tree spirit) 木魂

I love big, old trees, and in Japanese culture, these ancient trees are often home to kodama (, spirits who mimic the sounds of the forest and cause echoes to bounce through the woods. A kodama’s tree trunk is tied with a sacred rope, called a shimenawa. If you cut down such a tree, you’re in for some very bad luck.

4. Noppera-bō (Faceless ghost) のっぺら坊

This shape-shifting yōkai can wipe features from its face like words from a whiteboard. The noppera-bō can take the shape of any person: it could be your best friend, your mum, your teacher… There’s no way to tell unless you look in a mirror: a noppera-bō’s reflection will have no face! So, is the person sitting next to you really who you think they are?

5. Betobeto-san (Mr Footsteps) べとべとさん

Almost everyone has had the feeling they’re being followed. Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is…you ARE being followed. The good news is, you’re being followed by Betobeto-san, a sort of oversized, invisible marshmallow on legs. He eats the sound of your footsteps, but don’t worry: he’s quite shy and not at all dangerous (unless you’re allergic to marshmallows?).

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The truth about slenderman, puppies and noppera-bo…

Slender crossed with a nukekubi yokai

A cross between a nukekubi, a nopperabo and slenderman?

And now you’re scaring me!

As part of Children’s Book Week I spent today in the City of Stirling, where I was amused to hear the scary story of Slenderman is alive and well.

All week, whenever I mention a noppera-bo, kids have been sticking up their hands to ask: ” Have you heard of Slender?”


Well. I hadn’t.

But then, it turns out, he’s virtually a home-grown spooky story.

In fact, he appears to have been photographed at City of Stirling Libraries (see the photo of kids on the slide),  which is hilarious, but also spooky!

The truth about Slender?

The story goes (according to Roger, City of Stirling librarian) (Hi Roger!), that the photograph is a kooky fake that just happens to have ripped off the City of Stirling logo.  Apparently people from all over the world have been writing in to ask permission to reproduce the image. (Pity no one asked permission to use their logo in the first place!)

Still. It is funny. And it goes to show: you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. (Especially since anyone who saw me this week will know: it’s not slender. It’s a yokai cross-hybrid-thingy, part nukekubi, part noppera-bo. And it probably likes to eat puppies.)




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Yokai featured in Monster Matsuri

Watch out adventure lovers! Takeshita Demons 3, Monster Matsuri, is out!!

I’ve blogged before on yokai demons featured in book one  and book two of the Takeshita Demons series, so…who should we look out for in Monster Matsuri?

Yokai featured in Takeshita Demons: Monster Matsuri

Akaname (Filth Licker) 垢嘗
Great news: if you don’t clean your bathroom, the akaname will. He has frog-like skin, a long hairy tongue, and a fondness for slime, mould and rot. He likes to lick grimy bathrooms until they sparkle.

Ama-no-jyaku  (Demon of Heaven) 天邪鬼
This tiny ogre loves confusion and hate, and he’ll go out of his way to create it.  He can read your deepest desires and will twist his words to lead you in the opposite direction to that which you desire.

Boroboro-ton (Battered futon) 暮露々々団
Remember that old quilt you’ve had for years and never washed? Well, by now it could be haunted. If it shuffles around the room by itself, watch out: the only cure is a good wash and full sun to dry.

Harionago (Barbed woman) 針女子
She’s beautiful and she loves to laugh, but her hair has a mind of its own. Each strand is tipped with a deadly barb and can reach through the air to capture its prey.

Hitodama (Human souls) 人魂
When a person dies, their spirit can soar to the sky in the form of a fireball. Eventually, when the fireball falls back to earth, it splatters everything in slime. The fireballs can be orange or blue or white and often appear just before a sick person dies.

Kara-kasa (Paper umbrella) 唐傘
Make sure you are kind to your umbrella! If you’re not, it could turn into a kara-kasa and hop around your house all day on its hairy leg. Umbrellas love to blow raspberries.

Kitsune (Fox) 狐
Young kitsune look like ordinary foxes, but the older they are, the more tails they grow, and the more powerful they become. When they have lived for a hundred years, they can change shape, even into human form. White foxes are linked to Inari, the god of rice. The fox’s favourite food is fried tofu.

Mokumokuren (Connected eyes) 目々連
Even walls can have eyes! Battered Japanese shōji (paper sliding walls) can be haunted by dozens of eyeballs. Don’t stare at them for too long: you can go blind.

Nukekubi (Cut-throat) 抜首
During the day you might mistake this yōkai 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).

Nurarihyon (Slippery strange) ぬらりひょん
He’s bald, he likes to drink tea, and his head is enormous. Said to be the Leader of all yōkai, Nurarihyon can summon shockwaves of power with a flick of his fingers.

Nurikabe (Plastered wall) ぬりかべ
An invisible wall that blocks the path of those who approach it. If you try to walk around it, you’ll be walking a long time: the wall can extend forever.

Tsukumogami (Lost thing) 付喪神
Ever do a big clean and toss out all the things you no longer want? Beware! In a hundred years, they might spring up to seek their revenge. Tools, clothing, weapons, furniture…You name it, they can become tsukumogami.

Sagari (Hanging horse-head) 下がり
With sharp teeth and bloodshot eyes, this bizarre yōkai is a horse’s head that hangs upside-down like a bat. Usually found in trees, sagari love to drop on you unexpectedly.

Satori (Mind reader) 覚
He looks like a monkey, he smells like a monkey, and he eats like a monkey. But he can also read your thoughts.

Uwan (Disembodied voice) うわん
Usually nothing more than a sound, the uwan can be heard from inside an old building, but not from outside.

Yuki-onna (Snow Woman) 雪女
Tall, pale and icily beautiful, this yōkai 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 yōkai 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.

Do you have a favourite yōkai? If so, let me know…

Cheers and scary reading!


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Yokai featured in The Filth Licker

Cover for Takeshita Demons: The Filth LickerWoo hoo! Book three, Monster Matsuri, is out!!

Which reminds me…I’ve blogged before on yokai demons featured in book one of the Takeshita Demons series, but what about the others?

Let’s start with book two

With a name like The Filth Licker, you’ve got to expect at least one akaname to make an appearance. (And you’d be right! :-))

But who else is there?

Yokai featured in Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker

Akaname (Filth Licker) 垢嘗
Great news: if you don’t clean your bathroom, the akaname will. He has frog-like skin, a long hairy tongue, and a fondness for slime, mould and rot. He likes to lick grimy bathrooms until they sparkle.

Ashi-magari (Leg turner) 足曲がり
The ashi-magari is a mischievous spirit that comes out at night to trip you up and slow you down. You might feel it winding around your ankles, or tugging at your legs, like the tail of an invisible animal.

Betobeto-san (Mr Footsteps) べとべとさん
Ever had the feeling that someone was following you? Or have you heard footsteps but turned around to see noone was there? Perhaps it was Betobeto-san, trying to get past you. He’s quite shy, so try standing to the side of the road and inviting him to go ahead.

Hitodama (Human souls) 人魂
If a person dies, their spirit can soar to the sky in the form of a fireball. When the fireball falls back to earth, it splatters everything in slime. Hitodama can be orange or blue or white, and often appear just before a sick person passes away.

Kama itachi (Sickle Weasels) 鎌鼬
Whirling with the winds and slicing through the night, the Sickle Weasels work in teams of three to slash at their enemies using long sickle blades that extend from their paws.

Keukegen (Fluffy Thing) 毛羽毛現
Small and fluffy doesn’t always equal cute and friendly. A keukegen looks like a small, furry dog, but it spreads disease and prefers to live in dark, damp places. When written with different characters, keukegen can also mean “an unusual thing that is rarely seen” (希有怪訝).

Kitsune (Fox)
Young kitsune look like ordinary foxes, but the older they are, the more tails they grow, and the more powerful they become. When they have lived for a hundred years, they can change shape, even into human form. White foxes are linked to Inari, the god of rice. The fox’s favourite food is fried tofu.

Kodama (Tree Spirit) 木魂
Kodama live inside ancient trees, mimicking the sounds of the forest and causing echoes to bounce through the woods. Their trees are often ringed with a sacred rope called a shimenawa. If you cut down a kodama’s tree, you’re in for some very bad luck.

Oni (Ogre)
Oni are famous for their mean looks and nasty personalities. They have bad hair, poor dress sense and spiky horns. And they like to eat people, which makes them very unpopular.

Satori (literally: Consciousness)
He looks like a monkey, he smells like a monkey, and he eats like a monkey. But he can also read your thoughts. The satori prefers to live in the mountains and can only be conquered if you empty your mind.

Suna-kake-baba (Sand-throwing woman) 砂かけ婆
Living high in the treetops of a lonely forest, the suna-kake-baba is a grumpy old lady who sprinkles sand on people as they walk by underneath.

Tofu kozo (Tofu monk) 豆腐小僧
Beware, hungry traveler: The tofu kozo is a young monk who wanders quiet country roads carrying a plate of fresh tofu. Although it looks delicious, often garnished with a maple leaf, the tofu is cursed, and those who eat it will start to rot.

Yamabiko (Ghostly valley echo) 幽谷響
Don’t you hate it when someone echoes everything you say? Don’t you hate it when someone echoes everything you say? That’s exactly what the yamabiko does. It lives in the mountains and pretends to be a real echo. Not very helpful. Not very helpful.

Stay posted for a sneak preview of the yokai featured in Monster Matsuri

Cheers and scary reading!



5 places to find strange and scary Japanese ghost stories

If you’re a fan of spooky Japanese mythology and folk tales (kaidan), then you probably know a few Japanese ghost stories and yokai (an umbrella term for Japanese monsters, demons, and supernatural creatures of every weird and wonderful kind). I adore yokai and the folklore that accompanies them, hence their appearance in my books.

If you’re new to the genre, there’s a few tried-and-true resources I totally recommend for getting started.

In no particular, I list below five places to go in your search for ghostly Japanese tales:


What a fab idea this project is. From here you can download free e-books that are out of copyright, including:
– Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
, by Lafcadio Hearn

Hearn’s awesome 1904 translation of early Japanese folklore. The full text is available free from Project Gutenburg, or you can check out a couple of the scary stories on my blog (Of a Mirror and a Bell (about the power of possessions and a curse) and Mujina (about a yokai without a face). (If you’re a teacher looking for a creative writing activity involving Kwaidan, try this.)

– Japanese Fairy Tales, by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Also available free at Project Gutenberg, this 1908 book includes some classics, like the Tongue-Cut Sparrow, Momotaro, and my favourite, How An Old Man Lost His Wen.


There are a great many talented people out there, all translating a lot of cool stuff about Japanese folklore and tales. I like:

My yokai monogatari
A year in the life of a JET in Ishigawa as he experiences Japan and learns about yokai. A nice introduction to some famous yokai, with the added bonus of being a bit of a journey across 12 months.

Hyaku monogatari Kaidankai
Another JET, translator and scholar of Japanese folklore (specialising in yuurei or ghosts) is Zack Davisson, who runs this neat blog featuring translations of strange and spooky kaidan tales.

Pink Tentacle
If you’re interested in unusual snippets of art, culture and science about Japan, check out Pink Tentacle; it often includes choice info and awesome artwork feature yokai monsters. My favorites? Fake Japanese mermaids. Totally gross and completely inspiring.

Education in Japan Community Blog
Hasn’t been updated in a good while, but still full of great links to spooky stuff.


The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: a Field Guide to Japanese Yokai, by Matthew Meyer
If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can follow its creation on Matthew’s blog, and check out some of his yokai artwork. It’s awesome!

I’m totally new to pinterest, but if you want any scary inspiration, check out this collection of modern yokai art.

In Japanese
There are a couple of super databases for those who can read Japanese, or those (like me) who can read *some* Japanese and are incredibly patient with a kanji dictionary 😉 Check here if you’re chasing mostly text and here if you’re searching for a wealth of yokai images.


The Obakemono Project: A gaijin’s guide to the fantastic folk monsters of Japan
A purple-flavoured monster wiki, the Obakemono Project has choice info on nearly 100 yokai, each with its own original purple-flavoured illustration. There’s also a forum for chatting with other obakemono fans. (This site was one of the early inspirations for Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker, thanks to its gross but tantalising entry on akaname.)

Yokai Attack, by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda
A fun ‘Japanese Monster survival guide’ with historical information and new illustrations by Tatsuya Morino (taught by Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro creator Mizuki Shigeru). Matt and Hiroko’s other books and blog are also worth a look: there’s a book dedicated to ninja and another specifically for ghosts. Too sweet!

Folk Legends at Kids Web Japan
I’ve blogged about this site before and it totally rocks. A great place for your kids to spend time learning about Japan and its culture.


I love these books for the depth they add to the ghostly tales I already know. There’s a lot of cultural depth and quirks of history and legend. Many tidbits made their way into books 3 and 4.

Tales of Old Japan, A.B. Mitford (first published 1871 but republished by the Folklore Society in 2000)
Pandemonium and Parade, Michael Dylan Foster (2009; the result of university research and a fascinating look at how yokai tales have influenced Japanese culture)
Japanese Mythology, Juliet Piggot (1969; some incredible photos and art combined with Japanese myths and legends I had never heard of)
Myths and Legends of China and Japan, Donald A. Mackenzie (1986; harder to plough through, but some really useful and in-depth chapters on things like dragons and stone-lore)
Japanese Proverbs and Sayings, Daniel Crump Buchanan (1965; WOW! Pages and pages of Japanese proverbs, along with their cultural significance. This is gold!)(I’ve blogged about some of my favourite Japanese sayings here.)


This is really only the tip of the iceberg…I’d love to hear about other places to find myths and legends of Japan or other people interested in yokai. Please introduce yourself in the comments and point me in the right direction. THANKS!

takeshitademons_blog-cover 4

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Monster app for learning katakana and hiragana

Want a fun game to teach yourself hiragana or katakana?

Like monsters and manga? Check out these fun apps!

A few months back I had the pleasure of working with Jessica Perrin on Japanese language and culture workshops for Year 9s.

Jessica’s husband is also interested in Japanese and has just released two apps designed to help learners of Japanese hiragana and katakana alphabets.

Attack and whack!

Called Kana Attack (for iPad) and Kana Whack (for iPhone), they use Japanese yokai monsters, including the tanuki, kappa and more.

Players are rewarded with specialities from each Japanese prefecture and the screen backgrounds are borrowed from famous Japanese art. Plus there are flash cards, study charts, and you can hear each kana pronounced properly.

All this and cute monsters too? Yee ha! Yokai are everywhere!

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8 body parts you will want for your own: Super Cool Japanese demon anatomy

Want some super-human anatomy?

Super-strength and super-speed are so passé. What you need are some Super Cool bits of Japanese demon anatomy.

Check these out:

1)     SKIN: Ushi oni (Cow demon)
牛鬼 (

A nasty yokai who loves sinking ships and eating fishermen, the ushi-oni (also known as gyuuki) lives in the ocean.

He has many awesome body parts: claws like elephant tusks, muscles that never get tired, eyes that can see for miles…

But his Super Cool feature is his skin: when he’s swimming, his skin stretches out to form individual fins and flaps that help him to shoot through the water at top speed.

2)     STOMACH: Umi nyōbō (Wife of the sea)

A dedicated wife, the umi nyubou spends much of her time preparing pickled fish (for her children to eat) or gathering sea snake venom (to protect her family from attack by humans).

She has a Super Cool digestive system, with three stomachs: one for her, one for her husband, and one for her children.

She uses the stomachs like cupboards, storing different food for different people. How convenient!

3)     NOSE: Sagari (Hanging horse-head)
下がり (

Horse heads that hang upside-down like bats, sagari are said to be the ghosts of horses that died near trees.

They eat human blood, and can sense human auras using their Super Cool nose hairs.

These moustache-like tentacles can move independently and have also been known to shoot electricity like lightning.

4)     TAIL: Nobusuma (Flying squirrel)

A fire-breathing, clairvoyant squirrel, the nobusuma has sharp black teeth and spiky claws.

Able to fly, although it has no wings, the nobusuma can blow its body up like a helium balloon, but the power for lift-off comes from his Super Cool tail.

By slamming his tail onto the ground, the nobusuma can launch his body into the air. Newton’s Third Law of Motion in action!

5)     FINGERNAILS: Kokuri-babā (Hag of the Old Priest’s Quarters)

The kokuri-babā lives alone in an old temple and wears a white kimono made of hair.

She may look like a frail, old woman, but when she’s hungry, her Super Cool fingernails become as strong as pickaxes, allowing her to rip into old graves to find dead things to eat.

6)     TEETH: Gangi kozō (Zig-zag boy)
岸涯小僧 (

Zig-zag boy is an amphibian yokai who lives in rivers, surviving on raw fish. He has no friends and no family, but he does have one redeeming feature: his Super Cool teeth.

Incredibly pointy and stronger than steel, Zig-zag boy’s teeth allow him to rip into raw fish, tearing them apart. If he loses a tooth, another will grow back right where he needs it.

7)     LUNGS: Dorotabou (Rice paddy zombie)
泥田坊 (

The tortured ghost of a farmer who lost his land, the dorotabou rises from the mud to haunt his old fields.

Surviving on leaves, leeches and frogs, this mud-dwelling yokai has Super Cool lungs that allow him to breathe even when submerged in mud.

8)     EARS: Suiko (Water tiger)

A blood-sucking kappa with the fangs, claws and power of a tiger, the suiko lives in fast flowing rivers. He is an accomplished killer, but also has a softer side: the suiko likes to sunbathe, and he likes to chat.

His Super Cool ear is divided into three parts, allowing him to understand Bird Talk, Fish Talk and Human Talk as well as his native Yokai Talk.

Thanks to manga and yokai legend Shigeru Mizuki and his awesome reference Yōkai Daizukai for the inspiration.

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Let the Book Week begin!

Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker launches in Oz!

Woo hoo!

Childrens Book Week has begun! I spent this morning at Belmont’s Ruth Faulkner Public Library with students in Year 6 and 7 and it was terrific fun!

It’s SO GOOD to scare readers share with readers some of the legends behind the Japanese demons from my books.

The kids had heaps of great questions and did a great job answering librarian Edith’s questions in a pop quiz at the end.

And now I can rest at night knowing they are safe. Now EVERYBODY knows what to do when they meet a kappa, how to respond to the kuchi-sake-onna, and what food to serve when a fox comes to dinner 🙂

Phew! My work here is done 😉

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Quick quiz: Is your persimmon haunted?

persimmon monster - tankororin

The tankororin, about to drop from its tree...

Ever thought you might like to munch a chocolate bar instead of an apple? Prefer to eat banana cake and not bananas?

Well, you’re probably wise.

Fruit can be dangerous for your health!

Take the persimmon, for example. Persimmons are shiny orange fruit full of vitamin C and calcium and iron and lots of other stuff you need to stay healthy.

But how do you get all these healthy things?

You have to EAT the persimmon! And let me tell you, that’s not something I’d recommend.

Meet the tankororin: the Ripe Persimmon Monster.

The tankororin begins its life as an ordinary persimmon, but once it grows to a certain size on the persimmon tree, it jumps down, grows a human face and trots around on giant legs. Not what I’d like to find when I open my lunchbox!

Luckily, it’s easy to tell if your persimmon is becoming a tankororin monster. Try this quick quiz, for your own safety:


Q1)      Does your persimmon have big, bulging eyes?

Yes:  Go to Q2

No:  Go to Q3

Q2)      Does your persimmon have a runny nose?

Yes:  Go to Q3 (and don’t worry…that’s not snot dribbling from your persimmon’s nose: it’s persimmon juice).

No:  Go to Q4

Q3)      Does your persimmon like to take long walks at night?

Yes:  Go to Q4

No:  Go to Q6

Q4)      Does your persimmon like to drop on people from above?

Yes:  Go to Q5

No:  Go to Q6

Q5)    Oh dear! I’m sorry to say that your persimmon is already haunted. Your only hope is to find a large Tupperware container, stick the persimmon inside and put the lid on tight. Then, stick the container in the freezer for a week. Your persimmon will freeze rock hard, then turn to sticky mush when it thaws. Safe!

Q6)    Congratulations! Your persimmon is probably safe to eat. Take a big bite. You see all those seeds? They grow into the persimmon monster’s brains and they’re tasty-tasty. Yum! Eat them while you can.