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  • Writer's pictureS. N. Linn

Jikininki: The Human-Eating Spirits of Japanese Folklore (Japan)

Updated: Feb 7

A bald humanoid creature with sharp teeth and claws

In Japanese folklore, “Jikininki” are ghoulish spirits that feed on the flesh of the dead. Depicted as humanoid figures with monstrous features, jikininki are believed to be once greedy and selfish humans in their past lives. Their origins are linked to Buddhist concepts of karma and reincarnation. Individuals who committed sins associated with greed are said to be reborn as jikininki. They are tormented by perpetual hunger, compelled to feed on decaying corpses. While they do not enjoy eating the flesh of the dead, they are driven to do so by their nature, receiving only temporary relief from their hunger pangs.

An illustrative tale recounts how a travelling priest encountered a jikininki in a small village. While staying as a guest, the priest learned that an old man in the village had passed away during the night. The village had a peculiar custom: its residents would temporarily evacuate whenever someone died. When urged by the villagers to join them in moving to another location for the night, the priest chose to remain in the village to offer prayers for the deceased. Though the villagers allowed him to do so, they pleaded him to exercise caution, as their ancestors had warned them of strange occurrences whenever there was a death in the village.

After the villagers had left, the priest entered the room where the body was kept and recited Buddhist prayers for the deceased. A few hours into the night, as he sat near the body and meditated, the priest witnessed a monstrous creature entering the room. It devoured the body as well as the food offerings in mere seconds and left immediately after. The priest later understood that the creature was a spirit called jikininki, shedding light on the reason behind the strange custom of the village.


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About the writer:

S. N. Linn is a blogger and author of books on folklore, legends, and heart-pounding ghost stories and paranormal adventures. You can find more of her work on her website:

Copyrighted by Su Nandar Linn


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