One thing Japanese folklore is famous for is having dozens and dozens of ghosts, spirits, and demons that inhabit people’s everyday lives and can be anywhere from a bridge to your very own home. One area of the home you might want to be specifically aware of? The bathroom. There are a few characters from Japanese folklore that are specifically bathroom (or even toilet) orientated: the Kawaya no Kami, Akaname, and the Noppera-bō.
Let’s start with not just a mere spirit or a ghost, but a god. Kawaya no-Kami is a Japanese toilet god. What makes him a toilet god? Well, his origin story certainly helps. It is said Kawaya was born from the excrement of Izanami, who is the goddess of Earth and darkness in Japanese folklore.
It is particularly interesting that he was born from Izanami because, if you think about it, toilets are quite dark places buried into the earth. In fact, some believe that Kawaya’s existence in the folklore is representative of the issues with pre-modern toilets - they were dark, deep, and could actually be quite dangerous. Kawaya offers protections against the danger of toilets.
He is typically depicted as an old, blind man and is usually pictured hiding at the bottom of toilets and clutching a spear. It is for this exact reason you should make your presence known before you sit down, or else...Don’t worry, you don’t have to announce or worship him before, usually, just a polite cough will do.
To thank him, some people would decorate their toilets or bathroom-areas as a way to say thank you. If you want to anger Kawaya, make sure your bathroom is dirty. Kawaya had so much power that it is said if you don’t properly respect him you will have ugly children. Human waste was also a popular fertilizer so he was also sometimes worshipped during the harvest.
Another reason to keep your bathroom clean is to avoid the Akaname, aka the ‘Filth Licker.’ Akaname is summoned from human filth and scum left in the bathrooms. Late at night, Akaname appears in unkempt bathrooms and licks the filth. He is often described as having a red body and quite a long and large tongue. In some versions of this story, the Akaname is rumored to have poisonous or acidic saliva (which is how the grime is removed) although it does not seem to have a negative effect on humans.
Although Akaname would no doubt be quite alarming to see, it does not seem the creature does anything evil. The presence of Akaname should be a wake-up call to anyone who has let their bathroom go too long.
Finally, we arrive at the Noppera-Bo whose appearance might be the most frightening of the bunch mentioned here. Noppera-Bo looks like any other person until you see its face. The Noppera-Bo’s face is completely smooth.
The Noppera-Bo haunts specifically public restrooms and seems to have a particular preference for ladies bathrooms. Unlike the other two beings mentioned above, the Noppera-Bo doesn’t seem to care much about the cleanliness of the bathroom and its main goal is, well, scaring the crap out of people. They are not limited to the bathroom, although it seems it is one of their favorite haunts. It is unclear their motives for spooking people but, perhaps, they feed off of human fear and scaring people generates energy or food.
If you know anything about Japanese bathroom beings you might be questioning why I left off Hanako-san. The Japanese equivalent to Bloody Mary is Hanako-san. I left it off because I plan on writing a comparative piece later on...stay tuned!