Japanese folklore is filled with all kinds of supernatural tales that have been passed down from generation to generation. Creatures like the tengu and kitsune are as complex as the stories that have spawned them. Perhaps one of the most significant events in Japanese folklore is the Hyakki Yagyo, otherwise known as the night parade of one hundred demons.
As a Japanese idiom, the Hyakki Yagyo represents the concept of utter pandemonium. It’s the breaking down of the barrier between the human and supernatural world. The time of evil spirits and tricksters running amok through the streets.
A night of chaos
The Hyakki Yagyo is made up of a procession of yokai, oni and many more Japanese creatures. During the night they parade through Japan, looking to cause as much havoc as possible. Anyone foolish enough to be caught in the parade is either killed or spirited away by the demons. The safest way to avoid the Hyakki Yagyo is by keeping doors locked and staying inside.
Various monsters have been described as leading the parade, such as the nurarihyon and otoroshi. The nurarihyon has the appearance of an old man with a gourd-shaped head. It is a mischievous creature that sneaks into people’s homes and steals their belongings. Otoroshi are squat, hairy figures that have fearsome claws and teeth. Depending on their mood they can be aggressive or docile.
Like many stories in Japanese folklore, the origins of the night parade are shrouded in mystery. Several stories exist and one of the earliest explanations comes from Fukuhara. A young nobleman was ordered to close his home in Kyoto and move to the new imperial court in Fukuhara.
A loyal servant stayed behind to look after the house, but when the nobleman returned, he found it infested by one hundred yokai. The demons were using the house for a chaotic party and refused to leave. The nobleman prayed to Buddha and by dawn, the demons were thrown out of the house by the power of religion.
Another story states that the nobleman encountered the Hyakki Yagyo on his way to the house. The monsters overwhelmed his carriage, chased away his attendants and set about destroying the vehicle. Ogres smashed the carriage with their mallets, while demons set it on fire with golden fireballs.
With Buddha’s help, the nobleman managed to escape into a field. Stopping to rest, the nobleman prayed until the break of dawn. When the light came, the demons scattered back into the darkness.
The Hyakki Yagyo is a popular theme in Japanese art. A famous example comes from a 16-century handscroll called Hyakki Yagyo Zu. Another vivid depiction comes from Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyosai, who featured supernatural creatures dancing in a large group.
Whatever the origins of the Hyakki Yagyo, it is certainly one of the most significant supernatural Japanese events. Should you ever find yourself out in the night and see a parade of demons heading your way, chant the following magical spell:
KA-TA-SHI-HA-YA, E-KA-SE-NI-KU-RI-NI, TA-ME-RU-SA-KE, TE-E-HI, A-SHI-E-HI, WA-RE-SHI-KO-NI-KE-RI.