Etymology: Faceless Monk, From the Japanese word “nopperi” meaning “featureless”
Japanese Kanji & Kana: 野箆坊, のっぺらぼう
Other Spellings: Nopperabo, Noppera-Bo
Also Called: Faceless Ghost, No-Face, Mujina, Nupperiho, and Zunberabo
In Japanese folklore and mythology, the Noppera-bō is a faceless ghost or yokai of which there are several different tales and stories surrounding them.
The Noppera-bō is a ghost or yurei in Japanese who at first glance appears to be human. They will sometimes appear to be someone the person knows. It’s not until a person gets closer or during interactions with them, that the Noppera-bō reveals, having no face and is just blank, featureless smooth skin where a face should be.
This is usually the goal and tactic of a Noppera-bō, scare the ever-living daylights out of a person for a good jump scare and send them running in fear. For added effect, some Noppera-Bō work in teams of at least two where the first scares their victim, and that person runs off to tell someone else what happened, only for that person to reveal a featureless face too. Otherwise, this spirit is rather harmless and really more prone to mischief.
A couple sources have said that the noppera-bō isn’t a ghost at all, but a Yokai; a broad category of supernatural entities and spirits in Japanese folklore. Narrowing it down from there, noppera-bō belongs to a category known as obake or “changed creature” referring to those yokai that are shapeshifters. Since other shape-shifting yokai could be mistaken for a noppera-bō, it’s sometimes not always clear which entity is being seen.
There are several stories of noppera-bō, a story of a young woman rescued from bandits by a samurai who finds that her face disappears, stories of nobles going to a tryst only to find that the courtesan in question they’re to meet turns out to be a noppera-bō.
There are two main stories involving noppera-bō.
The Noppera-bō & The Koi Pond
This story involves a lazy fisherman who decided to go fishing at the imperial koi ponds near Heian-Kyo Palace. The man’s wife warned him not to go as the pond is sacred and near a graveyard. Despite this, the fisherman ignores his wife and heads off anyways.
While on his way to the pond, the man is warned by another fisherman not to go to there. Again, the man ignores his fellow. Then, at the koi pond, a beautiful young woman pleads with the man not to fish. Once again, the man ignores them.
This time, the young woman wipes her face off, frightening the fisherman. Fleeing home in terror, he sees who at first looks like his wife. As the wife is scolding the man, she too wipes her face off.
When Is A Ghost Not A Ghost?
When it’s a mujina.
The word mujina is an old Japanese term for a badger or raccoon dog also known as a tanuki. As shapeshifters, the mujina were known to transform into noppera-bō in order to scare humans. Sometimes kitsune and tanuki are known to impersonate noppera-bō as well.
The Mujina of the Akasaka Road
This is the second of two well-known stories concerning the noppera-bō. This story is found in Lafcadio Hearn’s book “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.”
A man was once traveling along the Akasaka road towards Edo when he came upon a young woman in a remote area near Kunizaka hill crying. The man attempted to comfort and console the young woman when she turned to face him, revealing a blank, featureless face. Frightened, the man took off down the road until he came to a soba vendor. Thinking he was safe; the man began to relate what had happened to him. The vendor then stroked his face as it changed to the featureless of a noppera-bō.
A similar retelling of this story is seen in the Studio Ghibli movie Pom Poko.
Modern Ghost Stories
Most stories of noppera-bō lean more historical and there aren’t very many reported sightings in the 20th or 21st centuries.
There is a story from 1959 in Honolulu there is a report of a sighting of mujina at the Waialae Drive-In Theatre in Kahala where a witness says they saw a woman combing her hair in the restroom. When the woman turned, she revealed a featureless face. The witness was also reported as having been admitted to the hospital for a nervous breakdown.
The Hawaiian historian, folklorist, and author Glen Grant tried to dismiss the story in 1981 during a radio interview only to have the witness call herself, giving more details about the story such as the mujina having red hair. The drive-in in question has long since been torn down. Noppera-bō or mujina sightings do continue in Hawaii where a number of Japanese have immigrated to.
Etymology: Kamuy (god), Bears and Mountains
Also Known As: キムンカムイ, Metotush Kamuy, Nuparikor Kamuy
Alternate Spellings: Kim-un Kamui, Metotush Kamui, Nuparikor Kamui
Among the Ainu people of ancient Japan, Kim-Un-Kamuy is the god of bears and mountains.
In the Ainu language, the kamuy is a spiritual or divine being in Ainu beliefs and mythology. This term refers to any supernatural entity made of or having spiritual energy.
It should be noted that bears hold a very prominent place in Ainu beliefs and mythology. Among the Ainu, bears were seen as very benevolent.
Ritual Sacrifice – One important ritual held by every village is that they would go out and capture a bear cub. This cub would be fed and taken care of as well as the village could for the period of a year. At this time, a ceremony would be performed in which this bear would be shot to death with arrows. The flesh of this ritually slain bear would be eaten, this would free the bear’s spirit so it could return to the heavens where it would tell Kim-un Kamuy of the humans’ piety in gratitude.
Many of the stories that follow all share a commonality of the bear being killed and eaten so its spirit could return to the heavens.
There are exceptions to the rule, there are stories of Ararush or monstrous bears that do appear.
One story tells of a bear maiden who was particularly mean and went to a human village and killed a woman. The bear maiden was punished by the Kamuy Fuchi and restored the human woman back to life. The bear maiden was to then entertain the villagers before leaving her earthly body behind as she returned to the spirit world with gifts of wine and inau. The bear maiden told of the human’s generosity and villagers feasted on the flesh of her earthly form.
First Story –
This story explains the origin and purpose of the Ainu’s bear ritual.
One day, the bear god, Kim-un Kamuy is told by Crow that his wife has left the heavens to go down to a human village and hasn’t returned. Alarmed, Kim-un Kamuy rushes home to collect up his child and hurry to the human village.
There, Kim-un Kamuy is greeted by Kamuy Paseguru, the goddess of the hunt. She invites Kim-un Kamuy to visit the goddess of the hearth, Kamuy Fuchi. As they are talking, a fox comes in, bewitching Kim-un Kamuy and Kamuy Paseguru seizes the chance to knock him out.
When Kim-un Kamuy comes to, he is hanging up high in the branches of a tree. Below him, Kim-un Kamuy can see the body of an old bear laying down and its cub playing close by. As he watched, he saw humans come to worship the dead bear and make offerings of wine, dumplings, and inau (sacred rods). Eventually, they took the bear meat and the cub back to their village.
Back in the village, the people give the cub more offerings. Kim-un Kamuy finds his wife at the human village sitting near the hearth. They spend several days feasting with Kamuy Fuchi before returning back home to feast with the other kamuy. Kim-un Kamuy’s cub returned a year later with gifts of wine and inau when another feast would be held.
Second Story –
In this story, a young mother is out with her baby collecting herbs and forest bulbs. When the mother was down at the river washing the bulbs, she began to sing and attracted the attention of a bear.
Frightened, the young mother jumped up, leaving her baby and clothes behind as she ran. Disappointed that the woman had run away and ceased her singing, the bear went over to investigate the pile of clothing and found the baby. The bear cared for the baby for several days, feeding it the saliva from its mouth.
The men from the woman’s village came down to the river and found the baby still alive. They were convinced that the bear had been none other than Kim-un Kamuy. The men followed the bear’s tracks and proceeded to shoot it dead. After that, the men then held a feast of the bear’s meat and raised the bear’s head up on a stand offering it wine and inau. By holding this ritual, the men freed the bear’s ramat or spirit to return to the heavens.
Third Story –
Once, in ancient times, there was a couple, husband and wife. One day the husband fell ill and shortly after, died, leaving no children.
As the case was, there had been a decree made that the woman would bear a son at some future date. When that day drew close, the people of the woman’s village began to talk among themselves that surely the woman had married again while others said the husband had risen from the dead.
The woman herself said it was a miracle and related how one evening, when she had been sitting there alone in her home, a man came to her, dressed all in black. When the man turned toward her, he said that he was the god of the mountain, Kim-un Kamuy. That he had come to her in mortal form to let her know, with her husband gone, she would bear a child. That this would be his gift to her and when her son had grown, he would be great, eloquent, and wealthy.
After this, Kim-un Kamuy left her and the woman bore a son. In time, when the child had grown, he became a mighty hunter and indeed a great, eloquent, and wealthy man. He also went on to become the father of many children. Many of the Ainu who live among the mountains claim to be descended from a bear. This bear clan is called Kimun Kamui sanikir, the “descendants of the bear.”
Members of Kimun Kamui sanikir are proud to declare: “As for me, I am a child of the god of the mountains; I am descended from the divine one who rules the mountains.”