in Japanese) were an ancient class of usually-benevolent spirit from Indian myth, who presided over subterranean treasures and were worshipped as tutelary deities.1
Early Buddhism, which often held native Indian gods which it had not yet assimilated to be man-eating demons, saw the yaksha
as such heretical creatures and sank them into the same category as the much less wholesome rakshasa
羅刹) devils. Thus the image of the yaksha
which was brought to Japan was decidedly ferocious, and they were incorporated into Japanese culture as a type of oni
. Eventually, however, Buddhism incorporated the yaksha
and the rakshasa
into its pantheon of deities which defend Buddhist law, and these fierce beings were treated in a more favorable light. In some parts of Japan, deities classed as yasha
found their way into sectarian worship and folk religion. For example, the dakini
, who were originally Indian earth-mother goddesses, were classed by Buddhism as female yasha
who feasted on human flesh and blood. When they became Buddhist deities, they were given the power to see the future so that they could harmlessly consume the freshly-deceased, and were thus incorporated into Japanese sects such as mikkyō
and syncretized with folk belief in fox spirits and the gods Inari and Izuna-gongen. 2
Shigeru Mizuki's GeGeGe No Kitarō
comics popularized a new spin on the yasha
, this one composed entirely of hair and capable of devouring human souls. 3
1. Hoiberg, Dale and Indu Ramchandani. "Yaksha." Students' Britannica India. India: Popular Prakashan, 2000. pp. 262, 289.
2. Sasama pp. 18-20.
3. Kyogoku, Natsuhiko. Ralph F. McCarthy, trans. "Afterword." GeGeGe No Kitaro Vol. 2 Tokyo: Kodansha Bilingual Comics, 2002. p. 124.