Unusual and interesting toilets from all around the world.

Ganbari Nyūdō

The Peeping Toilet Ghost

The yōkai make up a broad category of supernatural entities in Japanese folklore. Maybe a ghost, perhaps some different variety of spirit. The name yōkai is a loanword written with two kanji characters, both of them meaning "suspicious or doubtful". So, they're doubly unaccountable phenomena. Even spookier than other ghosts!

In addition, Shintō is full of spirit-like beings who inhabit all manner of things, including natural objects and also natural phenomena.

"Toilet ghost" isn't an ideal term for what we're talking about here,, but it's reasonably close for a brief English label.

The Shoku Nihongi of 772 CE was the second Imperially-commissioned "history" of Japan, preserving ancient myths and traditions in written form. It comments about yōkai as a general category of strange phenomena that persistently plagued the Emperor's court:

Shintō purification is performed because yōkai appear very often in the Imperial court.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has a renowned collection of Japanese art including many works by Hokusai, who lived 1760–1849 CE. He was one of Japan's most admired and famous ukiyo-e artists, that being a genre of art with a name referring to pictures of the "floating world", the pleasure districts of the Shōgun's capital city of Edo, today's Tōkyō. The ukiyo-e woodblock prints, paintings, and pen and ink drawings depict pleasant scenes to be enjoyed for entertainment's sake — beautiful women, kabuki actors, landscapes, interesting plants, amusing animals, and erotica. And yes, that includes the three-volume set with Hokusai's tentacle erotica.

My icthyological work

Although, to risk pedantry, which this site frequently does, an octopus as seen in Hokusai's famous Dream of the Fisherman's Wife has eight arms, while a cuttlefish or squid might have eight arms plus two longer tentacles which are longer thin structures with "clubs" at their ends possibly featuring more powerful suckers and teeth. So, to be safe, "cephalopod limb erotica".

In July 2023 the MFA had a special exhibition of the work of Hokusai, his students, and artists they inspired. Those included Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and other modern to contemporary artists.

One item was Ima wa mukashi or, in English, Once Upon a Time. It's a book from 1790, made from pages printed by woodblock.

Explanatory placard for 'Ima wa mukashi' by Katsukawa Shun'ei and Katsukawa Shunshō in Boston's Museum of Fine Art

ASIN: 4756248101

Hokusai studied under Katsukawa Shunshō, who lived 1726–1792. One of Hokusai's fellow students was Katsukawa Shun'ei, who lived 1762–1819. So Hokusai's teacher and a fellow student collaborated on the collection of pictures in this book. It was opened to a freaky looking pair of pages depicting yōkai.

The monster on the page at left is described as a yōkai who haunts the Honjō district of Edo, as Tōkyō was called at the time. It usually isn't seen, as it manifests as the sound of wooden clappers following its terrified victims. So, Shun'ei and Shunshō depicted it as a three-eyed monster wearing the tattered black robe and battered straw hat of a mendicant priest.

Images depicting two yōkai in 'Ima wa mukashi' by Katsukawa Shun'ei and Katsukawa Shunshō in Boston's Museum of Fine Art
Ganbari nyūdō depicted in 'Ima wa mukashi' by Katsukawa Shun'ei and Katsukawa Shunshō in Boston's Museum of Fine Art

The picture on the facing page is of particular interest to us, because it depicts a ganbari nyūdō, a yōkai associated with the toilet.

You will see its name spelled both ganbari nyūdō and kanbari nyūdō because が and か, the sounds of "GA" and "KA", are the same except the consonant in the first is voiced and the second is not, like "DA" versus "TA", or "ZA" versus "SA", and so on.

The ganbari nyūdō also looks somewhat like a priest, with rough robes and the tonsure haircut of a priest. Its body is covered in thick hair.

As for what it does...

The ganbari nyūdō only appears on New Year's Eve, when it peeps at people using the toilet. This, as you might imagine, is considered to be bad fortune. No one wants an unexplained apparition peeping in while they're trying to use the toilet.

And then? Well, it depends.

Some of the legends say that the ganbari nyūdō will try to lick the unfortunate person using the toilet. Peeping and licking, that's annoying!

ASIN: 0890136521

Others say that the peeped-upon person will be struck with constipation, unable to finish their business.

Other legends say that the victim will have bad luck through the coming year.

Some say that you can summon the ganbari nyūdō and thereby prevent any toilet-related problems that otherwise might have happened during the coming year, such as tripping and falling into the toilet, forgetting to fasten your pants afterwards, and so on.

If you want to try to summon one, chant "ganbari nyūdō" three times aloud while looking down the drain of the toilet. If that makes his head appear, grab it, insert it into your left kimono sleeve, and take it back out — it will have turned into a koban, an oval gold coin. Or, according to the version from a different region, wrap the head in a silk cloth and take it to your room, and it will have turned into a pile of gold coins. These tricks are said to be more likely to work if you go the toilet during the Hour of the Ox between 1 and 3 AM. Yes, I realize that's a two-hour period.

Then there are the cuckoo-related aspects to the myths. Legends that came from China to Japan say that it's bad luck to hear a cuckoo, and especially bad luck to do so while you're using the toilet. If that happens, you're supposed to bark like a dog to cancel out the curse.

That has led in turn to variations that tell about the ganbari nyūdō blowing a cuckoo out of its mouth while peeping into the toilet.


The ganbari nyūdō legend lives on. This victim-licking cuckoo-spitting voyeuristic toilet ghost has appeared in Bleach.

Meanwhile, maybe we should just avoid the bathroom altogether overnight on New Year's Eve.