I would like to know what the meaning of the word mononoke is? Of course it's the name of the princess in Miyazaki's wonderful film Mononoke-hime, but what is the deeper and actual meaning of the word itself and what does it mean to the ordinary Japanese? Does it have any positive/or negative connotations?

In Japanese I think it's either 物の怪 or もののけ. I obviously don't read Japanese so I have no idea.

I have read the Wikipedia material concerning the word, but that left me unsatisfied.

  • 1
    In Mononoke-hime, the girl character's name is actually San and not Mononoke.She is referred to as "a Mononoke" by the females of the village but Ashitaka (the prince) calls her by name. Feb 23, 2015 at 4:42

1 Answer 1


from here: http://hyakumonogatari.com/2013/11/15/whats-the-difference-between-yurei-and-yokai/

[the Chinese loan-word] Yokai described an unseen world of mysterious, supernatural phenomena. The term represented something invisible, without form or identity; a mysterious energy that pervaded the deep forests, oceans, and mountains.

In truth, the word “yokai” was barely used at all. Ancient Japan had a more common name for this invisible, mysterious energy—mononoke. The idea of mononoke was something to fear—a mysterious, natural force that could come out any time and kill you, like a lightning strike or a tidal wave. It took the artists of the Heian period to give form to this mysterious energy, and transform the mononoke into bakemono, changing things. And then it took the writers of the Edo period to take these shapes and give them stories.

Japanese mythical creatures doesn't really fit the same categories as ones in Western mythology, so the appropriate English translation would vary from case to case. But monster, spirit or spectre would all be possibilities.

As to the modern meaning of the word; just going from what I've read in manga it's a much more uncommonly used term than oni, bakemono, youkai or a dozen different words for monsters of various stripes. As such, I would have expect that it has retained more of its original meaning than the newer terms, but you'd need a native speaker - and probably a folklore buff at that - to really answer your question.

  • Thanks! It's more information than I had, and the connection to Yokai was very interesting. I will keep this open for now though, in hopes that a japanese folklore buff comes with an answer ;)
    – komakino
    Dec 2, 2013 at 9:36
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    Fits with the meaning of 物の怪, the essential "strangeness" of things. Cf. 'eldritch' Jan 3, 2014 at 19:27
  • @Trevor: Hate to point this out but もののけ could also be heard as 物の気, which opens up a whole different can of worms.
    – Avery
    Feb 22, 2015 at 8:10

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