If ばけもの / ばけもん / お化け can, in general, be understood to mean ghost/apparition/monster, what is the connection to the meaning of 化け, meaning "transform?" (or "transforming one's appearance")

Is it implying a creature transforming its appearance, or the appearance of person transforming from corporal body to ghost, or a combination thereof? (or perhaps it refers to the state of flux that a ghost exists in, or even something theater-related)

I am interested if anyone has any insight as to the etymology of the term and how it came to mean "ghost/monster".

Furthermore, does anyone have an idea if the け of 化け derives from the verb 化ける, or did the noun predate the verb?

2 Answers 2


I am not sure if I understand the question, but I will give it a shot.

As you observed, 化ける means “to transform,” and 化け in 化け物 and お化け is its noun form. (I do not know which of 化ける and 化け comes first historically, though.) 化け物 or お化け is supposed to be the result of transformation of a human, an animal, or a thing, often after the human or the animal dies or the thing is discarded.

Such transformation is not necessarily only about its appearance; after transforming, an animal is often supposed to become larger or stronger, a thing is suppose to be able to speak, and so on, and they often do harm to living humans.

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    thank you. In english, for instance, a monster could have always been a monster, with no transformation taking place ever. But in the Japanese word, is there always the implication that the creature transformed from something different, into its present frightening state? Can Tengu 天狗 qualify as お化け? I know they can sometimes be ghosts.
    – yadokari
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 1:08
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    @yadokari: Hmm, after thinking a little more about this, I am not so sure anymore. While I still believe that traditionally 化け物 and お化け were supposed to be the result of transformation and that is the etymology of these words, I think that now 化け物 can be also used to mean “monster” in general, just like 怪物. I find it hard to use お化け in this broader meaning, but this is just my personal impression. I personally think that 天狗 is not お化け but 妖怪, but again this is my personal impression. I hope that someone who is familiar with history can shed some light. Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 1:34

I think those words come from 化身, which ancient Japanese believed that any form of nature has a spirit in it. And sometimes a spirit moves into another entity and it's called 化身。

If you've ever seen 祈禱, which is a kind of Shamanism and a ritual to call spirits, the meaning of 化身 might be imaginable. Not all 祈祷 are doing it though. And the shaman becomes some kind of God or a spiritual entity during the ritual.


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