Glossary: Shinigami


Agekubi [a-ge-ku-bi]: Nara and Heian era robes for males, high-necked, with a circular neckline and tailored sleeves

Amaterasu [a-ma-te-ra-su]: Goddess of the sun

Ame no Ohabari [a-me-no-o-ha-ba-ri ]: The sword used by Izanagi to kill his offspring Kagutsuchi. The literal translation in English is ‘sword of Takamagahara with blades on both sides of the tip.’

Ashihara-no-naka-tsu-kuni [a-shi-ha-ra-no-na-ka-tsu-ku-ni]: The Land in Between the Reed Plains, what the Shinto gods called the island of Japan.

Ayakashi [a-ya-ka-shi]: The collective name for yōkai that appear above the surface of a body of water, but in modern times ‘ayakashi’ has been used for vengeful spirits in general. They can possess individuals and make them suffer, and cause disease or even death. Other terms are: onryō for vengeful spirits, shiryō for dead spirits, and ikiryō for live spirits. For simplicity I used ‘ayakashi’ to refer to all vengeful spirits.

Byakudan [bya-ku-dan]: Indian sandalwood

Busu [bu-su]: Playground insult meaning ‘ugly’

Census: The Taika reforms of 646 A.D. introduced by Fujiwara no Kamatari initiated a census that reported not only population statistics, but also data concerning land use.

Fujiwara [fu-ji-wa-ra]: Wisteria flower

Fundoshi [fun-do-shi]: A strip of cloth, wound around the hips and secured at the small of the back by twisting, with the excess brought forward between the legs and tucked through the cloth belt in front to hang as an apron.

Goshoguruma [go-sho-gu-ru-ma]: Wheeled transport vehicles available only for the Imperial Family and the highest aristocrats. They were ox drawn carts, with a folding screen and no driver seat.

Hagoita [ha-go-i-ta]: A rectangular wooden paddle used in hanetsuki

Hane [ha-ne]: The shuttlecock used in hanetsuki

Hanetsuki [ha-ne-tsu-ki]: A Japanese traditional game, similar to badminton but without a net

Harai [ha-rai] or Harae [ha-ra-e]: Shinto purification ritual

Heijo-kyo [hei-gio-kio]: Today’s city of Nara, which was the Imperial Capital for almost 80 years during the 8th century.

Hibachi [hi-ba-chi]: A traditional Japanese heating device, translated as ‘fire bowl’

Hibari [hi-ba-ri]: Skylark

Hirosode [hi-ro-so-de]: A basic ancient Japanese robe for women

Hitatare [hi-ta-ta-re]: Upper garment with long sleeves and a drawstring used to tie up the sleeves

Inari Ōkami [i-na-ri-o-o-ka-mi]: God Inari is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea, and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of sword-smiths and merchants.

Iris in the Marsh: Ultimate symbol of purity in Buddhism

Irori [i-ro-ri]: A traditional Japanese sunken hearth. Used for heating the home and for cooking, it is essentially a square, stone-lined pit in the floor.

Itai! [i-tai]: Exclamation meaning ‘Ouch!’

Izanagi [i-za-na-gi]: Male deity responsible for the creation of Japan, represents creation and life

Izanami [i-za-na-mi]: Female deity responsible for the creation of Japan, represents creation and death

Kagura [ka-gu-ra]: Theatrical dance specific to the Shinto religion translated as ‘god-entertainment’

Kagutsuchi [ka-gu-tsu-chi]: The last child of goddess Izanami. She died in childbirth, wounded by Kagutsuchi’s flames. Izanagi killed the baby with his sword out of grief for losing his wife.

Kakitsubata [ka-ki-tsu-ba-ta]: Water iris

Kanji [kan-dji]: Adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system

Kao-dori [ka-o-do-ri]: The name of the bird appearing in a lot of Japanese poems from Nara and Heian eras. It is unknown exactly which bird it was.

Kappa [ka-pa]: An amphibious yōkai demon found in traditional Japanese folklore. They are typically depicted as green, human-like beings with webbed hands and feet, with a turtle-like carapace on their backs.

Kitsune [ki-tsu-ne]: Common red fox or shapeshifter fox yōkai. The more tails it has, the more powerful it is. Maximum number of tails is nine.

Kitsunebi [ki-tsu-ne-bi]: Fireballs of different colors, created by a kitsune

Kodama [ko-da-ma]: Spirits in Japanese folklore that inhabit trees, similar to the dryads of Greek mythology. In this story, I’ve made the kodama agender and used they/them pronouns.

Kojiki [ko-ji-ki]: “Records of Ancient Matters” or “An Account of Ancient Matters” is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, dating from the early 8th century (711–712). The Kojiki is a collection of myths, early legends, songs, genealogies, oral traditions and semi-historical accounts down to 641, concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, and the Kami (gods).

Koto [ko-to]: A 13-string zither

Kusanagi no Tsurugi [ku-sa-na-gi-no-tsu-ru-gi]: A legendary Japanese sword and one of three Imperial Regalia of Japan. It was originally called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, ‘Heavenly Sword of Gathering Clouds,’ but its name was later changed to the more popular Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (‘Grass-Cutting Sword’ or ‘Kusanagi the Grass Slasher’). In folklore, the sword represents the virtue of valor.

Kyō no Miyako [ki-o-no-mi-ya-ko]: Old name of Kyoto

Mikasa [mi-ka-sa]: Ancient name for Mount Wakakusa in Nara

Miko [mi-ko]: A shrine maiden in the Shinto religion

Misogi [mi-so-gi]: A Japanese Shinto ritual of purification by washing the entire body

Naniwa [na-ni-wa]: Old name for today’s Osaka city/port.

Nihon Shoki [ni-hon sho-ki]: The Chronicles of Japan. It is the second-oldest book of classical Japanese history. It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki. The Nihon Shoki was finished in 720 under the editorial supervision of Prince Toneri.

Ningyo [nin-gyo]: Mermaid yōkai

Ōmi Lake [o-o-mi]: Current Lake Biwa

Oshibori [o-shi-bo-ri]: A hot wet hand towel

Ri [ri]: Measurement adopted from the Chinese ‘li’. It means 500 meters or 1,640 feet.

Sakura [sa-ku-ra]: Cherry flower

Sanshu no Jingi [san-shu-no-jin-gi]: The Imperial Regalia of Japan, also known as the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. Consists of the sword Kusanagi, the mirror Yata no Kagami, and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama. The regalia represent the three primary virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).

Sensei [sen-sei]: Honorific term shared in Chinese and Japanese, used in general to refer to professionals or persons of authority, such as teachers, clergy, accountants, lawyers, physicians, and politicians, or to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill.
Shima-enaga [shi-ma-e-na-ga]: A white long-tailed tit

Shinano [shi-na-no]: Nagano prefecture today

Shinigami [shi-ni-ga-mi]: A death god in the Japanese folklore and mythology. They are not Death, nor The God of Death. They are similar to the Reapers that take the souls of the dead to judgement.

Shinshū [shin-shu]: An old province of Japan that is now Nagano prefecture.
Shōen [sho-o-en]: Estates developed in the 8th century A.D Japan, from land tracts assigned to officially sanctioned Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples or granted by the emperor as gifts to the Imperial family, friends, or officials. The term describes any of the private, tax-free, often autonomous estates or manors of the time.

Silla [cil-la]: Ancient name for today’s Korea

Susanoo [su-sa-no-o]: God of Storms, Amaterasu’s brother

Suzu [su-zu]: A round, hollow Japanese Shinto bell that contains pellets which rattle when agitated

Suzuhiko hime [su-tzu-hi-ko-hi-me]: Bell princess. They look like young women wearing the robes of an ancient princess or a shrine maiden, but with a large bell in place of a head.

Taiko [tai-ko]: A term that refers to any kind of drum

Takamagahara [ta-ka-ma-ga-ha-ra]: Heaven, translated as the High Plain of Heaven, dwelling place of the Heavenly Gods

Tang [tɑːŋ]: Part of China today, The Empire of Tang

Tarikubi [ta-ri-ku-bi]: Nara and Heian era robes for females, with a cross-over neckline and full sleeves. They went out of fashion in the 10th century when the kimono began to evolve.

Tenjiku [ten-ji-ku]: What India was called in ancient Japan. For the Chinese, it was Tianzhu.

Tsukumogami yōkai [tsu-ku-mo-gam-I-yo-o-kai]: Yōkai born out of old tools no longer in service, animating themselves from the desire to be useful once again
Tsukuyomi [tsu-ku-yo-mi]: God of the Moon, Amaterasu and Susanoo’s brother

Tsudzumi [tsu-zu-mi]: Type of drums beaten with fingers

Uguisu [u-gu-i-su]: Bush warbler or Japanese nightingale

Unohana [u-no-ha-na]: Deutzia flower
Yamata no Orochi [ya-ma-ta-no-o-ro-chi]: From Japanese mythology, an ancient serpent with eight heads

Yamato [ya-ma-to]: The Japanese province where the Imperial Family lived and where the Imperial Capitals were built. The poets and writers don’t mention the old name for Japan, which was Wa, nor the modern one decided in the 7th century, which was Nihon, so I didn’t use them either.

Yōkai [yo-o-kai]: A class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. Yōkai range diversely from the malevolent to the mischievous, and occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them.

Yōkai hana [yo-o-kai-ha-na]: Yōkai that live in a flower. Biko is a yōkai hana.

Yomi [yo-mi]: Considered the Land of the Dead in Shinto religion and ancient Japan, similar to Tartarus for the Greek mythology.


The ancient Japanese counted hours from midnight to midnight. The day had 12 hrs, with each hour representing 2 hours of our time. The hours had the same name as the years in the Chinese cycle which was introduced to ancient Japan as well. They were:

Hour of the mouse = 12 midnight
Hour of the ox = 2 AM
Hour of the tiger = 4 AM
Hour of the hare = 6 AM
Hour of the dragon = 8 AM
Hour of the snake = 10 AM
Hour of the horse = 12 noon
Hour of the sheep = 2 PM
Hour of the monkey = 4 PM
Hour of the cock = 6 PM
Hour of the dog = 8 PM
Hour of the boar = 10 PM

2 thoughts on “Glossary: Shinigami

    1. There is one at the end of the book too, Corinne, but I thought a glossary easy at hand is more user friendly 😘😘

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