It is usually depicted as a kind of small oni and is thought to be able to provoke a person's darkest desires and thus instigates them into perpetrating wicked deeds.
One of the amanojaku's best known appearances is in the fairytale Urikohime (瓜子姫, "melon princess"), in which a girl miraculously born from a melon is doted upon by an elderly couple. They shelter her from the outside world, and she naively lets the amanojaku inside one day, where it kidnaps or devours her, and sometimes impersonates her by wearing her flayed skin.
The amanojaku is commonly held to be derived from Amanosagume (天探女), a wicked deity in Shintō myth, which shares the amanojaku's contrary nature and ability to see into a person's heart, "a very perverted demon".
The creature has also entered Buddhist thought, perhaps via syncretism with the yaksha, where it is considered an opponent of Buddhist teachings. It is commonly depicted as being trampled on and subdued into righteousness by Bishamonten or one of the other Shitennō. In this context it is also called a jaki (邪鬼).
In popular culture
- In the manga Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, an amanojaku named Awashima is revealed to be male during the day and female at night.
- In the manga Urotsukidōji, Amano Jyaku is the titular protagonist.
- In the anime Ghost Stories, an amanojaku is accidentally sealed inside the main character's pet cat.
- In the Touhou Project video game Double Dealing Character, the stage 5 boss is an amanojaku named Seija Kijin who has the ability to turn things over.
- In the game Shin Megami Tensei, an amanojaku kills and eats the protagonist's mother and impersonates her.
- There is a Tokyo-based taiko group called "Taiko Shūdan Amanojaku"
- Mizuki, Shigeru (2004). Mujara 5: Tōhoku, Kyūshū-hen. Japan: Soft Garage. p. 6. ISBN 4861330270.
- Yōmi Hyaku Monogatari: Amanojaku
- Bake Bake Zukan: Amanojaku
- Gogen Yurai Jiten: Amanojaku
- Dictionary of Pandaemonium: Amanosagume
- Japanese Buddhism Photo Dictionary: Jyaki Demons
- Shiten'nō Zō no Ohanashi
- Fujino Bunraku 2001 (contains mythological information and images)