The Umibozu Picture

Centuries before Godzilla arrived on the scene, Japanese sailors had another aquatic horror to contend with!

The Umibozu are supernatural sea monsters from Japanese folklore, often added into the general Yokai category, but like most so-called 'Yokai Monsters', the Umibozu are really in a genus all their own.

Often described as the monstrous ghosts of drowned monks (hence their bald heads), the Umibozu have also been referred to as beings of living water that can assume more humanoid shapes, or ocean dwelling giants distantly related to seals or otters. This is pretty typical of any mythological beast, with explanations varying between story sources, but there are consistencies, like the Umibozu's terrible habit of capsizing ships during sea storms.

Why can't there ever be any NICE sea monsters with respect for peoples' boats?

As spectacular as The Umibozu is, they are the type of mythical monster that has no particular, stand alone tales behind them, even in modern fiction, minus some notable exceptions.

In the 1994 Super Sentai series Kakuranger, an Umibozu appeared as a typical monster-of-the-week villain, but got a bigger role in the third season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as Hydro Hog; the water hoarding despot from the planet Aquitar.

While the anime Naruto featured an original story arch (not found in the comic), in which a villainous ninja named Amachi summoned an Umibozu, and used the living mass of water to sink ships between two neighboring kingdoms.

It can also be argued that Hedorah, the title antagonist from Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971), was inspired by the Umibozu legend, or at least a lot of the film's imagery was, most notably the opening sequence of Hedorah's slimy bald head rising from the polluted depths.

There was also a story arch based on a traditional folktale in the 2007 anime Mononoke, but to the best of my knowledge, the Umibozu in that series is portrayed as a small fish like being with Buddhist monk overtones, as opposed to the aforementioned giants...though I wouldn't mind being wrong on this one.

However the Umibozu's biggest claim to fame is that their name have become the basis of a humorous nickname giving to bald headed characters throughout Japanese culture, especially in anime. Sadly this gag often gets lost in American translations, replacing Umibozu with the less fun sounding 'Baldy'.

In recent years, the Umibozu have been mistaken with the Ningen; a Japanese urban myth about giant whale-like humanoids that government researchers encountered in the Antarctic. And in addition to that, modern crypto-zoologists theorized that Umibozu tales may have been early reports of Octopus Giganteus - the Gigantic Octopus which is believed to be far larger than the real-life Giant Squid.

I like the traditional Umibozu better.


Two things motivated me in doing this illustration, the first of which was me wanting to do a follow-up to my Cthulhu Looks Out To Sea (see link), but with another creepy sea monster instead of another one of H.P. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones (though Bokrug, the Great Water Lizard, was briefly considered).