Obake (changing from its proper state, or ghost) (お化け)

"Obake" (お化け) (also "henge") refers to something or someone that/who has changed significantly from its/their proper state. Simply called 'bake (化け),' 'bakemono(化け物)' and 'obake (大化け)' too.

Also called 'kesho' (化生) (disambiguation) meaning to live in a changed form: 化 means to change and 生 means to live.

For bakegaku (化学), see Chemistry.


Things like a rainbow across sudden rainfall in sunshine (the devil is beating his wife), autumnal leaf coloration of trees, holometabolism of insects, etc, are big changes from their usual states and are surprising in the absence of scientific considerations and explanations. Such things made people feel awed and scared of nature, which lead to the nature worship that underlies the animism found in concepts such as yurei (ghost), yokai (specter), fairy, etc.

To change yourself for example by becoming 'okame' (plain-looking woman) or 'hyottoko' (clown) by wearing their masks at festivals is a natural human desire, which has something in common with wearing costumes at Halloween. Humans not only desire to change themselves but also some kind of wish and interest in 'changing and transforming' more generally, regardless of the time and country: a piece of European literature "The Metamorphosis" by Kafka, and a western tradition that a man transforms into a wolf on nights of the full moon, for example; also in Japan, there are costume dramas like Mito-komon (a drama in which the audience's impression of an average old man changes once he shows his inro and it is revealed that he is one of the vice-shoguns of the Tokugawa gosanke [three privileged branches of Tokugawa family]), Kamen Rider (the Masked Rider) and Ultraman.

The 'bake' and 'obake' are also used for good luck brought by chance, in which case the meaning includes not only a change in the subject concerned but also an expectation of change brought about by a speculative spirit as well as fortune-telling that the subject would change for the better. By association, the phrase 'mokke no saiwai' originally means that an unexpected luck is the one brought by mononoke (obake).

Unnatural phenomena
The feelings of surprise which arise from the gap between the recognition and the reality, and it is also an unnatural phenomenon led by the conclusion that the reality was not right unless you don't recognize the gap came from your misunderstanding. Yurei, yokai and kaibutsu (monster) are sometimes used to express the same meaning as obake.

The handed down divine spirit, souls of dead people, and fictional spooky creatures
-Dead persons who remain in the actual world as an antemortem figure when they ought to have become a ball-shaped invisible soul and departed to heaven.

Yokai and yokai-henge (shape-shifter)
- Although usually things (tools or creatures) live out a natural life, some things become tsukumogami (divine spirit) and live for a very long time or are used for a very long time, becoming celestial and possessing a deity within itself. Yokai including tsukumogami are possessed by the supernatural and have turned into numen by becoming an object representative of a divine spirit; those that are constantly furious are called aramitama.

Yokai with the character 化け (bake: to change) as part of their name
- there are karakasa-obake (paper umbrella ghost), chochin-obake (lantern ghost), bake-gani (monster crab), bake-icho no rei (spirit of monster gingko), bake-zori (Japanese sandal monster), bake-neko (cat monster), bake-bi (fire monster), bake-furugeta (old wooden clog monster), etc.

- Something eerie which used to be human or a creature and has now varied its appearance and heart significantly due to chemical substances, physical actions, a curse, an evil mind, the devil, a ceremony, etc. Or, a grotesque creature which shouldn't exist. Something eerie, fictionally created, and which hasn't been passed down in Japan. Or, a mysterious person, the soul of a dead person and a mysterious creature abroad that tends to say spooky things.

Jekyll and Hyde' and 'The Incredible Hulk' - the latter said to be a modern version of 'Jekyll and Hyde' - are also called kaibutsu. They are formerly humans, who have been changed using medicines (chemical substances).
Also Japanese Godzilla is a reptile which changed due to radiation

Vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc are creatures which were once human, but not any more due to a perverted ceremony or act with various religious connotations; zombies in a video game called Biohazard are portrayed as 'terrifying-looking dead people who were brought alive with viruses from medicines developed as biochemical weapons' are thought to be a combination of the setting of Jekyll and Hyde with a religious concept called zombi.

Misperceptions, and phenomena which couldn't be explained by the science level at that time
Something which causes human beings to hallucinate. Things like 'obake-zaka slope' (a slope which looks like an upslope due to an illusion but it is actually a downslope) which break up (change) your presupposed notion that you are walking up a slope. Thought to be mysterious phenomena in the old times.

There is a gaseous object called 'Hannys Voorwerp' that is about 700 million light-years from the earth; a large round non-gas astronomical object with a huge hole in the middle, which is about 10,000 Celsius and has a greater density than surrounding fixed stars and those in the early stage of formation. It is unclear whether this is one of the reflection nebulas or some kind of so-called 'optical light echo' phenomenon caused by light from a past supernova explosion finally reaching the earth. The 'optical light echo' phenomenon is apparently caused by the persistence of a light emission amidst surrounding gas and infrared rays due to the influence of the nearby galaxy IC 2497 which seems to have once included a quasar. Also because the creation process of the central hole is unexplained, this is called 'cosmic obake' (cosmic ghost).

In real life
大化け (obake: big changing in the literal meaning): it's often the case that obake generally means phenomena whose size and effect have increased; Ancient Shinto, which is connected with Japanese folk belief, has a concept of value by which it is thought that the higher ranking divine spirits reside in bigger things, such as himorogi (temporarily erected sacred space or "altar" used as a locus of worship) and iwakura (dwelling place of a god, usually in reference to a large rock): a tree which has grown to a greater extent than others or a rock which is larger than others can be a house of (bakeru [change to]) the divine spirit.

Human beings and creatures which grow bigger than they should be, and change in some way. Obake-medaka' (monster killifish), 'obake-kabocha' (monster pumpkin), etc.

To change to a better situation than one expected. The expression 'baketa' (it has gone up) or 'obake-shita' (it has gone up a lot) is used to refer to a stock with no attention paid suddenly shoots up in value.

化粧 (kesho), that means to put make up on and to decorate the inside and the outside of buildings, is said to have had its kanji changed from 化生 (kesho), which means to come into existence in a converted form as a consequence of one's past actions, because the acts of putting make up on and decorating buildings means to change towards something more beautiful.

Vocabularies and phrases

"Obake" means kinds of divine spirits, yokai and kaibutsu, which are also called 化け (bake), 化け物 (bakemono), 大化け (obake) and 化生 (kesho).

The kinds of spirits include divine spirits, ancestral spirits and other spirits including the spirit of a dead person, an apparition, a ghost, an evil spirit, a vengeful ghost, a vengeful spirit and visualizing the spirit of a dead person.

Yokai (妖怪) is also written yokai (夭怪) and called yokai-henge too. Also referred to yo (妖 [夭]), oni (鬼), kaii (怪異), chimimoryo (魑魅魍魎), tsukimono (憑き物), hyakki (百鬼), ma (魔), mamono (魔物), mononoke (物の怪 [勿の怪}), mononoke (物の気) and yoi (妖異).

Other vocabularies with '化け' (bake)
化学 (kagaku: chemistry)
- Also called bakegaku in order to distinguish it from 科学 (kagaku or science). It is a study explaining the changes which occur in a substance as a result of ionization, oxidoreduction, etc.

文字化け (moji-bake)
- In electronic media displays including computers, etc, characters are not shown correctly but turn into garbled characters and symbols. For details see Moji-bake.