As an ardent, lifelong Pokémon lover, I spent a lot of my childhood green with envy at the fact people actually got to dream up and draw these epic (yet conveniently portable!) creatures as a real-life job. Many long hours were spent sketching the original 151 Pokémon, daydreaming about where the inspiration for them may have been gleaned from, and now, thanks to Dorkly I finally have some answers.
Below are some of the Japanese myths that inspired a handful of the Pokémon we know and love from Generation One onward, so prepare for an intense psybeam of knowledge and let's get our learning on!
Jynx - Yama-uba
Moves in Pokémon: In the Pokéverse, Jynx is most likely to subject you to an undulating dance routine before planting a 'Lovely Kiss' on you and sending you into an enchanted slumber. As creepy as this might be, Jynx has nothing on her horrific Japanese inspiration...
Moves in Japanese mythology: Rocking up with her greasy hair and tattered old Kimono and eating your flesh.
Backstory: Jynx was designed to throw some serious shade at the 'Ganguro' fashion trend that was popular in Japan at the time. This extreme look involved an enormous amount of fake tan and bleached hair which lent it's practicers the nickname of 'yamanba' in reference to the myth of Yama-uba.
Legend has it that Yama-uba is a monstrous crone who lives in the icy mountains and lures victims into her hut before systematically butchering and devouring them. Suddenly Jynx's psychic-ice type seems a whole lot more sinister...
Nine Tails - Kitsune
Moves in Pokémon: Ninetails can read your mind by boring its red eyes into your soul, but you better not be thinking badly of it because this vengeful fire type won't hesitate to curse those who mistreat it.
Moves in Japanese mythology: If you just so happen to be a woman, you might be unfortunate enough to be a victim of Kitsunetsuki, when the fox's spirit claws itself into your body through your breasts or under your finger nails.
People of the male persuasion could be driven mad by their psychic powers or become a victim of succubus behavior, with their spirit being vacuumed out through sexual contact.
Backstory: The Kitsune is a trickster who delights in tormenting humans, has the ability to shape-shift, and has deep ties with the spirit world to boot. Its party trick is growing an extra tail for every 100 years that it has been alive to signify its power and deep wisdom. The highest number obtainable is nine, naturally.
Ho-Oh - Fenghuang
Moves in Pokémon: Capturing Ho-Oh in Pokémon is a pretty sweet deal, not only can this feathered friend casually resurrect the dead, but one look at it means a lifetime of eternal happiness.
Moves in Japanese mythology: If you happen to bump into an Ho-Oh in real life (or a Fenghuang, to use its proper name), you will be gifted with pretty much the same things.
Backstory: Japan actually borrowed from China for this legend, but the Fenghuang has the same meaning in both cultures. A symbol of fire, the sun, justice, obedience, and fidelity, the Fenghuang (or Ho-Oh as it's known in Japan, just like the Pokémon) has a universally positive meaning and the ability to detect who is pure of heart and worthy of its affections.
Sneasel - Kamaitachi
Moves in Pokémon: A notoriously vicious beast, Sneasel's signature move is 'beat up' which, when combined with those menacing claws, is all you need to know!
Moves in Japanese mythology: Flaying your legs and devouring the skin like jerky. NOM NOM NOM!
Backstory: There are many versions of the legend of the Kamaitachi, but by far the most disturbing one originates from the Hida area of Japan. The myth dictates that these super speedy creatures hunt in packs of three and they use their speed and cunning in an unusually horrible form of attack. The first Kamaitachi knocks you down, the second uses its razor-sharp talons to flay the flesh from your legs, and the third mends your wounds so you don't realize you've been attacked until later when the pain starts. All of this happens in the blink of an eye, so you literally don't know what hit you.
Mawile - Futakuchi-onna
Moves in Pokémon: Mawhile lurks in caves and uses its nonthreatening appearance from the front to lull those who stumble on it with a false sense if security. When their backs are turned, Mawhile reveals its devilish side in the form of a relentless attack from its giant jet black jaws.
Moves in Japanese mythology: Eating you out of house and home with a grotesque hidden set of gnashers.
Backstory: The Mawhile is based on the story of 'Futakuchi-onna' or the woman with two mouths. According to the legend, a miserly farmer was thrilled when his wife didn't need to eat any food, but baffled at the way his rice stocks were depleting more rapidly than usual.
One night, when his wife was sleeping, he brushed back her hair to discover the hidden ravenous mouth that had been voraciously devouring his supplies. Tendrils of hair were reaching into the cupboards like tentacles and putting rice directly into the ever-hungry teeth.
Absol - Kutabe
Moves in Pokémon: The Absol's horn means it can predict natural disasters, but its haste to warn people of forthcoming earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have led to it being known as the 'disaster' Pokémon.
Moves in Japanese mythology: Pretty much the same thing, but with ghosts.
Backstory: The Japanese legend of Kutabe was actually borrowed from Chinese mythology (where the beast is called Bai Ze). In the Chinese version of the story, Bai Ze reveals himself to the emperor and fills his head with reams of terrifying, yet essential knowledge of the supernatural world. This monstrous knowledge helped the emperor to fight ghosts and spirits, keeping his realm safe from harm, although he probably never slept well at night again.
Shiftry - Tengu
Moves in Pokémon: Scrifty lurks in the darkest forests and delights in blowing intruders out with its leaf-fan arms. This wicked little critter is feared by all, but it's really just trying to protect its habitat.
Moves in Japanese mythology: Bizarrely, the Tengus of Japanese mythology have the power to make your nose grow or shrink as well as being able to use their feather-fans to blow you into oblivion.
Backstory: Buddhism long held that the Tengu were disruptive demons and harbingers of war, but gradually their role softened until they were portrayed as guardians of the forest, albeit dangerous ones.
Whiscash - Onamazu
Moves in Pokémon: Whishcash eats everything and then uses its enormous bulk to cause earthquakes. Simple.
Moves in Japanese mythology: Onamazu also causes earthquakes by thrusting its giant body around.
Backstory: The legend of Onamazu originates from the fact that catfish were observed becoming more active before an earthquake because they are sensitive to the minor tremors. Local people therefore derived that it must be the thrashing of a giant catfish that caused the ground to shake.
Frosslass - Yuki-onna
Moves in Pokémon: Flosslass will freeze you with her breath and then display you like a macabre trophy.
Moves in Japanese mythology: The Yuki-onna also has the power to freeze people to death with her breath, but she is also capable of bewitching you and leading you to places where you will die of exposure or can blast doors wide open so you freeze to death in your bed at night.
Backstory: Yuki-onna appears on snowy nights as a tall, beautiful woman with long black hair and blue lips. Said to be the spirit of a lady who perished in the snow, she is ruthless when it comes to claiming human life.
Tornadus - Fujin
Moves in Pokémon: Tornadus can travel at speeds of 200 miles per hour, whip up storms with its tail, and blow away houses with one mere puff.
Moves in Japanese mythology: Fujin basically possesses the same powers of Tornadus, with the added inconvenience of having to constantly hold both ends of a sack of wind closed tight.
Backstory: Fujin is one of the eldest of the Shinto Gods and the legend traveled all the way from Greece before being adopted by the Japanese.