The Nue is a mythical creature from Japanese folklore, and its description and characteristics have evolved over time. It is often portrayed as a chimera-like creature with various animal parts, combining features from different animals. The Nue has appeared in traditional literature, such as “The Tale of the Heike” (Heike Monogatari), a historical epic from the late 12th century, and it continues to be a subject of interest in Japanese art and popular culture.

Nue depicted in the moonlight, symbolizing its ominous presence


Monkey Head: The Nue is often depicted with the head of a monkey.

Tanuki (Raccoon Dog) Body: The body of the Nue is sometimes described as having the characteristics of a tanuki, a Japanese raccoon dog.

Tiger Limbs: The limbs of the Nue are said to resemble those of a tiger.

Snake Tail: The Nue is often depicted with a snake for a tail.


The origin of the Nue can be traced back to Japanese folklore and literature, with one of its earliest and most notable appearances found in “The Tale of the Heike” (Heike Monogatari), a historical epic from the late 12th century. The tale recounts the Genpei War and the conflict between the Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans. Within this narrative, the Nue is mentioned in the context of an episode involving Emperor Konoe.

In the story, the Emperor falls gravely ill, and a mysterious creature is discovered on the roof of the palace, identified as the Nue. The creature’s eerie cry is said to portend misfortune. Disturbed by the creature’s presence and its connection to the Emperor’s illness, the court seeks a solution. Minamoto no Yorimasa, a heroic figure and renowned archer, is eventually called upon to confront and defeat the Nue.

The tale describes the physical characteristics of the Nue as a chimera-like creature with a monkey’s head, a tanuki’s body, tiger limbs, and a snake for a tail. Yorimasa succeeds in shooting the creature with his bow and arrow, thereby eliminating the threat to the Emperor.

The historical context of the Nue’s appearance in “The Tale of the Heike” suggests that the creature’s origin lies in medieval Japanese storytelling and literary traditions. The Nue’s subsequent depictions in various forms of Japanese art, including Noh and Kabuki theater, ukiyo-e prints, and other cultural expressions, have further solidified its place in Japanese folklore.

Artwork of a Nue, a mythical chimera


Eerie Cry: The Nue is known for its distinctive and eerie cry that is said to resemble the sound “nue.” This cry is considered an omen, foretelling misfortune or supernatural events. While not a direct power, the cry contributes to the creature’s mystique and its role as a harbinger of ominous occurrences.

Connection to Lightning and Storms: In some legends, the Nue is associated with thunderstorms and lightning. Its presence is believed to influence or bring about these natural phenomena.

Mysterious Influence: The Nue’s appearance is often linked to mysterious and supernatural events. Its presence on the roof of the palace in “The Tale of the Heike” is associated with the Emperor’s illness and becomes a central plot point.

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