Jikininki, in Buddhism, are spirits who were cursed to eat dead human flesh because they were greedy, selfish or evil before they died. They were normal humans who couldn’t die properly because of the curse and now only exist as creatures that scour around for human corpses to eat. The name Jikininki literally translates to human-eating ghosts. According to several myths, the Jikininki cannot control their desire to eat human flesh and are often remorseful about it.
The Jikininki appearance is said to be that of a rotting corpse, but with several exaggerated features like sharp claws and glowing eyes. They have no hair and their skin appears to have abrasions, blisters, infections, and scars. Their teeth are sharp, a feature that allows them to peel flesh off the bones. Their appearance alone is said to be so horrifying, anyone who sets their eyes on them freezes in fear. According to some stories, a Jikininki can disguise itself as a normal human and can even lead a normal life.
Since they are cursed to devour human flesh, the Jikininki move around at night looking for food to eat. It is said that the Jikininki hate their own habits of eating the flesh of the dead and often grieve their condition, wishing to be freed from the curse. A person can only see their true form at night since they disguise themselves as humans during the day.
According to myths about the Jikininki, they are mostly found in Japan and they reside near or among humans, specifically, around where they came from originally. In fact, some myths suggest that modern day Jikinkinki steal from the human corpses they devour and use those belongings to bribe authorities to get access to the dead bodies.
There are two ways in which a Jikininki comes to existence. The first is that they were normal humans whose evil actions tainted their souls. They were subsequently cursed and when they died, they could not pass on properly and thus they became a Jikininki. For example, it is believed that some of the Jikininki were priests who had become evil during their lives and when they died, they could not pass on. The other is that they were normal humans who for one reason or another started eating human flesh. With time, their human flesh eating habits slowly transformed them into these monsters.
The Jikininki eat human flesh, which is very disturbing. They also cause humans to freeze in fear whenever they see them. However, whereas they eat the flesh of the dead, there are no myths about them causing death. Some people even find them sympathetic because they are driven to eat the dead human flesh by a curse and not their own will. It is believed that the only way to get rid of a Jikininki is to get rid of the curse. This can only be done by a person who is righteous and has never done anything to dishonor their family. This person must perform prayers, remembrances, and offerings in order to free the Jikininki of the curse and allow them to pass on.