Betobeto-san, the Footstep Youkai

Happy Halloween! Let’s talk about something spooky.

Her footsteps in the litter and debris muffled the forest noises around her, and for a moment she considered humming to further drown the sounds that frightened her. But it would be foolish to handicap herself. She kept quiet, listening to her too-loud footsteps.

Twilight made the way difficult, and she hoped she was still going the right way. She slipped, half-losing her zouri. She paused, to refit it to her foot, and the footsteps did not.

She whirled, her heart racing, and saw nothing. But the footsteps continued. And then, something giggled.

Ukiyo-e print of yōkai, by Kawanabe Kyosai
Ukiyo-e print of yōkai, by Kawanabe Kyosai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Murame descends the mountain in Kitsune-Mochi, she hears footsteps behind her. She never sees what is making them, and it terrifies her into flight.

Murame had just encountered the betobeto-san, a formless youkai named for the onomatopoetic sound of geta (raised wooden sandals). This mischievous youkai likes to follow lone travelers at night. Hearing him close behind, but never seeing him, can be quite creepy!

Betobeto-san is actually harmless, however, and if the traveler simply steps aside and gestures the unseen youkai ahead, betobeto-san will pass and the traveler will hear him no more.

While in recent decades artists have begun portraying betobeto-san in visual media, traditionally no one has seen this youkai and cannot accurately describe him.

I’ve encountered the betobeto-san myself, or something much like him! I worked out the phenomenon, however, and the experience became a part of the short story “A Short Walk Home.”

All Hallow’s Read

Neil Gaiman promotes All Hallow’s Read as an opportunity to give an (age- and taste-appropriate) scary book to a child or friend.


Need a few suggestions? Jump over to find whole lists for adults and kids. Because when can giving a book (or audio book, or picture book, or…) ever be wrong? Happy Halloween!

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