The Jorōgumo, our beast for the letter J, is part of a group of Japanese creatures know as Yōkai. The term Yōkai describes a broad variety of supernatural monsters that range from ghosts to giants to sentient sandals. The Jorōgumo, whose name literally means "binding woman" or "whore spider", is demonic in nature. Like so many beasts with seductive feminine charms, it spends much of its time seducing and eating men.
The Jorōgumo first appeared in Japanese folklore around the Edo period (an era ruled by shoguns that lasted from 1603 to 1868). Legend has it that a spider that lives to be 400 years old can gain magic of its own. This ancient spider can grow to the size of a cow and develops a knack for shapeshifting. To attract a meal the monster will disguise its web as a false house, shrine or inn then wait patiently for a passing traveler. Transforming all or some of its body into a beautiful woman, the Jorōgumo will sing or play an instrument called a Biwa to lure the innocent in. In some versions of the tale the monster might go so far as to serve the victim tea or sake. Distracting him with music and conversation as she begins to wrap his feet with deadly silken thread. Accounts differ but most agree that the Jorōgumo will almost always live near water, particularly waterfalls and be surrounded by thousands of her tiny arachnid children.
In our modern world the Jorōgumo is the name given to a real spider. Its scientific name is Nephila clavata and this beautiful brightly colored golden orb-weaving spider is found in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. Although not particularly magical, it is easy to see how it could inspire fear and awe in the superstitious and the odd arachnophobe.
The Obakemono Project's nice informative entry on the Jorōgumo
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