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Cow Head

cow head

Estimated reading time — 4 minutes

This story is allegedly an urban legend from Japan about a story so terrifying that anyone who reads it will either die or go insane. The story goes that those reading the story begin shivering before eventually perishing altogether. Sites claiming to provide information about this ‘cow head’ myth often use the word/name ‘Gozu’ to describe the central character of the myth, a creature with the body of a man or boy and the head of a cow or ox. 

In some retellings this ‘cow head’ creature features in a story in which the bones of said creature are uncovered and revealed to be related to an early incident in which residents of a particular village are starving to death. They have eaten the last of their cattle and even their pets when a stranger comes to the village with, you guessed it, the head of a cow and body of a human. The villagers then set about this poor bovine headed boy and devour him too. 

According to these somewhat dubious sources the town authorities broke the super scary tale up into separate pieces in order to make it readable or destroyed all other copies of the story (depending upon which you read). This in and of itself is a spurious claim as the nature of urban legends dictates that they are rarely transmitted in written form in the first place and are rather orally transmitted, told by one person to another as ‘friend of a friend’ stories rather than as written texts. 

Most sources on this story quote the entry on the ‘ever reliable’ wikipedia under ‘Japanese Urban Legend’. 

Cow Head Suspicious Origins

It is worth noting that the entire article has a note in the header referring to the fact that the piece needs additional citations (meaning that the sources upon which it relies are not considered to be strong enough). The two references included in the section on the supposed existence of the ‘cow head’ myth lead do not to any sources on folklore or urban myths but to a book on Japanese cinema (which is only slightly related as we will see later) and a page about the ‘silliest subjects ever to get their own wikipedia page’. Dubious to say the least. 

The image most commonly associated with the cow head myth is a photograph of a boy with the oversized head of a cow. This image is actually  from a Japanese comedy crime thriller film named ‘Gozu’, directed by Yakasha Miike the same director who was also at the helm for Ichi the Killer, the Japanese movie which was undoubtedly an influence on the Jeff the Killer Creepypasta. 

It is most likely from this source that the link between the name ‘Gozu’ and the ‘too scary to read cow head myth’ originated. However, there is another aspect to the use of this name that makes the association problematic. 

Real Mythology and Folklore

‘Gozu’ more commonly translated as ‘Ox-head’ is indeed a cow headed figure in Japanese and Chinese mythology, but rather than being a cliched urban myth about a tale too scary to tell, he is actually a figure in Buddhism (particularly in forms that show cross over the shinto religion). 


In the Chinese myths ‘ox head’ (‘Gozu’ in the Japanese versions) along with his contemporary ‘horse face ’ ‘Mezu’ are the guardians of the underworld and the first demons that the damned meet when they descend, filling a similar role to cerberus in hellenistic mythology. There are major festivals in Japan particularly the Gion festival that are partly believed to be purification rituals to dispel disease causing entities including gozu. Depictions of these characters can be found, particularly at the entrances to temples in China, Japan and Taiwan. 

The closest thing to a Japanese folktale that bears any resemblance to the ‘too scary story’ version, or features a human cow hybrid is the Japanese myth of Kudan. The kudan is an example of a yokai, a type of supernatural being in Japanese mythology that can bring ill will or bad news. Similar to a ‘spectre’ the yokai are not necessarily malevolent.

 In  direct contrast to Gozu, Kudan is a creature with the body of a cow and the head of a human being. This creature is said to appear as a harbinger of great disaster within the kingdom such as before earthquakes, famines and wars. It could therefore be argued that this folkloric amalgam of a cow and human is the basis of the idea that ‘gozu’ a cow-human mix reveals a story that is too scary to be told or is the result of some confusion between the two. 

Older Variants 

There are other cow headed creatures in world mythology, most notably the minotaur of greek myth who was said to have the body of a man and the head of a bull. This creature was placed by King Minos in the labyrinth on the isle of Crete. The creature was, according to legend, eventually slain by the hero Theseus. Depictions of the minotaur are sometimes used to illustrate the story of cow head. 


The cow head story as it appears online is somewhat obscure in the sense that the ‘cow head’ figure is often listed as a monster or bogeyman when in the story he is apparently the victim. The evil force in the tale is not the physical ‘gozu’ but the story about him that causes people to become so frightened they die.


This form of story, in which an object or physical thing is considered to be capable of inflicting pain or injury just by being experienced (read, heard, seen or touched) is a trope with a very long history and is commonly referred to as a ‘brown note’ in reference to similar stories of a particular frequency of note that can cause death, illness or defecation if heard. 

Similar forms of this type of story would be the ancient myth of the gorgon Medusa who was so hideous looking upon her would turn the viewer to stone, myths surrounding the necronomicon, the fictional book invented by HP lovecraft which was said to send anyone who read it insane or to reveal entities that would cause the human mind to implode if they were beheld.  

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