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7 Scariest Japanese Ghosts and Ghouls to Haunt Your Dreams

We hope you don’t find yourself alone with any of these yurei and yokai.

By GaijinPot Blog Aug 18, 2021 6 min read

Summer  is  really  hot in Japan. To cool down, people used to tell  really  scary stories . So be careful walking alone in the wee hours of the night; Japan is full of  ghosts , ghouls and other characters lurking in shadowy corners. 

Yurei  (ghosts of the deceased) and  yokai  (mythical spirits) have been part of Japanese folklore for centuries—even far back as the 8th century in the  Kojiki  (古事記, “Records of Ancient Matters”), which is the earliest record of Japanese mythology, chronicling the creation of Japan. Today, they appear in  anime ,  manga ,  videogames  and movies.

Here are seven of our favorite Japanese ghosts and ghouls to send shivers down your spine this  summer season .

7. Yuki-onna

japanese ghosts list

Ever seen a beautiful woman with snow-white skin and long black hair wandering through the frigid winter? It may have been a yuki-onna (snow woman). When she walks along a snow-covered terrain, you won’t find any footprints behind her.

The majority of yuki-onna stories originate from Japan’s snowy, northern prefectures like Aomori and Akita in the Tohoku region . In some versions, she is a snow vampire who sucks the souls out of her victims. In other versions, she uses her supernatural beauty to lure weak-willed men into the cold, then leaves them to freeze to death. Savage.

Some say the yuki-onna was a beautiful woman who was murdered in the snow and now does the same to others as an act of revenge.

6. Chochin Obake

japanese ghosts list

This lantern ghost isn’t malicious like other yokai—he’s just a naughty little trickster who enjoys giving humans a scare. The chochin-obake (paper lantern ghost) will flick its large tongue out, roll its eyes and laugh loudly to frighten passers-by. It’s actually kind of cute.

The chochin-obake does not appear in any of Japan’s mythical stories or legends, and only appears in ukiyo-e and kabuki plays. So there is no origin for this particular yokai. One theory is that he was invented simply to scare children. However, tsukumogami ( tool spirit ), do appear in Japanese mythology. Tsukumogami are tools or objects which become yokai after 100 years.

Thus, a regular lantern may turn into chochin-obake after 100 years of use. This comes from the ancient Shinto religious belief that all objects—even inanimate ones—have a soul. Maybe don’t visit any temples, izakaya or other places likely to have lanterns if you don’t want to run into one. Then again, they might make for a good drinking buddy.

5. Jorogumo

japanese ghosts list

Translated to English,  jorogumo ( 絡新婦) means “woman-spider.” However, the kanji can also mean “entangling bride” or “whore spider.” They are cunning and appear as seductive young women. They feed on young men who fall for their tricks—trapping them in their webs and devouring them slowly.

The jorogumo legend is based on the real golden-orb weaver spider, which is found all around Japan. When the spider reaches 400 years old, she will transform into a   jorogumo and start preying on humans.

There are several stories based on the jorogumo. In  Tonoigusa ( Night Watchman’s Storybook), a young warrior encounters a beautiful woman. Realizing she is a yokai, he strikes her with his sword, and she flees to the attic. There, they find a dead spider about 30cm long and surrounded by decaying bodies.

Most versions end with him entangled in spider web and wishing he had kept his mouth shut

In Izu , Joren Falls is home to a jorogumo. The legend says a woodcutter encountered the spider when she tried to drag him behind the waterfall. He escaped, warning the village to stay away, but an outsider met the jorogumo. Surprisingly, she let him live as long as he never spoke of it. Unfortunately, the man was the opposite of coy. The story diverges from there, but most versions end with him entangled in spider web and wishing he had kept his mouth shut.

Worse, jorogumo isn’t the only killer spider in Japan. Tsuchigumo (土蜘蛛, “dirt/earth spider”), are huge wandering spiders with human-like faces that hide in corners and dark spaces. They were likely influenced by the real-life Chinese bird spider and bandits and soldiers that hid in the shadows and preferred to ambush people.

4. Gashadokuro

japanese ghosts list

The poor, unfortunate bones of those who’ve perished on the battlefield turn into  gashadokuro  (starving skeleton). These yokai form in places where masses of normal skeletons lie, such as in villages after famine or disease has wiped out the population. 

Because they died without a proper burial or funeral rites, the souls and bones come together and create one giant skeleton, 15 times the size of an average person.  The skeleton specters feed on lone travelers, biting their heads off, feasting on their bones and drinking their blood, Dracula-style. It is like some sort of boss from  Castlevania .

You may have seen this yokai in the famous  ukiyo-e  “Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre” by the famed Kuniyoshi.  

japanese ghosts list

Are you planning on  hiking in the mountains this fall ? You may want to rethink that, as that’s where you’ll find the  yamauba  (mountain witch).  These decrepit hags, depicted as old women with messy hair and filthy kimonos, are known to offer shelter to weary travelers only to kill them once they fall asleep. 

The yamauba were once regular women but fled to the forest after being accused of crimes. Another theory is they were victims of  ubasute  (姥捨て), literally “abandoning an old woman.” During hard times such as famine, a family would lead their elderly into the forest to die. Here, they would grow angry and resentful, becoming cannibalistic and practicing black magic.

However, in some stories, they are benevolent. For example, a yamauba might give a kind stranger treasure or good fortune. In Aichi , yamauba are seen as protective gods.

japanese ghosts list

This small human-like creature has a shell like a turtle, green scaly skin, and a plate on its head that must be filled with water at all times to stay alive. They live in Japan’s rivers, lakes and other waterways.

In Shintoism ,  kappa  (river-child) are respected as gods of water and statues of them can sometimes be seen at shrines around Japan. Kappa quirks include having an affinity for cucumbers (hence the  kappa-maki ) and never breaking a promise.

In the urban legend version, a more menacing kappa loves to pull lost children and animals into the water to drown and eat. They still like to eat cucumbers but also raw human intestines.

1. Kuchisake-onna

japanese ghosts list

Kuchisake-onna is a malicious, contemporary yurei , whose name literally translates to “slit-mouthed woman.” Legend says when she was alive, her husband punished her for her acts of adultery by slicing her mouth open from ear to ear.

Thanks to that dick, this ghost appears as a beautiful young woman wearing a surgical mask, holding a sharp weapon like a pair of scissors. She approaches people at night and asks them a question with sinister intentions.

An encounter with a kuchisake onna is a lose-lose situation, always resulting in death.

“ Watashi, kirei ?” or “Am I beautiful?” she coos. If you answer no, she will kill you instantly. If you say yes, she removes the surgical mask revealing her gruesome mouth. With a big smile, exposing sharp teeth, she’ll ask, “how about now?” An answer of “no” will result in you being dismembered by the ghost. Say yes, and she will make you as “beautiful” as she is by slicing your own mouth from ear to ear. An encounter with a Kuchisake-onna is a lose-lose situation, always resulting in death.

The murderous woman briefly appeared in the 1984 Studio Ghibli movie Pom Poko  and several Japanese horror movies have been made with her story as the premise, including the 2007 low-budget horror flick  Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman.

Do you have a favorite Japanese ghost or ghoul? Let us know in the comments!

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Japanese Yokai Meaning & List with Pictures of these Demons


Impossible to talk about Japanese folklore without mentioning yōkai . In forests, cities, homes... these spirits are just about everywhere around us. 👀

Yōkai (妖怪) are supernatural creatures that are very much present in Japanese culture. The term yōkai can be translated as "spirit, demon or ghost." They exist in many varieties, from the scary to the wacky.

Ever since the dawn of time, these malevolent or simply prankish spirits have been an inspiration to many artists in the Land of the Rising Sun. Since the Middle Ages, they can be found in paintings, sculptures, prints, and, more recently, in video games and mangas.

But who are these  mysterious creatures ? Where do they come from and what do they represent nowadays? 🧐 Let's find out more about what a yōkai is, followed by the top 12 most popular yōkai in the archipelago. 👇

🤔 Well, what is a yōkai?

Yōkai stands for monster, ghost, demon , or supernatural phenomenon. This term, derived from the Chinese, remains quite mysterious. Moreover, its kanji writing refers to the strange and extraordinary.

You have probably already seen the famous animation movie of Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke , with its forest spirits ? Well, these are the typical yōkai! Mononoke , which can be translated as "vengeful spirit" or "strange thing". The yōkai originate from Japanese legends , which are mainly derived from Shinto, Buddhism, Chinese history and tales from foreign countries.

Yōkai are an integral part of Japanese culture and traditional Japanese arts. Beliefs, traditions, superstitions, or simply objects of entertainment, they are also represented in many festivals and media. They symbolize both the inexplicable and the morality taught to children through Japanese fairy tales.  👨‍🏫

The Japanese anime Gegege no Kitaro (or Kitaro the repulsive) tells the story of Kitaro, a little boy-like yōkai who strives to bring peace between the world of Japanese monsters and humans. 

With human, animal, or object characteristics, each yōkai has its own particularity and story. In addition, did you know that some creatures hold magical powers such as the ability to metamorphose ? These are called "obake".

If you ever meet a yōkai, before getting scared, know that there are several kinds: the dangerous, the evil, the malicious, the pranksters and the benevolent. If most of them are a sign of bad luck, some can bring you good luck . All it takes is knowing how to recognize them 😉

📜 Most famous yōkai list

Getting curious? Here is a list (far from exhaustive!) of the famous and interesting yōkai in Japan.

Oni, the Japanese demon 👹

oni demon

Tengu, the long-nosed guardian of the mountains 👺

tengu demon

Yurei, the ghost worthy of horror movies 😱


Kappa, the sneaky boy from the river 🐢


Akaname, the bathroom monster 🛁

akaname the bathroom monster

Ashiarai yashiki, the giant foot 👣

Ashiarai yashiki

Tanuki, the spirit of the forest 🐶


Kitsune, the multifaceted fox 🦊


Bakeneko, the ghost cat 🐱


Rokurokubi, the long-necked monster 😲


Yama Uba, the witch wearing a kimono 🧟‍♀️

yama uba

Kasa-obake, the prankster umbrella ⛱

kasa obake

The yōkai are just about everywhere, so keep your eyes peeled!

There are many, many, MANY, other yōkai around you, even in the most unsuspecting places so keep your eyes open. 👀

From old Japanese paintings dating back to the Middle Ages to animated movies to Edo era prints, yōkai have always fascinated the Japanese with their mystery and originality. Through today's manga and animated movies, these supernatural beings will never cease to amaze us.

If you are passionate about this strange world of Japanese folklore, we highly recommend the website, where you will find a kind of catalog listing hundreds of yōkai, each of them more zany than the other. The site is in English, and each yōkai has a description sheet as well as an illustration. You may also follow Matthew Meyer 's on Instagram to get your dose of yōkai every week, enough for some great nightmares!

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What are Yokai? Japanese Folklore Creatures

kitsune fox mask

Cultures around the world have their fair share of ghost stories to scare the kids and sometimes the adults as well. Japan is no different. Especially on warm summer evenings, people like to hear scary stories to give them a temporary chill. 

Many of those stories are about ghosts, but there are also other types of beings that can’t quite be classified as ghosts as we know them. They are called ‘ yokai ’. Yokai are a type of monsters that often feature in scary Japanese folk stories. There are many of them, some more scary than others. A few of them are even sort of cute! Let us introduce you to some of the most common yokai, and where in Japan you can see them!


Gashadokuro, where to see yokai in japan, other articles you may like.

Looking a little like a red devil, the Oni is an ogre or demon who originally lives in hell but also likes desolate places like remote islands or abandoned fortresses. They are very strong and fearsome, and they bring disaster and disease with them. In hell, it is their job to torture the damned souls not unlike Western demons.

Once a year you can see many Oni in Japan, as when the winter becomes the spring in February, people throw beans at Oni to drive them out. The day is called Setsubun . Typically, adults wear an Oni-mask and kids will be the ones to chase the bad Oni away. This event happens in schools and at home, but some temples also do Oni-chasing events which are fun to watch!

japanese ghosts list

Tengu is a long-nosed legendary creature whose sole purpose it is to distract people from the path to enlightenment, the ultimate goal in Buddhism. These devious yokai are in a way attractive at first sight; they can fly, are very strong with great fighting skills, and to top it all off they have magical abilities. It is therefore no wonder that even devout Buddhists can be lured by Tengu to wander from the righteous path. Who does not want to learn his magic powers and fighting tricks?

Even though Tengu sometimes abduct and torture humans, a more common story is that they promise them to teach their victims Tengu tricks. Of course, taking these kinds of shortcuts in life will not lead to enlightenment and will therefore be regretted later.

On the other hand, you might be confused when you find some shrines enshrine Tengu as a messenger of the deity. It is believed that if something bad happens to worshipers, Tengu will fly out to help them and ward off the evil spirits. 

There are many theories and stories related to Tengu from different angles, and perhaps that is the reason that makes this legendary creature more interesting. 

japanese ghosts list

Kappa is a water monster, and while his depiction often looks cute today, he has a dark history. Looking like a cross-over between a turtle and a human, they live in the water and are mainly known for drowning people who come too close to the water. Animals such as horses are also popular victims of Kappa. Warning kids to stay away from Kappa by not coming too close to the water has actually been a popular way to prevent them from drowning.

Kappa have a dish on their head that is filled with water, and it is said that if the water falls off the dish they will become incapacitated. Because of this, there is a very handy way to deal with a dangerous Kappa; make a bow to them, as then they have to bow back and they will lose their water as a result. Kappa is not all bad though, as if you feed him cucumbers and befriend them, they are likely to be nice to you and help you out with, for example, irrigation of your farmlands. If you want to see many Kappa statues, you should head to Kappabashi near Asakusa where there is a shrine that is supposed to hold the remains of a real Kappa…

japanese ghosts list

In the West, most people would freak out if they would find a child-like spirit in their house. Japan, on the other hand, has a very different relationship with their Zashiki-warashi, or child house spirits. These mischievous but friendly spirits live in the reception room of a traditional Japanese house, and as long as they are with you, it is believed that you will prosper. If you would chase it away, your fortunes may become very bad, so it is better to keep a good relationship with them. In order to do so you can leave them some candies.

They look like they are around 6 years old with a blushing face, and they can be either a boy or a girl. Zashiki-warashi behave like the children they are and like to play tricks such as leaving little footprints around the house or making typical kids’ noises such as top-spinning. The only people who can see them are the ones who live in the house, and children.

japanese ghosts list

The word Umi-bozu literally means ‘sea monk’, and this monster only appears at sea. It looks like a giant head that unexpectedly appears from calm sea water, making it extra scary. When it comes, it sometimes breaks the ship upon its emergence and if it doesn’t, it requests a bucket from the sailors. After giving it the buckets, Umi-bozu still drowns the poor souls who had the misfortune to meet it. But the good news is that there is a way to fool him; if you give him a bucket without a bottom, it will be confused and you can get away.

The most recent alleged sighting was in 1971, when a fishing boat said they happened upon an Umi-bozu. They wanted to harpoon it, but before they could do so it was gone. It is thought they mistook a large sea creature for a monster, but we will never know what it was for certain…

japanese ghosts list

Cats are usually cute, but Nekomata are something else. This 2-tailed cat yokai is very large and has a palate for human flesh. They are also able to shape-shift into humans and deceive people. They usually become older women who behave badly and bring a bad atmosphere with them. Some Nekomata live in the mountains, but there are also house cats that change into Nekomata if they are kept too long.

But it gets even darker. Cats are said to have connections with death, and are therefore able to raise the dead. This power is said to be the strongest in cats that became very old and were treated badly by humans. If you were one of the humans who wronged the cat, she would take revenge by sending your dead relatives to haunt you. So, it is better to be good to the cats in your life!

japanese ghosts list

The Nurarihyon is a yokai who looks a lot like a human, but with a strange, elongated head. He is an old man, who wears traditional Japanese robes. From the way he is dressed, you can tell that he comes from a good family. Nurarihyon literally means something that appears suddenly and then slips away, which is also why it is similar to the Umi-bozu in some regions. 

It is not entirely clear what Nurarihyon’s story was in the feudal time, but in more modern stories he is a yokai who simply enters people’s homes in the evening and just sits down as if it is his home while he smokes and drinks tea. He behaves as if he is the owner of the house, which is why he is often shown as the ‘master of all yokai’ in modern depictions.

japanese ghosts list

A disturbing-looking mixture of a monkey, tiger, dog, and snake, the Nue yokai goes way back. In the 9th century, the monster was already described in literature as a fearful monster that appears at night and has the ability to turn into a black cloud. Nue’s bird-like cries are spine-chilling and were believed to be the harbinger of disaster.

In the Heike Monogatari , a book that describes the fate of the then famous Taira clan, one of the stories is about the slaying of the Nue in the 13th century. The Emperor fell ill while the cries of the Nue were heard, and hero Minamoto no Yorimasa managed to shoot Nue with a special arrow. After the monster died and came down in Nijo Castle in Kyoto, they heard the cries of the normal cuckoo and the Emperor recovered. There are still places in Kyoto where this slaying is commemorated, such as the Nue pond in the north of Nijo Castle.

japanese ghosts list

Most yokai take the form of animals (or mixtures thereof), but Nurikabe is a bit different. The word literally means ‘plastered wall’, and it is pretty much that, a wall that stops people from going where they want. Many ghost stories try to explain things that people can’t explain (yet), and the story of the Nurikabe is no different. Before the invention of the smartphone it was easy to get lost while traveling, and suddenly finding an invisible wall that extends forever and can’t be climbed over is one explanation on why that happens.

So what does an invisible wall look like when depicted? Nurikabe appears in popular modern anime series ‘Gegege no Kitaro’ and ‘Yokai Watch’, and in both series he looks like a wall with arms and legs. He’s not the scariest yokai, but definitely an inconvenient one!

japanese ghosts list

Gashadokuro is definitely one of the more gruesome yokai out there. He is a giant skeleton that is about 15 times larger than a normal human that is built up from the bones of those who died in a bad way and weren’t buried properly. They die of things like starvation or plague, and when they become Gashadokuro they prey upon lone travelers at night.

You can hear them coming because their teeth rattle loudly, but because the people are already dead you can’t defeat them and death is certain when they come for you. Is there no hope at all? Luckily there are said to be Shinto charms (omamori) that can ward them off, and once they have taken out all their anger on the living, Gashadokuro will collapse and no longer be a nuisance.

japanese ghosts list

This yokai is a bit funny, as Kasa-obake looks like an umbrella that jumps around on its one leg. They usually have one eye and arms, and they are one of the first yokai that is not an animal or typical thing people are scared of, but an object. They tend to appear on rainy and windy days, and in some regions it is said that Kasa-obake can lift people into the air after which they either crash back to the ground or disappear forever.

In Japan, objects are capable of having a spirit, and it is said that when things get older they are more likely to get spirits. This may be one of the reasons that many Japanese people have a hard time throwing away their things, and cleaning guru Marie Kondo invented her ‘throwing away ceremony’ to make that process a bit easier.

japanese ghosts list

Just like in Western folklore, in Japan foxes are also seen as cunning and wise animals. The kitsune is a yokai fox who can play tricks on humans, especially those who deserve it like arrogant samurai, but they can also become their loyal friends who help them out of difficult situations. Foxes in Japan are said to have supernatural talents such as shape-shifting (often into beautiful women!) and extreme longevity.

Kitsune are not only intermingling with humans, though, as they are also seen as messengers from Shinto gods. This is why you usually see the statues of two foxes at the entrance of Inari Shinto shrines.

japanese ghosts list

Similar to Kitsune, Tanuki (Japanese raccoons) are animal yokai who like to trick humans and turn into pretty women. There is one thing that really stands out about their statues that you can see everywhere in Japan; if you look between their legs you will see an enormous scrotum. What on earth does Tanuki need that for, you may wonder? Well, it is said that he can transform it into whatever is handy at that moment. 

This is also why so many businesses have a Tanuki statue in front of their shop, because they can help out humans with their scrotum’s amazing abilities, they are supposed to bring luck to the shop.

japanese ghosts list

We already mentioned a few places where you can spot yokai in Japan, like Kappabashi, Inari shrines, and shop fronts, but there are some destinations where the true yokai-hunter should go. In Kyoto, there is a place called ‘ Yokai Street’ with statues of various yokai and special yokai events. If you make it all the way to Shimane, you will want to check out Mizuki Shigeru Road in Sakaiminato, the hometown of the creator of earlier-mentioned Gegege no Kitaro. And close to Tokyo there is Mount Takao , where you can see some large statues of the Tengu which are worshiped there.


If you want a private guide for a full day and are interested in learning more about yokai and visiting related places, it is a great idea to book an experienced guide through us !

Follow us on  Instagram ,  Facebook  and  Twitter  for more travel inspiration. Or tag us to get featured! 

Happy travelling!

japanese ghosts list

Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.

This post may contain some affiliate links. When you click through and make a purchase we may receive some commission, at no extra costs to you.

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Female Ghosts and Spirits from Japanese Folklore, Ranked

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Reading Lists

Aoko matsuda, author of "where the wild ladies are," shares her favorite spooky women of legend.

japanese ghosts list

Translated by Polly Barton

Japanese folktales and tales of yore are riddled with female ghosts and spirits, and I’ve been fascinated by them since childhood.

japanese ghosts list

Into adulthood, it occurred to me that what draws me to these female spirits is the way that they expose the true nature of people leading a regular lives in society, which they’ve grown accustomed to hiding without a second thought. I asked myself why it was that I liked female spirits more than the male ones. I suppose that being a woman myself had something to do with it, but there was more to it than that: the female ghosts and spirits seemed to me simply more interesting, more full of character. Female spirits deviated wildly from the way that women are demanded to be by Japanese social norms, and it was that discrepancy that attracted me. As well as a sense of surprise at how unusual they seemed, they generated in me a feeling of familiarity—as if what they were portraying was a part of myself as well. Maybe I had a wild lady inside myself, maybe I myself was a wild lady as well —these thoughts brought with them all the joy of a revelation. It also made me think afresh about Japanese women, myself included, who, so long as they don’t die or assume an entirely different form, remain unable to reveal their true natures. 

Folktales and tales of yore have lots of geographical variations, and can undergo further changes when they’re set down in certain versions by particular artists. The versions of the tales I’m relating here are the ones that I read and heard when I was growing up. Also, admitting this may get me in trouble with the experts, but I don’t make any strict distinctions between ghosts, monsters, yokai and so on—I tend to think of them all as kinds of wild ladies. 

japanese ghosts list

Like the character of Kikue in Where the Wild Ladies Are , I grew up in the city of Himeji, where Himeji Castle is located. On school field-trips or when relatives came to visit, I would go up to the castle, and there, inside its grounds, stood the Okiku Well.

After becoming dragged into plotting of the men around her, Okiku is falsely accused of the loss of one of the house’s treasured set of ten plates, and eventually killed and thrown into a well. As a ghost, she emerges from the well each night, looking terrifying, and forever counting the plates: “One, two…” Getting to 9, she then exclaims, “Ah, there really is one missing!” But knowing her own innocence, she begins to counts again. For those who conspired to her take down, this spectacle must serve as a harrowing reminder of their deeds. As superpowers go, becoming a ghost and counting plates may seem relatively tame, but there’s something about this simplicity that conveys the depths of Okiku’s resentment. Living in a mansion echoing with the sounds of Okiku’s counting and the smashing of plates, those who destroyed her are drawn ineluctably to a bad end themselves, as if being swallowed up by the grotesquery they created.  

As superpowers go, counting plates may seem relatively tame, but there’s something about this simplicity that conveys the depths of Okiku’s resentment.

In Japan, the season for telling ghost stories is summer, so that’s when TV adaptations of ghost stories are shown. Watching the TV adaptation of Okiku’s story as a child, and seeing the Okiku Well which really existed in the city where I lived being presented on TV as something fictional gave me the strangest sensation, like reality and fantasy had collided. It also made me feel very proud of Okiku. While writing WTWLA a few years ago, I visited Himeji Castle for the first time in over a decade, and saw the Okiku Well again. Recently restored, Himeji Castle seemed to me unnaturally white, but the Okiku Well looked to me just as it always had done. While there, I caught sight of a young boy visiting with his mother, looking into the well and imitating Okiku’s voice counting the plates: “One, two, three…” It strikes me as truly great that even into the 21st century, Okiku’s legacy lives on in that region. 

Okiku planted inside me the awareness that horror is all around us in our every day lives—that it isn’t only scary, but also can generate feelings of familiarity and even strength. Of all the ghosts living inside me, she’s always number one. 

japanese ghosts list

2. Osakabehime

As an adult, I discovered the existence of another wild lady in Himeji Castle: Osakabehime, a yokai who resides in the castle keep. In fact, there’s a small shrine in there dedicated to her. She also appears in Izumi Kyōka’s play Tenshu Monogatari [ The Story of the Castle Keep ]. She is waited on by a fleet of retainers, also spirits like herself, and is at loggerheads with the “world below” i.e. the world of humanity. She is self-possessed, cruel, and powerful. 

In The Story of the Castle Keep , Zushonosuke is a human figure able to come and go between the two worlds, ascending to castle keep. Eventually he chooses the world inhabited by Osakabehime. Osakabehime has a sister called Kamehime, and the two of them take it in turns to visit one another in the castles that they inhabit. It recently occurred to me that they have a relationship a bit like Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell going between Monk’s House and Charleston. 

Looking down from the Himeji Castle Keep, you see the Okiku Well directly below. It seemed like Okiku and Okabehime couldn’t have not known about one another’s existence, so in writing WTWLA , I decided to include a story depicting a loose sisterly bond between the two of them. With wild ladies both above and below, I can’t help but thinking that Himeji Castle really is a special place… 

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3. Kuwazu Nyobo [The Wife with a Small Appetite]

Japanese folk tales and ghost stories feature many female spirits. Taking on human form as they do, these spirits are very well informed about the nature of the ideal Japanese woman: she must be beautiful, quiet, perceptive, hard working, and devoted to her husband. The people around this “ideal woman” exploit these characteristics to take advantage of and deceive her. And yet, when the truth is outed and the spirit shows her true form, it transpires that she is nothing like the ideal woman whatsoever. After revealing themselves in their entirety, the female spirits make a lunge for the humans with fangs bared. 

People speak about this true form as terrifying (and sometimes, as a kind of terror unique to women) but if that was all that it was, these stories wouldn’t elicit fascination in the way that they do. People want to see more of these women’s true selves. We learned long, long ago from stories that there is always another side to this figure of the ideal woman. And yet, here in the real world, we continue to demand that women embody this ideal. I find this unbelievably stupid. Come on, we know already that’s impossible!

We learned long, long ago from stories that there is always another side to this figure of the ideal woman.

The kuwazu nyobo, or “the wife with a small appetite,” is a yokai with a second mouth at the side of her head. She appears to a man who goes around making the stingy-hearted and ridiculous claim, “If I take a wife, my food costs will increase, so I want a hard-working woman with a small appetite,” and the two promptly get married. The wife with a small appetite works hard and doesn’t eat a bite in front of her husband, so she appears to his selfish eyes as the ideal woman. And yet, rice and other ingredients keep disappearing from the house. Beginning to suspect that his wife is eating in secret, the man spies on her. He discovers that, when she thinks he’s not around, she cooks up a great load of rice, which she then forms into onigiri and tosses one after the next into the mouth at the side of her head. When the man announces that he wants a divorce, the woman reveals her true nature, and attempts to abduct the man. He narrowly escapes by hiding in a marsh where irises are growing, known for their power to ward off evil spirits. 

The great thing about the wife with a small appetite is the look of composure on her face, as the mouth at the side of her head gaily chomps away at vast quantities of food. I can fully empathize, and I’m pretty sure there are a lot of other people who can relate too. 

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4. Tsurara-onna [Icicle Woman]

This is a yokai who appears in the cold parts of the country in the winter when the icicles begin to form, and disappears when spring comes and things start to get warmer. She’s very pale and very beautiful. 

One night as a blizzard rages, a beautiful young woman appears at the house of a married couple, asking for a bed for the night, as the bad weather has meant she is unable to get home. The couple let the woman stay, but the blizzard drags on, and the woman ends up staying in their house for days. One night, they invite her to take a bath, but she refuses. The couple is insistent, though, so in the end the woman heads to the bathroom. She is in there so long that the married couple goes to check on her, only to find her gone. The only trace of her is the icicles hanging from the ceiling. 

Her story reminds us that anything at all can have a spirit.

In another story, a man becomes lovers with a beautiful woman, who appears as if from nowhere, and the two get married, but when spring arrives, the woman disappears. Believing that she’s run away, the man takes another wife, but when winter comes around again the woman returns, and angrily accuses the man, asking why he’s taken another wife. “Because you just disappeared!” replies the man! “Don’t bother to come back again!” At this, the woman transforms into an icicle that pierces the man’s chest, killing him. 

I like this second story. Seen through human eyes, the woman’s behavior seems selfish, but from her perspective, disappearing when spring comes is a matter of course, and so her accusation of her husband is deathly serious. That always seems tragic to me. And then, in the blink of an eye, she returns to her true self, and stabs the man she loves with her own body. This seems to me to represent the true nature of an icicle: simple, unwasteful and wonderful. 

She may not be as well known as the yuki-onna (snow woman), but there’s something about that little-knownness, and her overall sense of restraint of which attracts me to her. Her story reminds us that anything at all can have a spirit. 

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5. The Woman Who Became a Dragon

When I was younger, I adored Miyoko Matsutani’s book, Taro, the Dragon Boy . Matsutani drew inspiration for the story from a folktale where a young boy climbs on his dragon-mother’s back and razes a mountain so as to create land for farming. Matsutani’s book begins as Taro goes venturing up to the lake far to the north search of his mother, who has changed into a dragon. When he finally reaches her, she tells him the story of how she morphed into a dragon. 

Like Taro himself, she grew up on barren land not fit for farming grain. After losing her husband, she was forced to work throughout her pregnancy, accompanying the villagers who went to work in the mountains. While they were off laboring, she was asked to make their food. Catching three char fish, the woman grilled them and waited for the villagers to return, but they took their time, and eventually, unable to withstand her hunger any more, the woman ate all three char herself and transformed. She’d forgotten the old local superstition, that if you eat three fish you become a dragon. 

Through the tears of a son who felt true pity for his mother, the woman who had become dragon was able to return to being a human.

Rereading this story in order to write this ranking, it surprised me to find the vivid description that the story gives the hardness of pregnancy. I suppose I wasn’t in a position to notice that when I was younger. Clearly suffering from morning sickness, the woman felt nauseous when she ate; the char fish lying in front of her were the first thing that she’d really had an appetite for in a while, and was therefore unable to resist the temptation. After transforming into a dragon, the woman gave the newborn child to her mother to look after. Her son Taro was given crystal orbs to suck on, and grew up healthy and strong. It later turned out that these orbs were his mother’s eyes—she had become blind in order to nourish her son, travelling to the northern lake in search of somewhere to live out her days. 

Discovering all this, Taro doesn’t blame his mother for eating all the fish herself. Instead, he declares that the problem is that not everybody had enough to eat. Borrowing strength from his mother, and the animals, people and demon he’d met on his journey, he razes the mountains, thus creating fertile land for planting crops. Through the tears of a son who felt true pity for his mother, the woman who had become dragon was able to return to being a human, and regain her sight. 

This story, which Matsutani wrote while breastfeeding her newborn baby, has true kindness at its core—kindness which says that if an environment or system makes humans unhappy, then it must be changed. This kindness is hugely powerful, and has the ability to save not just people who’ve suffered great hardship, but even a woman who has transformed into a totally different creature. 

japanese ghosts list

Special Prize: Tomie from Tomie by Junji Ito

Tomie, the creation of the horror-manga artist Junji Ito, is a beautiful young girl. All the men who look at her are taken prisoner, and find themselves overcome by an unbearable desire to kill her. And they do, in fact, kill her using a variety of cruel and gory methods (content warning: this manga really is very gruesome), but she doesn’t die. If her body is dismembered, she simply multiplies, with each part becoming a brand-new Tomie. She has regenerative power enough to survive even immersion in acid—indeed, whatever is done to her, Tomie has the power to stubbornly come back to life. She thinks of the men simply as tools that she can use, and loves only herself—to the extent there are sometimes death matches between different versions of herself: Tomie vs. Tomie. 

What makes Tomie so unique is not only these powers of hers, but also the way she reveals her true nature from the get-go, swearing, being nasty to others, and remaining alarmingly faithful to her desires. For the people around her, it’s an absolute nightmare. And yet, the men fall head over heels for her, killing her so that she multiplies in number—this cycle is repeated endlessly. Tomie is a totally unique presence, and so true to herself that I can’t help admiring her.

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10 Horrifying Demons and Spirits from Japanese Folklore

By victoria derosa | oct 29, 2014 | updated: mar 23, 2023, 3:28 pm edt.

Yuki-onna is one of the most formidable figures from Japanese folklore.

Oni (demons) and yūrei (ghosts) have played a role in Japanese culture for thousands of years, and stories of new spirits continue to be told today. Much of this list is comprised of hannya , which in Noh theater are women whose rage and jealousy turned them into oni while still alive. Here are just a few more tales from Japanese folklore of demons, ghosts, and other spirits you don’t want to mess with.

1. Kiyohime

Kiyohime was a young woman scorned by her lover , a monk named Anchin, who grew cold and lost interest in her. Realizing he had left her, Kiyohime followed him to a river and transformed into a serpent while swimming after his boat. Terrified by her monstrous form, Anchin sought refuge in a temple, where monks hid him beneath a bell. Not to be evaded, Kiyohime found him by his scent, coiled around the bell, and banged loudly on it with her tail. She then breathed fire onto the bell, melting it and killing Anchin.

2. Yuki-onna

There are many variations of this popular tale . Her name is a portmanteau of the Japanese yuki (meaning “snow”) and onna for woman, and she is also known as the “Snow Woman.” She is usually described as having white skin, a white kimono, and long black hair, and appears during snowfall and glides without feet over the snow like a ghost. She feeds on human essence, and her killing method of choice is to blow on her victims to freeze them to death and then suck out their souls through their mouths.

3. Shuten-dōji

Considered one of the most distinctive oni in Japanese folklore, Shuten-dōji is described as more than 50 feet tall with a red body, five-horned head, and 15 eyes. There’s no need to fear this demon, though. In a legend from the medieval period , warriors Minamoto no Raikō and Fujiwara no Hōshō infiltrated Shuten-dōji’s lair disguised as yamabushi (mountain priests) to free some kidnapped women. The oni greeted them with a banquet of human flesh and blood, and the disguised warriors offered Shuten-dōji drugged saké . After the demon passed out, the warriors cut off his head, killed the other oni , and freed the prisoners.

Also originating in the medieval period are the yamauba, which are similar to the yōkai (which can be used to refer to a whole class of supernatural beings from Japanese folklore). The yamauba are generally considered to be old women who were marginalized by society and forced to live in the mountains, and who also have a penchant for eating human flesh . Among many tales, there is one of a yamauba who offers shelter to a young woman about to give birth while secretly planning to eat her baby, and another of a yamauba who goes to village homes to eat children while their mothers are away. But they’re not picky; they’ll eat anyone who passes by. The yamabua also have mouths under their hair . Delightful!

5. Hashihime

In another tale of a woman scorned, Hashihime (also known as the Maiden of the Bridge ) prayed to a deity to turn her into an oni so she could kill her husband, the woman he fell in love with, and all of their relatives. To accomplish this, she bathed in the Uji River for 21 days, divided her hair into five horns, painted her body red with vermilion, and went on a legendary killing spree. Besides her intended victims, anyone who saw her instantly died of fear.

In Japanese folklore, the tengu (which translates to “heavenly dogs”) are essentially impish mountain goblins that play tricks on people. Featured in countless folktales , they were considered purely evil until about the 14th century. They were originally depicted as birdlike, with wings and beaks, though now the beak is often replaced with a comically large nose. They are known to lead people away from Buddhism, tie priests to tall trees and towers, start fires in temples, and kidnap children. Many legends say the tengu were hypocritical priests who must now live the rest of their lives as mountain goblins as punishment. Locals made offerings to the tengu to avoid their mischief, and there are still festivals in Japan dedicated to them today.

In a revenge story made popular by the famous kabuki drama Yotsuya Kaidan , Oiwa was married to a rōnin (a masterless, wandering samurai) named Iemon; he wanted to marry a rich local’s granddaughter who had fallen in love with him, and, in order to end their marriage, Oiwa was sent a poisoned cream. Though the poison failed to kill her, she became horribly disfigured, causing her hair to fall out and her left eye to droop. Upon learning of her disfigurement and betrayal, she accidentally killed herself on a sword. Her ghostly, deformed face appeared everywhere to haunt Iemon. It even appeared in place of his new bride’s face, which caused Iemon to accidentally behead her. Oiwa’s spirit followed him relentlessly to the point where he welcomed death.

8. Demon at Agi Bridge

This story, which was originally a setsuwa (a spoken-word narrative), begins as so many horror stories do: With an overly-confident man who boasted to his friends that he didn’t fear to cross Agi Bridge or the demon rumored to reside there. As oni are known for their ability to shape-shift, the demon at Agi Bridge appeared to the man as an abandoned woman. As soon as she caught the young man’s eye, she transformed back into a 9-foot-tall, green-skinned monster and chased after him. Unable to catch the man, the demon later changed into the form of the man’s brother and knocked on his door late at night. The demon was let into the house and, after a struggle, bit off the man’s head, held it up and danced with it before his family, and then vanished.

9. Kuchisake-onna

In an urban legend from 1978 that swept through Japan, Kuchisake-onna wears a surgical mask and asks children if they think she is beautiful. If they say yes, she takes off the mask to reveal her mouth slit from ear to ear, which also gave rise to her nickname, the Slit-Mouthed Woman (the name Kuchisake-onna also comes from the Japanese kuchi , meaning “mouth,” onna for “woman,” and sake , suggesting to rip or tear something). Once the kids see her face, she asks them if she is beautiful again. The only way to escape is to give a noncommittal answer, such as "You look OK." Barring that, you can distract her with certain Japanese candies . But if the children say yes again, she will cut their mouths to make them look like her.

10. Aka Manto

With a demon for just about everything, why shouldn’t the Japanese have a few for their bathrooms ? Aka Manto, one of the more popular demons, hides in women’s bathrooms. In one version of the story, Aka Manto asks women if they would like a red cape or a blue cape (or conversely, if they’d like red paper or blue paper as they’re going to wipe). If the woman answers “red,” this yōkai is believed to tear the flesh from her back to make it appear she is wearing a red cloak. If she answers “blue,” then the creature strangles her to death.

Unfortunately, if you encounter it, there may be no escaping: Some versions of the story say if you don’t answer or if you pick a different color, he will immediately drag you to hell. However, others suggest you can skip all of it if you just turn down Aka Manto’s offer to start with.

A version of this article was originally published in 2014; it has been updated for 2023.

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Essential Guide to Japanese Monsters

Japanese legend and folklore is full of a wide variety of ghosts, demons, and monsters—ranging from innocent and mischievous to menacing and potentially deadly. With all of these creatures popping up in myths, manga, anime, and more , it can get a bit confusing. So we’ve decided to compile a guide to Japanese demons.  

Japan has special terms for these different kinds of supernatural beings. First are yōkai , creatures like demons, ogres, and other monsters. Next are yūrei , which are ghosts or spirits. Finally, there’s obake , a more general term that can be used for a yūrei or yōkai. None of these categories have real defining features, so it can be very difficult to say, "this is a yōkai, and this is obake". But after lots of research, and consulting with our Japanese team members, I finally have a list of Japanese monsters, by category.

Check out this guide to Japanese monsters just in time for October, aka Halloween month!

Hokusai painting of Japanese monsters and yuurei

Japanese Spirits: Obake

Obake are a class of beings with the ability to shapeshift. They can be animal-like with special powers or supernatural beings, but they usually have strong ties to nature. The term "obake" can also be used as an umbrella category and includes yōkai. Usually though, if something can be under a more specific category like yōkai, that is how it is typically classified, which is why this section is quite short.

Kitsune are mischievous, shapeshifting foxes that have the ability to turn into humans (along with 6 other disguises). Foxes are very popular among Japanese folklore, and their negative, “witch-animal” vibe has certainly changed since the Edo period (1603-1867).

Recognized for their cunning, these animals have taken on a kind of spiritual symbolism and are often seen as guardian spirits. The number of tails they have—which can be up to nine—denotes a Kitsune’s age, intelligence, and power.

Foxes continue to be popular today, appearing in anime and manga as the Nine Tailed Fox from Naruto, Shippo the fox demon from Inuyasha, among others.

Stone statue of Kitsune with a red cape

Credit: cowardlion /

Tanuki is the Japanese word for "raccoon Dogs," which is sometimes mistranslated as badger or simply raccoon in English. While raccoon dogs actually exist in real life, Bake-danuki are a type of Tanuki yōkai.

They’re adorable but have mixed backstories. Dating as far back at the Nara period (710-794), these mystical creatures can turn into humans, are known to sing, can influence nature and even possess people. According to folklore, tanuki can transform into 8 different disguises, making them better at transformation than kitsune. Tanuki, however, tend to use their transformations to fool people and make mischief like practical jokes.

Famous examples of Tanuki include (almost) the entire cast of Pom Poko by Studio Ghibli , and Hachiemon from Inuyasha.  Anime fans, try our “ Which Studio Ghibli Character Are You ” or “ Which Sailor Moon Character Are You ” to see if you’re as mischievous as a Tanuki or as brave as a Sailor Scout.

You can find statues of tanuki throughout Japan, and they act as good luck talismans because "tanuki" sounds similar to "ta-nuku" (他抜く), meaning "to throw out others" or get rid of unnecessary things.

Yōkai are creatures that resemble more animal- or monster-like beings, coming in the forms of bird, frog, or snake hybrids as well as demons, ogres, and imps. They’re typically living things, occasionally have special powers, and can be either cruel or helpful to humans. Oni , often translated as "ogre" or "demon," can be considered a sub-class of yōkai, and are often identified by the two horns on their forehead.  

Illustration of Japanese yokai Tengu

The earliest versions of a tengu describe it as somewhat of bird-human hybrid, including wings or a beak, the latter of which became elongated noses. When you see a traditional Japanese mask with a red face and long nose, that's a tengu!

Originally depicted as demons and symbols of war, their image changed over time. Tengus are still powerful beings, but they’re now seen more as protective spirits, guardians of the forests and mountains, and are sometimes considered a type of kami or god. They are often shown with red faces and holding feather fans that can summon strong winds.

Also called a “river-child,” a Kappa is a frog or turtle-like yōkai, described as a demon or imp. They’re green but humanoid, with webbed hands and feet and shells on their backs. They live in rivers or ponds and are said to like eating cucumbers. A Kappa’s weakness is a liquid-filled dent in its head, which can’t dry up or spill while the creature is out of the water.

If that all isn’t weird enough, Kappas are said to assault people from underwater, stealing a fabled “shirikodama” organ from a victim's anus. Kappa are also known for being quite lecherous, so best to avoid them whenever possible.

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Nure-onna , or the Snake Woman, is a reptilian yōkai with the head of a woman and the body of a snake. She’s said to feast on humans and can live in seas or rivers.

Tales of these creatures have been around since the Edo period (1603-1867). Even more threatening, according to texts the Nure-onna is huge. Their tails were said to be about 327 meters long, that’s 1072.83 feet!

Shuten Dōji

Originating from legends dating back to the 14 th century, this yōkai or ogre leader was somewhat of an evil king. He was said to dwell in a lair in a mountain, though the specific location is debated, with Mt. Ōe or Mt. Ibuki being the most likely.

Shuten Dōji kidnapped people, mostly women, and forced them to be slaves before being devoured. He loved sake and was decapitated by Minamoto Raikō, a hero from Japanese folklore. Shuten Doji can be considered a type of oni more specifically.

This yōkai, also written as Yamamba or Yamanba, is a mountain ogress (oni) or witch. A majority of stories have her living in the mountains. In some, she is said to be kind and gentle, dressed in clothes made from tree bark, and nurses lost children.

In darker tales, she is said to be more dangerous, capable of spiriting people away or attacking—sometimes eating—trespassers on her mountain. In one version, she’s even bulletproof. Her only weakness was said to be her soul that was hidden in a flower.

Hone-onna , which translates to “bone woman,” is a skeleton yōkai from Toriyama Sekien’s 1779 “Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki.” In the story, a female skeleton carrying a peony lantern visits the home of a man she loved when she was alive.

In some versions, Hone-onna was told she was ugly when she was alive. But the most uplifting part is how her lasting love for the man, who in turn comes to love her, allows her to live on.

Though the Hone-onna began as a folktale about one woman, now the urban legend is that any woman who dies with an undying love in her heart has the potential to become a hone-onna. The appear young and beautiful as they did in life to the one who loves them, but others who aren't influenced by love for her will see her true form, the skeletal figure of a dead body. As Hone-onna "lives" on with her lover, she slowly sucks out his life force, weakening him until he dies and they are forever united again.


Kuchisake-onna , or the Slit-Mouthed Woman, is definitely one of the deadlier beings on this list. She conceals her face with a fan or mask and wields a sharp weapon, like scissors or a knife.

It’s said that she asks people whether they think she’s attractive. If you say “no,” she’ll kill you immediately. If you say “yes,” she’ll remove the mask to show her mutilated face and then ask the question again. You’ll die if you say no, but if you say yes, she’ll cut the corners of your mouth to resemble hers. Ouch!

Kuchisake-onna is said to be the vengeful spirit of a woman who was maimed in life, either on accident by a doctor or dentist, or purposefully by jealous women or as a punishment for adultery. According to lore, you can try to escape the Slit-Mouthed Woman by telling her she looks “average” or try bribing her with money or candy.

Yuki-onna Japanese painting

Yes, another female yōkai! Yuki-onna is a spirit, also known as the Snow Woman, among other names. Her origins date back to at least the Muromachi period (1336 -1573), but her story has many versions. Though beings like Yuki-onna, Kushisake-onna and Hone-onna might seem more like spirits and thus yūrei, there is an important difference: yūrei are only spirits and are often limited to stay in one place, but Yuki-onna and Hone-onna both can appear anywhere and both are physical beings that can interact with their surroundings.

When it comes to how she came into being, two versions deal with a woman disappearing, either vanishing in a bath and leaving only icicles or turning into snow and blowing away. In many stories, Yuki-onna will ask you to hold a child, which could either freeze you to death (if you accept) or result in you being pushed down a snowy valley (if you refuse).

Many stories about Yuki-onna have her preying on people lost in a snow storm, making her a personification of hypothermia. While other tales paint her as being more benevolent, simply beautiful, capable of love, and appearing during snowfall.  

Japanese Spirits: Yūrei

Yūrei are the ghosts or spirits of people who have died, but their consciousness continues due to unfinished business from when they were alive. They’re often vengeful but can be benevolent. Yūrei can also be immortal entities, with no inclination of whether they were once living or human. Certain defining characteristics include: having no legs or feet (their spirits kind of trail off like a ghost), they are the spirit of a specific person, and often haunt a specific person or place. They also tend to be depicted holding their arms like so:

Illustration of Japanese Spirit Yurei

Also called Red Cloak or Red Cape, Aka Manto is a masked spirit who appears in public or school restrooms. This being defies categorization. Some say it's a spirit (yūrei), others think of this urban legend as that of a serial killer, and still others consider Aka Manto a yōkai. Maybe the difficulty is because it's a fairly modern legend, dating back to the 1930s.

Aka Manto asks bathroom-goers if they want to use red or blue toilet paper. Either option can result in death for the victim, either a bloody demise for the red paper or quite literally turning blue through strangulation. Only by refusing both options, ignoring the spirit, or running away could save you.  

We wouldn’t advise trying to be clever by asking for a different color of paper either, for this could result in being dragged straight to the underworld or having to endure a deadly swirly. Gross.

Funayūrei or “boat spirits” are the vengeful ghosts of people who died at sea. Similar to sirens, these creatures yearn to drown people. They’re said to use ladles to fill boats with water to make them sink.

Funayūrei have been around since the Edo period (1603-1867). Ways to fend off these creatures include throwing an onigiri (rice ball) into the ocean or bringing a ladle with a missing bottom.

Okiku, ghost from Japanese folktale Sara Yashiki

Okiku's story is the tragic subject of a kaidan "old scary story" called Sara Yashiki , or " The Plate Mansion ". She was a servant to a wealthy Samurai family. The master of the house desired her, but when she refuses his advances, he plots to trick her into accepting him. He convinces her that she has lost one of the family's 10 priceless dishes, a crime punishable by death, but he'll cover for her if she accepts him. She frantically searches for the plate but unable to find it (because he has hidden it) she accepts the punishment for the crime. Furious at being rejected again, he throws her down the mansion's well where she dies.

After death, her spirit returned to our world, unable to move on. It's said she could be heard counting the plates, "1. . . 2 . . . 3 . . ." all the way through nine, when she shrieks at the missing 10th plate. It's said her cries drove the samurai to madness and he kills himself in the end.

Kodama are tree spirits. Kodama are described as “ghost lights,” and have been around since at least the Heian period (794-1185). Whether they really fall under the category of yūrei is unclear, they are definitely spirits, but may be more akin to kami (divine spirits).

The name refers to the actual creature as well as the tree in which it lives. Anyone who tries to cut down a Kodama tree will find themselves cursed. Some say that a Kodama tree will bleed if it’s cut.

Kodama are innocent, natural spirits that—according to some stories—are capable of love and turning into humans. Probably the most famous depiction of Kodama comes from the Studio Ghibli Film Princess Mononoke.

Japanese folklore features a plethora of unique yōkai, yūrei, and obake. Stories of these creatures have been passed down for generations, and it’s easy to see why. They can be anywhere from spooky or cute to downright terrifying. Even today they aren't just scary stories told around the campfire, but continue to deeply influence Japan's pop-culture.

If after reading this, you find monsters too scary and love is on your mind instead, check out our guide to the Tanabata Festival , a festival to honor the legend of two star-crossed lovers. 

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These Are 10 Legendary Monsters, Ghosts and Demons That Terrify Japanese Locals

Bigfoot, nessie and el chupacabra have nothing on these creatures..

japanese ghosts list

Japan is one of those countries that has a gigantic backlog of tales, legends and myths due to its extensive history spanning from as far back as 35,000 BC. With that, locals share these stories most often than not as simple folklore or to offer advice or morals, much like many Asian cultures in attempts to teach children of right and wrong. Some however, are so terrifying and detailed that it’s hard to imagine it was thought up without some basis of truth or reference. Whether for entertainment or education, perhaps it’s best to listen to these horror stories just to be safe.

You may imagine these creatures, or Yokai, to be as cute as Hello Kitty or Rilakkuma due to the nature of Japan’s “all-kawaii-everything” lifestyle, but you’d be wrong — many of these characters, unlike those found in western civilizations, are not relics of long-deceased recorded species like dinosaurs or extinct birds. In fact, many are either bipeds or mutations of actual beings or animals, making them that much more believable and horrific as they may walk amongst us at any given time. Disregarding Godzilla –a fictionalized creature dreamed up by a movie studio–or Pokémon which many can argue is a by-product of one of the creatures in the list below, take a look at some of the most legendary and nightmare-inducing monsters, demons and ghosts to ever stalk the Land of the Rising Sun.


japanese ghosts list

Sankai and Kekkai

japanese ghosts list


japanese ghosts list


japanese ghosts list

Kamokawa Taxi Ghost

japanese ghosts list

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