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 .
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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10 scariest ghosts in japanese horror movies, ranked.
Japanese films and folklore are brimming with frightening apparitions, but which are the scariest of all?
Western media has a solid presence during spooky season, but many Japanese horror flicks also have produced enough ghouls and goblins to give even the most jaded horror hound nightmares. Whether drawing from folklore or inventing them on the spot, the ghosts of Japanese horror are some of the scariest apparitions in film history.
From the unsettling groans of Kayako from Ju-on: The Grudge to the folklore-inspired ghoulishness of Yuki-Onna in Kwaidan , the many haunts of Japanese cinema are the gold standard of fright. Most Japanese ghosts might be spooky, but only the absolute scariest continue to make viewers' hair stand on end.
Shigero - The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
The American/Japanese co-production The House Where Evil Dwells was an attempt to find a synthesis between the ghost stories of both cultures, and the result was a hidden '80s gem. Living in Japan on an extended business trip, an American family moves into a house that is said to be haunted.
RELATED: 10 Scariest Horror Movie Ghosts, According To Reddit
The ghost of the film, Shigero, isn't much to look at, but it is his sinister machinations that make him frightening. He uses his ghoulish powers to spur the family into unwittingly recreating the horrible murders that happened in the house, and there is a terrible helplessness that the characters experience as he weaves his deadly game.
The Woman In Red - Retribution (2006)
Deftly blending a compelling mystery plot with a smattering of supernatural horror elements, Retribution is one of the best pieces of detective fiction in recent memory. On the case of a serial murderer, a jaded detective is haunted by a woman in red who was presumably one of the murderer's victims.
The woman in red isn't a particularly malignant ghost, but her sudden and startling appearances make her a chilling sight to behold. The fact that she seems to be connected to terrible events also helps to make her frightening, and her dark motivations are finally fully revealed at the end of the film.
Ghost Mother - Apartment 1303 (2007)
In the long history of horror movies about creepy apartments , Apartment 1303 is Japan's humble contribution to the underrated subgenre of urban horror. After the death of her sister, a young woman begins to suspect that her sibling's demise might have had something to do with a spirit haunting her apartment.
The film is rather stock-standard for a Japanese ghost story, but it is the spectral image of the ghost mother that is truly haunting. Long black hair is quintessential to J-horror, and the ghost mother's gigantic web of hair is nightmarish in a way that is reminiscent of a spider's web. The movie might not be anything to write home about, but the ghost is pure nightmare fuel.
Yuki-Onna - Kwaidan (1964)
The anthology horror film Kwaidan recounted classic stories from Japanese folklore, and brought them to life in vivid color. The second section of the film entitled "The Woman of the Snow" tells the story of a young man who accidentally goes back on a promise made to a violent spirit.
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The Yuki-Onna appears to look almost like a normal woman, but her slightly pallid face and piercing eyes shows that she is something beyond human. Almost more beautiful than hair-raising, it is the cruel way with which she tricks the man that makes her so scary. While most ghost encounters are seen as one time deals, the Yuki-Onna is capable of haunting someone for life.
Oiwa - The Ghost Of Yotsuya (1959)
Even though the film was made in the 1950s, the alarming visage of Oiwa in The Ghost of Yotsuya is a surprisingly harrowing experience for a film so old. After slaying his wife in a jealous rage, a man finds that he is tortured by the spirit of his deceased victim.
With half of her face gruesomely slashed away, Oiwa isn't anything like the typical white-faced ghosts of other stories. Coming as one of the scariest movies based on Japanese legends , The Ghost of Yotsuya is a timeless tale of terror with a specter that rivals even the most horrific monsters of modern cinema.
Toshio - Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the American remake of Ju-on: The Grudge couldn't hold a candle to the original. A social worker visits a haunted house and soon finds that she has been marked by the vengeful spirits that reside within.
Toshio is the spirit of a young boy who was murdered, and as if kids weren't creepy enough, his voice has been replaced by that of a cat. Staring blankly with a pallid face and black-rimmed eyes, Toshio need only appear for a brief moment to send shivers up the viewer's spine.
Mitsoku - Dark Water (2002)
Once again preying on the common fears found within apartment buildings, Dark Water is one of the most unsettling ghost stories in film history. While going through a divorce, a woman moves herself and her daughter into a dilapidated apartment building that is haunted by a vengeful spirit.
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With the building's water supply being the common thread of the terror, when the viewer finally gets a glimpse of the ghost she is appropriately gruesome. Most ghosts are spectral in nature, but Mitsoku's rotting corpse adds a monstrous quality that many specters lack. Ghosts are often spooky, but Mitsoku has the added gross-out factor as well.
Kayako - Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
Having not one, but two absolutely terrifying ghosts to contend with, there's no denying that The Grudge is one of the best horror movies of the 2000s . Along with her ghostly son Toshio, the benevolent spirit of Kayako pursues poor Rika whose only mistake was entering their haunted abode.
With her long black hair and pale face, Kayako is like the poster-girl for what the quintessential Japanese ghost is expected to be. What puts her over the top in terms of scares, however, is the contorted way in which she moves, and her eerie moaning. Looking on with her eyes agog, Kayako looks as if she is frozen in the moment she was murdered which is an absolutely freaky sight to behold.
Hiruko - Hiruko The Goblin (1991)
Yōkai are spirits of Japanese folklore, and unlike the simple specters of classic ghost stories, they are capable of wreaking havoc of a much more powerful nature. Hiruko the Goblin sees an archeologist accidentally unleash the titular yōkai who beheads victims and turns them into bug-like creatures.
The visuals of the film are some of the most stunningly surreal of any horror flick before or since. The scuttling severed heads are almost too much to bear, and the freaky imagery of the movie goes completely into campy territory with how over-the-top it becomes. Unlike ghosts that are simply out for revenge, Hiruko has an even more harrowing and nightmarish goal in mind.
Sadako - Ringu (1998)
Setting the bar unbelievably high, the unsettling horror classic Ringu introduced the world to an apparition that viewers are unlikely to ever forget. Investigating a mysterious video tape that is linked to several deaths, a reporter finds that a deadly spirit is attached to the tape and that she may soon be its next victim.
Crawling forth from the television and into the viewer's nightmares, Sadako need only creep an inch to have a lot of audience members noping out. The film reveals that she is an unstoppable force, and once someone sees the tape they cannot escape her evil grasp. Proving that the simplest designs are often the scariest, Sadako's face is obscured by her hair and the mystery alone is scarier than any extravagant monster makeup.
NEXT: 10 Best American Remakes Of International Horror Movies, Ranked
10 great Japanese ghost stories
Do films come any more frightening than these?
29 October 2020
By Katherine McLaughlin
Up until the late 1960s, yurei (ghost) films were released in the summer in Japan to tie in with traditional Buddhist Obon celebrations, or the Festival of Spirits. Religion, literature, military history, folklore, kabuki theatre and oral storytelling are all hugely influential on the Japanese ghost movie, as is the belief in animism, the idea that literally everything on earth possesses a spiritual essence. Black cats, cursed VHS tapes, apartments and even the internet haunt the protagonists of these stories, with female onryo (vengeful spectres) a predominant force in the genre.
Similar visuals emerge in prewar, postwar and the millennial J-horror yurei films, but their themes diverge to reflect the social changes or political anxieties of the time. With the shifting role of women in society, starlets such as Sumiko Suzuki moved into horror cinema with monster roles such as the bakeneko (ghost cat) in the 1930s.
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Postwar cinema examined tensions between tradition and modernity, and the impact of conflict, with themes of greed, poverty, female suffering, corruption and grief all manifesting in ghost films. Aside from a few choice titles, the appetite for paranormal activity died down in the 1970s and 80s. In the 1990s, there was a resurgence in the popularity of supernatural tales, specifically marketed towards a YA audience. The anthology TV movie series The Haunted School boasted a list of directors that became synonymous with the J-horror boom of the 2000s. Hideo Nakata, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Shimizu all directed their own segments, laying the groundwork for their modern spins on ghost stories laced with contemporary worries about family, technology and finances. Their work spawned multiple, long-running franchises including American remakes, reboots and spinoffs.
Here are 10 of Japan’s spookiest offerings.
Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi’s reworking of Tales of Moonlight and Rain by 18th-century author Ueda Akinari won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It strikes an eerie tone that skilfully blends fantasy with reality to tell a tale about the arrogance of men in times of war. Set in the midst of the 16th-century civil wars, it centres on a foolhardy farmer and potter (played by Masayuki Mori) who, blind with ambition, leaves behind his wife and child to seek fortune in the city. The war is shown to have a devastating impact on the family unit and in particular women, who the film shows being forgotten, murdered or forced into prostitution.
Legendary Japanese star Machiko Kyo makes an unforgettable entrance as an enchantress spectre, accompanied by the ominous score by acclaimed composer Fumio Hayasaka. The grounds of her ghostly mansion are given an otherworldly quality by cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. Dreamy lakeside views and carnal pleasures tempt the farmer to be unfaithful to his wife. The film concludes with a technically remarkable and lamenting denouement that confronts the folly of greed and lust.
The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
This popular onryo story, based on a kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya from 1825, takes inspiration from real life and boasts multiple film adaptations. In Nobuo Nakagawa’s version, Shigeru Amachi plays a ruthless ronin called Iemon who surreptitiously murders the father of Oiwa, the woman he wishes to marry. Soon after, he hits the road with Oiwa under the guise of avenging her father’s death, but instead hatches a cruel scheme that ends in betrayal and murder.
“The fury of a maddened woman is truly the greatest horror there is,” states an opening quote, and Nakagawa makes Oiwa’s pain palpable not only in life but also in death with an extensive, grotesque body-horror sequence. Her anger is vividly realised as vengeance is served through guilt-ridden, nightmarish hallucinations and brutal swordplay. Women’s lives and fortunes were dictated by marriage in the Edo period, and the film depicts the real price of transactional relationships.
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
By far the sweatiest ghost story you’ll ever see, this haunting slice of social realism and existential dread evokes the spirit of Jean Cocteau and imagery of Luis Buñuel to capture the civil unrest of the era. Hiroshi Teshigahara coined his debut feature, which he adapted with Kobo Abe from the latter’s play, a “documentary fantasy”. It also takes on the form of police procedural and political critique of the exploitation of labour workers, specifically coal miners. A vicious scheme to pit the trade unions against one another results in the murder of a single father who reanimates as a spirit, only to find his pleas to help find his killer fall on deaf ears. As this innocent victim of a cruel system wanders a literal ghost town, his cries of frustration and anguish pierce the striking landscapes, where abandoned slag heaps and mines threaten to swallow up all who enter. The film asks, “Must a man become a demon just to survive?”, and as his orphaned child wanders alone, observing ruthless injustices carried out in the name of capitalism, the outlook isn’t hopeful.
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
This epic, Oscar-nominated omnibus, adapted from 4 supernatural tales by Lafcadio Hearn, is a feast for the senses. Highly stylised, this was Masaki Kobayashi’s first film in colour and at the time the most expensive Japanese film to date. Hand-painted sets, heaps of dry ice and an expressive score by prolific composer Toru Takemitsu all merge to create an immersive and surreal ambience. The opening 2 vignettes, ‘The Black Hair’ and ‘The Woman of the Snow’, feature tragic romances and broken vows. A female onryo with powerful, long hair materialises in the first, while the second reworks a classic tale about a spirit who breathes death into men. The final yarns, ‘Hoichi the Earless’ and ‘In a Cup of Tea’, both display an affection for the art of storytelling and the beauty of the written word. The first delivers a haunting ballad that attracts a ghostly army, while the closing short is a reflective Meiji-era tale referencing an unfinished story.
Director: Kaneto Shindo
Four years after horror classic Onibaba, writer-director Kaneto Shindo delivered another chilling film about the plight of women in times of war. Inspired by Japanese folktales and bakeneko films, it centres on a mother and daughter-in-law who are murdered by samurai, but return for vengeance as demon cats. The women spend their time seducing and sucking the blood of all samurai warriors, until they are faced with their fading humanity when the man of the house returns from war and appears on their doorstep. He’s tasked by the shogun with killing the beast who is preying on his men, and so ensues a complex study of duty and morality.
Experimental lighting, scintillating eroticism, slow-motion wire-action sequences, beguiling performances from a gifted cast (including Shindo’s wife and muse, Nobuko Otowa) and Hikaru Hayashi’s percussive score produce a potent, lingering lyricism. A powerful salute to female strength, Kureneko also contemplates the irreversible consequences of war with a palpable sense of loss and regret.
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
This experimental, haunted-house horror by Nobuhiko Obayashi is a complete hoot. The special effects, such as composite shots and superimposed imagery, are infused with an endearing childlike invention, which were actually informed by Obayashi’s daughter’s imagination. However, if you peel back its wacky surface layer, its visual motifs reveal personal grief for those lost in the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. The innocence of the generation born after the war is personified through a group of teenage girls named Gorgeous, Melody, Prof, Sweet, Kung Fu, Mac and Fantasy. They all head to the country to visit Gorgeous’s elderly aunt (played by Yoko Minamida) in her spooky mansion, a place with an insatiable appetite for human flesh, featuring inanimate objects that gobble up the young women. Obayashi mourns the loss of childhood friends by critiquing the senseless destruction of war in absurd and unique fashion. The melancholic score performed by Godiego further complements the underlying emotions.
Director: Hideo Nakata
An urban legend about a cursed VHS tape, adapted from the first novel in a trilogy written by Koji Suzuki, was the catalyst for the J-horror boom. Directed by Hideo Nakata, this modern update of the yurei known as Okiku contains iconic imagery of the drenched, straggly haired female ghost, who jaggedly crawls towards her victims.
It’s a film that has meticulous rules: watch the creepy tape, the phone will ring, and you will die 7 days later. Nanako Matsushima plays a journalist who falls under the curse when investigating the mysterious death of a group of teenagers. She teams up with her psychic ex-husband (Hiroyuki Sanada) to save her life by following the trail of clues featured in the cursed video. They uncover the tragic tale of a young girl called Sadako (Rie Ino’o), the film concluding with heart-in-mouth terror as she climbs out of a TV set.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
The sound of dial-up internet opens Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s apocalyptic, techno-horror. Written at a time when the popularity of the internet was on the rise, anxieties about a shift in daily life, human interaction and the impact on mental health manifest in grim ways. This prescient, bleak chiller depicts a society slipping into despair as people disappear into their computers, becoming isolated and lonely.
Kurosawa drains the real world of colour, placing his characters in grey, oppressive environments, watching grisly images of suicide and sadness. Soon these images turn into sinister apparitions that invade the human realm and start spreading as an uncontrollable, destructive virus. The penetrating sound design and creepy score by Takefumi Haketa, combined with dark visuals of lost souls literally turning into shadows of their former selves, lay out the worst fears about a future where the internet becomes the main line of communication to the outside world.
Dark Water (2002)
A woman going through a nasty divorce drowns in the depths of despair in Hideo Nakata’s eerie and heartbreaking adaptation of a short story by Koji Suzuki. Yoshimi’s (Hitomi Kuroki) emotional and financial turmoil are compounded with a past trauma that comes back to haunt her in the form of spirits, mysterious wet patches and growing damp in her apartment.
Preying on a parent’s worst fears, danger lurks just round the corner, as does a custody battle, threatening to snatch away Yoshimi’s 5-year-old daughter. As the pressures of work and motherhood build up, and with no one to turn to, panic sets in. The film strikes a disquieting mood, using unsettling scares, a labyrinthine apartment block and confusing apparitions to intensify Yoshimi’s loss of control. As her fragile state worsens, the titular watery metaphor, at first an occasional drip, turns into an overwhelming downpour of psychological dread and impending doom.
The Grudge (2002)
Director: Takashi Shimizu
The family home becomes a frightening place in writer-director Takashi Shimizu’s claustrophobic horror. Shimizu has stated that butoh dance theatre inspired the look of his pale contorted ghosts, who he adorned with thick white paint to chilling effect. The striking appearance of mother and son ghosts, Kayako (Takako Fuji) and Toshio Saeki (Yuya Ozeki), are iconic in modern horror, as is the ominous staircase from which they first descend.
Killed by a jealous husband, Kayako’s rage gathers in the place where she was murdered and curses anyone who crosses the threshold of her home, including a volunteer social worker. The vengeful spirits of the Sakei house kill indiscriminately, emitting creepy noises such as drawn out croaks and meows. The disturbing sound design amps up the tension as Shimizu leads the viewer through tortuous deaths and a residence haunted by neglect, violence and domestic terror. Shimizu plays with chronology, following Kayako as she stalks and terrorises her victims, and eventually circling back to her tragic backstory.
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From cursed VHS tapes to wall-crawling terrors, Japanese-inspired horror has had a powerful influence on film and television for decades. But the origins of these frightening tales run much deeper and further than most Western audiences expect.
“Ghosts and Japan are intimately intertwined,” says Zack Davisson, a scholar of Japanese folklore and author of Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost . “Yūrei are a consistent and defining theme throughout the history of Japanese civilization. It is almost impossible to separate Japan from its ghosts.”
That influence continues to find its way to Hollywood as well. The new season of AMC’s chilling historical anthology series, The Terror, takes viewers inside the horrors of an internment camp, where mysterious deaths and malevolent forces besiege a community of Japanese-Americans. “Anywhere you go, it follows you,” warns George Takei’s character, a retired fisherman named Yamato-san, of the supernatural threat.
The paranormal roots of Japanese horror can be traced to kaidan , or traditional ghost stories designed to both entertain and send a moral message. The Japanese have been spinning yarns about ghosts, known as yūrei, from the earliest periods of their history.
To understand this connection between Japan and its ghosts, one must first understand the relationship the Japanese have with their departed. The religious traditions found in Buddhism greatly influenced people’s ideas of the dead and the afterlife, says Fumiko Jōo, an assistant professor of Asian Studies at Mississippi State University. “It gave the Japanese ideas of life and death, reincarnation, salvation and punishment,” she says.
As did the Shinto religion, adds Davisson. “If you trace back Japanese civilization as far as we can go, you see foundational components of ancestor worship that evolved into what we now call the Shinto religion,” he says.
Yūrei are part of a deep foundational belief that humans carry a god inside them, one that is released upon death and “infused with supernatural power.” If properly honored with the right rituals and care, the spirits will watch over and protect people from misfortune. But if not, or if the spirit has any lingering business, that’s when it is said to manifest as a yūrei in the afterlife.
The spirits are considered a subset of the larger category of yōkai , which encompasses all strange and supernatural beings in Japanese folklore. But to define yūrei simply as “ghosts” would be a generalization, scholars stress. The definition of yūrei has changed over time, intrinsically linked to the period and specific stories from which they derive.
As such, “there isn’t even necessarily agreement on what constitutes a yūrei,” says Keller Kimbrough, a professor of Japanese at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Different versions of the same story can present conflicting explanations.”
For instance, in ancient Japan, yūrei were invisible and formless, Davisson says. During Japan’s Heian period (794 - 1185), they were indistinguishable from human beings. “Most of their use in storytelling from the time comes from a living person interacting with a yūrei and having no idea,” says Davisson.
The legend of the lovelorn Otsuyu is one of the most famous examples. In one version of the tale, a man falls madly in love with a young woman only to discover she was a ghost the entire time.
The prevailing image of yūrei today dates back to Japan’s Edo or Tokugawa period (1603-1868), says Davisson. It's a pale-faced spirit with messy black hair, white burial kimono and no feet. Some experts believe Edo-era Japanese artist Maruyama Ōkyo popularized this depiction when he painted a portrait of his dead lover, a young geisha, that came to him in a vision.
Folklore experts agree that a yūrei’s desire tethers it to the land of the living. That purpose can encompass just about anything, and it’s not always as malicious as movies would have us believe. In other words, their reasons for being don’t just include terrorizing new tenants of a creepy old farmhouse. This drive also determines the form of yūrei the spirit takes in these stories.
“The key part of that desire is that it must be what you feel with your last breath,” Davisson says. “When you die, what did you regret? Did you wish to know love? Did you feel rage at the person killing you? Did you forget to feed the cat?”
If a person dies consumed with rage or feelings of revenge, for example, their soul may become an onryō , or vengeful spirit. In folklore, an onryō is the most powerful creature on the planet. In ancient times, natural disasters were explained as an onryō’s wrath.
“They are wielders of fire, flood and earthquake. Their powers are almost limitless,” says Davisson. “Stories are told of lightning striking in the middle of the Imperial Palace. Another story tells of a young girl who was jilted by her lover and died, and then burned down all of Tokyo in her rage. They can go anywhere, do anything.”
A yūrei’s path to pacification depends on its purpose—and if it seeks closure at all. “If they are lonely, then just hang out with them for a little while. If they want to count plates, well… help them count plates,” muses Davisson. “If they are mad at you then best start to say your goodbyes. There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The good news is once they have hit their target, they are gone for good.”
The other option? Performing Buddhist and Shinto rituals in an attempt to placate an angry spirit. In the Heian and early-medieval periods, says Kimbrough, the court would sometimes pacify onryō by giving them posthumous promotions, as in the case of the 12th-century Emperor Sutoku.
As the story goes, Emperor Sutoku died full of ire for the Imperial Court having been banished him, and thus was transformed into an onryō in death. It’s said that his onryō brought vengeance upon the capital, Kyoto, delivering plagues and disasters for years until he was enshrined as a kami , or deity. But even these rituals aren’t always a surefire solution.
Even today, visitors to Japan can see just how interwoven the nation’s culture is with its reverence toward the supernatural or unexplainable. This ranges from whimsically animated spirit worlds on film to the eccentric monsters and ghosts that feature prominently in contemporary artwork, to the yōkai woven into the tales of post-modernist writers.
“It’s impossible to overstate the impact yūrei have had on Japan’s art and culture,” says Davisson, noting its prevalence in Noh and kabuki theater, as well as in cinema and literature. “Japan’s art is inherently haunted. The country has a lineage of ghostly tales stretching back for millennia. And they aren’t going anywhere. No matter what future technology emerges, the ghosts of Japan will be lurking somewhere in the dark corners.”
Jōo has another theory as to why the fascination with ghost stories persists, not just in Japan but around the world: “We cannot experience death, so ghost tales tell us what the dead feel like.”
How much do you know about Japanese ghosts?
Today, the most recognizable depictions of yūrei in Japan feature:
Which of these are reasons yūrei might manifest in the afterlife?
To help keep someone’s spirit from becoming a yūrei after death, you should:
Onryō are typically characterized by:
One way to try to pacify an onryō is to:
The Terror: Infamy
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13 Scary Japanese Horror Stories That Will Keep You Up at Night
Japanese folklore is full of things that are just plain creepy .
Thanks to some popular movies , Japan is world-renowned for ghosts and monsters that’ll make you run for the hills—if you can outrun them, of course.
Also, Japanese horror stories are usually told in the summer (unlike in the West, where they’re told around Halloween season) in the belief that the chills from the tales will help to cool you down.
Let’s take a look at some scary ghost stories from Japan that’ll make you wish you never knew them!
1. Kappa – 河童 (かっぱ)
2. snow woman – 雪女 (ゆき おんな), 3. umbrella ghost – 唐傘お化け (からかさ おばけ), 4. faceless ghost – のっぺら坊 (のっぺらぼう), 5. rokurokubi – ろくろっ首 (ろくろっくび), 6. wet woman – 濡女 ( ぬれ おんな ), 7. two-mouth woman – 二口女 (ふたくち おんな), 8. tengu – 天狗 (てんぐ), 9. oni/ogre – 鬼 (おに), 10. gashadokuro – がしゃどくろ, 11. yokai tree – 樹木子 ( じゅぼっこ ), 12. slit-mouthed woman – 口裂け女 (くちさけ おんな), 13. hanako-san – 花子さん (はなこさん), the spiritual beliefs at the heart of japanese scary stories, japanese ghosts: essential vocabulary, and one more thing....
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Literally “river boy,” these creatures resemble turtles with webbed, human-like feet and hands. About the size of small children, they can stand, swim and walk on land. They usually inhabit ponds or rivers.
The 河童 is mainly characterized by a small bowl or plate-like area on the head that must have water at all times. If the plate-like area dries out, superstition has it that it’ll lose its powers or even die. Some stories tell of how the plate can be covered to keep the creature from drying out.
Primarily, the 河童 is used as a cautionary tale to children to be careful while swimming. They’re tricksters that can either be mischievous or outright malevolent. The more sinister stories have them luring people or animals, usually horses, into deep water to drown or be eaten.
Fun fact: the 河童巻き (かっぱ まき) was likely named after them owing to their love of cucumbers (which the 河童巻き has).
The 雪女 is, as her name suggests, the spirit of a woman who died in the cold.
Like the snow she lives in, this woman has pale white skin, wears white clothes and has the long black hair characteristic of Japanese ghosts. She is very beautiful and floats along the snow leaving no trace behind.
Don’t let her beauty fool you, though—she’s a ruthless killer.
In the stories, she usually appears to travelers and traps them in snowstorms, breathing on them until they’re frosted dead or leading them out farther and farther so they die from hypothermia.
In some versions (like the famous Lafcadio Hearn story ), she will sometimes let victims go if they’re beautiful or young. Do you think you’re good-looking enough to be spared?
According to Japanese folklore, any human tool that is old enough (e.g. a hundred years old) can take on a (sort of) life of its own.
For example, the 唐傘お化け is the ghost of a very old umbrella. It’s usually depicted with one eye and jumping around on one leg in a 下駄 (げた) sandal.
There isn’t necessarily a particular story about this creature, but it’s common in depictions of haunted houses and is usually a representative character for ghosts in Japan.
This is a creature that usually assumes normal human form, but is able to wipe its facial features off so a blank stretch of skin is left where the eyes, nose and mouth should be.
These creatures don’t harm anyone in the stories, but they do like to scare people (for their own amusement, probably). There’s no telling if it could frighten you to death, so watch out!
Studio Ghibli’s “Pom Poko” includes a scene with a のっぺら坊, which (spoiler alert) was actually a shapeshifting raccoon.
No one knows where the “ろくろ” part of the name comes from, but “首” refers to the neck, which is how this ghost is typically identified. They can appear as regular humans, but can stretch their necks to abnormal lengths.
There’s also a variant of the ろくろっ首 whose head can detach from the neck and fly around freely. This one is called 抜け首 (ぬけくび) or “Escape Neck.” As its name suggests, the 抜け首 has the ability to detach its head from the rest of its body.
Although they’re usually female, male ろくろっ首 exist too (see the Lafcadio Hearn story named after this monster).
濡女 literally means “wet woman.” This monster has the head of a woman and the body of a snake.
You can see an image of her in “The Illustrated Volume of a Hundred Demons” ( 百怪図鑑 /ひゃっくかい ずかん), a book from the Edo Period that depicts ghosts, spirits and monsters from folklore. Stories about the 濡女 usually involve her luring people into the water and then killing them.
Other versions depict them as creatures simply trying to wash their hair. In those stories, she only reacts violently when people bother her during her hair-washing ritual. (Never interrupt a woman’s beauty regimen, people!)
As her name implies, this creature has two mouths. One is a normal mouth that doesn’t eat much (if at all). The other is located on the back of her skull. The second mouth can control the woman’s hair to form tendrils that will grab food to feed itself.
The reasons for the appearance of this second mouth vary, but they’re usually because of a miserly husband who couldn’t even be bothered to feed his own wife. (Penny-pinchers beware!)
Other stories credit the second mouth to the woman’s own miserly ways. In these versions, the woman refuses to feed her stepchild, who dies and becomes the attached second mouth to torment and exact revenge on the terrible stepmother.
Literally “heaven dog,” these creatures originated in China where they most closely resembled dogs. When or how the 天狗 came to have the features of birds and humans is unknown. What we do know is that the image of this creature has changed drastically over time.
Originally depicted as disruptive and warlike demons, they’re now often shown as protectors of mountains and forests. They haven’t completely lost their sly and dangerous nature, though.
There are many different stories featuring 天狗—and let’s just say I wouldn’t do anything to tick them off if I were you.
These are arguably the Japanese versions of the Western demons, devils or ogres.
Their physical descriptions vary, but generally they’re ugly, large and have claws and horns. They often have red or blue skin, wear loincloths and carry a 金棒 (かなぼう), similar to a club or stick.
鬼 appear in the Japanese children’s story “Peach Boy” ( 桃太郎 /ももたろう) and “The Red Ogre Who Cried” ( 泣いた赤鬼 /ないた あかおに), a rare story about kindhearted ogres.
Skeletons are creepy enough as they are. Imagine one that’s large enough to stick its head and torso over an entire building!
One version of their origin says that the がしゃどくろ are the bones of people who died of starvation. Another says that you’ll often find them near old battlefields where hordes of warriors died with unfinished business and are out to finish said business with the living.
Even though you’ve probably never heard of them before, a がしゃどくろ makes a quick appearance in a festival scene from “Pom Poko.” There’s also one that serves as a sort of “mini-boss” in the Western animated film “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which was based on Japanese folklore.
Another Japanese monster that shows up in former battlefields, the 樹木子 survives on blood from the people it grabs who wander too close to it.
Unfortunately for those who want to avoid it, it doesn’t appear to be too different from other trees. You’ll only know it’s a 樹木子 when you stick an axe into it and it bleeds blood instead of sap.
By then, you’ve probably already become its next victim!
True to her name, the Slit-Mouthed Woman is a woman whose mouth has been slit from ear to ear. She’s probably the most famous creature from Japanese urban legends and there are many variations on how she came to be.
One story goes that her husband mutilated her with scissors. Due to her anguish over what happened, she now wanders the urban areas of Japan and terrorizes anyone unlucky enough to meet her.
According to most versions, she’ll ask you whether you think she’s pretty, and your life depends upon your answer.
If you say “no,” she’ll kill you with scissors on the spot.
If you say “yes,” she’ll reveal her slit mouth and ask whether you still think she’s pretty. If you say “yes,” she’ll give you the same slit as her own so “both of you are pretty”—and if you say “no,” she’ll kill you anyway.
Luckily, there are many ways to escape this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. One is to answer ambiguously (e.g., “I think you look okay”) or ask a question back, which will confuse her and give you time to escape.
花子さん is a female spirit that haunts school bathrooms. According to the stories, she’ll appear if you say her name in the third stall in the bathroom on the third floor.
This urban legend has been whispered around many Japanese schools—not unlike how children in the West whisper about seeing Bloody Mary in a mirror.
There are so many versions of where she came from, how to escape her and what would happen if you meet her that I’d have to write an entirely new article (or articles) on her alone!
Japanese horror stories are firmly rooted in beliefs in the spirit world.
For example, ghosts come about when someone dies and their spirit cannot move on to the afterlife. This is usually because the funeral rites weren’t done properly, the person died violently or the person had unfinished business before departing the world of the living. As a result, their ghosts become angry or malevolent and they’re usually the ones featured in Japanese scary stories.
On the other hand, when the dead are given the proper burial rites, their spirits are believed to join their ancestors in the afterlife to watch over their living loved ones. They return once a year to the world of the living, which is when they’re honored via a holiday called お盆 (おぼん) that usually takes place in August.
There are several terms in Japanese for ghosts, just as Westerners often describe ghosts as “specters,” “demons” or “wraiths.” For example:
- 妖怪 (ようかい) — A broad term for supernatural beings, 妖怪 includes ghosts and creatures that possess spiritual supernatural powers like shapeshifting. There’s a popular video game series called 妖怪ウォッチ (ようかい うぉっち) based on 妖怪. Another term for 妖怪 is 物の怪 (もののけ) which lends its name to a famous Studio Ghibli movie, “もののけ姫” or “Princess Mononoke. ” And if you’re into manga , “ゲゲゲの鬼太郎” (げげげの きたろう) (which has been adapted into an anime ) popularized 妖怪 and added new ones to the old folklore.
- お化け (おばけ) — The literal meaning of お化け is “thing that changes,” and it’s a type of shapeshifting 妖怪.
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- 亡霊 (ぼうれい) — This is another less common term for 幽霊 and roughly translates to “ruined spirits.” These haunt the physical world in a state of purgatory in an attempt to resolve unfinished business.
- Ghost Stories ( お化けの話 /おばけの はなし) or Kaidan ( 怪談 /かいだん) — Both of these terms are used to categorize classic and traditional ghost stories, usually from the Edo Period. There’s also 実話怪談 (じつわ かいだん) or “real ghost stories,” which are usually personal tales that proliferate around the Japanese internet. You can find an entire collection of them in “ こわい！ ” (Scary!), which—luckily for language learners—is one of the easiest Japanese books to read .
- お札 (おふだ) — お札 are Shinto writings containing the name of a god ( 神 /かみ). These are blessed by a Shinto shrine and placed on the house for protection from evil spirits, much like how a cross is used in exorcisms in the West. You may see them placed on doors or walls in Japan.
Now that you know about some popular and classic Japanese scary stories, you should be prepared if one of these creatures attacks you or wanders along your path.
There are many books, manga and movies featuring them, so be sure to do your research! And if you really don’t feel like sleeping tonight, go ahead and Google them for more images and videos to fill your nightmares.
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5 Scary Japanese Ghost Stories for Halloween 2022
We are now officially in October, and spooky festivities start to prepare for Halloween. Are you in the mood for some horrifying stories told through generations? Or are you looking to learn some Halloween-related Japanese words ? Some Japanese ghost stories, also known as kaidan are based on true stories. So dim the lights, get comfortable and read some chilling Japanese ghost stories often told to children, as well as inspired by manga and anime stories.
In Japanese, the word yokai describes creatures that can be in form of ghosts, creatures or goblins. The word 妖怪 (Youkai) is a combination of 妖 (you) which means “attractive, calamity and bewitching”, and 怪 (kai) means “mystery, wonder”. For more information on Japanese ghosts, check out our top 10 yokai list here .
- Hanako-san of the toilet
- Kuchisake Onna
- Okiku Japanese Dolls
1. Snow woman (Yuki Onna)
Yukionna is a story about a kind snow spirit that lives in snow-covered mountains. One day, a young man was passing through the snow-covered mountains in search of good luck. Losing his way and almost freezing to death, a woman covered in frost appeared. Usually taking the life of humans that wander in her lands, she took pity on this young man and guided him to the warm cabins, saving his life. In exchange, Yuki-onna made him promise to not tell anyone of this encounter. Later in the years, the young man married a sweet and charming girl called Yuki. They lived happily for many years until one day the young man told his wife about this occurrence. As he tells this story, his wife grew pale, and frost started to cover her body, revealing that his wife was the so-called Yuki-onna. As he broke his promise, Yuki-onna vanished back to the snow-covered lands.
2. Hanako-san of The Toilet (Toire no Hanako-san)
This is a famous urban legend that became popular in the 1980s, similar to Bloody Mary in western culture. The most popular story is about calling out Hanako-san in the school toilet. It is said that when you enter an empty school, on the third-floor toilet, go to the closest toilet from the door, knock 3 times and ask “Hanako-san, are you there?”. Supposedly an empty school, the door will open, and a girl with a bob cut with bangs (called okappa hair cut) wearing a red skirt and a white shirt will drag you in the toilet.
3. Kuchisake onna
Started out as a rumor in 1978 in Gifu prefecture that a farmer witnessed Kuchisake-onna, this story is about a stranger wearing a mask, asking children if she was pretty. The terrified children would reply yes to the question. As the children answer, the woman asks “even if I look like this?” whilst taking her mask off. By doing this, it reveals that her mouth is slit from ear to ear. This story became an urban legend among children, and as such different features of this woman are discussed. Such as the strange woman wearing a mask, or wearing a long red coat, carrying a scythe, or running 100 meters within 6 seconds.
Interested in Japanese horror culture and superstitions? Read more: 10 Unique Japanese Superstitions to Know (and Why)
4. Okiku Japanese doll
This is a story of a haunted traditional Japanese doll possessed by a spirit, which makes the doll’s hair grow. Dating back to 1918, a 17-year-old Eikichi Suzuki bought this doll with an Okappa haircut as a present for his 3-year-old younger sister, Kikuko. Unfortunately, in the next year, Kikuko passed away from a cold. This doll was kept with the ashes of Kikuko, however keeping in mind that the Okappa haircut is a bob with bangs, the family started to realize that the hair of the doll grew past the shoulders. The family believed that the doll is possessed by the spirit of the deceased daughter, and after some time entrusted the doll in the care of Mannen-ji Temple. Despite multiple trims from the priests, the hair has grown past its knees. To this day, you can visit this doll at the temple. However, photography is prohibited.
5. Kappa (River boy)
Kappa is a Japanese mythical creature in Japanese folklore stories. Literally translated to river boy, Kappas are creatures that look like turtles with webbed and human-like hands and feet. The Kappa wears a circular dish-like hat, with hair growing around it. It also has a turtle-like back. Kappas are generally green and lived around places that have water, such as rivers or ponds. It is told that Kappa swims in water, and drags your feet in the water, drowning you. Though it sounds terrifying, this creature is largely inspired by Japanese pop culture, manga, anime, and the name is used in the famous kaiten sushi restaurant in Japan: Kappa Zushi.
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7 scary Japanese ghosts and ghouls to haunt your dreams
Be careful walking alone in the wee hours of the night, Japan is full of ghosts, ghouls and other characters lurking in shadowy corners.
I’m talking, of course about yurei (ghosts of the deceased) and yokai (mythical spirits) that have been part of Japanese folklore for centuries. They haunt everything from riverways to misty mountains to city streets.
Dating back to the early eighth century, these dastardly spirits first appeared in the Kojiki (古事記, “Records of Ancient Matters”) which is the earliest record of Japanese mythology, chronicling the creation of Japan.
Yurei and yokai have since appeared in Japanese traditional art like ukiyo-e (woodblock carvings) throughout the ages. Some are seen as pop-culture icons, such as in the manga-turned anime Gegege no Kitaro in which all the characters are some form of yokai. If you’re brave enough, you can visit Gegege no Kitaro and his yokai friends in the manga kingdom of Tottori .
Keep an eye out for these ghostly spirits in Japan this Halloween .
1. Kuchisake Onna: A murderous woman with a hellish, gaping mouth
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.
Her 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.
“ 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.
This murderous ghost was a character 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."
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2 Comments Login to comment
CybR Apr. 13, 2021 10:48 pm JST
There is a way to survive the Slit-Mouthed.
When she takes off her mask, tell her that she's average or soso which will confuse her. At that point, you can run away
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Japanese Urban Legends
Are you brave enough to make it to the end?
Whether you are seeking scary stories for the Halloween season or simply looking for hair-raising tales, Japan’s urban legends have you covered.
These modern stories have vague origins and are often told as truth, since they cannot be confirmed or disproved, heightening their believability and horror. Japan’s breadth of culture has conjured tales of vengeful onryo (malevolent spirits), yurei (modern ghosts), and yokai (spirits in Japanese folklore) that continue to terrify generations. As with any oral story, there are multiple variations of these tales. Listed below are popular iterations of Japan’s most chilling urban legends. Be sure to take notes should you be unlucky enough to encounter one of these unpleasant characters.
Turn off the lights and make sure no one is watching you from the dark. Let’s begin.
As some of these tales can be gruesome and disturbing, reader discretion is advised!
Aka Manto (Red Cloak)
We begin our first story in the bathroom, a seemingly popular place for Japanese urban legends. Aka Manto is a male spirit who dons a red cloak and mask and is said to haunt school and public restrooms with a particular fondness for the last stall in the women’s bathroom. Once you are seated in the stall, you will hear a male voice ask if you want red or blue paper. Choose your words carefully. If you say red paper, you will meet a bloody end, and if you say blue paper, you will be suffocated to death until you are blue. If you try to confuse the spirit by asking for a different color paper, you will be dragged into hell. To avoid a brutal end at Aka Manto’s hand, simply refuse his offer and run.
Kuchisake-onna (Slit-Mouthed Woman)
Anyone who is familiar with Japanese urban legends, knows of the infamous, yet popular, Kuchisake-onna. This vengeful ghost appears as a seemingly beautiful woman who roams the streets at night. She wears a face mask and carries a concealed pair of scissors.
If you are unlucky enough to meet Kuchisake-onna during a solitary stroll, she will ask you if you think she is beautiful. As with Aka Manto, consider your answer like your life depends on it (since it does). If you say no, she will immediately murder you with her scissors. If you say yes, she will remove her face covering to reveal a gaping mouth that has been slit from ear to ear in a haunting smile. Then, she will ask again: say 'no' and you die, but stick with 'yes' and she will slit your mouth like hers. The only way to escape Kuchisake-onna, is to tell her that she looks average.
If you are concerned about possible encounters with Kuchisake-onna or any of the other ghouls, why not try testing your survival skills at Tokyo's top haunted house attractions . If you fail, at least it is only a game.
Teke Teke is said to be the ghost of a woman or schoolgirl who fell on a railway line and was cut in half by an oncoming train. The vengeful spirit—outraged by her untimely death—now haunts urban areas and train stations at night. Since she no longer has legs, she drags herself on her hands and elbows, which produces a chilling “teke-teke” sound. Should you encounter Teke Teke, run! If the malicious spirit catches you, she will slice you in half with a scythe. Although she lacks legs, she is extremely fast, and has been known to keep up with cars. In some renditions of the story, she will ask you where her legs are, in which case you must reply “Meishin Expressway” in order to survive. In less hopeful iterations, your only chance of survival is to outrun her, which is completely impossible.
Toire no Hanako-san (Hanako-san of the Toilet)
For our next story, we return to the bathroom with a legend some compare to Bloody Mary. Hanako is the spirit of a young schoolgirl who met her end in an elementary school bathroom as a result of suicide due to bullying or WWII bombings and is now said to haunt them. Many children test their wits by summoning the child spirit. In order to summon her, you must go to a third floor bathroom and knock on the third stall three times, after which you say, “Are you there, Hanako-san?” If you hear even the faintest reply, make a hasty exit. If you are too slow or choose to enter the stall, Hanako will drag you into the toilet, and you will never be seen again.
The legend of the Okiku Doll differs from our previous stories as the doll physically exists and resides in Mannen-ji Temple in Hokkaido . The tale dates back to 1918 when a boy purchased the doll for his younger sister, noting that they both had bob haircuts. The little girl was infatuated with the doll, and they were inseparable. Tragically, a short time later, the girl passed away from an illness. Her family displayed the doll, named Okiku, on an altar in remembrance of their daughter and noticed that the doll’s hair was growing. They concluded that their daughter’s restless spirit was inhabiting the doll and eventually provided it to Mannen-ji Temple where it remains today and is viewable to guests. Okiku’s hair continues to grow to this day despite haircuts from the temple’s priests. If you are in Hokkaido, why not stop by and observe the eerie phenomenon yourself?
Hokkaido's not the only place in Japan with terrifying real-life legends. Hidden among Tokyo's advanced skyscrapers and quaint temples are some truly horrifying spots. Check out Tokyo's most haunted locations , and decide for yourself if the shadows of the night live up to their reputations.
The Red Room Curse
For those reading these tales on your computer, this story is for you. The Red Room Curse is an internet-focused story that starts with an ominous pop-up. The pop-up features a red screen with black text that reads, “Do you like the red room?,” which is accompanied by a sinister pre-recorded voice asking the same question. No matter how many times you close the pop-up, it will continue to appear until the voice has finished its question. Afterward, your entire screen will turn red and become flooded with past victims’ names. No one knows what happens next, but the receivers of the pop-up are always found dead with their blood painting the walls red, creating the titular red room. Once you receive the pop-up, it is impossible to escape your fate.
If you are interested in experiencing this horror without putting your life on the line, check out Escape the RED ROOM , which is a themed escape room offered by The Real Escape Room in Asakusa . Also, check out the location's other terrifying attraction, Survive the Urban Legend .
Are you scared?
Of course, you can tell yourself that these stories are fictional, but are they? Sweet dreams.
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By Veronica Carnevale
Japan Travel Staff
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