10 Famous Japanese Ghost Stories

hokusai manga yurei

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Japan is one of the most haunted places on Earth. In Japanese folk belief, Japan as an island is infused with supernatural powers–The very soil of the land is charged with potential, magical energy. Human beings share in this energy. Inside each human being is a reikon, a being of profound power that is unleashed on death. The Japanese fear ghosts–called yurei in Japanese–but they also honor them. And for as far back as the written word goes in Japan, they tell stories about them.

The Golden Age of yurei was the Edo period (1603-1868), an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. People swapped ghost stories in a story-telling game called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai that was the passion of the nation. Players sat in a circle and told stories in succession as one hundred candles were extinguished one by one. The light slowly dimmed to the rhythm of the game. In search of more stories, the Japanese people peered into every dark corner, dug up every suspicious stone half-buried in an abandoned temple, and pestered every grandparent for some snatch of an old tale half-remembered.

And the stories are good. Dead lovers returned from the grave. Parades of dead souls on the trail to hell. Ghostly hands with no purpose at all.  Below are ten of my favorite Japanese ghost stories.

Click the title of each to be taken to the full story.

10. The Ghost of Oyuki

Maruyama_Okyo_The_Ghost_of_Oyuki

In 1750, Edo-period Japan, Maruyama Ōkyo opened his eyes from a fitful sleep and beheld a dead woman.  She was young. Beautiful.  And pale. This is the true story of Japan’s most famous ghost painting, of the brilliant artist who painted it, and answers the question “Why do Japanese ghosts look the way they do?”

9. The Yurei of Aizuwakamatsu

Aizuwakamatsu_no_Yurei_Mizuki_Shigeru

A married couple is disturbed by a ghostly woman at night. Both the husband and wife claim they have no idea who the ghostly woman is, but is one of them lying? Is the woman the husband’s dead lover–or the wife’s?

8. The Black Hair

Yurei Picture

One of Japan’s most famous ghost stories, famed in the film Kwaidan and in the books of Lafcadio Hearn. But the story is older than each of these. Much older. Here is the original.

7. The Strong Japanese Ghost

Chikaramochi Yurei Mizuki Shigeru

One of the most offbeat stories in this list. A village woman is known for her unnatural strength, and … other attributes. After she dies, a yurei with the same unnatural strength appears to terrorize the village in which she lived.

6. The Speaking Skull

Kyokotsu

A story with Buddhist leanings, a man finds a skull on the side of the road. And the skull is feeling quite chatty, and not above asking a few favors.

5. The Rattling Bridge

Masasumi Tateyama Gatagata Bashi

It’s hard to sleep when your house is on the path of the road to hell. A man and his family see a nightly parade of ghosts making their final journey.

4. The Hunger Gods

Hidarugami Mizuki Shigeru

Hunger is a terrible way to die, and all these ghosts want to do is share their pain. Is that too much to ask?

3. The Inviting Ghost Hand

Mizuki_Shigeru_Manekute_no_Yurei

A mysterious hand beckons from a dark wall. This entry explores some of the differences between Western and Japanese ghosts.

2. The Yurei of the Blind Female Musician

Mizuki_Shigeru_Goze_no_Yurei

A ghostly tale of bloody revenge. One of the few true horror stories on the list.

1. The Vengeful Ghosts of the Heike Clan

Heikeichizoku_no_Onryou_Mizuki_Shigeru

Another of Japan’s most famous ghost stories, famed in Noh and Kabuki theater and performed over and over every year. At the end of Japan’s greatest civil war, the Heike clan lies scattered and defeated. But the ghosts of Japan never take defeat lying down.

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. fernando
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 09:42:24

    I like the name of your site.

    Reply

  2. Lady39jane
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 08:52:20

    So do I. Although you might put the English translation as a subtitle.

    Reply

  3. Anonymous
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 09:10:49

    where’s yotsuya kaidan?

    Reply

  4. Joseph Barrett
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 09:12:02

    Where’s Yotsuya Kaidan?

    Reply

  5. Lin
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 16:34:58

    Count me among those who like the name of your site. Mind, i also did know what I was searching for, when I found it. :D

    Reply

  6. cristyburne
    Oct 28, 2013 @ 01:45:09

    Reblogged this on Takeshita Demons and commented:
    Just in time for Halloween…

    If you want to know more about Japanese yokai and monsters, Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is the place to go. Zack Davisson is a real expert on Japanese ghosts, language and culture, so check out his blog.

    And be afraid! Be very afraid!

    Reply

  7. Photograph Afficionado
    Jan 22, 2014 @ 07:37:47

    Fascinating resource, Japan seems such a spiritual place, thank you so much!

    Reply

  8. Trackback: 10 Famous Japanese Ghost Stories | Sequentur Verbe
  9. theworldasisee
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 09:18:39

    thank you for sharing this, i love this kind of ghost stories. espsscially from asia

    Reply

  10. Ethan
    May 05, 2014 @ 03:08:19

    This was amazing I love ghost stories especially Japanese ones

    Reply

  11. Jackson
    May 28, 2014 @ 19:54:56

    I love the Japan ghost stories.

    Reply

  12. avvan23
    Jun 05, 2014 @ 06:38:00

    Reblogged this on avvan23 and commented:
    This is one of the most interesting and informative blogs that I have come across

    Reply

  13. Trackback: Spooky Japan: Ghosts | JETAABC Japanese Course

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All translations and other writing on this website were created by Zack Davisson and are copyright to him.

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