Shudan Borei – A Group of Ghosts


shudan borei

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

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

On July 28th, Showa 30th (1955), in a heartbreaking incident 36 junior high school girls drowned on a beach in Mie prefecture. Of the nine girls who survived the incident, five had the same story to tell.

The girls were all playing and swimming in the calm waters, enjoying the gentle lapping of the waves. Without warning, the water seemed to gather together, and a dark mass rose from the surface of the ocean. The mass took the shape of people in WWII air-raid hoods, dark in color, soaking wet and pouring water from every surface. As the mass rose, the figures become more defined, dressed in old-fashioned women’s work pants. There were hundreds of them.

The girls tried to get away, but the water seemed to be sucked up towards the dark figures, dragging the girls towards them. One of the girls who survived said she felt a hand grab her leg and try and pull her under the water. She was able to break the hands grasp and make her way to the shore, but her friends were not so lucky.

Afterwards, students who were on the beach and not in the water confirmed the story and all of its details. They saw the ghosts rising and dragging the girls under the water.

After investigating the incident, it was discovered that exactly ten years before the incident, U.S. aircraft had firebombed that area, killing around 250 people. The bodies were not cremated, but were piled without ceremony into a mass grave on that beach. In this way one tragedy became two tragedies, as the ghosts of the war dead rose up again.

Translator Note:

The kanji for this is集団 (shudan, meaning “group” or “gathering”) and亡霊 (borei, which is a somewhat Gothic term for “ghost”).

This story is based on a actual event, called the Kyohaku Junior High School Drowning Incident (橋北中学校水難事件) in Japanese. The school had gone to the beach as their annual excursion, and as swimming practice for the girls. At the time, swimming had been added to the official school curriculum, but as the school had no pool swimming practice was held in the nearby, usually calm ocean.

The school principle and teachers were arrested and charged with negligence—the school was short-handed and had not brought along the required number of adult observers, and parents claimed their children were not yet strong enough swimmers to be unsupervised in the ocean. Ultimately, they were found not-guilty and cleared of charges. The girls’ deaths were ruled a mysterious, unfortunate accident. A pool was quickly built for the school, and the students no longer practice swimming in the ocean.

Observers reported a sudden swelling of the waves and a rise in the water level that drowned the girls. Of the nine surviving girls, five reported a sensation of pulling on their legs, as if the sand was sucking down on their feet, holding them down while the water rose. Several also reported seeing the dark shape of women in air-raid hoods rising from the water.

In 1956, the Ise Newspaper reported on the story of the war dead buried on the beach, noting that most of the dead had been refugees and were thus buried without name or ceremony. In 1963, one of the girls published an article in a Joshi Jishin magazine (Women’s Own Stories) called “How I survived an Encounter with a Ghost” that further spread the supernatural origin of the drowning.

Several scientific explanations have been offered for the sudden swelling of the water based on the geographical features of the beach, along the supernatural one. It is clear Mizuki Shigeru prefers the supernatural explanation.

The beach remains off-limits for swimmers. A year after the incident, a shrine was raised on the location, and a statue called the Goddess of Protecting Swimmers in the Ocean was placed on the beach as a memorial.

Further Reading:

For more tales of haunted oceans, read:

Umi Bozu – The Sea Monk

Funa Yurei – The Boat Ghosts

Nure Onnago – The Soaked Woman


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. carlotspeak
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 21:30:54

    Thank you very much for sharing this tragic but also very fascinating ghost story. This is not only a ghost story but also tap into history of World War II which is very interesting to me. I am very glad.


  2. angrygaijin
    Sep 23, 2012 @ 03:21:54

    Phew! Creeee-pay!

    It’s good that the erected a statue for the safty of swimmers there, but what about one to mourn the deceased at the sight (both of the first tragedy and the second)?

    Well, perhaps they had a ceremony or something. ^^

    Very scary ghost story!


  3. Richard Freeman
    Sep 23, 2012 @ 05:14:47

    Never heard pf this one before, thanks. This is a truly facinating blog. Sounds like it may have been a dangerous undercurrent.


  4. Bill Ellis
    Sep 23, 2012 @ 14:20:25

    Interesting that this legend is pretty clearly referenced in CLAMP’s manga “Cardcaptor Sakura,” v. 1, pp. 92-93. A running comment is that the protagonist, magical girl Kinomoto Sakura, has an intense phobia of yurei. That’s unfortunate, as her job of locating and recapturing the feral Clow Cards leads her repeatedly into situations drawn out of legends like the Shudan Borie.

    In the manga’s third installment, she is preparing to do swim exercises in the school pool, when one of her friends comments, “I heard a scary story … My sister’s in the 6th grade, and they had pool the day before yesterday. Something pulled her foot! [Insert graphic of creepy clawed hand closing around a child’s ankle] … And yesterday when the 3rd graders had pool, something was pulling their hands and feet.” [Insert two graphics of blobby ghosts accompanied by fox-fires grabbing a hand and a foot]

    Sure enough, in the next scene, some supernatural force pulls Sakura and one of her friends down into the water, but they are saved before they drown. Later she comments, “It wasn’t a yurei, I don’t think.” Why? “Because yurei really really scare me!” (and this entity, which is a Clow Card called The Watery, didn’t).

    The rest of the adventure has nothing to do with the legend, but it is intriguing that the introduction picks up what must be pretty common knowledge of the Kyohaku incident and its supernatural explanation.


  5. Genex
    Sep 28, 2012 @ 12:03:53

    I was a bit curious and found out the Japanese city that was firebombed on July 28, 1945 was Tsu, the capital of Mie Prefecture.

    Odd. Never thought of ghosts as homicidal or wanting to exact revenge on school children even if it was a burial ground.


  6. Zack Davisson
    Sep 28, 2012 @ 15:42:46

    There are different types of Japanese ghosts, including those who are angry at someone in particular, and those who are just angry in general. The first kind are like guided missiles, they target someone for revenge. The second kind–and the most dangerous–just flail out at anyone who happens to be in the vicinity of their bodies.

    Most of the second type just want a proper burial with full death-rituals. Killing a whole bunch of people is just their way of saying “Hey! I’m here!!!”


  7. Genex
    Sep 29, 2012 @ 17:56:14

    Perhaps the victims got the ceremony they wanted. I have not heard of any further “anniversary attacks”,at least nothing on record. I also have not heard of similar attacks by other air raid victims around Japan that may have also been hastily buried.

    Fascinating how different Japanese spirits are from most of what I understand. I’m glad you have decided to blog on it. 🙂 The Fortean Times UK website linked your entry from their ghosts forums.



  8. Akazuki Shop
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 23:29:24

    Interesting how Japan has countless “stories” like that. Every neighborhood has a local “legend”. Great blog!


  9. Blue Satan
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 09:06:01

    You have a quite good blog! In mine i treat too the topic of the yokai.
    Can I use some information for my blog?


  10. Zack Davisson
    Oct 16, 2012 @ 16:31:04

    Sure! All I ask is that you pop a link back to my site as your reference.


  11. Trackback: Group 6: Shudan Borei – Spirits, Gods and Ghosts of East Asia

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