Enter the world of Japanese folklore, where vengeful spirits and man-eating monsters roam freely. Among them, the ghosts and demons, known as yokai, are some of the most innovative, diversified, and unusual supernatural creatures in the world.
From haunted furniture to the ghosts of abandoned children, the best Japanese ghost stories are filled with spine-chilling horror. They are a vast pool of wondrous, scary wonders that have inspired original writers, animators, and filmmakers across Japan and beyond, from Junji Ito to Hayao Miyazaki.
But beware, for these stories can take you on a journey you will never forget. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous Japanese horror stories.
1. The Child-Rearing Ghost
A young woman visits a closed candy store every day, spending a penny to buy candy. The shop owner feels sorry for her and gives her candy in exchange for a traditional Japanese haori coat. But when a man passing by the street asks about the coat, the shop owner reveals the events of the past week.
Following the man to an old cemetery, they hear a baby crying from a grave. They dig it up and find the body of a woman holding a newborn baby and eating candy. The coins buried with the girl have disappeared.
The man reveals that this is his daughter’s grave, who died before she became a mother. He picks up the baby and says to his dead daughter, “I will definitely raise this child for you.” The child later becomes a high monk.
But what happened to the coins? And what other secrets does this haunted cemetery hold? The answer may lie in the yokai that haunt these lands.
2. Asaya Ga Yado: A Haunting Tale of Love and Loss
In Shimousa Prefecture, Katsushiro and his wife Miyagi lived a life of wealth, but Katsushiro’s lazy personality caused them to become poorer and poorer. In a desperate attempt to make money, he turned all his remaining assets into silk and left for Kyoto to do business, promising his wife that he would return in the fall.
As business went well in Kyoto, the Kyotoku War broke out in Shimousa Prefecture, and Katsushiro was unable to return home for seven long years. He thought his wife was dead, but upon returning home, he was surprised to find his emaciated wife still waiting for him.
They talked all night about their seven years apart and slept together. But when Katsushiro woke up the next morning, his wife had vanished, and their once beautiful home had become a ramshackle abandoned house.
A neighbor passing by revealed the devastating truth: Miyagi had been waiting for Katsushiro’s return since he left, but she had passed away during the war. Katsushiro was heartbroken, but the worst was yet to come.
As he looked around the abandoned house, strange things began to happen. Doors slammed shut, and the wind whistled eerily through the cracks in the walls. And then, in the darkness, he heard a voice – his wife’s voice. Was she reaching out to him from beyond the grave?
Asaya Ga Yado is a haunting tale of love and loss, of the lengths we will go to for those we love and the ghosts that haunt us when they are gone.
3. The Red Pencil: A Chilling Discovery in a New Home
When a couple found a used house that was like new, they couldn’t believe their luck. The price was cheap, and they were thrilled to move into their new home.
But one day, they found a red pencil lying in the hallway. They had no children and no evidence of a break-in, so they brushed it off as a strange coincidence.
However, things took a turn for the worse. Strange occurrences began happening in the house, and the couple started to feel uneasy. They searched the house, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary until they discovered a secret room hidden behind a door covered in dirt.
As they entered the room, a chill ran down their spines. The walls were covered in red letters that read, “I’m sorry, mom.” The couple couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Who had written these letters, and why were they apologizing to their mother?
The discovery of the red pencil and the secret room had opened up a terrifying mystery. As the days went by, the couple’s unease grew stronger, and they realized that they were not alone in their new home.
The Red Pencil is a chilling tale of a couple’s haunting discovery in their new home. It’s a story of the unknown, the unexplainable, and the terrifying secrets that can be hidden within the walls of a seemingly perfect house.
4. The Haunted Village of Inunaki
Deep in the heart of Japan lies a village shrouded in mystery and darkness. Inunaki village, located near an old tunnel, has been erased from all official records due to its history of severe discrimination and inbreeding. Legend has it that those who enter the village never return.
A warning sign at the entrance to the village reads, “From here on, the Constitution of Japan is not allowed to apply.” The tunnel leading to the village is marked with a sign that warns drivers of white sedans to take a detour. Those who ignore the warnings and enter the village will be met with a pile of corpses and a wire trap.
The villagers of Inunaki are hostile to outsiders and will stop at nothing to protect their way of life. There is no cell phone coverage in the village, and the police cannot use public phones at nearby convenience stores. If you are caught in the wire trap, a villager with an ax will rush in and attack with lightning-fast speed.
Rumors of a young couple who entered Inunaki village for fun and were brutally murdered have been circulating for years. But those who dare to investigate the village and its dark secrets may uncover more than they bargained for. Beware the haunted village of Inunaki, for once you enter, you may never leave.
5. The Haunted Half Cup
The old man’s nightly visits to the small liquor store were shrouded in mystery. He always ordered half a cup of sake and then, after five cups, requested five more. The owner and his wife had grown curious about the strange old man’s ways, and they wondered what secrets he might be hiding.
One day, the old man left his bag at the store. The owner and his wife opened it, hoping to find some clue about his mysterious behavior. What they found inside, however, was beyond their wildest dreams. It was a staggering amount of money, the likes of which they had never seen before.
With greed in their hearts, the couple decided to keep the money for themselves. But when the old man returned and saw his bag was open, he broke down in tears. “That money is my daughter’s precious earnings,” he cried. “She sold herself to Yoshiwara to make it. She’s dead now, and that’s all I have left of her.”
The old man’s anguish was so great that he threw himself into the river, leaving the couple to enjoy their newfound wealth. They opened a big store and had children, but there was a strange curse that followed them. Their child looked like an old man, and the wife became so disturbed that she fell ill and died.
Despite this, the owner continued to hire nannies to raise the strange child. But one by one, they all quit their jobs, and the owner couldn’t figure out why. So he decided to observe the baby himself, and what he saw was truly shocking.
In the middle of summer, the baby suddenly woke up and drained the oil from the pillow next to the teacup. Then, while glaring at the innkeeper, the baby held out the bowl and said, “Half more.” The owner realized with horror that the old man’s spirit had possessed the baby, and he was doomed to spend the rest of his days serving the ghost’s insatiable thirst for sake.
6. Peony Lantern
In ancient Japan, love between two people of different social standings was forbidden, and the tale of Lady Otsuyu and Shinzaburo Hagiwara was no exception. The daughter of a Samurai of the Hatamoto lineage and the young man fell deeply in love, but societal norms forbade them from marrying. The pain of their separation was so great that Otsuyu fell ill and died, along with her loyal maid.
However, their tragic love story didn’t end there. On the 13th night of the Obon festival, Shinzaburo was at home praying for Otsuyu when he heard the sound of Geta’s clogs in front of the alley. The sound stopped, and he felt a strange presence. When he stepped out, he met Otsuyu and her maid once again. The two lovers expressed their feelings for each other, spending the night together before disappearing before dawn. But every night since then, Otsuyu carried a peony lantern in her hand, along with her maid, to find Shinzaburo.
As the nights went by, tragedy struck. One night, Shinzaburo’s servant Tomozo accidentally saw his master embracing a skeleton through a hole in the wall. He reported it to a nearby monk, who promised to help prevent Otsuyu’s ghost from entering the house. The monk used his magic to block the entrance, but the separation took a toll on both Shinzaburo and Otsuyu.
Desperate to reunite with her lover, Otsuyu’s maid sought out Tomozo and his wife, offering them a hundred taels of gold to remove all the charms. Greedily accepting the offer, Tomozo and his wife removed the charms from Shinzaburo’s house, and that night, Otsuyu and Shinzaburo were reunited. However, the next morning, Tomozo discovered Shinzaburo dead, with two women’s skeletons lying near him and a peony lamp turned off. Shinzaburo’s face was frozen in a smile, a ghastly reminder of the horrors that had transpired in the darkness of the night.
7. The Mansion of the Plates of Bancho
The Mansion of the Plates of Bancho stood ominously in the dead of night. Inside, a maid named Okiku toiled away, serving her Samurai master Tessan Aoyama. But her life took a dark turn when, on the first day of 1653, she accidentally shattered one of the ten plates that Tessan Aoyama treasured. In a fit of rage, he cut off her finger to make up for the loss and locked her in a room.
Desperate and alone, Okiku eventually escaped and threw herself into an old well on the mansion grounds. But her spirit did not leave. Every night, a haunting voice emerged from the well, counting the remaining plates: “1 piece, 2 pieces…” The mansion’s inhabitants were tormented by the eerie voice, and even the birth of Tessan Aoyama’s child brought no respite as the baby was born without fingers.
As rumors of the mansion’s haunting spread, the shogunate government took notice and confiscated all of Tessan Aoyama’s land and property. But the voice from the well continued to count, driving the government to call upon a powerful monk to exorcise the spirit. One night, as the monk recited sutras, the voice from the well began to count again: “8 pieces, 9 pieces.” The monk continued, “10 pieces,” and suddenly the voice stopped. Okiku’s spirit had escaped, and the mansion was finally free from her curse.
8. Horror stories at Yotsuya’s house in Tokaido
The story begins with Samon Yotsuya, seething with anger at the corruption and debauchery of his son-in-law, Iemon Tamiya. Furious at Iemon’s behavior, Samon decides to take his daughter, Oiwa, away from him. But Iemon pleads with Samon to reunite him with his beloved wife. Samon refuses, and in his rage, Iemon plots to murder his father-in-law.
Colluding with a street drug dealer named Naosuke, who harbors a dangerous crush on Oiwa’s sister, Sode, Iemon plans a heinous crime. When Oiwa and Sode arrive at the scene, they find the lifeless bodies of Sode’s father and husband. Iemon and Naosuke pretend to have discovered the scene and vow to avenge the murders.
In this way, Iemon is able to reunite with Oiwa, and Sode agrees to marry Naosuke. But their happiness is short-lived. After giving birth to Iemon’s child, Oiwa falls ill, and Iemon grows increasingly repulsed by her. Meanwhile, Ume, the lady of the Ito clan, becomes infatuated with Iemon, and her grandfather wants him to be his grandson.
Iemon concocts a plan to divorce Oiwa, using a medicine he believes will cure her illness, but instead disfigures her face. Seeking the title promised by the Ito clan, he blackmails a masseur into sleeping with Oiwa. But when Oiwa sees the terror in Takuetsu’s eyes, she becomes enraged.
Betrayed by her own husband, Oiwa goes mad and takes her own life. Iemon then falsely accuses Takuetsu of stealing his family’s medicine and murders him. He accuses Oiwa and Takuetsu of having an affair and tosses their bodies into the river. But Oiwa’s ghost returns on the night of Iemon’s wedding to Ume, seeking revenge. Fearing for his life, Iemon kills Ume and her grandfather before fleeing.
As the story draws to a close, Naosuke is desperate to marry Sode, but she seems reluctant. Then, Sode’s dead husband, Yomoshichi, suddenly appears. Naosuke had murdered someone else to make Sode believe her husband was dead. Accused of infidelity, Sode takes her own life, leaving Naosuke to discover in her final letter that she was his true sister. Filled with grief and remorse, Naosuke ends his life alongside Sode.
9. Black-haired ghost
The poor samurai had been away from his wife for many long years, serving a lord in a faraway land. When his duty was done, he returned to the old house where they had lived together. It was a cold autumn night, and the moon was full and bright, casting eerie shadows across the abandoned house.
The samurai pushed open the creaky gate and stepped inside. The musty air was thick with the scent of death, and the silence was oppressive. But there, sitting quietly alone, was his ex-wife.
She didn’t greet him with anger or bitterness. Instead, she congratulated him on his return and welcomed him back after all this time.
Overwhelmed with emotion, the samurai vowed to never leave her side again. He hugged her tightly until he fell asleep, comforted by her presence.
But when he woke up to the bright morning sun, he realized he had been holding a dried corpse. A few bits of flesh clung to the bones, which were wrapped in long, black hair. Terror gripped him as he realized that he had spent the night embracing a ghost.
He raced to the neighbor’s house, desperate for answers. “What happened to the woman who lived next door?” he asked urgently.
“She was abandoned by her unfaithful husband,” the neighbor replied, “and she fell ill and died from depression. Because there was no one to care for her or give her a proper funeral, her body still lies there.”
The samurai’s heart pounded as he realized that he had been holding the ghost of his long-dead ex-wife. He wondered how he could have been so blind to the truth and how he would ever be able to escape the haunting memory of that night.
10. Ghost of a blind female artist
Hotsumi Kanji, a samurai from Kitakuni Prefecture, was on his way to Edo for his annual trip when he stopped at a roadside inn to rest. As he was settling into his room, he heard a hauntingly beautiful voice coming from another room. It was the voice of a goze, a blind female artist who traveled the country performing with a shamisen.
Hotsumi couldn’t resist the temptation of such a lovely voice and decided to make his move. He waited in the dark for the goze to return to her room and then emerged from his hiding place to rape her. Strangely, the woman didn’t resist, and Hotsumi thought his plan had succeeded.
The next morning, Hotsumi was shocked to discover that the goze had an ugly face. But it was too late to turn back now, and Hotsumi took her with him to Edo. On a deserted mountain road, he pushed the blind woman down a ravine to her death.
But Hotsumi’s actions had consequences that he could never have imagined. The next year, when he stopped at a small mountain temple to spend the night, the ghost of the goze appeared before him. She was angry and vengeful, reminding Hotsumi of his terrible deeds. She said: “Have you forgotten that autumn has passed?” You violated me and then discarded me like a surplus. “I don’t have eyes, but I can see your heart very well now.”
The ghost dragged Hotsumi out of bed and into the cemetery outside the temple. There, she showed him the grave where she had been buried after Hotsumi had thrown her body down the ravine. With a smirk on her face, the goze hugged Hotsumi tightly before pushing him deep into the ground.
The monks at the temple heard the commotion and rushed to investigate. They followed the trail to the cemetery and found Hotsumi’s body buried under the ground. Next to him lay the skeleton of the goze he had betrayed and murdered.
Hotsumi’s soul was forever trapped in that cemetery, paying for the sins he had committed. And the ghost of the goze continued to haunt the temple, waiting to avenge herself on anyone who crossed her path.
11. The obsession with the ghost cat of the Nabeshima clan
In the Hizen Saga region, the obsession with the ghost cat of the Nabeshima clan ran deep. It all started when the second lord of the Nabeshima clan, Mitsushige Nabeshima, invited the master Go player Matashichiro Ryuzoji to his castle for a game of Go. But little did he know that this game would end in a brutal murder.
Mitsushige Nabeshima, in a fit of rage after losing to Matashichiro, killed him mercilessly. But the horrors didn’t end there. When Matashichiro’s mother learned of her son’s death, she was consumed by grief and resentment. In a final act of despair, she told her cat all her troubles and committed suicide.
But that was not the end of it. The ghost cat, who had licked and drank all of the old woman’s blood, had disappeared and reappeared in the castle. And it was hungry for revenge. First, it killed Nabeshima Mitsushige’s concubine, devouring her flesh and leaving nothing behind. But that was not enough. The ghost cat disguised herself as the concubine and tormented Mitsushige every night, playing with his mind and driving him to the brink of madness.
Mitsushige’s loyal subordinates saw through the cat’s disguise, and they knew that it was the ghost of the vengeful cat that was haunting their lord. They knew that they had to act fast, or their lord would be doomed. And so, they launched an all-out attack on the ghost cat. It was a fierce battle, with the cat clawing and biting at them, but they were determined to put an end to this madness. And in the end, they succeeded. They destroyed the ghost cat, but the memory of its vengeful spirit lingered on, haunting the castle and the Nabeshima clan for generations to come.