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Literature

8 Japanese Ghost Stories That Will Chill You To The Bone

Japan boasts some of the best — and least known — ghost stories, known as kaidan. Surprisingly, the majority of these stories revolve around women. Curl up in a warm blanket and listen to these ladies’ horrific experiences. Here are the 8 most popular Japanese ghost stories in Japan

1. The Legend of the Jorogumo

The Jorogumo is a half-woman, half-spider yokai that can morph into a beautiful woman in order to devour unsuspecting males!

An alluringly beautiful woman approached a young samurai in the street. Despite her beauty, the samurai saw through her disguise and realized she was a yokai rather than a human. He took his sword and thrust it at her, only wounding the strange woman before she hurriedly escaped. The samurai tracked the scarlet trail of speckled blood all the way to an ancient, deserted house. Inside, he discovered scores of bodies wrapped in spider silk, as well as a massive Joro spider that had died as a result of its injuries.

Jorōgumo (Source: Wikipedia)

2. The Woman of the Snow (Yuki-onna)

A young man on his journey to find his wealth was going through the snow-covered mountains when he became trapped in a violent snowstorm and lost his path. He was almost frozen to death when a mysterious figure, clad in frost and with a face as white as snow, stood before him — a Yuki-onna. Because he was still so little, the Yuki-onna felt sorry for him and led him to a warm lodge in the woods, sparing his life. She made him pledge not to tell anyone about their meeting in exchange for his rescue.

Years later, the young guy met and married a lovely girl named Yuki, with whom he lived happily for many years. But one day, the young guy broke his commitment by telling his wife about how he was once saved by the mysterious Yuki-onna. As he told his wife this story, her face turned pale and ice began to form on her body — his wife’s actual identity was the Yuki-onna. The promise broken, she vanished back into the winter’s night.

Yuki-onna (Sawaki Suushi — Source: Wikipedia)

3. The Secret of the Yamamba

The Yamamba appear to be nice elderly women, but they are actually fearsome mountain yokai who eat human flesh. The Konjaku Monogatari has one of their oldest legends:

Once upon a time, a Buddhist priest was caught in a storm but was fortunate to pass by a lonely hut. A sweet old lady beckoned him inside, greeting him with food and a warm fire. As friendly as she was, she issued a bizarre warning to the priest: “No matter what, do not look in the rear room.”

The priest ignored the old woman’s warning because he couldn’t put his curiosity aside. The priest peered through a crack in the door as soon as she stepped outside to fetch more firewood. He was horrified to find the chamber littered with half-eaten bodies. The priest discovered the old lady was a Yamamba, luring unsuspecting visitors into her home only to shred them to pieces for her next meal. He ran as fast as he could from the hut, without looking back.

Yamamba (Sawaki Suushi — Source: Wikipedia)

4. The Tale of Oiwa

Oiwa was a wonderfully attractive young woman who was married to the lowly samurai Iemon. Another lady, Oume, was madly in love with Iemon and, in an act of jealous wrath, she duped Oiwa into using a poisoned cream. It altered Oiwa’s appearance, causing one of her eyes to droop and her hair to fall out without her knowledge.

Iemon wanted to divorce Oiwa and marry Oume because she was disgusted with her new appearance. The evil samurai enlisted the help of his friend Takuetsu to rape Oiwa so that he could divorce her. Takuetsu was so taken aback by Oiwa’s looks that he couldn’t carry out the commands. Instead, he told Oiwa about Iemon’s intentions and showed her a mirror image of herself. Oiwa was so terrified when she first saw her malformed visage that she stole Takuetsu’s sword and killed herself. She cursed Iemon’s name with her last breath.

The spirit of the disfigured Oiwa appeared before Iemon on the night of his remarriage to Oume. Iemon escaped from Oiwa, afraid and remorseful, but no matter how far he traveled, he couldn’t escape her hauntings. Iemon would see Oiwa’s face looking back at him no matter where he looked after that night, even in the lanterns he used to light his way.

Oiwa (Utagawa Kuniyoshi — Source: Wikipedia)

5. The Ghost of Okiku

Okiku was a female who worked as a servant for the samurai Aoyama in Himeji Castle. One of Okiku’s responsibilities was to look after her master’s 10 expensive dishes. But one day, when washing the dishes, Okiku noticed one was gone. She was always one short, no matter how many times she counted. Her master was so furious that he tossed her down a well because she had misplaced his dish.

Okiku’s soul could not rest after being cruelly murdered. Her spirit emerged from the well every night to finish counting her master’s plates. She’d count to nine, then let out an ear-piercing cry when she realized the tenth dish was still missing. For weeks, Okiku’s screams kept everyone in the palace awake at night, until a Buddhist priest finally appeased her.

Okiku (Hokusai — Source: Wikipedia)

6. The Peony Lantern

On a dark night in Edo, the samurai Ogiwara noticed an exquisite woman walking through the streets with a peony lantern. It was love at first sight for Ogiwara. He invited Otsuyu, a lovely woman, to follow him home, where they conversed, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company. Hearing odd laughter emanating from Ogiwara’s garden that night, Ogiwara’s neighbor peered over the wall. He noticed Ogiwara clutching a laughing skeleton, not a woman! Ogiwara’s neighbor told him what he had observed the next morning. Ogiwara was terrified and sought guidance from a priest at a local temple.

Ogiwara was shocked to discover Otsuyu’s burial in the temple. He learned that the woman with whom he had just fallen in love the night before had died before they had even met. Otsuyu’s ghost no longer appeared in front of Ogiwara now that he understood the truth.

Peony lantern (Source: Wikipedia)

Even after learning the truth, Ogiwara yearned for Otsuyu. After a while, he couldn’t stand his melancholy any longer and returned to the shrine where Otsuyu was buried. Otsuyu reappeared in front of him at the temple gates. She extended her hand to Ogiwara and begged him to take her home. Ogiwara grasped her hand without hesitation and led her into the darkness.

Ogiwara departed after his final visit to the temple. Concerned, the priest opened Otsuyu’s grave. Inside the casket were two bodies: Ogiwara and Otsuyu, who would spend the rest of their lives together.

7. The Black Hair

One of the first horrifying stories in the kaidan is this thousand-year-old legend:

Once upon a time, a destitute samurai and his wife lived in Kyoto. The samurai was invited to be his vassal by a wealthy lord from a faraway kingdom. He had no choice but to accept because it was such an honorable chance, leaving his wife to wait in poverty at home until he returned.

Years later, the samurai returned to Kyoto after faithfully serving his lord. Despite the fact that his house was in disarray, his wife was there to warmly greet him home. When they were finally reunited, they spent the entire night talking and laughing before falling asleep. When the samurai awakened, the warmth he had felt the night before from wrapping his arms around his adoring wife was gone. Instead, when he opened his eyes, he found himself holding a frigid skeleton with long, black hair.

The samurai heard that his wife had died of grief the previous summer, but her skeleton had stayed in the house the entire time, waiting for his return.

Black Hair Ghost

8. Mokumokuren

The mokumokuren (or “many eyes”) is a traditional Japanese ghost story yokai whose origins can be traced back to scholar, poet, and artist Toriyama Sekien.

The shoji screens and tatami mats of Japanese households and temples are thought to be haunted by the mokumokuren yokai. The mokumokuren yokai is the subject of many Japanese ghost stories.

For as long as anybody could remember, the Mokurenji (Temple of Many Eyes) had been abandoned. The temple was not kept by a monk, but there were frequent reports of a fox, or possibly a tanuki, prowling the grounds.

More rumors concerning the temple and why it had been abandoned circulated.

It quickly became a source of local mythology and folklore, with children stating that any man brave enough to spend the night alone in Mokurenji would be rewarded with an evening of pleasure with the village’s most beautiful woman.

Yoshimaru, a traveling peddler, came through the town during one of the autumn festivals.

Following the festivities, a group of merry locals wagered the peddler that he wouldn’t be able to stay the night within the temple. Yoshimaru enters the temple with a full bottle of sake in his hand, settles himself, and begins to drink.

When night falls, the screams start. Outside, the local drunks may hear the peddler’s vivid crying as he howls: “The eyeballs!” “Look at the eyes!” Countless eyes peer out from the temple’s antique shoji screens all around him, twisting Yoshimaru’s thoughts.

The villagers look inside at daylight to discover nothing but a blood-soaked rag and a pair of eyes remaining of the peddler.

The Eyes – Source: Wikipedia

Which of these stories do you find the spookiest? Let me know in the comments!

Noah

You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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