Learning Japanese can be fun, especially if you take a look at the scariest Japanese ghost stories of all time! These legends and other stories from Japan are some of the best ways to immerse yourself in the culture. You see, learning about these stories will not only help you expand your Japanese vocabulary but also give you insight into how the Japanese culture details its fears and anxieties through the telling of stories.
From the tragic story of the yuki onna, who needed a young man to take revenge for her, to the accursed tale of the Gashadokuro, we’re about to regale you with tales that don’t end with, “and they lived happily ever after.” Before we take a look at some of the coolest and scariest ghost stories in Japan in this post, let’s first go over a few keywords every beginner needs to know.
|Haunt||出没する (Shutsubotsu suru)|
|Wraith||死者の霊 (Shisha no Rei)|
The Scariest Japanese Ghost Stories That Will Keep You Up At Night
Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談【よつやかいたん】)
One of the most popular Japanese ghosts in Japanese folklore is Oiwa (お岩), the star of this chilling ghost story – the Japanese version of Bloody Mary if you will. Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談, よつやかいたん) is a bloody story filled with infidelity, murder, and revenge – which makes this, and other versions of it, perfect to be told around a dark night, with the lights down low.
Here’s how the story goes…
In ancient Japan, a woman named Oiwa, the town’s most beautiful woman, married Lemon, a wealthy and influential ronin (浪人, ろんいん). Things should be perfect, however, it soon turns out that Lemon is a cruel and ambitious man. Her only married Oiwa for her status and good fortune so it wasn’t long until his eyes wandered over to another woman, Oume. Together, Lemon and Oume hatched a plot to get rid of Oiwa.
Lemon hired a doctor to give Oiwa a poisoned facial cream, which the latter, unfortunately, used that very same night, excited to receive a gift from her husband. The cream ended up disfiguring Oiwa’s beautiful face, driving her to insanity. But as the cream did not have the intended effect of getting rid of his wife, Lemon then arranged for someone to kill Oiwa outright – and they succeeded.
However, Oiwa’s ghost could not rest. Her vengeful spirit returned to haunt her killer, Lemon, and his new wife. Little by little, Oiwa made her presence felt. She started appearing to Lemon and Oume in their dreams, startling them awake with nightmares. And then, she moved to appear whenever they would look in the mirror, her bloody, disfigured face appearing to shock them to the core.
Over time, Lemon and Oume both die as a result of the hauntings. Oume was driven to suicide, while Lemon was eventually done in by a group of thugs. Oiwa’s ghost, at long last, was finally at peace. Her life story is a reminder to young women that while the mind may forgive, the spirit sure doesn’t.
The Snow Woman (雪女, ゆきおんな)
This story is one of the scariest ghost stories in Japanese mythology. The story of Yuki onna (雪女, ゆきおんな), or The Snow Woman, is one that has been told for generations, with vengeful spirits that want to exact revenge and a reminder that we should be careful walking during the snowy months.
According to legends…
In the heart of the snow-covered mountains of Japan, a young man named Minokichi finds himself lost in the middle of a relentless blizzard. As he wanders, he comes across the most beautiful woman he’s ever met. She offers to help Minokichi find his way, but as they walk, he realizes that something is amiss.
Minokichi notices that the woman was absolutely cold to the touch. Her breath, unlike his, did not fog up in the air as she exhaled. He decides to confront her about this, but as soon as he grasps her hand, she disappears into a cloud of snow.
The hauntings continued as Minokichi struggles to find his way across the mountain. Eventually, he learns that the strange woman is actually the vengeful spirit of a person who was murdered in a fit of rage by her husband and has since been leading travelers astray in a misguided attempt at revenge.
Minokichi swears to put her spirit to rest and heads off to bring justice to her. As Minokichi lops off her murderer’s head, he notices a faint shape in the snow, appearing as if it was waving at him. Finally, the Yuki onna he followed found herself able to rest.
Kuchisake Onna (口裂け女, くちぎれおんな)
Kuchisake onna (口裂け女, くちぎれおんな, slit-mouthed woman) is a Japanese urban legend that’s a chilling tale with one lesson: sometimes, you just can’t win. While it’s considered a more recent urban legend, there are traces of the kuchisake onna from as far back as the 17th century. The premise then, as it is in the modern world, remains the same.
The kuchisake onna is a sinister figure in Japanese folklore. It is said to be the vengeful spirit of a disfigured woman. Concealing her mutilated face behind a surgical mask and armed with sharp objects, her ghostly presence has haunted the streets for centuries, seeking retribution. Her chilling tale gained notoriety in the 1970s, and she has since become a popular subject in Japanese horror films, TV shows, video games, and anime stories.
When kuchisake onna confronts her victims, she inquires if they find her beautiful. A deceitful test, answering “yes,” reveals her mangled visage and a deadly follow-up question. To escape her wrath, one must provide a non-committal response, distract her with a question, or attempt to flee, despite her supernatural speed. The mystery surrounding this ghost with long black hair and a twisted smile makes her a great Halloween costume choice for Japanese women!
As far as Japanese ghost stories go, the Gashadokuro (ガシャドクロ) is one of the most heartbreaking urban legends we’ve found. It is a lesson about how sometimes, no matter the effort, we end up just delaying the inevitable.
According to the locals…
It is described as a fearsome giant skeleton yokai (妖怪, ようかい) or demon in Japanese folklore, whose body is believed to be the reanimated remains of those who perished from starvation or thirst. Tales of people being taken in the night, children getting eaten while the family can do nothing other than watch – it is one scary dude.
This formidable creature, known for its immense strength and speed, appears at night in areas frequented by the famished and parched. It will demand food or water from its victims; refusal results in death, while compliance merely delays the inevitable, as it returns each night for more sustenance.
To protect oneself from the Gashadokuro, legend states that one can carry a bag of rice, which the creature is said to enjoy or wear red garments, a color it fears. Encounters with this perilous yokai are best avoided, as it is a powerful and dangerous adversary.
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