Japanese ghost tales that will keep you up at night

By Madina Baygelova

If you like it when chills run down your spine, let us introduce to you to yurei — the vast category of Japanese folklore which includes internationally famous legends about revengeful and spiteful ghosts. Unlike some stories about yokai, which mostly tend to be playful and hilarious, these Japanese ghost stories are more sorrowful and uncanny, and probably will make you feel uneasy.

1. Goryo, the noble dead

Literally translated as “honorable spirit,” Goryo is a ghost from aristocratic classes who died tormented and agonizing. First mentions of them go back to the Heian period, they are believed to be “the spirits of powerful lords, who have been wronged, that were capable of catastrophic vengeance.” Existing solely for vengeance, Goryo are a type of ghosts that chase after those who wronged them during their life and wreak havoc on them, causing calamities and disasters.

One quite popular legend is the one of a Goryo called Shinto Kami, also known as Tenjin. It is said that the years following the unfair murder of government official Michizane by one of the members of the Fujiwara clan, thunders and heavy rains pummeled the capital city causing fires and floods. Moreover, the Fujiwara chief and Emperor Daigo’s crown prince soon died, which completely convinced the court that all calamities and casualties were caused by the restless spirit of Michizane. In order to quell him, the Emperor himself burned the order of exile and promoted Michizane postmortem. On top of that, Michizane was idolized as Tenjin sama, which means “sky deity” and literally made him a patron god of poetry, calligraphy, and justice.

2. The rage of the Onryo

The antagonist from the film and book series "The Grudge" if one of the most emblematic depictions of Onryo.

This kind of Japanese ghost story also relates to vengeful spirits but unlike the Goryo, which is not necessarily a wrathful spirit, the Onryo is almost always a malicious ghost as they died full of anger, and only return to scare the living to death and take their souls. Victims of domestic abuse or women martyred by wicked stalkers or maniacs will most likely turn into Onryo in the afterlife. This category also serves as a staple for J-horror movies and has appeared as the renowned Kayako from "The Grudge" or "Sadako from “The Ring.”

It is believed that once an Onryo decided to manifest itself, the victim starts to experience nausea, heavy headache, and pain in the chest. When just passing by, this ghost could look like a collapsed woman, probably unconscious but as you approach, she starts to make weeping, groaning sounds and whispers incomprehensible words. Eventually, she levitates towards the victim reaching one head in a bid to catch her or him, and finally covers the victim with its unkempt thick hair. Due to the dark and heavy aura around the Onryo, the victim experiences an unbearable headache, which eventually leads to death.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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Lafcadio Hearn collected and was inspired by, the classic Japanese ghost stories. Check him out, highly recommend.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If you believe in ghosts, you're not alone because many cultures around the world believe in spirits that survive to live another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomenon and millions of people are interested in it. I'm not sure if there are any scientific studies proving that ghost are real even though there are many ghost stories. I remember the first ghost story as a child growing up in Japan was the ghost play Yotsuya Kaidan that I saw on tv.. That sure was scary. So have any of you encountered any Ghosts? I read that in Taiwan 90% of the people have encountered Ghosts. That sounds spooky.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have however been to Lafcadio Hearn's house in Matsue - well worth a visit, and no unpleasant apparitions.

I shall add that to my "must visit when all this is over" list.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have encountered many of them as a teenager my buddies and I would go hang out in the Japanese Grave yard at night for fun and ever since then I had many occurences of "Kanashibari". Is when a ghost disturbs you when your sleeping and wakes you up in a state or pralysis speaking to you. If you ever had exepreinced of these this will scare the living life and will cause major insomnia. I no longer have them anymore which im glad.

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If you like ghost stories or even to SEE one, go to Okinawa. My ex wife was driving with two friends down in Itoman and ALL THREE swear to have seen the ghost.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The images and tales mentioned do not place Japanese in a positive light.

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