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Ghosts in Japan


15 Mar 2002
FAQ or SAQ, here's my question: :D

I want to know more about Japanese people's attitudes towards ghosts and spirits. I am communicating with a few Japanese pals online, one of them told me she had actually seen a ghost. Seems to be something common, as other family members have made the same experience.

Is Japan more perceptible to the supernatural?? Or are spooks just "cultivated" as in Good Old England?

I don't know if ghosts are common in Japan, but there is certainly a lot of such tradition and mythology. Traditionally, there are different kinds of ghosts, good ones, evil ones (literally those seeking revenge, onryo) etc. Also, there are lots of different local beliefs and stories. But I don't have enough knowledge about such things.

Hm, the experiences made by your pal's family are common. probably each family has a few of these stories. Frightening, isn't it? :)
Hehe, some of these stories sent me (the naive gaijin that I am) shivers down my spine. ;)

Anyhow, if you are interested in Japanese ghosts you should really start by reading Lafcadio Hearn:

"In Ghostly Japan"

Originally posted by Nahoko
Hm, the experiences made by your pal's family are common. probably each family has a few of these stories. Frightening, isnツ》 it? :)
Sounds intriguing. So does this also include you and your family? ;)
Hi Dave and welcome!

Just found these pages on Google:

Ghosts, Demons and Spirits in Japanese Lore =>

Then, there's About.com (Japanese Language maintained by Namiko Abe) =>

Japanese Ghosts 1 =>

Japanese Ghosts 2 =>

JinJapan features this article in its "Trends in Japan" series:

In Japan, Summer Is the Time for Ghosts =>

Tengu: The Legendary Mountain Goblins of Japan =>

Google's cache is a wonderful thing! Itchybear.com listed "types of ghosts", here's their Japan entry:

Japanese ghosts are perhaps the most hideous to be found anywhere in the world, most of them being deformed and often without all or some of their limbs. The most frightening of all is said to possess either one or three eyes, have long, snake-like necks, and elongated tongues.

They make a habit of haunting old houses and cemeteries. Japanese tradition says that some ghosts appear in the form of samurai warriors, complete with their battle wounds. Among all this horror, there are still the koki-teno, or fox spirits.

These are the ghosts that appear in the form of foxes but have the power to change themselves into beautiful female apparitions in white, flowing robes. Not surprisingly, it is said the koki-teno can bewitch any living man who takes their fancy.

Sound & Spirit: Ghosts (scroll down for their o-bon feature) =>

These are just the resins I picked, should be enough for an overview (have to do some reading myself). ;)

On a side-note: Google's really fast. A search for ghosts in Japan lists Japanreference.com as first page!
Thanks Thomas,

It seems to me that the level of superstition varies from pref. to pref. A friend of mine in shimane pref. thinks that ghosts can be found everywhere where as my gf from Osaka thinks those people are strange anyways, so it doesn't surprise her that they people in Shimane pref. believe in them.
@ Thomas: thanks for the links, very interesting stuff!

@ Dave: no matter where you go, country folks believe in lotsa weird things. It's a mix of tradition, superstition and religion.
Japan does definitely have ghost fetish.

Just watch TV around OBON season. Enough scary things to make you want to re-think about eating dinner.

Also, currently Beat Takeshi is doing his "unbelievable" show which deals at times with scary ghosts.

There is also a show that is focusing on "exorcising devils" from people.

Haunted house (errr ghost house) are always the thing for young people who are new drivers. hehe I've done my share.

I've never figured it out but more than the hobgoblin type of thing, ghost have a much bigger count up where I live.

Believe it or not I've had my coincedenses. NO -- I haven't seen a ghost - ghost, but more of something along the lines of dark shapes (kage - shadows) .... and where I live in town has the largest number of car accidents ... lol ... 1 a month. 2-3 in winter. I'm included for having 3 in 4 years. Coincedentatly, the major intersection down the street is a calling zone ( ... hmmm hard to describe for me in English but ... it's where a spirit pulls folks / causes an accident so that they won't be the only one dead ...errr in the lingo stage so to say.)

If you ever go ghost hunting Japan don't forget to bring your salt. One time I was so hard up that I bought AJI-no-Moto .... hahahaha artifical salt. I wasn't about to temp "ghost" fate.
Hi larry_s!

Good question. May I ask, why you are so interested in this specific topic? A few month ago a new movie about this issue came out, namely:

Kakashi (2001. Japan. Directed by Norio Tsuruta. Cast: Maho Nonami, Kou Shibasaki, Grace Ip, and Shunsuke Matsuoka). Kaoru is distraught over her missing brother. but now she窶冱 got a clue to his whereabouts. A letter was sent to her from an old schoolmate Izumi leading Kaoru to believe her brother is in a tiny village called Kozukata. From the moment Kaoru arrived in Kozukata, she could tell things weren窶冲 going to be normal. Her car mysteriously died in a tunnel, all the townspeople were infatuated with making scarecrows (they were planning a big scarecrow festival, too), and neither her brother or Izumi were to be found. Things got stranger when Kaoru began having terrible nightmares and bizarre visions. This is a town with a nasty little secret and visitors should not be staying long. Kakashi is an eerie Japanese horror film in the tradition of the Ring series and Uzumaki. Its deliberately slow pace is quite effective in making the viewer squirm. Personally, I can窶冲 get enough of this style of Japanese film and Kakashi holds its own with any of its competition. If one is looking for a creepy horror film, you are certainly advised to check out Kakashi. After viewing this, it窶冱 doubtful anyone will look at scarecrows the same way again.

It's really scary - although I should'nt withhold that my nerves are definitely not of steel. But since I watched this movie, I find the topic "ghosts in Japan" quite interesting too. Could it be, that you had a similiar "experience"?

@ alex

thanks for the hint, in case I need to spend another sleepless night, I'll go for it, hehe.
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I was brought up with Japanese ghost stories, but it was not until I moved to the UK that I was ever frightened by such things.

Somehow, the anecdote style, that British people favour, and the fact that they don't let you know if it is a *true* experience or something they have just made up, makes it quite unsettling. Once or twice I have laughed at what I assumed to be a joke, only to realise that the person in question really did think he/she had seen a Roman soldier in their kitchen or been chased by a supernatural big cat.
@ thomas

hehe ... ask your wife if she's been to "Jesus's" grave. There's a story that it's really located in Aomori area.

:japanese: monsters ... also known as "yokai" ... those creatures that look like ?!?! 3 eyed thingys .. umbrella thingys ... kappa ... long necked women (hehe ... most of the scarest things in the Japanese mythology is women ... hehe I wonder why 😄 )

😇 ghost aren't something to play with in Japan. There's lot's on TV about ghost pictures, regular pictures that get blurred ... normally the person in the picture meets something nasty. (bad accident ... loses their sanity and what not)

:chinese: obon is a great time, since lot's of the local neighborhoods have obon dances ... and festivals. This is really a great time to go Japan.
Hehe, if you refer to Herai Village, yes, we went there together. I still don't know what to make of that. Jesus' grave, along with his brother's... :D

I have some pics somewhere, will scan and post them.
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Nahoko said I shouldn't make fun of it. [...] :)

I will post some scans later tonight.
well, it was a half heart jest at best.

I grew up in western N.Y. with lot's of Mormon friends ... hmmm I wonder how the timing works out.

errr ... don't wanna turn this thread into a religious rant though.
It's a known fact that in the 17th century a lot of Japanese Christians fled to these remote areas (I think the Tohoku area was quite independent at that time, wasn't it?). I was told that many people around Herai claim to be of Jewish origin, or so the saying goes. I really don't know what to make of all this...

Anyhow, it seems to be a mystical/mythical spot! :)


Posted some pics here.
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Originally posted by akemi
I was brought up with Japanese ghost stories, but it was not until I moved to the UK that I was ever frightened by such things.

Somehow, the anecdote style, that British people favour, and the fact that they don't let you know if it is a *true* experience or something they have just made up, makes it quite unsettling. Once or twice I have laughed at what I assumed to be a joke, only to realise that the person in question really did think he/she had seen a Roman soldier in their kitchen or been chased by a supernatural big cat.
Then what's the difference between Japanese ghosts and their British counterparts? Obviously, such beliefs are also rooted in Japanese society. Is it a matter of your own cultural background vs. a different, namely British culture? I would still like to learn more about supernatural beliefs in Japan.
hehe ... American ghosts carry chains and make clanky noises. Of course, there was the movie Poltergiest. :dunce:

I'm gonna stick with the Ghost group. The Yokai Group belonging more with ???? errr ... hmmmm ... gremlins/imps/fairies/werewolves are much more legendary and probably go back further in time much like Dragons do in Europe with the ??? (baby snatchers) and change-lings.

The Japanese also have what they call "living-spirit" ghosts. These are extremely dangerous and will cause serious trouble for people and/or can bring on death. Read the Sidenstickler version of "Genji - monogatari" Tale of Genji for many references and examples. Basically this type is a Jealous woman picking on her boyfriend's/husband's girlfriend/mistress.

2 extremely magical animals are the fox and tanuki. (😄 watch the cartoon "heisei tanuki ponpokokopo ???? lol I never can remember this anime's name since it's sooo long" 😄 ) for what they can do. The female white fox with 7 tales is a jealous creature and likes to pick on both men and women. Men if they are fooling around and women if they happen to be mistresses. The tanuki is normally male in gender since you can't miss his baggage (though female version do exists) and can be found "protecting"? watering fountains and drinking establishments ... hmmm I still not sure what the tanuki is all about.

Ghosts characteristically have no feet and normally bring harm and bad luck to those who happen to see them.

Interesting point is that there isn't a witching hour so - to - say ... 0:00am but more of a withching period being from 2am (the strongest) - 5am (or very very early day break ... when the sun can't be seen and it's foggy with a tad bit of light).

Ghost seem to become about due to .... a very crucifing death (automobile accidents / fires) , where the death is extremely sudden (no time to realize what's happened aka ... Ghost and 6th sense) , when cause of death could easily lead to a revenge situation, you know basically ghost material :rolleyes:

symptoms of a haunting/possession: lack or restless sleep / looking ghostly / having pains while sleeping (hmmmm ... this is starting to sound like me :eek: )

Interesting note: Japanese houses tend to be rebuilt on a 30 year schedule. (Well, hokkaido this pretty much the norm. Finding tradtional style buildings is extremely difficult.)
Also, if a murder happens in a house it will be re-built by the next purchaser (benefit: major cheap discount :rolleyes: ) this even included a painful death (although, rumors/gossip if had been spread if not ... too bad ;) no discount)
If real estate agents conceal the fact a murder has happened in an apartment that you want to rent. And you later find out through rumors/haunting the real estate agent is responsible to cover your deposit fees and moving expenses 👍

There are also ghost corridors/paths which ghost will take while traveling. Hopefully, your apartment doesn't fall within one of those lines. (errr ... my previous apartment probably did ... it always freaked out my wife's friend who seems to have the touch for sensing/seeing ghosts ... lol ... didn't bother me too much I never did like her very much anyway 😄 ) Interesting point was that 9 floor 7th and 4th floors had the highest turn over rates in that building ... 9 and 4 are auspisous numbers in Japan ... (9 being hurtful and 4 relating to death).

anyway ... just a tad bit that I know on the subject.

oh the ghosts!!!

hehe ... they're pretty typical doing typically ghostly things ;)
Wow, what an impressive reply, was that offhand? Have to reread. :)

Ghost paths.... thanks God I don't have to sleep alone tonight...
Where I live the most notorious ghost is a Banshee, its a whaling female, that is said to yearn her lost child.

At dusk, she can be seen and heard floating upwards to the rooftops and over the chimney, whaling extremely loud, and if you are unfortunate to see and hear her, then death is coming to your family in the space of three,(three days, or weeks ect;)

It has been reported in papers ect; that this is factual and the older generation still believes of this land,

I had an experience long ago, of a small child standing on a fence, screaming and holding out his little hands as if to gesture my help, as I approached I called to my friends to come with me. Still, they didn't see or hear the child, I hurried to the child only to see a face of an ageing woman, then I ran home to tell my parents, three days later a member of my family passed, and to this day we all believed it was the banshee, scary stuff, do the Japanese people have a banshee ghost?

ewwww that sent shivers done my spine.

hmmm .... no ... not that I know of.
Although, I mentioned somewhere of pictures that get blurred by "??? spirits" might be such an indication.

I wonder if this is due to that dyeing in Japan isn't such an earth shaking experience that it seems to be as in the states.

There isn't really a go to heaven or hell mentality / situation..... hmmm where do you go then? the white light?

I check with folks around me.


offhand as in if I just wrote that up?
If so, yes. I guess I've watched to much TV and heard too many stories.

Ghost paths ... are like deer trails. So, you live near / on one or you don't.
Although, recently I just found out about demon portals.

Demon portals are very rare but as the name is ... they are doorways that allow "devils" (lowercase 'd' being used on purpose) to pass into the human world. Cross over devils/demons can also indulge in possession.

Apparently, the paths are easier to disrupt while a portal is much more difficult to close.

worried about ghosts?
sleep with a pair of scissors under your pillow/bed. Probably, shintoistic in orgin but it seems that scissors can cut a ghost.
Becareful though.
I had a bad experience, in my previous apartment.
I fooled around with the scissor thingy having felt "something" -- they only work while you're sleeping possibly.
Just talked to Nahoko about this thread, she told me that she was once invited to sleep at a friend's place. During dinner, the entire family was gathered around the table. Well, obviously the whole family, since Nahoko could hear someone running up and down the stairs and playing in the rooms on the first floor. Pater familias noticed her astonishment and apologized to her, telling her that this was their "zashiki warashi". These seem to be children's' spirits inhabiting houses. This family was earnest about it and told her not to worry. She didn't, because in her old house they experienced similar things.

I just searched Google for zashiki warashi and found this page.

Hehe, even the official web site of Iwate Prefecture has something on them. They call them, however "mischievous child spirits"

They seem to be abundant in the Tohoku region.

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