I was reading an old AJET newsletter, and an article about different types of Japanese ghosts piqued my interest. It inspired me to do some more digging and share what I had learned… just in time for Halloween!
First let’s clarify the terminology.
- 霊魂 (reikon) = spirit – This is what leaves your body when you die.
- 幽霊 (yūrei) = “faint spirit”, ghost – When the reikon hangs around in between our world and the afterlife as a result of a traumatic death or lack of proper burial, it becomes a yuurei.
- 化け物 (bakemono) = monster – The word literally translates as “thing that changes” so it can apply to all sorts of supernatural creatures.
- 妖怪 (yōkai) = “bewitching apparition” – Like bakemono, it’s an umbrella term for supernatural beings.
- 鬼 (oni) = demon or ogre
Thanks to movies like The Ring and The Grudge, the image conjured up by the mention of a yūrei is that of a woman in a white kimono with long hair and limp hands. It’s much older than those movies though. Starting from the Edo Period, the Japanese buried the deceased in white kimonos. Women’s hair would be let down, hence the long hair. The motif of limp hand and no feet came from ukiyo-e prints, which inspired Kabuki actors.
The ghosts from the aforementioned films belong to a group called onryō. Below are five types of ghosts you may encounter in Japan:
- 怨霊 (onryō) – vengeful spirits of abused or neglected lovers, mainly women. Unlike the movies, they rarely do harm to the ones who have wronged them, perhaps because the feeling of love is stronger than anger.
- 御霊 (goryō) – martyrs from the ruling class out for revenge. They destroy crops and create natural disasters. The higher their status was in life, the more powerful they are.
- 産女 (ubume) – ghosts of women who died in childbirth. The love for their child keeps them from moving on, and they sometimes try to give presents, which turn to dead leaves.
- 座敷童 (zashiki-warashi) – child ghosts with bobbed hair and red faces. They play pranks and are said to bring good fortune to homeowners coexist with them.
- 船幽霊 (funayūrei) – spirits of those who died at sea. They approach ships and ask for a bucket or ladle, which they proceed to use to dump water into the vessel.
I also came across an interested trait that others Japanese ghosts exhibit: a penchant for hanging in the bathroom. That might be the worst place to encounter an apparition, especially the ones described below.
- Hanako – the Japanese version of Bloody Mary, a girl who died a violent death and can be summoned by games kids play.
From Misao Wiki.
- Aka Manto – a handsome, masked ghost who asks unsuspecting victims if they want to wear a red cape. If they say “yes”, he rips off the skin on their back.
- Reiko Kashima – the legless spirit of a woman who died a violent death on the train tracks. She grills you, and if you answer wrong, you lose your legs. Also, you’re a target the minute you learn about her.
Oops. Well, let’s just hope that Kashima-san doesn’t travel overseas, and remember that her legs are at the Meishin Expressway. Happy Halloween!
EJPcreations – “A more indepth look at Japanese ghosts”
Japan Talk – “6 Types of Japanese Ghost” by John Spacey
Tofugu – “Super Japanese Ghouls ‘n Ghosts” by John
Topless Robot – “6 Types of Japanese Ghosts That Hang Out in Toilets” by Anne Matthews
Listening to: “Enamel” by SID