Japanese Ghosts and Spirits

by Charla White  (charla@theshadowlands.net)

Each culture has different life beliefs including spirituality, political, and life in general.  This being said, one must also recognize that there are many different beliefs about life after death.  For some, it is reincarnation; others heaven and hell; and still others ceasing to exist is yet one more option.   In the Japanese culture there are many different supernatural beings.

Shojo is a harmless sea ghost with bright red hair who likes to drink and attend parties.

Umi Bozu is a huge sea ghost that haunts sailors.  The Umi Bozu is bald with enormous terrifying eyes.

Hantulangsuir is a small ghost with only a head and tail.  This spirit seeks blood and is constantly on the look out for fresh blood.

Toyol is a dead baby who has been revived by a demonic ritual in which it will serve whom ever revises it.  It is small; green skinned and has red eyes.  It suckles on small amounts of blood and if you’re not careful, it will suck on your big toe as you sleep!

 Hantu Pisang is a beautiful ghost that is formed when the heart of a banana bud is pierced with a nail that is attached to a thread.

 Hantu Penanggalan is also closely similar to the Hantu Pisang only it has trailing intestines!

Mononoke is a poltergeist type of spirit that lives in inanimate objects.  It is the belief that all things have their own unique spirit whether it is animate or inanimate.  These spirits like to scare and kill people.  They can be found in and around temples, shrines, and graveyards.  Priests can drive them away by reciting Buddhist sutras.

Bakechochin is a haunted lantern.  The lantern is believed to have eyes and a long tongue that protrudes from its mouth.  It serves as a home for the ghosts of people who are earth bound because they died with hatred in their hearts.  Once the lantern is lit, the ghost will jump from the inside of the lantern and attack the person(s) responsible for lighting the lantern.

Buruburu is the ghost of fear.  It lives in the forests and graveyards.  It takes the form of a shaking old man or woman and sometime only has one eye.  It will attach itself to the back of its victim sending a chill up and down the spine.  The selected victim then dies of fright.

 Demon Queller is a fierce demigod hero dedicated to saving other from demons.  It is large, bearded and wields an enormous sword.  It was adopted by the Japanese in the 12th Century and was known as the Shoki.  It was originally a Chinese spirit from the 8th Century of the T’ang dynasty.

Funayuhrei is a ghost ship that travels silently in the night or in a thick fog.  It will appear suddenly catching ships off guard.  If a shop meets a funayuhrei it will turn violently in circles before sinking.  Then it too will become a funayuhrei left to roam the seas in search of other poor unfortunate ships.

Isohime is a giant sized mermaid who snatches sailors and others who fall into the water.  The victims are tortured and eaten alive.

Gashadokuro is a ghost of people who have starved to death.  It appears as a skeleton 15 times taller than a regular person and is made up of the bones of the starved dead.  After midnight it will announce its present with a ringing noise that people hear in their ears.  If you do not flee quickly enough it will bite off your head.

Ikiryoh is a spirit born from evil thoughts and feelings that are harbored by a person.  It is energized by hatred and becomes powerful enough to leave its source and assume the object of the person’s hatred.  Once it is inside, it will kill its victim by draining the energy slowly.  It is difficult to exercise but it can be done by reciting Buddhist sutras.

 Konakijijii is the spirit of a baby that was left to die in the woods.  It means “the crying old baby” in Japanese.  Once an unsuspecting person picks the baby up, it can not be dropped or let go.  It will continue to grow heavy until it crushes the person holding it.

Kubikajiri is a head eating ghost that lives in graveyards and as is seen late at night searching for its head.  It feasts on the heads of the living and the dead alike.  One can smell the creature before it is seen because it smells of fresh blood.

The nurikabe is wall ghost that appears as a large white wall in front of anyone who is out late at night walking.  If you try to pass around the wall it will fall on you crushing you.  If you try to turn around and run from it, it will continue to appear in front of you blocking your path.  It can be defeated only by taking a stick and whacking the bottom of the wall.  

The tsukumogami is a poltergeist ghost that inhabits tools.  The name means old tools.  This ghost will inhabit old tools and perform chores and repair work by themselves at night.  If the tools are mistreated, abused, neglected or discarded the tsukumogami will take revenge by attacking the human perpetrators as they sleep at night.

Hohkigami is similar to the tools but means “old broom” and inhabits old brooms.  They, like their counterpart will perform chores of cleaning up and dusting while everyone sleeps.

These are but a few Japanese ghosts and spirits that walk the paths and roadways of Japan.  You will see that some are very similar to ghosts of other cultures while some appear to be unique to Japan.  The culture itself allows for some of these spirits given the high regard that the Japanese have for honor, love, and respect. While those traits are valued worldwide, they seem to have a different level of commitment among the Japanese.  Each spirit/object/person qualifies to have respect and the consequences for not giving respect to whatever can be deadly.





Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits.Checkmark Books: NY, 2000.

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