Japanese ghosts are the scariest

By Legal Eagle

I was talking to a Japanese friend about how my parents had a book of Japanese myths and legends, and I loved to read it as a kid, but some of those stories were so scary. I am sure that Japanese ghosts are the scariest and the weirdest. Anyway, I thought I would put together a sample of 10 Japanese ghosts or legendary creatures.

1. Akaname

Akaname means ‘filth licker’. It is a spirit which licks dirty bathrooms clean with its tongue and the aid of poisonous saliva. Seriously. There’s also a ceiling-licking ghost called tenj?name.

I wonder if I can hire them to clean my house?

2. Kamaitachi

Kamaitachi are a trio of slashing sickle weasels. Again, seriously. Apparently these three sharp-clawed weasels rode on a gust of wind with the aim of cutting people’s legs. The first weasel knocked the unsuspecting victim down, the second cut the victim’s flesh and the third applied medication to the wounds, so that by the time the victim realised what was happening they were left with painful wounds that were no longer bleeding. Sometimes the three are described as brothers, sometimes as triplets. Why these weasels would want to do this is unclear. It’s probably a pun on a spirit which people called kamaetachi (meaning “attacking”). Toriyama Sekien changed this slightly to mean “sickle weasel”. That’s his illustration below from a bestiary.

3. Nuppeppo

An animated lump of flesh. The Nuppeppo is passive and unaggressive. It is said to smell like rotting flesh, or alternatively, perhaps it is actually decaying flesh. It is rumoured someone who eats the flesh of a Nuppeppo shall have eternal youth. The Nuppeppo aimlessly wanders deserted streets of villages, towns and cities, often at night towards the year-end, or graveyards or abandoned temples. I have no idea why it might do this.

4. Makura-gaeshi

Makura-gaeshi are ghosts who delight in moving pillows while people sleep. I’m not sure why they delight in this. Perhaps they also hide socks which are lost in the washing?

5. Ittan-momen

Ittan-momen is a strip of cloth which flies about and strangles or smothers people. However, it will consent to be worn by people it trusts. It originates from Kagoshima province, which I visited about 10 years ago. Luckily I didn’t come across this creature. Ittan-momen has been popularised in the manga GeGeGe-no-Kitaro.

6. Dodomeki

Dodomeki is the spirit of a pickpocket or thief who has eyes all over him. It must be useful for picking people’s pockets, but he is rather unpleasant looking. I don’t want to meet him in the street.

7. Momokuren

Momokuren are a swarm of eyes that appear in holes in sh?ji (Japanese paper sliding doors). This ghost is said to be an invention of Toriyama Sekien, who we last met with the slashing sickle weasels. The illustration below is his again.

8. Ch?chinobake

Ch?chinobake are a type of tsukumogami. Tsukumogami are spirits which arise when objects reach their 100th year of existence, thus causing the object to become animate. Ch?chinobake in particular are created from the ch?chin lantern, composed of bamboo and paper or silk. They are typically portrayed with one eye, and a long tongue protruding from an open mouth.

Also watch out for kasaobake – animated umbrellas.

9. Mekurabe

Multiplying skulls that menaced Taira no Kiyomori in his courtyard. Taira no Kiyomori is an actual historical figure, a Japanese general of the Heian period. There was a famous rivalry between the Taira and Minamoto warrior clans in which the Taira clan initially emerged victorious, but fell from power as a result of their arrogance and pride. The tale is told in Heiki Monotogari (‘The Tale of Heiki’). Taira no Kiyomori apparently died of a fever and was confronted with the ghosts of his victims before he died.

10. Abura-akago

Abura-akago is an infant ghost who licks oil from andon lamps. It apparently originates from a story where an oil merchant stole oil from a Jiz? statue at the crossroads, and the man was punished posthumously by being transformed into a wandering ghost-fire. The theory was that this ghost-fire then turned into an infant who licked oil from lamps.

If you want to learn more about Japanese legendary creatures check out Wikipedia’s list.

Listverse also has a list of top 10 Japanese legendary creatures, some of which overlap with the ones here.


  1. Posted January 23, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The Hentai bathroom cleaner? I have now seen everything

  2. Posted January 23, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Isn’t Japanese art spooky? And Japanese movies. One of my favourites Yoshitoshi had a series called 28 murders – Yikes!
    Warning: link is graphically violent and the colour’s wrong too.

  3. Lucy Sussex
    Posted January 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Ittan-momen presumably flew across the world in the late C19th, to manifest before M. R. James.

  4. Posted January 24, 2010 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Will you read any of the stories to your lil’ ones?

    I like the pervasiveness of spirits in the Japanese novels I’ve read, and how kind-of amoral they are; not really good or bad, or good and bad.

    My fave horror movies have always been Japanese ones, though I must remember never to go to one on my own ever again!

  5. Posted January 24, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I shall make the dead outnumber the living.
    Or is it scarier now that –
    Listen to the lyrics.

  6. ken n
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I wish you hadn’t posted that SL.
    I’ll have nightmares for sure.
    Japanese cartoons and manga were bad enough…

  7. John H.
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Sorry LE but the scariest ghosts are those created by governments:

    The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
    –H. L. Mencken

  8. Nikki
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    LE, you need to put a warning – do not eat while reading this post – at the top – the Nuppeppo actually put me off my breakfast!

    BTW, do you think the Doctor Who people borrowed from the Nuppeppo in cretaing the Adipose – little white alien babies made from human body fat – in the first episode of the new Doctor Who series Season 4?

  9. Peter Patton
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that LE. This is something I will bone up on. It might give an edge in the ‘everybody’s favorite uncle’ stakes coz I can tell really, really scary stories. 🙂

    I’m ashamed to confess that my knowledge of Japanese culture is zip. Has anybody seen the film The Ring? I often hear it mentioned by film buffs as some kind of standard bearer of the horror genre.

  10. AJ
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    To be fair, western monsters, fairies and ghosts used to be a lot scarier, but they’ve all become rather cuddly in the past century.

  11. ken n
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Yes of course it was you LE.
    Sticky fingers on a small keyboard.
    I used to watch cartoons on late night TV in japan. Not recommended./

  12. Posted January 27, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I remember reading ages ago about the Kappa, a wicked spirit who hung around ponds and lakes and drowned lonely travellers in their murky depths.

    The Kappa’s life-force is contained in its head, which has a large hole in the top (something of an evolutionary defect, if supernatural beings do indeed evolve), and so the usual way of escaping from a water death is to bow to it. Since this little supernatural beasty is not only malignant and evil, but unfailingly polite, it will bow back – thus causing all its life-force to leak out of its holey head.

    Another point in favour of bad manners (as per the post below), perhaps?

  13. Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Okay, now I’m grossed out. Children, yes. But cucumber? What kind of a sick spirit would want to eat that? They really are evil.

  14. Posted January 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m “afraid” this Japanese scariest ghost will be censored in order to protect children. 🙂

  15. jef
    Posted November 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Got to give a shout out to Kuchisake-onna (Slit-Mouthed Woman) as well

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