In the Western world there are ghosts- in Japan, there are Yūrei. In traditional Japanese culture, every human has a soul called a reikon. When you die, your reikon enters purgatory while your body is buried and the rites are performed. It’s all fairly straightforward.
But if you die in a violent manner (murder, suicide, etc) or carry strong emotions to the grave (jealousy, hatred) the reikon then transforms into Yūrei. It is believed that the person’s last thoughts (no matter how trivial) influence them. If that’s true, then these Yūrei must have been thinking some pretty dark thoughts at the time of their passing.
1. Yuki-onna (the snow woman) appears exclusively on snowy nights.
Her hair is dark, her skin deathly pale, her lips a cold blue. There is no single story about the Yuki-onna; she has played many roles throughout her existence, ranging from loving mother to complete frozen bitch.
Some legends of the Yuki-onna tell of travelers lost in snowstorms that stumble upon the spirit; these unfortunate souls are either led further into the storm or killed when she blows frost on them and sucks out their souls. Perhaps one of the most well-known tales describes a boy she spares because of his beauty and age. The boy can live free on one condition- he must never tell anyone of her existence. Years later he has kids and a wife, and all is well. The idiot tells his wife the story, and she reveals herself to be the snow woman. Plot twist, am I right?
She doesn’t kill him for his admission, though in some versions she melts after her husband discovers what she is.
2. The Onryo are spirits who have been wronged in life and are now furious. Perhaps the most famous Onryo is Oiwa, who is featured in a kabuki play named Yotsuya Kaidan.
To start the saga, Oiwa’s husband kills his father in law (Oiwa’s father) because her father discovered the husband’s past evil deeds. The couple has a rich neighbor who tells the husband that his granddaughter, wealthy and beautiful, loves him. The neighbor adds that it is a shame the husband cannot marry his granddaughter. Because of this, Oiwa then poisons his wife.
Instead of killing her, the poison disfigures Oiwa horribly. When she sees herself in a mirror, she realizes what he had tried to do. Now burdened with this knowledge and her ruined face, Oiwa dies of a broken heart. At his wedding, Oiwa’s husband lifts his new bride’s veil… only to see Oiwa’s face staring back at him. Horrified, he beheads her with a sword- then sees it was his new wife. From then on Oiwa’s face appears to him everywhere.
He burns the bodies of Oiwa and his father in law and flees… only to encounter Oiwa’s brother, who kills him.
And that, children, is why we have divorce.
3. Perhaps the saddest ghosts of Japan are the ubume- spirits who have died during or after childbirth that are too concerned for their baby to fully move on. If the baby survives the birth, the ubume will enter stores to try to buy food and clothing for her child, using dead leaves as currency.
If the baby died with its mother, she can be seen haunting the area where she died; she appears as a bloody woman with a baby, a pregnant woman, or a corpse carrying an undeveloped fetus. Her appearance depends on the region where she died, as different regions in Japan have different burial methods- the woman can be buried with the fetus still inside, with the fetus cut out, or with the baby in her arms.
4. Teke Teke, the girl cut in half by a train, haunts train stations; she falls under the category of Onryo type ghosts (aka the vengeful motherfuckers). Her name was given to her because of the scratching sound she makes as she drags her body around with her arms, only her upper half remaining. She is a relatively new ghost that started out as an urban myth and has now been adopted into Japanese folklore because, you know, Japan could always use one more legless ghost.
If she catches you at night and you aren’t fast enough, she will slice you in half with her scythe. Like another ghost on this list, she will sometimes ask questions, such as where her legs are or what her name is (to which the proper reply is “train station” and “Death Mask Demon”, because she’s hardcore like that). Her origins vary from a timid schoolgirl picked on by bullies to an innocent woman shoved onto the track accidentally- the story changes depending on who tells it. Either way, if you value your legs, you might want to steer clear.
5. To anyone who suffers from arachnophobia- consider yourself warned. Some spiders are thought to have supernatural powers in Japan. This belief was most likely the idea behind the Jorōgumo. This spirit is a yokai who takes the form of a spider, though she appears as a lovely woman to seduce men when she wants to eat them. Some depictions of her show a naked human female upper half and the legs and body of a spider below the human torso. I mean, I’d hit that.
If she succeeds in luring in a man, she will wrap him in her web, poison him, then eat him. Like the ubume, she can appear as a woman holding a baby; unlike the ubume, when the baby is handed off to a man, it is revealed to be spider eggs. The eggs then burst open (and the baby spiders presumably eat the human alive). Lovely.
In the legend these spirits were originally ordinary spiders. Once a spider reaches 400 years old, it turns into a Jorōgumo. If a spider manages to live that long, well, I think it deserves those shapeshifting powers.
6. Hone-onna is a woman made of bones with an insatiable appetite for sex and death. She seduces men with her charm and beauty; in some versions these men have wronged her and will now pay the price. So enraptured is her lover that he does not see her true form- she is a skeleton. She drains the life force from him through sex over days or weeks.
A popular tale tells of a neighbor who peeks in the window only to see his male neighbor with a skeleton atop him.
7. The Slit Mouthed Woman, aka Kuchisake-onna, needs no introduction- her name alone is frightening enough. While the other ghosts on this list were threats a long time ago, Kuchisake-onna was sighted in Japan in 1979; this caused a panic that made children walk home in groups and police increase their vigilance. Kuchisake-onna was also seen frequently chasing children in South Korea in 2004.
In the original legend, Kuchisake-onna was slit from ear to ear by her husband after he found out she was cheating on him. In the original tale, first told in the Edo period, she will ask someone, “am I pretty”? Her mouth is covered with a scarf or fan. If the person replies that she is, she will remove the covering from her face and repeat the question. If the person says no or tries to run, she will give him a grin to match her own wound. If they reply yes, she will leave them and return to murder them that night.
The modern version is only slightly different- the woman wears a surgical mask, which is common in Asian countries. Despite the ominous situation, modern Japanese people have thought of more creative ways to escape her; if you tell her you have a previous engagement she will apologize and excuse herself. Because, you know, manners.