7 Yurei Japanese Ghost Tales That Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine

by Erika Shinomoto

If ghost stories are something you enjoy, you’ll love these Yurei Japanese ghost tales that will definitely send shivers down your spine!

Have you ever felt the air around you change and fill up with a mystical and eerie tone? I sure love those moments when every footstep and every fluttering of leaves fills you with an inexplicable feeling and leads to goosebumps all over your body. 

We all love those fantastic ghost tales that run a chill down our spine, don’t we? If you love those chilling and gripping ghost tales, I am here to introduce you to the world of Yurei: Japanese Ghost Tales. 

The Japanese folklore includes world-famous legends about ghosts that are filled with feelings of revenge and spite. The Japanese ghost stories are filled with sorrow and uncanniness, unlike the playful and hilarious Yokais. 

Related: Japanese scary stories

Death has a great significance in our lives and is as important as life itself. Therefore it is agreeable to say that the deceased is also a vital part of our lives. In Japanese tradition, when a person passes on it is said that they move on to the Shinto afterlife or the anoyo, the pure land of the Buddhists. 

According to Japanese folklore, reaching the anoyo is not without its own obstacles and can often turn spirits into a Yūrei, a Japanese Ghost.

These spirits trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead have had a transcending history in Japanese folklore. 

A clear example is the Obon Festival, one of the most notable dates on the Japanese calendar when families gather together to honor their ancestors. It is said that their ancestors visit the world of the living to receive thanks during this festival. 

I have compiled a list of ghost tales that are sure to leave you feeling uneasy but intrigued at the same time. Are you ready for chills to run down your spine?

Yurei Japanese Ghost Tales

Goryō, the Noble Dead

These were the vengeful ghosts of the aristocratic class, especially those who were martyred. The literal translation of the word is honorable spirit and is believed to be “the spirits of powerful lords, who have been wronged, that were capable of catastrophic vengeance”. 

One such tale is of Sugiwara no Michizane, a high-ranking official of the country in the 9th century. Through plotting and planning, he was demoted, exiled, and finally murdered by the Fujiwara clan. 

Soon there were fires, thunder, and heavy rains that followed and destroyed the residences of the Fujiwara clan and even the Emperor’s son passed on which led to the court of the Emperor to believe it was Michizane’s vengeful spirit and that he was here for revenge. 

To quell his spirit the Emperor burned the official order of his exile and restored his office and ordered that he be worshipped under the name Tenjin, which means sky deity. A shrine was also placed in his honor.

The Rage of the Onryō

These types of ghosts are said to be vengeful spirits having died full of resentment to someone or something. 

They are malicious and only return from purgatory to scare the living to death and claim their souls. Two such examples would be the ghosts from the famous movies The Grudge and The Ring, where women were abused and killed and they return as an Onryō.

yurei Japanese ghost tales

Once a spirit such as this one decides to manifest itself it appears to its victims as headaches, nausea, and chest pains. 

While passing by it could appear as a collapsed woman crying and as you approach her she levitates and reaches for you and grabs you. Then her hair surrounds you and you start feeling an intense pain due to Onryō’s heavy and intense aura that leads to death.

You can watch the movie inspired by this Yurei Japanese ghost tales on Amazon.com

The Burden of the Ubume

This is a tragic ghost who has either died during childbirth or has died leaving behind her children. She returns to take care of her children often bringing sweets along with her. 

They are often depicted as a woman carrying a child in her arms or as a dreadful woman covered in blood carrying an underdeveloped fetus. 

If a passerby gives her a look she then gives up the baby to them. Upon further looking it turns out that the baby was nothing more than a big rock or a bundle of leaves.

They even buy things from shops for their children and give money to the vendors which turn into a pile of leaves after the spirit has disappeared. 

They also can lead you to the location of their child so that they may be buried or adopted.

Written by Japanese author, Natsuhiko Kyogoku, The Summer of the Ubume is inspired by this particular Yurei Japanese ghost tales.

japanese scary stories

The book was also adapted into a live action feature film!

Shiryō, Deader than Dead

This type of ghost usually comes up right after they have left this world and have come to say one last goodbye to their loved ones. 

However, they can be dangerous as they may not stop at just goodbye and might want to take their loved ones with them too, dragging them to the world of the dead.

japanese ghost anime

One such story is of a girl whose father died abruptly. A few days later her father’s spirit came to see her but not to say just goodbye. The father’s spirit wanted to take her with him. 

Even though her friends and family stayed overnight her father kept appearing for her, disturbing and frightening the people around her. Over time, his visits stopped as suddenly as they had started.

Funayūrei, the Ship Ghosts

These are the ghosts of people who died at sea and are now vengeful and often cause storms and damaged ships. 

They are often depicted as fish-scaled humanoids and can be seen when there is a new or full moon, particularly on stormy or foggy nights. Especially during Obon. 

The Funayurei are always looking to expand their crew. They appear as an eerie luminescent mist at first which comes closer and then appears as a ship with its ghostly crew. 

Japanese ghost tales

It is said that once they see a ship they follow them and scare them to make a wrong turn to destroy their ships by making them crash in rocks or overturn their ships so that they join them. 

It is also said that if you throw water they may get distracted enough to leave you alone and follow the food.

Don’t Trust Fudakaeshi

These Japanese ghosts are a cunning and sly type of ghost that convinces people to take off their protection charms and let vengeful spirits come inside. 

They cannot themselves touch these charms but they manipulate people with bribe to remove these charms. 

They are usually depicted as a semi-transparent woman with long dark hair in a kimono. 

One such story is of a Fudakaeshi who fell in love with a human and starts begging him to remove the charms and talismans from his home so that she can enter and be with him. 

Moved by her pleading and her feelings the man removes the talismans so that she can enter his home and sleep with him but in doing so she drains his life away and the man dies.

Suppon No Yurēi, a Ghost on your Plate

For those of you who don’t know, Suppon is a soft-shelled turtle and is eaten as a delicacy in Japan. 

It is said to be a powerful food that is said to give strength to the infirm, potency to men, and extraordinary pleasure to the palate. 

But don’t just get ready to eat them yet as they might just come back to haunt you from your plate.

Legend says that a man who used to make his living catching and selling Suppon was visited night upon night by legless ghosts with prominent lips. 

Later he discovered that his own newborn son started to resemble a Suppon, disfigured, prominent lips, narrow eyes, and webbed extremities. 

And as if that wasn’t enough, he could only eat worms as a source of food.

What type of ghost is a yurei?

A Yurei often has a human shape, but without the feet. The Yurei floats in the air. Along with these features, a Yurei also has long flowing black hair and wear a white kimono, which are used during funerals. There can also be some deformity in the Yurei since they take the shape that they were in right before they died. 

There are different types of Yurei. These can be classified as per their earthly agony. For instance, there are the vengeful ghosts called onryo, who died with some kind of resentment. Then there are kosodate yurei, which is the spirit of a mother who died during childbirth and who has returned to the land of the living to take care of her child. The most fearsome is the jibakurei, who has a curse that can trap those around them. 

Ghost tales to chill your bones!

I hope you found this list of the bone-chilling intriguing. These are absolutely fantastic and will surely keep you up all night. If you are like me, I am sure you will be fascinated by these tales. I still remember the first time I came across these; I couldn’t stop reading and watching them. Check out all these excellent Japanese Ghost tales and you can thank me later. 

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