Every culture has its own myths and stories. Evidently, some are stranger than others, at least from the perspective of an outsider. Let’s take Japan, for example. A civilization with a long history behind it is only guaranteed to have amassed an impressive myriad of tales meant to make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night. Most commonly found in Japanese lore are demons (oni) and spirits (yurei). Usually, these spirits take the shape of vengeful women, as is the case of some of these 10 Most Terrifying Spirits In Japanese Folklore.
This legend tells the story of a woman named Kiyohime, whose husband gradually started losing interest in her until he ultimately left her. When Kiyohime realized that he was leaving her, she took the form of a serpent and started swimming after his boat. The husband, terrified, sought shelter in a monk temple. When the woman arrived there, looking for her lover, he was hidden underneath a giant bell. Kiyohime found him, coiled around the bell, knocked with her tail against it, and then melted it with her fire breath, killing her husband in the process.
Translating into “Snow Woman,” Yuki-Onna is more of a spirit category brather than a singular entity. It’s a common presence in Japanese lore, which speaks of a woman with snow-white skin, dressed also in white, and with long, black hair. She can be seen during snowfall, floating like a ghostly entity above the ground. She kills those that she encounters by freezing them to death with her icy cold breath and then consumes their life essence.
3. Shuten Doji
Everything about Shuten Doji sounds nightmare inducing. He’s over 50 feet tall, has 15 eyes, and 5 horns. Fortunately, there’s no need for us to fear that we might encounter this demon today. As the legend has it, two warriors by the name Raiko and Hosho arrived at a banquet hosted by Shuten Doji, disguised as mountain priests. Their goal was to free the women the gruesome demon had taken hostage. They offered him spiked sake, then chopped off his head after he had passed out, releasing all the hostages afterwards.
An entity that has its roots in the medieval era, a yamauba is also known as a “mountain ogress.” They’re typically described as old women, notorious for their affinity for human flesh consumption. Supposedly, their malevolence is a result of years of being marginalized by society. There are many stories depicting the vile deeds of the yamaubas, most of which dreadfully involve children. A popular legend says that they often visited village houses, eating the children that were left home alone by their mothers. Kids are afraid to be left home alone as it is, so you might not want to tell them about this story.
5. Uji no Hashihime
The “woman at the Uji Bridge” is the story of a woman who desperately wanted to take revenge on her husband and the one he’d fallen in love with. To accomplish that, she prayed to the deities so that they would turn her into a demon. For 21 days, she bathed in the waters of the Uji River, split her hair into five horns, and covered her body with the red shade of vermillion. Just as she had intended, she then went on a killing spree, also indirectly taking the lives of those that saw her, who died out of dread.
The tengu are famed mythical creatures in Japanese folklore which have been deemed as exclusively evil up until the 14th century. Initially, they were supposed to be beings with wings and beaks, strongly resembling birds. These days, however, they are depicted as having red, humanlike faces and prolonged noses which can even be comical. Myths say that they were once hypocritical priests, who were turned into these mountain goblins as punishment. Most of their deeds resembled the actions of tricksters since they did things such as tying priests to tall trees or setting fire to temples.
This is the story of Oiwa, a woman married to a masterless samurai by the name Iemon. He wanted to marry the daughter of a rich local, something that could have only been achieved by breaking off his marriage with Oiwa first. He chose to do so by offering her poisoned medicine. It didn’t manage to kill her, but it greatly affected her appearance by causing her hair to fall off and one eye to droop. After learning about the betrayal and her disfigurement, she chose to end her life on a sword. Since then, her spirit has been terrorizing Iemon, even forcing him to behead his newlywed wife by making her face appear instead of her own.
8. Demon at Agi Bridge
A man made the unfortunate decision of crossing the Agi Bridge, rumored to be the place where an infamous, 9 foot tall, green skinned demon lurked. He wanted to prove that he wasn’t scared of the oni, which is something he later definitely came to regret. He first encountered the demon shapeshifted into a lost woman, the oni then changing back into his gruesome form to chase after the man. Having lost his trace, the demon decided to trick him. He turned into the man’s brother, knocked on his door late into the night, and after he was let in, he bit his head off in front of the whole family and then disappeared.
The first story to not have originated from the medieval era, this is an urban legend that talks about a certain spirit known as the “slit-mouthed woman.” Wearing a surgical mask, she approaches people and asks them if they think she is beautiful. Regardless of the answer, she takes off the mask, revealing a mouth that has been cut from one ear to another, and then asks the question again. This time, if the person answers “no,” they will be killed, and if they answer “yes,” she will cut them to look like her. These situations can be evaded if they offer an unclear answer in-between or by distracting her with Japanese candy.
10. Aka Manto
The translation for this demon’s name is “red cloak,” but the story isn’t about what you may be expecting. Another very popular urban legend, it’s had many variations over the time, but the one constant element is the fact that the demon only lurks around bathrooms – most typically, women’s bathrooms. They are asked if they would like a “red cloak” or a “blue cloak.” If the answer is “red,” then Aka Manto will tear the skin off their backs to make it look like a red cloak. If the answer is “blue,” he will choke them to death. Unlike the previous legend, it doesn’t seem like there is any way to elude the outcome. If you don’t answer or pick a different color, it’s said that he will instantly drag you to hell.
No matter what you may think of these legends, you need to admit that they’re incredibly creative. These 10 Most Terrifying Spirits In Japanese Folklore are as nightmare inducing as they are strangely fascinating.