Japanese folkore has a long, varied list of ghosts (yurei), demons (oni), and creatures. While Western culture has some pretty vengeful spirits, they are Casper compared to the frightening and torturous spirits of Japan. The female spirits have always interested me, because (frankly) they are pissed and determined. They might suck blood, cut off testicles, or steal children. Below are 17 of the most frightening female spirits I could find.
Although this ghost can be male, it is typically female. This is the spirit of a woman that was wronged in life and is out for revenge, killing anyone she can. She appears as she did at the moment of her death. Some sources say she is powerful enough to cause natural disasters.
Kiyohime was the daughter of a wealthy man who provided lodging to travelling priests. She fell in love with one priest Anchin. He, being a priest, decided to end the relationship. He left the village on a boat, but she was too angry and scorned to let him go. She jumped in the water and swam furiously towards his boat. While swimming she turned into a serpent (or dragon). When he reached land, the priest ran to a temple and asked for shelter. The other priests told him to hide under a bell. Being a supernatural serpent, Kiyohime found him and coiled around the bell. She shook the bell so hard that it caught fire and melted with Anchin inside.
Possibly the spirit of someone who perished in a snowstorm, this female spirit appears in snowstorms to freeze victims to death. She has long black hair and blue lips, and floats above the snow. She can have vampire-like tendencies or freeze men to death during sexual intercourse.
The Yamauba is the spirit of an old woman marginalized by society and forced to live in the mountains. She eats children. In one tale, she “helped” a pregnant woman give birth, only to steal and eat the newborn.
Uji No Hashihime
The tale goes that a woman scorned by her husband prayed to be turned into an oni (demon) so to kill her husband, his mistress, and their relatives. Mental_floss explains, “To accomplish this, she bathed in the Uji River for 21 days, divided her hair into five horns, painted her body red with vermilion, and went on a legendary killing spree.”
A type of onryo (vengeful ghost). This female spirit was poisoned by her husband, which caused a facial deformity. He had poisoned her so he could marry a wealthy neighbor’s granddaughter. She died instantly when she looked into the mirror and saw her droopy face. She haunted her husband for the rest of his life, appearing to him in paper lanterns. She is characterized by a drooping left eye and partial baldness.
The Kuchisake-onna, or the Slit-Mouthed Woman, is the creation of modern urban legend. She is a malicious spirit of a woman mutilated by her husband. Her mouth is cut from ear to ear, which is covered with a surgical mask. According to legend, she offers victims a scary choice:
The woman will ask someone “Am I pretty?”. If they answer no, they are killed with a pair of scissors which the woman carries. If they answers yes, the woman pulls away the mask, revealing that her mouth is slit from ear to ear, and asks “How about now?”. If they answer no, she/he will die. If the person answers yes, then she will slit his/her mouth like hers. It is impossible to run away from her, as she will simply reappear in front of the victim. (Wikipedia)
There are theories on how to confuse her when she asks you this deadly question. For example, you might give an ambiguous answer (“You are average”) or you might turn the question around on her (“Do you think I am pretty?”).
Women obsessed with jealousy turn into this demon. There are three levels of hannya (from least powerful and most powerful).
- Namanari: These hannya appear as human women with small horns. According to Yokkai.com, “Namanari use dark magic to perform evil deeds such as summoning Ikiryo, a spirit that leaves the body of a living person and haunts other people or places. These demons are not completely evil and still have the opportunity to regain their humanity.”
- Chūnari: This version of hannya has longer horns and fangs. They are more powerful than the Namanari.
- Honnari: This hannya has a snake-like body and breaths fire. Their jealousy is so intense, and thus too powerful to stop.
Hone-onna, which translates to “Bone Women,” is a being that kills men by taking their lifeforce or holding them until they become skeletons. She can carry a red peony lantern, as two legends tell:
Botan Dōrō tells about a young man named Ogiwara Shinnojō, who is wandering around at night and who meets a young woman named O-Tsuyu. She carries a red peony lantern and Shinnojō immediately falls in love with her. Every evening now they meet each other for love and to sleep together. The overly curious neighbour sneaks secretly to the bedroom of the couple to observe them. When the light of the bedroom falls onto the couple the neighbour nearly dies in shock, when he recognizes that the sleeping Shinnojō shares his bed with a moving skeleton.
An orally traditioned legend from Akita prefecture tells the story of a young man who became lost during a heavy snow storm. Suddenly he saw a young woman, carrying a red peony lantern. The woman waved at him and guided the man to her house. When the man wanted to thank her for help, the light of the house and the lantern fell onto her face and the shocked man recognized her face as a blank skeleton skull. (Wikipedia)
A woman becomes an ame-onna when driven mad by grief when her baby is taken away. She appears in the rain as a raggedly, animal-like woman who licks the rain off her body. She carries a black bag and searches for babies, waiting to hear the cries of babies within homes. Babies stolen by the ame-onna can become ame-onna, along with their mothers. A vicious, scary cycle.
Teke Teke is the vengeful spirit (onryo) of a young girl who was cut in half by a train after she fell on a railway line. She wanders around earth, pulling her upper body by her elbows or hands and making a “teke teke” sound. If you come across her in the middle of the night, run fast. If she can catch you, she’ll cut you in half.
The Sazae Oni are shape-shifting demon snails that haunt the seven seas. They can change into beautiful women and lure seaman to their demise. According to one legend:
[…] a group of pirates rescued a drowning woman from the sea and took her back to the ship. They vied for her attention, but soon found that she was willing to have sex with all of them, cutting their testicles off afterwards. The men, obviously upset, threw her into the ocean, where she revealed her true form, and bartered with the captain for their testicles back. The Sazae-oni ended up leaving with a large amount of pirate gold. Testicles are sometimes called kin-tama or “golden balls” in Japanese, so the punchline goes that gold was bought with gold. (Wikipedia).
When a woman dies during childbirth, but is unable to pass on because of her attachment to her child, she becomes an ubume. They appear on rainy nights, crying and holding a baby child. They are not violent spirits, but are desperate for help.
Near riverbanks on rainy nights, the Ubagabi appears: a fiery flying ball with the face of an old hag. If this fiery ball touches you, you might die in three years. Yokai.com explains the legend behind this hag ball:
Long ago in Osaka there lived an old woman who was very poor. In order to make ends meet, she resorted to stealing oil from the lamps at Hiraoka shrine — a terrible crime in an age when oil was so rare and precious. Eventually she was caught by the shrine’s priests and her crime was exposed. From then on, the people of her village shunned her, and would shout out at her for being an oil thief. So great was the old woman’s shame that she went to the pond behind the shrine and committed suicide. Such unclean deaths never turn out well, and instead of dying properly she turned into an yokai. To this day, the pond behind Hiraoka shrine is known by locals as “Ubagabi-ike” (the pond of the ubagabi).
This vampiric spirit has the head of a woman and the body of a snake. Powerful enough to crush trees, this creatures eat humans. Using her snake-like tongue, she sucks the blood from her victims.
There are two types of rokurokubi, ones that have necks that stretch out very long and ones that have removable heads that fly around (nukekubi). They are often female, but can also be male. They look like humans, but when they fall asleep their necks (or detached heads) roam the land, licking up lamp oil. According to Yokai.com:
Unlike most yokai which are born as monsters, rokurokubi and their close relatives nukekubi are former humans, transformed by a curse resulting from some evil or misdeed. Perhaps they sinned against the gods or nature, or were unfaithful to their husbands. In many cases their husbands or fathers actually committed the sin, but by some cruel twist of fate the men escape punishment and the women receive the curse instead; in all known instances the curse of the rokurokubi affects only women, even though the cause of it may not be their own.
This shape-shifting spider can turn into a seductive woman. In her seductress form, she will lure men back to her cottage and serenade them with her flute. While under her musical spell, she wraps her victims in her web for a future meal.
Can’t get enough? For a great source for all things Japanese folklore, make sure to check out Yokai.com.