4 Japanese Ghost Stories (You’ll Be Scared of the Dark) 

Updated August 11, 2021
Suicide forest in Japan

Spooky, ancient Japanese ghost stories carry an ending that reinforces Buddhist morals and rules. The dire warning is each action you take has an effect that can ruin, or even end, your life. So, beware of the unexpected, since it may be a test of your mettle and faith!

The Tortured Spirit of Oiwa

Lemon is a Samurai who falls madly in love with a young maiden, Oiwa, who is above his station. Still, he's determined she'll be his wife and asks her father permission to marry Oiwa, but her father refuses.

Outraged, Lemon murders her father and stages the murder to look like a robbery. He then marries Oiwa. A few years later, the couple have a child, but by now they are living in dire poverty. Unhappy with how things have turned out with Oiwa, Lemon falls in love with a younger woman, Oume, whose father is very wealthy.

Oume is jealous of Oiwa and wants to marry Lemon, so she decides to murder Oiwa. Not wanting to get caught, she comes up with a plan to lace Oiwa's skin cream with a fatal poison. She gives the doctored cream to Lemon and tells him to switch it with Oiwa's face cream.

Innocently, Oiwa begins using the poisoned face cream and soon grows ill. Her long beautiful hair comes out in handfuls with part of her scalp. Her eyes swell shut. To Oume's dismay, Owia doesn't die, but is left horribly disfigured. Owia soon realizes that Lemon has betrayed her with Oume and they're planning to murder her. Owia suffers greatly before she finally dies.

To cover up her death, Lemon decides to frame one of his servants. He kills the servant and then places the servant's and Oiwa's bodies together on a wooden door and floats it out into the river. All the villagers see the dead couple floating by, and soon rumors of a love affair sweep the community. Everyone feels sorry for Lemon and when he announces his engagement to Oume, the villagers are happy for him. Oume is so excited to finally be marrying Lemon, feeling no remorse about murdering poor Oiwa. Lemon can't wait to marry beautiful Oume and have his days of poverty come to an end!

On their wedding day, Lemon is nervous and stutters when he first repeats his vows of undying love to his bride. Ecstatic, he lifts Oume's veil, but instead of seeing his beautiful young bride, he sees Oiwa's disfigured face, leering up at him. Frightened and angry, Lemon draws his sword and in one swift movement lops off her head. He watches as her head rolls to a stop by his feet. His gaze focuses on her face, but instead of the ugly distorted face of Oiwa, he sees the flawless, beautiful face of Oume.

He screams in agony and flees the temple, with Oume's family giving chase. However, Lemon is too fast and outruns them, charging down a narrow alley. He slides to a stop when he comes face-to-face with the dead servant he murdered. It couldn't be! He lifts his sword and beheads the servant, but when he looks at the head toppling from its shoulders, he's shocked to realize it's his dead bride's father! Panicking, Lemon escapes the authorities and hides out in the mountains. This isn't the end of his woes. Oiwa's spirit chases after him and haunts him day and night, driving him insane. Meanwhile, Oiwa's brother discovers that Lemon murdered his father and his sister. Vowing vengeance, he tracks down Lemon in a remote cabin. He surprises Lemon as he's leaving the cabin and beheads him.

Samurai on top of mountain

The Ghost of Okiku

A Samurai named Aoyama lives in Himeji Castle. Aoyama begins to lust after one of his maids, Okiku, but the young maiden rebuffs his advances. Frustrated, Aoyama comes up with a plan to trick the young woman into becoming his mistress. A sly grin parts Aoyama's lips. He knows exactly how to coerce Okiku into accepting her new role as his mistress. He is the keeper of his family heirloom of 10 rare and very valuable plates. Should a servant accidentally break one of the plates, they would forfeit their life.

The next morning, he calls Okiku into the dining room and accuses her of breaking the tenth plate in his family's collection. Terrified, Okiku vehemently denies his accusation. She rushes into the pantry and begins counting the plates one by one. There are only nine! How can that be? She recounts and recounts. Aoyama demands she admit to her crime and instead of killing her, he promises to reward her truthfulness by allowing her to be his mistress. Once more the young woman rejects his advances, and he continues to badger her, demanding she admit to breaking the tenth plate. Okiku denies breaking the plate. Enraged that she won't accept him even under the threat of death, Aoyama kills her and tosses her lifeless body down the well outside his castle.

Okiku's spirit cries from the well, counting from one to nine, but instead of saying ten, she lets out an eardrum shattering shriek. Her spirit continuously counts, always screaming after she says the number nine. Her spirit drives Aoyama insane.

Himeji castle on Hill top

The Vengeful Ghosts of the Heike Clan

In 1185, Yorimoto seizes control of the Heike Clan after a terrible battle. He establishes himself as the new Shogun and looks about for his brother Yoshitsune, but Yoshitsune left after the battle and disappeared. Yoshitsune has no such ambitions. In fact, Yoshitsune is watching his mistress, Lady Shizuka, a famous dancer, perform. His loyal body guard, Musashibo, advises him to leave immediately before his brother decides to eliminate him as a possible future rival. Yoshitshune brushes off his friend's concerns, enjoying his lover's dancing. Finally, Musashibo convinces him to leave and, although the ocean is turbulent, it is a better fate than the one his evil brother has planned for him.

Yoshitsune sails his ship across Daimotsu Bay, but his brother gives chase in his ship. Yoshitsune has no desire to rule the clan, much less challenge his brother. He plans to take himself out of the picture by fleeing the capital and living in exile. He convinces himself that this action will placate his brother. Looking behind him at his brother's ship, he obviously underestimated his brother's jealousy and greed.

He outsails his brother's ship while battling the rough sea as a welcomed distraction. Soon, he leaves his brother's ship far behind. Sailing toward the Yoshino mountains, he notices a fog begin to roll in. The fog is so thick it blots out the sun, and Yoshitsune can't see his hand when he holds it in front of his face. He's never seen such a treacherous fog. The ocean swells grow larger and pound against the hull of his ship. The ocean prevents him from sailing forward, and his ship tosses about the sea but never advances.

He leans over the side of the ship and is suddenly terrified. The ghosts of the Heike clan that Yoshitsune killed that day in battle are holding the ship with their skeleton-like hands. The spirit of the Heike General climbs over the side of the ship and jumps onto the deck with his long spear pointed at Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune wields his sword, realizing he can never win against a ghost. Musashibo kneels onto the deck and begins to pray, calling upon the gods of the five directions to save them. Suddenly, the vengeful sea calms and the fog rolls away. The general and the rest of the Heike ghosts vanish. Yoshitsune is relieved that Musashibo's prayers were answered, and they continue their journey to the mountains, sailing far away from his brother.

Mount Fuji Reflected in Lake Shoji

The Woman of the Snow

A young man is traveling through the mountains when it begins to snow and soon finds himself trapped in a treacherous blizzard. Unable to see in the blinding snow, he ends up going off the mountain pass and getting lost in the forest.

Shivering, he begins to lose all hope when suddenly, a woman appears in front of him. She is covered in frost and as she gets closer, he notices her face is as white as the snow. He realizes he's in the presence of a Yuki-onna (spirit) and knows he's doomed.

To his surprise, the Yuki-onna leads him to a cabin in the forest. Inside, he finds the cabin is warm and rushes over to the fireplace, holding his frozen hands to the flames. He can't believe that the Yuki-onna saved his life and tells her how grateful he is. The Yuki-onna states that in exchange for saving his life, he must promise never to tell anyone about it and especially about her. He eagerly agrees, still in awe of his good fortune and the helpful Yuki-onna.

Several years later, the young man is looking out the window of his home, watching the first snow of the season fall to the ground. His mind turns back to that fated day when the Yuki-onna saved his life. He's never been able to forget how fortunate he was that she saved his life. His beautiful wife, Yuki, hands him a cup of hot tea and they stand watching the snow together.

The years pass and once more he's standing in front of the window in his home watching the first snow of the season. His wife, Yuki, asks him what he's pondering, and he tells her how he was once lost in a blizzard while traveling through a mountain pass. He tells her how he couldn't see and was soon lost deep within the forest. As his wife listens to his story, her gaze widens on him. He tells how a Yuki-onna appeared in front of him and took him to a warm cabin, saving her life. His wife's face grows as white as the snow, and she shivers as frost covered her body.

"You promised to never tell anyone." Her voice quivers and suddenly, she vanishes. The man yells for her, realizing she is the Yuki-onna and had fallen in love with him that fated day in the mountain forest. He broke his promise, and she is gone forever.

Shirakawa-go in snow

Scary Japanese Ghost Stories

Spooky Japanese ghost stories are full of ancient spirits and beliefs handed down through the centuries. There is usually a message embedded that warns the listener to heed something or avoid a specific action lest they suffer dire consequences.

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4 Japanese Ghost Stories (You’ll Be Scared of the Dark)