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The Creepiest Japanese Monsters & Demons (and the Stories Behind Them)

Updated November 27, 2019 15.5k votes 2.6k voters 183.4k views20 items

List RulesVote up the demons from Japanese lore and history that give you the worst cases of the creeps.

Japanese lore is dense with yokai, supernatural beings that come in many forms. These creatures - call them demons - might be monsters, ghosts, or goblins. Their nature ranges from benign to mischievous to seriously scary. Also known as ayakashi, mononoke, or mamono, yokai arose from many sources, some a product of ancient folklore, others from the imaginations of artists and writers of the Edo period (1603 - 1868).

The word yokai is a combination of yo, meaning "attractive, bewitching, calamity," and kai, meaning "mystery, wonder." "Demon" or "monster" is a rough translation for a word that, like many Japanese words, have no direct English equivalent. Yokai are more diverse than any single English word for such creatures.

This list reflects the creepiest of the yokai. It isn't an exhaustive Japanese demons list, and it doesn't include those more akin to creatures (such as the kappa) than demons. Here you'll find the creepy, the dangerous, and the weird. Some of these demons are reincarnated people or ghosts. Some, personifications of fear itself. All of them are super creepy.

Knowing the nature and history of yokai provides insight into Japanese horror films. Many yokai make appearances in movies, but their significance can be lost on western audiences. The two most famous Japanese cinema ghosts, Sadako from The Ring and Kayako from The Grudge, are both classic yokai. Many yokai also appear in the films of beloved animator Hayao Miyazaki. 

Read on to learn more, and vote up the yokai that most give you the heebie jeebies. 

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    Onryō

    Photo: Katsushika Hokusai / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

     

    Onryō is a type of yurei - ghosts that appear as they were buried - that exists solely for the purpose of vengeance. The onryō, the most feared of all yurei, arise when people die with strong, violent feelings of anger, jealousy, and hate. Once birthed, these yokai seek out a specific victim(s) and torture that person (or those people).

    They are so strong they curse the very ground they pass over, and that curse spreads like a disease. The movie The Grudge (Ju-On) is based on an onryō named Kayakoha.

     

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    Datsue-ba

    Datsue-ba is a demon that takes the form of an old hag, or, more specifically, the Old Hag of Hell. In Buddhist folklore, she rips the clothes off those entering the underworld. People who arrive without clothes have their skin ripped off instead.
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    Hone Onna

    Photo: Toriyama Sekien / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    A Hone-onna, or "bone woman," appears as beautiful young women. Once arisen, the hone-onna returns to the love of her life, whose judgement is clouded by her beauty and love. She feeds off his life force until it's gone. Only those unclouded by feelings of romance or love, or the strictly religious, can see through the beauty of the hone-onna and behold her as what she really is - a skeletal woman with bits of rotting flesh clinging to her bones. 
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    Gashadokuro

    Photo: Utagawa Kuniyoshi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Gashadokuro are giant skeletons that rattle around the countryside in the darkest hour of the night, bones clacking together. The Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound these yokai make, "gachi gachi," is the origin of their name.

    Gashadokuro don't go looking for victims, but will kill whomever they find as they wander about. 
    They crush victims with their giant hands, then bite off their heads. These yokai are formed when hundreds of unburied dead with grudges against the living fuse together into one monster. They usually form after large battles or famines. Fans of anime will recognize gashadokuro from various films, including Pom Poko.
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