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

Updated November 27, 2019 15.3k votes 2.6k voters 182.7k 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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    Kyōkotsu

    Photo: Toriyama Sekien / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    Kyōkotsu is a yokai found in wells. When travelers approach the well, the kyōkotsu pops out and curses them. These ghostly spirits form when a body is thrown down a well, rather than properly disposed, or when someone dies accidentally or commits suicide by falling down a well. Sadako from The Ring (Ringu) is a famous example of a Kyōkotsu. They are pretty much just out for vengeance.
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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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    Mokumokuren

    Photo: Toriyama Sekien / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    When sliding paper doors (shōji) get holes in them, mokumokuren show up. Mokumokuren are disembodied eyeballs that peer through these holes. They aren't particularly dangerous, but still super creepy. They can also indicate an infestation of a more dangerous yokai.
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    Yamauba

    Photo: Tsukioka Kōgyō / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    Yamauba are old hags living in the mountains and forests. They offer shelter to weary travelers, then eat their unsuspecting guests. Yamauba were initially human, but were corrupted over time, and turned into monsters. Most look like normal elderly women until they attack, at which point they turn into monstrous hags, sometimes with horns or fangs. They possess powerful magic, which aids them in killing and consuming guests. 
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