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

Updated November 27, 2019 15.2k votes 2.6k voters 183.5k 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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    Photo: 竜斎閑人正澄 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    Noppera-Bo is a ghost in human form, with one exception; it has no face, as its name, "faceless monk," makes clear. This yokai blends in seamlessly with society. Its favorite activity seems to be scaring humans. The faceless monk appear on deserted streets, late at night, facing away from victims. When the person approaches, the Noppera-Bo turns, revealing its horrifying visage...or lack thereof. 
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  • 10


    Photo: Sawaki Sūshi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Ubume is a parenting figure and is usually associated with the image of a mother bird. She is the incarnation of a woman who didn't make it through childbirth. She is known to steal children and raise them as her own. Since she is represented by both a bird and a woman, she is ambiguous by nature. Nevertheless, she is commonly known as the "birthing woman." 

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  • 11


    Photo: Sawaki Suushi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Japanese ghosts usually appear dressed in their funeral garb. During the Edo period, women were buried in a white kimono with their hair down. It is from this that the classic image of the yurei appears, with the disheveled hair obstructing the face. Their motives vary with their circumstances in life, but usually they have unfinished business of some sort holding them to this world.

    Yurei typically haunt one place, rather than wander; usually the place in which they were buried. Sometimes, yurei do little more than scare passers by with eerie sounds and lights. In other instances, they invoke powerful curses. 
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  • 12


    Photo: Unknown/Rama / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR

    Oni are Japanese demons or ogres. They appear as blue or red giants, with wild hair, usually carrying clubs. Oni are reborn from horribly wicked people in one of the Buddhist Hells. They dole out horrible punishment to other wicked people, and serve the Demon Lord Enma.

    The powers of the oni are tremendous - they can reattach body parts they lose in fights; crush enemies with one blow from their kanabo, or spiked iron club; fly; change form at will; and inflict disease, insanity, and death as they see fit. Intelligent and extremely nasty, the oni revel in causing societal breakdown, and eat and drink to excess. Their favorite food is human flesh. 
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