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

Updated November 27, 2019 15.3k votes 2.6k voters 184.3k 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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    Oni

    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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  • 14

    Futakuchi-onna

    Photo: Takehara Shunsen / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    A Futakuchi-onna is a two mouthed woman. She appears normal, but has a second mouth full of sharp teeth on the back of her head. Her hair grabs food like tentacles and shoves it into the ravenous second mouth. They bring punishment to greedy men and women.
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  • 15

    Jikininki

    Video: YouTube
    Jikininki are ghosts of the Zen tradition. Much like the western ghoul, jikininki seek out and feed upon corpses. They are reincarnated selfish people, and despise their cursed existence. A zen story about a wandering priest named Muso Kokushi tells the tale of his encounter with a jikininki.
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  • 16

    Gaki

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The gaki are hungry ghosts, and have their origins in Buddhism. The realm of hungry ghosts is one of the Six Paths of Transmigration, depicted in the Gaki Zoshi, an ancient scroll and national treasure of Japan. The Six Paths of Transmigration, which goes by numerous other names, including Cycle of Suffering, Cycle of Samsara, Six Paths of Reincarnation, and Six Realms of Existence, is a Buddhist idea borrowed from Hinduism, and describes the cycle of reincarnation and the six realms into which one might be reborn. 

    The six realms vary from quite nice (basically, heaven), to very unpleasant (hell). A person who transgressed in life might be reborn as a hungry ghost, whose souls are cursed with insatiable hunger for something, usually something disgusting like dead bodies or poop. 
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