• Graveyard Shift

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

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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    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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    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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    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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