Real Japanese Ghost Stories
Ghosts and Spooky Creatures Abound in Japan's Hotter Months
Scary summer stories from Savvy readers all across Japan.
Summer and ghost stories go hand-in-hand in Japan. With Obon (the Japanese festival of the dead) being one of the highlights of the month, it’s a time for people to share spooky stories or go out and test their livers with visits to haunted houses and locations across the country.
Given the pandemic and recent uptick in COVID-19 numbers caused by the coronavirus, most haunted attractions have changed their systems to make them mask and social distancing friendly for the foreseeable future. One that I’ve heard good things about is the ghostly wedding ceremony event at Asakusa’s Hanayashiki, which starts from Aug. 7 and runs to Oct. 3. Or if you prefer, you can order a zekkyo kyukyusha (絶叫救急車, or “scream-inducing ambulance”) online that will come to your home to scare the daylights out of you.
Here is a collection of supernatural stories from Japanese and non-Japanese folks alike living across Japan. If you have one you’d like to share, feel free to add it to the comment section below!
The White Shadow
“This just happened in July (2021). I was out for a drive with friends around noon and was sitting in the back seat. We were stopped at a light and I looked out the window and saw this guy walking and looking at his phone. He’s completely average-looking: white T-shirt, black basketball shorts, baseball cap. But there’s this shadow on the wall beside him. Except not really a shadow. It was all white and much bigger than he was but it was still person-shaped. No legs though. I mean, it’s noon-ish, there shouldn’t be any shadows being cast upward on a wall, and there’s no way that much light could have come from his phone. Whatever it was just seemed to follow him down the street. I watched until we drove off, but that white shadow was still following him the whole time.” (Canadian, 30s)
The Old Woman© Photo by iStock/Oleg Elkov
“I drive for a living. One night, as I was driving through a passageway under a highway bridge in Kanagawa, I saw an old woman standing on the side of the road on the sidewalk behind the safety rail. It’s a pedestrian area and not a busy street at all, so I didn’t think anything of it. Then I saw her ahead of me again on the side of the road. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but when I stopped at the next red light—still on the same road—there she was again.
“The light turned green and when I stepped on the gas, she ran out in front of my truck. I slammed on the brakes and was sure I hit her, but when I got out of the truck there was no one there.
“Down the street from there I found an old sign from the police asking for information regarding a hit and run accident, but I was too afraid to call and ask if it was about an old woman or not.” (Japanese, 50s)
Ghost Hunting Gone Wrong© Photo by iStock/releon8211
“Back in my university days, my mates and I decided to head up to the Tohoku region to check out this so-called ‘haunted’ hotel. Everything up until we got near the hotel was completely normal, but after we’d parked and walked towards the location, things started getting weird. We had flashlights and were wandering around the building when it suddenly became very quiet.
“There weren’t even any cicadas. It was also much darker than we’d thought. Rural Tohoku isn’t as well lit as Tokyo to begin with, but there weren’t even any lights from the highway that we could see. We walked through the entire hotel and grounds, didn’t see any ghosts or anything all that odd to be honest and decided to leave. But we couldn’t find the car. It was supposed to be parked in this clearing a few hundred meters from the hotel, but there was no sign that we’d even driven into the area. After getting lost a few times, we finally made it back to the road itself, and there was the car. In the opposite lane with its lights flashing and four flat tires. The sun was up completely, and we realized we’d been exploring for nearly eight hours.
“One friend says it was aliens, another kamikakushi (spiriting away). The only thing I know is I walked into the woods before midnight with a full phone battery and walked out of them after what felt like no more than two hours to the early morning with a completely dead phone.” (British, 40s)
Bad Apartment© Photo by iStock/xijian
“I live in a five-story apartment building in downtown Nagoya. It’s not a new building, but it’s not a dump, either. Rent is pretty cheap and it’s well maintained but otherwise unremarkable. I live in an end unit and thought my only neighbor was horrible. The first week I lived there they would bang on the wall constantly. I know I was noisy when I moved in and was putting my furniture together, but c’mon. I thought they’d chill out after I had my place sorted but no such luck. I dealt with it for a month, but then the smells started…
“It just smelled so wrong in there, like old garbage and human waste. I caved and called the building management company who said they’d look into it. They called back and told me that apartment had been empty since before I moved in. I told them about seeing the door partially open once or twice, thinking it might be a squatter, so they sent someone out. The staff and a cop knock on the door, head in and find absolutely nothing. It was spotless: no garbage anywhere, no signs anyone had been living there whatsoever. It didn’t smell, either. So what was all that? I start talking to the lady who cleans the apartment building and she tells me my apartment was a jiko bukken.
“Turns out the tenant before the last one was an old guy who died half in the bedroom closet. He’d fallen and banged on the wall for help, but the old neighbors were on vacation and he’d eventually starved there. All the banging, the smells were coming from my own place the whole time. I still live there because, as I said, it was cheap, and so long as I leave the closet door open, I don’t have any issues with banging or bad smells.” (Japanese, 20s)
Phantom Cat© Photo by iStock/TokioMarineLife
“There used to be a feral cat living outside my building. The cat is still there but I don’t think it’s alive anymore. It was really friendly despite being wild. People would leave food and water out for it, it would let people pet its back. It was like our local mascot. Around March it disappeared for almost a month, and everyone was kind of worried about it. Then it came back, but it wasn’t acting the same. It doesn’t eat the food that gets left out and it won’t let people pet it anymore. It just sits in its usual spots and watches everyone. The weirdest part, though, is that it moves even faster than a cat should be able to. I’ve seen them sneak up on people before on YouTube but moving from a second-floor balcony to the driveway 300 meters away in a blink of an eye is a stretch, right? The other thing is, it doesn’t make any sounds anymore. Like, it would purr or hiss, but now no matter what it never opens its mouth. I’m pretty sure something happened to it and now we have a ghost cat in our neighborhood instead. It’s kind of nice to know that it liked us all so much that it wanted to come back here.” (Japanese, 40s)
Taira No Masakado’s Revenge
“My story was mentioned in a different article, but not in detail. My life was going really well in all regards. I met up with some friends for drinks, one thing led to another, and we ended up near Taira no Masakado’s grave. I was feeling brave and really drunk, so I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember knocking over some flowers, maybe a vase, before we all went our separate ways. I got to my home station and as I was walking towards the stairs near the exit gates, I got this horrible cold sweat all over me. I know I was drunk, but I’ve never felt that before or since. My shoulders got really heavy and then it felt like someone kicked the backs of my knees. I threw my arms out to try and catch myself, and then the next thing I remember is being in the hospital. I broke both my wrists, chipped a couple of teeth, and ended up having to take a leave from work and moving home so my mom could take care of me.” (Japanese, 30s)
Do you believe in things that go bump in the night? Would you dare visit with a ghost cat? Or do you have your own eerie tales of Japan you’d like to share? If so, let us know—either by commenting below or by sending us an email with the subject: “My Japanese Ghost Story.”