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Onryō: Mythical Creatures

Onryō are mythical creatures from Japanese folklore that are known for their vengeful and wrathful nature. According to Japanese mythology, Onryō are the spirits of people who died in a state of extreme anger or resentment, and they return to the physical world seeking revenge against those who wronged them in life. These spirits are often depicted as female ghosts with long, flowing hair and white clothing.

Onryō stories are often supernatural in nature, but they are also grounded in real-life emotions and experiences, such as jealousy, betrayal, and heartbreak. In many cases, the Onryō’s desire for revenge is so strong that it transcends life and death, and they are able to manipulate the physical world to achieve their goals. Onryō stories have been a popular part of Japanese folklore for centuries, and they continue to capture the imagination of people around the world today.

Origins of Onryō

Onryō are a type of mythical creature from Japanese folklore. The term “onryō” is derived from the Japanese words “on” meaning vengeful and “ryō” meaning spirit. While the exact origin of onryō is unclear, belief in their existence can be traced back to the 8th century.

Historical Context

During the Heian period (794-1185), the concept of onryō became more prominent in Japanese folklore. This was a time of political turmoil and social unrest, and the idea of vengeful spirits seeking retribution for past wrongs resonated with many people. It was believed that onryō were the souls of people who had died with intense feelings of anger, hatred, or jealousy. These emotions were said to linger after death, and the onryō would seek revenge against those who had wronged them in life.

Folklore Evolution

Over time, the folklore surrounding onryō evolved and became more complex. They were often depicted as female spirits, dressed in white burial robes, with long black hair. They were said to haunt specific locations, such as the site of their death or the home of their enemy. Onryō were believed to have the power to cause illness, accidents, and even natural disasters.

Onryō have continued to be a popular subject in Japanese folklore and popular culture. They have been featured in movies, TV shows, and video games, and have become a well-known symbol of Japanese horror.

Characteristics of Onryō


Onryō are vengeful spirits that are often depicted as female ghosts in Japanese mythology. They are usually depicted as having long black hair, pale skin, and wearing white kimonos. Their eyes are often described as glowing or piercing, and they may have a distorted or twisted appearance.

Powers and Abilities

Onryō are powerful spirits that have the ability to manipulate the physical world in various ways. They are known to cause natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and storms. They can also possess living beings and manipulate their actions. Onryō are often associated with revenge and are believed to be able to inflict harm on those who wronged them in life. They can also cause illness, nightmares, and death to those who cross their path.

Onryō are believed to be able to move between the world of the living and the dead, and they are often associated with purgatory. They are said to be trapped in a state of limbo, unable to move on to the afterlife until they have avenged their grievances.

Overall, Onryō are powerful and vengeful spirits that are deeply ingrained in Japanese mythology. Their appearance and abilities have been depicted in various forms of media, including movies and video games, and they continue to be a popular subject in Japanese horror.

Famous Onryō Stories

The Tale of Oiwa

One of the most famous onryō stories is the tale of Oiwa. In this story, Oiwa is a disfigured woman who seeks revenge on her samurai husband, Iemon, for causing her death. The story is set in the Edo period of Japan and has been adapted into various forms of media, including plays and films. Oiwa is often depicted with a distorted face, long black hair, and a funeral gown that flutters gloomily.

The Story of Okiku

Another well-known onryō story is the tale of Okiku. In this story, Okiku is a servant girl who works for a samurai lord. The lord becomes infatuated with Okiku and demands that she become his mistress. When Okiku refuses, the lord accuses her of stealing one of his valuable plates and threatens to torture her unless she agrees to his demands. Okiku is eventually killed by the lord and her ghost haunts the mansion where she worked, counting the plates over and over again.

These stories have become a part of Japanese folklore and continue to be retold in various forms of media. They serve as cautionary tales about the consequences of mistreating others and the power of vengeance.

Cultural Impact

Onryō in Literature

Onryō spirits have been a significant part of Japanese folklore for centuries. They have appeared in various forms of literature, including novels, short stories, and poetry. In these works, Onryō often represent the consequences of unresolved grudges and the importance of seeking closure. One of the most notable examples of Onryō in literature is the character Oiwa from the play Yotsuya Kaidan, who has become a symbol of female vengeance in Japanese culture.

Onryō in Films and Theater

Onryō spirits have also had a significant impact on Japanese theater and cinema. The popularity of Onryō in these mediums can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s, when filmmakers such as Kaneto Shindō and Masaki Kobayashi began incorporating Onryō into their horror films. These films often depicted Onryō as vengeful female ghosts seeking retribution for past wrongs.

Influence on Modern Horror

Onryō spirits have continued to influence modern horror both in Japan and internationally. The popularity of J-horror films, such as The Ring and Ju-On, has introduced Onryō spirits to a global audience. Onryō have also inspired the creation of new horror franchises, such as the Fatal Frame video game series. The impact of Onryō on modern horror is a testament to the enduring power of these vengeful spirits in Japanese culture.

Onryō and Japanese Society

Traditional Beliefs

Onryō are mythical creatures in Japanese folklore that are believed to be vengeful spirits seeking retribution for a perceived injustice in their past life. These spirits are primarily depicted as women who met tragic and cruel fates, leading them to return from the afterlife with a burning desire for vengeance. In traditional Japanese society, onryō were feared and respected, and people would often make offerings to appease them.

The belief in onryō was so strong that it influenced the way people behaved in their daily lives. For example, it was believed that if a person wronged another, they would be cursed by an onryō and suffer terrible consequences. As a result, people were careful not to offend others and to treat them with respect.

Contemporary Perceptions

In modern Japanese society, the belief in onryō has diminished, and they are now mostly seen as fictional characters in movies, TV shows, and video games. However, the concept of vengeful spirits still exists in Japanese culture, and some people still believe in the power of curses and the supernatural.

Despite the decline in belief, onryō continue to be a popular subject in Japanese horror movies and literature. They are often portrayed as terrifying and powerful creatures that can wreak havoc on the living. The popularity of onryō in popular culture reflects their enduring place in Japanese folklore and the fascination people have with the supernatural.

Comparative Mythology

Onryō are vengeful spirits from Japanese mythology that seek to get revenge for perceived wrongs. They are unique to Japanese folklore, but there are similar entities in other cultures.

Similar Entities in Other Cultures

In Greek mythology, there are the Furies (also known as the Erinyes) who are female spirits of vengeance. They are said to punish those who have committed crimes, especially against family members. The Furies are also known for their terrifying appearance, with snakes for hair and bloodshot eyes.

In Norse mythology, there is the Valkyrie, a female figure who chooses which warriors will die in battle and brings them to Valhalla. While not necessarily vengeful, the Valkyrie are associated with death and have a powerful presence in Norse mythology.

In Hindu mythology, there is Kali, a goddess associated with destruction and death. She is often depicted with a fierce appearance, with multiple arms and a necklace of skulls. Kali is also associated with time and change, and is considered a powerful force in the universe.

Overall, while Onryō are unique to Japanese mythology, there are similar entities in other cultures that are associated with vengeance, death, and destruction. These entities often have a powerful and terrifying presence, and are an important part of the mythology of their respective cultures.

Onryō and Rituals

Exorcism Practices

Onryō spirits are known for their vengeful nature and their ability to haunt and torment those who have wronged them. In Japanese folklore, it is believed that onryō spirits can be exorcised through various rituals and practices.

One common practice is the use of ofuda, which are paper talismans inscribed with sacred texts and symbols. These talismans are believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits, including onryō. They are often placed in areas where onryō are believed to be present, such as the home of the person who wronged them.

Another practice is the use of salt, which is believed to have purifying properties. Salt is often sprinkled around the perimeter of a room or area where an onryō is believed to be present. This is done to create a barrier that the spirit cannot cross.

Protective Measures

In addition to exorcism practices, there are also various protective measures that can be taken to prevent onryō spirits from manifesting in the first place. One such measure is to avoid engaging in behavior that may anger or upset the spirits, such as disrespecting sacred places or objects.

Another measure is to maintain a clean and orderly living space. It is believed that onryō spirits are attracted to clutter and disorder, so keeping a tidy home can help prevent them from taking up residence.

Overall, while onryō spirits are fearsome creatures, there are ways to protect oneself from their wrath and to exorcise them if they do manifest. By following these rituals and practices, one can avoid falling victim to these powerful and vengeful spirits.

Research and Studies

Anthropological Perspectives

Onryō, the mythical creatures of Japanese folklore, have been the subject of anthropological studies for many years. Researchers have delved into the cultural significance of these vengeful spirits and how they reflect the values and beliefs of Japanese society.

One of the main themes that researchers have identified in the study of Onryō is the concept of revenge. Onryō are often depicted as seeking revenge for perceived wrongs committed against them in life, and this theme has been analyzed in relation to Japanese ideas of justice and honor.

Additionally, anthropologists have studied the role of Onryō in Japanese mythology and how they reflect the cultural beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife. Onryō are often associated with tragic and violent deaths, and their stories reflect the cultural anxieties surrounding death and the supernatural.

Psychological Interpretations

Psychologists have also explored the phenomenon of Onryō from a psychological perspective. Researchers have analyzed the ways in which Onryō stories reflect the human experience of grief and loss, as well as the emotions of anger and resentment.

Some psychologists have suggested that the Onryō myth may be a way for individuals to process their own feelings of anger and resentment towards those who have wronged them. Others have suggested that the Onryō myth may be a way for societies to collectively process feelings of injustice or trauma.

Overall, the study of Onryō from both anthropological and psychological perspectives provides valuable insights into the ways in which cultural beliefs and individual emotions intersect.