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Yurei: Mythical Creature Overview and History

Yurei, also known as Japanese ghosts, are an integral part of Japanese folklore and culture. These spirits are believed to be the souls of people who have died in tragic circumstances or who have not been given a proper burial. Yurei are often depicted as having long black hair, white burial kimonos, and missing feet.

The word Yurei is derived from two kanji characters, “yū” meaning faint or dim, and “rei” meaning soul or spirit. These spirits are believed to be earthbound and have not gone through the afterlife transition due to the injustice they suffered in life or powerful emotions such as hatred, jealousy, and love. Some spirits could also be earthbound because of an unfulfilled commitment.

Yurei have captivated and terrified the Japanese populace for centuries. They have been the subject of numerous stories, plays, and movies. Yurei are often depicted as vengeful spirits seeking revenge on those who have wronged them in life. Despite their terrifying reputation, Yurei are also seen as a source of comfort for those who have lost loved ones, as they are believed to watch over their families and offer protection.

Origins of Yurei

Ancient Texts and Records

The history of Yurei can be traced back to ancient Japanese texts and records, such as the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. These texts describe the belief that the spirits of the deceased can return to the world of the living. In these texts, Yurei were often depicted as vengeful spirits seeking revenge on those who wronged them in life.

Cultural Significance

Yurei have played an important role in Japanese culture for centuries. They have been the subject of many traditional Japanese folktales, plays, and art. Yurei are often depicted wearing white burial kimonos and having disheveled hair covering their faces. They are also often portrayed as missing feet, which is said to be a sign that they are not of this world.

In Japanese culture, Yurei are believed to be spirits that have not completed their journey to the afterlife due to some unresolved issue or strong emotion. They are often associated with tragic deaths, such as suicide or murder. The cultural significance of Yurei can be seen in the many rituals and customs that have been developed to appease them and protect against their wrath.

Overall, the origins of Yurei can be traced back to ancient Japanese texts and records, and they have played an important role in Japanese culture for centuries. Their significance can be seen in the many traditional folktales, plays, and art that have been created around them, as well as the rituals and customs developed to appease them.

Characteristics of Yurei


Yurei are ghosts or spirits that are commonly depicted as having long, disheveled hair that covers their faces. They are often dressed in white burial kimonos and are portrayed as having missing feet. Their appearance is usually associated with death and mourning.

Powers and Abilities

Yurei are known for their ability to haunt and possess the living. They are also believed to have the power to cause illness and misfortune to those who they come into contact with. Yurei are said to be able to move through walls and other solid objects, and they can also create illusions and manipulate the environment around them.

In addition to these abilities, Yurei are also said to be able to communicate with the living through dreams and other forms of spiritual communication. They are often associated with unresolved emotions and unfinished business, and their presence is thought to be a sign of something left unresolved in the physical world.

Types of Yurei

Yurei are ghosts or spirits in Japanese folklore that are believed to be the souls of people who have died in a violent or unnatural manner, or those who were not given a proper burial. There are various types of Yurei, each with its unique characteristics and stories. The most common types of Yurei are Onryō, Ubume, and Funayūrei.


Onryō are vengeful spirits that are usually women who died in a state of intense rage or sorrow, seeking revenge against those who wronged them. They are often depicted as having long black hair, white burial kimonos, and a pale complexion. Onryō are known for their ability to manipulate the physical world, causing harm to their victims and those around them.


Ubume is a type of Yurei that is associated with childbirth. It is believed that women who die during childbirth become Ubume. They are often depicted as a woman holding a baby, crying for help. Ubume is considered to be a protective spirit, and their presence is said to bring good luck to those who see them.


Funayūrei are Yurei that are associated with the sea. They are believed to be the spirits of those who died at sea and did not receive a proper burial. Funayūrei are often depicted as a woman wearing a white burial kimono, standing on the water’s surface. They are said to be able to control the weather and cause ships to sink.

Overall, Yurei are an essential part of Japanese folklore, and their stories have been passed down for generations. Each type of Yurei has its unique characteristics, and they continue to fascinate and terrify people to this day.

Famous Yurei Stories

The Tale of Okiku

One of the most famous Yurei stories is the Tale of Okiku. The story is about a young servant girl named Okiku who worked for a samurai named Tessan Aoyama. Tessan Aoyama fell in love with Okiku, but she rejected his advances. In retaliation, Tessan Aoyama accused Okiku of stealing a valuable family heirloom. Okiku was tortured and killed, and her ghost was said to haunt the well where her remains were thrown. It is said that Okiku’s ghost counted the plates in the Aoyama household every night, and when she reached nine, she would scream.

Bancho Sarayashiki

Bancho Sarayashiki is another famous Yurei story. The story is about a young woman named Otsuyu who fell in love with a samurai named Aoyama. When Aoyama was sent away on a mission, Otsuyu fell ill and died. Her ghost was said to haunt the mansion where she lived, and she would appear to Aoyama in his dreams. In one version of the story, Aoyama returns to the mansion to find Otsuyu’s ghost waiting for him. She tells him that she has been waiting for him to return, and then disappears.

Yotsuya Kaidan

Yotsuya Kaidan is one of the most famous Yurei stories in Japan. The story is about a samurai named Iemon who kills his wife Oiwa to marry another woman. Oiwa’s ghost returns to haunt Iemon and his new wife, and Iemon is eventually driven mad by her ghostly presence. The story has been adapted into numerous films and plays, and is considered a classic of Japanese horror.

Yurei in Popular Culture

Yurei, the ghosts of Japanese folklore, have been a popular subject in various forms of media throughout the years. Here are some examples of how Yurei have been portrayed in popular culture:

Japanese Cinema

Japanese cinema has produced numerous films featuring Yurei. One of the most famous examples is “Ringu” (1998), which centers around a cursed videotape that causes anyone who watches it to die within a week. The film’s antagonist, Sadako, is a Yurei who emerges from the television screen to claim her victims.

Anime and Manga

Yurei have also made appearances in various anime and manga. One notable example is “Gegege no Kitaro”, a long-running series that features a young boy who can communicate with Yurei and other supernatural creatures. Another example is “Hell Girl”, which follows a girl who can send people to hell at the request of others.

Modern Literature

Yurei have also been featured in modern literature. One example is “The Graveyard Apartment” by Mariko Koike, which tells the story of a family who moves into an apartment complex built on the site of an old graveyard. Another example is “Yurei Attack!” by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, which provides a humorous guide to Yurei and their various forms.

Overall, Yurei have had a significant impact on popular culture in Japan and beyond. Their eerie and mysterious nature continues to captivate audiences and inspire new works of art and media.

Regional Variations and Comparisons

Yurei vs. Western Ghosts

While yurei and Western ghosts are both supernatural entities that are believed to be the spirits of the dead, there are some notable differences between the two. For one, yurei are often depicted as having long, disheveled hair and wearing white burial kimonos, while Western ghosts are typically portrayed as being transparent and wearing the clothes they died in. Additionally, yurei are often associated with vengeance and are said to haunt the living until they can resolve some unfinished business. In contrast, Western ghosts are often portrayed as being lost or confused, and may simply be seeking closure before they can move on to the afterlife.

Influence on Other Asian Spirits

The concept of yurei has had a significant influence on other Asian spirits, particularly those found in neighboring countries like China and Korea. For example, the Chinese concept of “gui” is similar to that of yurei, and refers to the spirits of the dead who have not yet passed on to the afterlife. Similarly, the Korean “gwishin” is a ghost or spirit that is said to be trapped in the earthly realm due to some unresolved issue. Despite these similarities, however, there are still notable differences between these spirits and yurei, particularly in terms of their appearance and behavior.

Rituals and Superstitions

Protection Against Yurei

In Japanese folklore, there are various rituals and superstitions to protect oneself from Yurei. One common practice is to place a Shimenawa, a sacred rope made of rice straw, at the entrance of a house or a room. This is believed to ward off evil spirits, including Yurei. Another way to protect oneself from Yurei is to carry a talisman called Ofuda. These are small pieces of paper with prayers or spells written on them, which are believed to have protective powers.

Memorial Practices

In Japan, there are various memorial practices for the deceased, which are believed to help the spirits of the departed rest in peace and prevent them from becoming Yurei. One such practice is the Bon Festival, which is held in August. During this festival, families clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors, offer food and drinks, and light lanterns to guide their spirits back to the world of the living. Another practice is the O-bon, a three-day Buddhist festival held in July or August, where people offer food and prayers to their ancestors and to all the spirits that might be wandering around as Yurei.

Overall, these rituals and superstitions reflect the deep-rooted belief in the existence of Yurei in Japanese culture. While some might consider them mere superstitions, for many Japanese people, they are an important part of their cultural heritage and a way to honor and remember their ancestors.