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Browsing all posts in: grudge



TRANSLATION: crazy bones
HABITAT: wells
DIET: none; it is powered solely by vengeance

APPEARANCE: A kyōkotsu is a ghostly, skeletal spirit which rises out of wells to scare people. It is wrapped in a ragged shroud, with only its bleached skull and tangled hair emerging from its tattered clothes.

BEHAVIOR: Kyōkotsu are formed from bones which were improperly disposed of by being discarded down a well. The bones may come from a murder or a suicide victim, or someone who died after accidentally falling into a well. The lack of a proper burial—and the egregious disrespect shown by discarding bones in this manner—creates a powerful grudge in those bones. This transforms the deceased into a shiryō. Like other ghosts, they pass their grudge on to those they come in contact with. A kyōkotsu lies at the bottom of its well until it is disturbed, then it rises up to curse anyone unfortunate enough to be using the well.

ORIGIN: Kyōkotsu was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. In his description, he writes that this yōkai’s name is the origin of the word kyōkotsu, which means fury and violence. While there is a word in a local dialect of Kanagawa which does match this description, there is no evidence actually linking it to this yōkai. It is more likely that Toriyama Sekien—who was fond of wordplay—actually created this yōkai based on words in local dialects and just made up a false etymology to make the story more interesting.

Haka no hi


TRANSLATION: grave fire
HABITAT: tombs, graveyards, and burial grounds
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Haka no hi are mysterious, supernatural fires, or kaika. They spout forth from the base of graves.

ORIGIN: The cause of haka no hi is unknown. It is commonly believed to be a result of failure on the part of the grave’s owner to reach enlightenment and pass on to Nirvana. The flames are thought to be residual energy from worldly attachments, or else feelings of grudge or resentment, coming from the remains interred in the grave.



TRANSLATION: upside-down pillar
HABITAT: houses
DIET: resentment at being upside-down

APPEARANCE: Sakabashira are the angry spirits of tree leaves which manifest inside houses where one of the pillars has been placed upside-down — that is to say, in the opposite direction of the way the tree was pointing when it was living. These spirits manifest their grudge late at night, and bring misfortune upon those living in the house.

BEHAVIOR: Sakabashira are most well-known for making noises. They creak and moan, imitate the sounds of wooden beams cracking, and sometimes even speak in sentences like, “My neck hurts!” They can cause houses to shake, and the leaf-spirits residing in the tree can manifest as yanari, acting like poltergeists and breaking things around the house. Sakabashira can be so loud that families often move out of a house that is haunted by one, for these yokai cause not only strange noises, but also terrible luck. People who stay in a house haunted by a sakabashira often lose their family fortunes, or even lose all of their possessions to great conflagrations which consume and destroy the cursed house.

ORIGIN: It has long been a folk belief that a pillar erected in the upside-down position will bring misfortune to a family, and a sakabashira is usually the result of a careless mistake on the part of the construction crew. In order to prevent this yokai from appearing, folk superstition tells us that a pillar must be erected in the same orientation as the tree had when it was alive. However, sometimes support pillars are actually installed this way on purpose. The reason for this is another folk belief: “The moment a house is completed, it starts to fall apart.” As a kind of ward against bad luck, Japanese buildings were sometimes only almost completed, with the final step being left out, or purposefully made into a mistake. The famous Tosho-gu shrine at Nikko is such an example, having been built with just one pillar purposefully pointing in the opposite direction. This same superstition was followed when building the imperial palace — placing the final pillar in an upside-down position. During the Edo period, house builders commonly “forgot” to place the last three roof tiles for the same reason.

Suzuri no tamashii

Kyourinrin, Chouchinobake. Suzurinotamashii硯の魂

TRANSLATION: inkstone spirit

APPEARANCE: An inkstone which has been used to copy the same manuscript over and over again for many generations begins to take on aspects of the story itself. It can create phantom sounds and illusory characters from the story, which well up out of the ink and wreak havoc on the area around the writing desk.

ORIGIN: One of the most bloody tales of old Japan deals with the civil war between the Taira and Minamoto clans, known as the Genpei War. In the final naval battle of the war, the entire Taira clan was brutally wiped out, and many of the slaughtered Taira soldiers transformed into onryō. The grudge-curse of these ghosts infects the inkstones which have been used to copy their story many times. These inkstones begin to echo the brutal slaughter from when the clan was wiped out in the final battle of the war. When used, they produce sounds like the echo of the sea, the din of battle, and the screams of warriors. The ink inside begins to ripple and billow like the sea’s waves, and tiny boats and soldiers begin to materialize out of the ink.



TRANSLATION: grudge spirit, vengeful ghost
HABITAT: found all throughout Japan
DIET: none; survives solely on its wrath

APPEARANCE: The most dreaded type of yūrei is the onryō. They are the ghosts of people who died with such strong passions –jealousy, rage, or hatred – that their soul is unable to pass on, and instead transforms into a powerful wrathful spirit who seeks vengeance on any and everything it encounters. Onryō appear as they did when they died. Often they were victims of war, catastrophe, betrayal, murder, or suicide, and they usually display wounds or marks indicative of the way they died.

INTERACTIONS: Their motive is always the same: vengeance. Onryō are easily powerful enough to swiftly kill any person; however, they prefer letting the object of their hatred live a long life of torment and suffering, watching those he knows suffer and die. They inflict a terrible curse on the people or places that they haunt. This curse can be transmitted to others through contact like a contagious disease, creating a circle of death or destruction that is far more devastating than any ordinary ghost. They make no distinction in whom they target with their grudge; they just wants to destroy. Moreover, this vengeance can never be satisfied as it can for most ghosts. While most yūrei only haunt a person or place until they are exorcised or placated, an onryō’s horrible grudge-curse continues to infect a location long after the ghost itself has been laid to rest.

Occasionally, an onryō’s curse is born not out of hatred and retribution, but out of intense, passionate love which perverts into extreme jealousy. These onryō haunt their former lovers, exacting their wrath onto new romances, second marriages, their children, and eventual end up destroying the lives of the ones they loved so much in life. Whatever the origin, the onryō’s undiscriminating wrath makes it one of the most feared supernatural entities in all of Japan.

LEGENDS: Unquestionably the most well-known onryō, and one whose grudge-curse exists to this very day, is the ghost of Oiwa: a young woman who was brutally disfigured and then murdered by her wicked and greedy husband in an elaborate plot. Her story is told in Yotsuya Kaidan, The Ghost Story of Yotsuya, and has been retold many times, in books, ukiyo-e, kabuki, and film. Like with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, legend has it that a curse accompanies her story, and that those who retell it will suffer injuries and even death. To this day, producers, actors, and their crews continue to visit the grave of Oiwa in Tokyo before productions or adaptations of Yotsuya Kaidan, praying for her soul and asking for her blessing to tell her story once again.



TRANSLATION: faint spirit, ghost
ALTERNATE NAMES: obake, shiryō, bōrei; other names exist for specific kinds
HABITAT: any; commonly found in graveyards, houses, or near the place of death
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: There are many different types of yūrei, and they differ in many ways depending on the circumstances on their death. In most cases, though, yūrei appear much like they did in their human life, retaining the features and the clothing they wore when they died or were buried. As such, yūrei are often seen wearing white burial kimonos or the uniforms of fallen warriors. Occasionally they have bloody wounds indicative of the way they died. Their hair is usually long and disheveled, often obstructing their face and adding to their disturbing appearance. Their hands hang limply from their wrists. They are translucent and only very faintly visible, and in most cases they are so faint that they appear to have no feet.

INTERACTIONS: Yūrei interact with the living world in a wide range of ways, from creating phantom lights and sounds, to invoke powerful curses. They do not roam about, but they haunt one particular place or person. In the case of a place it is often where they died or are buried. In the case of a person it is often their killer, or sometimes their loved ones. Yūrei exist only to haunt, and they remain “stuck” in this world until they can be put to rest. This might require bringing their killers to justice, finding their lost body, or something as simple as passing on a message to a loved one. Some yūrei are so reluctant to accept their deaths that they haunt their living family, bringing misfortune and unhappiness for the rest of their family members’ lives.

Each haunting is as unique as the person it originated from. Only when its purpose for existing is fulfilled, or it is exorcised by a priest, is a yūrei able to pass on and be reunited with its ancestors – but the possibility that salvation exists is a glimmer of hope for those who are affected by a haunting.

ORIGIN: According to traditional Japanese beliefs, when a person dies his soul lives on as a separate entity, passing on to a heavenly afterlife. This transition is accomplished through a number of funeral and post-funeral rites and prayers performed by their loved ones over many years. Through these rites, the soul is reunited with its ancestors and becomes a family guardian spirit. These ancestors are enshrined in the house and continue to be honored as members of the family, particularly during the summer holiday of Obon, when they are said to return to the material world to be with their families.

Those who do not receive the proper funeral rites cannot pass on, and remain stuck in a purgatory that is part physical world and part ethereal. Others who die suddenly, tragically, violently, or with grudge and malice in their hearts are sometimes unable to pass on even with the proper prayers and rites. These “lost” souls are the ones that transform into ghosts.



TRANSLATION: onomatopoeic; rattling skull
ALTERNATE NAMES: ōdokuro (giant skeleton)
HABITAT: any; usually found near mass-graves or battlegrounds
DIET: none, but enjoys eating humans anyway

APPEARANCE: Gashadokuro are skeletal giants which wander around the countryside in the darkest hours of the night. Their teeth chatter and bones rattle with a “gachi gachi” sound, which is this yokai’s namesake. If they should happen upon a human out late on the roads, the gashadokuro will silently creep up and catch their victims, crushing them in their hands or biting off their head.

ORIGIN: Soldiers whose bodies rot in the fields and victims of famine who die unknown in the wilderness rarely receive proper funerary rites. Unable to pass on, their souls are reborn as hungry ghosts, longing eternally for that which they once had. These people die with anger and pain in their hearts, and that energy remains long after their flesh has rotted from their bones. As their bodies decay, their anger ferments into a powerful force – a grudge against the living – and this grudge is what twists them into a supernatural force. When the bones of hundreds of victims gather together into one mass, they can form the humongous skeletal monster known as the gashadokuro.

Too large and powerful to be killed, gashadokuro maintain their existence until the energy and malice stored up in their bodies has completely burnt out. However, because of the large amount of dead bodies required to form a single one, these abominations are much rarer today than they were in the earlier days, when wars and famine were a part of everyday life.

LEGENDS: The earliest record of a gashadokuro goes back over 1000 years to a bloody rebellion against the central government by a samurai named Taira no Masakado. His daughter, Takiyasha-hime, was a famous sorceress. When Masako was eventually killed for his revolt, his daughter continued his cause. Using her black magic, she summoned a great skeleton to attack the city of Kyoto. Her monster is depicted in a famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.