the online database of Japanese folklore



Translation: ship ghosts
Alternate names: ayakashi
Habitat: seas, oceans, bays
Diet: none

Appearance: When the ghosts of people who have died at sea transform into vengeful spirits, they become a particular type of ghost called a funayūrei. These are the shades of drowned sailors which remain in this world, hunting for their former friends and comrades to take them down into the sea. Like many ghosts, funayūrei appear as dead bodies wearing white funerary robes. They can be seen at night, either when the moon is new or full, on particularly stormy or foggy nights, or during the festival of Obon. Funayūrei appear as an eerie, luminescent mist, which gets closer and closer until it forms into a ship with a ghostly crew.

Interactions: Funayūrei ghost ships attack in different ways. Sometimes they charge headlong towards the other ship, causing it to steer away so sharply that it capsizes. Other times they pull alongside the other ship and the ghostly crew tries to drag it down under the water. The ghosts themselves carry large ladles and buckets which they use to fill ships with seawater, sinking the ships and adding more souls to the funayūrei crew. Occasionally funayūrei strike not as a large crew of man-sized ghosts, but as one very large ghost who rises out of the water to capsize a ship immediately. This ghost often demands a barrel from the crew, which it uses to flood the deck and sink the ship. Giant funayūrei are often confused with umi bōzu, which appear and attack in a similar manner.

It is said that a clever crew can outsmart the funayūrei by carrying buckets and ladles with holes in the bottom. Despite their efforts the ghosts will not be able to flood the human ship with such tools. Encounters with ghost ships can also be avoided by boldly sailing directly through the phantasm instead of turning to avoid a collision—though this runs the risk that the other ship may actually be real and not a phantasm. Some crews have also escaped the wrath of the funayūrei by throwing food and provisions overboard as offerings to the hungry ghosts, who chase after the food instead of the crew.

Alphabetical list of yōkai