Japanese mythology has been keeping people fascinated and captivated for ages and is a realm filled with mysterious things. Among them, an interesting sphere that allures people is the demons and spirits that have haunted the minds of the people for centuries. All these demons that come from Japanese mythology or folklore have spine-chilling appearances with vengeful or fascinating reasons to strike fear in the minds of people.
In this article, we take you on a journey through the “Top 10 Scariest Demons” from Japanese mythology and see how are they woven into the fabric of Japanese mythology. You might’ve heard about some of them and some might be a mystery to you. Many of these demons can be seen in Japanese movies, stories, and even some anime. Therefore, stick around to see what these demons are here for in our minds.
A vengeful spirit or demon is always the scariest one and Japanese mythology is filled with them. One of the most terrifying is the Oiwa, which finds its origins in the kabuki play “Yotsuya Kaidan,” written by Tsuruya Nanboku. The story follows that a woman named Oiwa was married to Iemon who was a ronin or a samurai. But Iemon suddenly wanted to marry a rich local’s granddaughter and to end the marriage with Oiwa, he fed her cream with poison in it.
Although, the poison failed to kill her and only left her disfigured. Her hair started to fall and her left eye dangled from its socket. As she came to know that her husband poisoned her and disfigured her, which overwhelmed her resulting in the death of her with a sword. But it was not the end for her, she became a vengeful spirit and proceeded to haunt Iemon and his new wife till death came upon them.
If you hate spiders, then this demon from Japanese mythology will bring chills down to your bones. The Jorogumo, which translates to “woman-spider” is a nightmare for people, especially men. This demon appears as a half-woman and half-spider. The upper part was that of a beautiful and utterly charming lady, whereas the lower part beneath the waist was a horrific spider.
Jorogumo attracted men with their beauty towards them and then grasped them with their spider bodies. Then the demon weaved their web around the body and then devoured them whole, leaving no trace of their prey. The woman spider is said to have existed since the Edo period of Japan. Another story says that the spider is the golden orb weaver spider and once the spider has lived for 400 years, the spider will metamorphose into the demon Jorogumo and start devouring humans.
It is usual to see a woman’s neck stretching out in Japanese cartoons or movies, but have you ever wondered what they really are? These women with elongated necks are actually demons that are out to kill and devour their victims.
Known as Rokurokubi, they live seemingly normal lives, often blending into society without raising suspicion. However, when night falls, their true nature is revealed. Their necks stretch to extraordinary lengths, allowing their heads to float or hover independently from their bodies, free to explore the darkness.
Rokurokubi are hateful creatures that were cursed because they went against or did not follow the rules of Buddhism. Therefore, their indisciplined nature made them into a demon or a monster who love eating their prey and have a habit of drinking their blood dry.
In Japanese Folklore, there are even demons that don’t wish death upon their victims but only care about making their lives hard and miserable. Well, the Tengu demon does this job perfectly. The word “Tengu” translates to “heavenly dogs” and are the reincarnated spirits of the people who’s life were filled with arrogance. They have human-like bodies but possess red faces with long noses, resembling beaks. Some stories even suggest that Tengu are punished monks made to live in the mountains because they had false virtue.
Tengu as said earlier liked making the lives of people miserable and was even known to pull people away from following Buddhism. Moreover, they would even trouble the monks by tying them up in the trees and burning the temples. They were also known to kidnap children, hence trying their best to give trouble to people. The demons were worshipped by the people and even given offerings so they would not trouble the people and since then they have been worshipped in certain festivals.
If you ever face a Gashadokuro, you will be petrified with fear then and there. Gashadokuro or the starving skeleton is believed to be the spirits of the people who died in large numbers because of a disease or famine. These huge skeletons form at areas of mass burial where there are a lot of skeletons underneath. These malevolent spirits merge into a single, massive entity, forming a giant skeleton that is about 9 to 10 feet in height.
These huge skeletons stroll around at night in remote areas and feed on people who are alone and unfortunate enough to run into the Gashadokuro. These colossal yokai silently stalk their victims, typically travelers or wanderers, with the intent of capturing them. They feed on their victims, eating their flesh and boners and drinking all their blood.
Hyosube is a creature that loves to give humans a hard time and strolls through the land at night. Hyosube is often depicted as a small, impish creature with wrinkled, greenish skin and covered with fur. Hyosube are known for their capricious and sometimes malevolent behavior.
These dwarf demons are also known to find their way into people’s homes, especially bathtubs. Then they leave behind their fur and a foul smell. Moreover, if their fur is thrown away, it can kill or decay whatever it touches. This demon loves to destroy crops especially eggplants and is a nightmare for farmers. It is also said that when a person encounters one and looks them in the eye, they will go through a slow and painful death.
A story of betrayal turned into hate and anger, Yamauba is an old woman who lives in filth in the mountains. They are said to wear dirty and old kimono and have unkempt hair. They have a craving for human flesh and have a tricky way to attain it. These old women offer shelter to the hikers and travelers in the mountains and when night falls, they kill and eat those people. There are also stories where a Yamauba went to people’s homes at night and ate children while they were asleep.
Yamauba are originally elderly and old women who have been abandoned by their families and forced to live a solitary life in the mountains. Some old women were also sent to the mountains as a punishment for crimes they committed. In the mountains, these old women would become angry and hence become cannibalistic, and might even practice some kind of cult.
Therefore, if you ever encounter an elderly woman in the mountains of Japan, make sure you flee and deny her offer of shelter.
3. Yuki Onna
Yuki Onna which means “Snow Woman” and most people have probably heard about this chilling woman, just haven’t heard its name. The demon appears to have white skin, wears a white kimono, and has long black hair. Yuki Onna appears on snowy nights and floats silently along the snow.
There are various stories about her and how she kills her victims. She is known to attract men with her beauty and then make them follow her to leave them in the cold night to freeze to death. Some say that she even sucks out the spirit of people who encounter her. She even blows icy wind on them, freezing them to death, or breathes a freezing mist that solidifies her victims into ice statues.
So, she is a chilling demon who likes to freeze her victims to death and even symbolizes the harsh winters that some areas of Japan go through. We can even find her in some stories, movies, literature, and art, and her presence is sure to make the surroundings ice-cold.
Kiyohime is a terrifying demon who was originally a woman who became a vengeful creature. Her story is filled with sadness and betrayal and these are the very reasons that gave rise to her rage that made her into a dangerous creature.
The lore follows Kiyohime, a woman, who lived near a temple and fell in love with a monk named Anchin. However, her love remained an unrequited one and Anchin gradually lost interest in her and stopped coming to the temple. When she found out that he had left her, she fell into anguish and followed the monk into the boat where he was traveling. As she swam in the river she turned into a monstrous serpent and followed him. Anchin then sought refuge in a temple and the monks hid him beneath a bell. But Kiyohime eventually found him and wrapped herself around the bell and breathed fire melting the bell and killing Anchin.
Kiyohime’s story is the perfect portrayal of how betrayal and unrequited love make a person feel. Therefore giving us the lesson that one must not take other’s feelings for granted. Her story has been used in theaters and other forms of art.
1. Kushisake-onna: Slit mouthed woman
The Slit Mouthed woman is a terrifying woman who appears to have a slit-mouthed woman and wears a surgical mask. The Kushisake Onna finds its origins during the olden times and it is believed that she was a real woman who was married to a man. But she would often indulge in extramarital affairs, neglecting her husband and child. Enraged by her infidelity, her husband took matters into his own hands and slit her mouth from ear to ear, leaving her disfigured.
Therefore, her spirit lives on and visits people at night and often children. With her mask on she looks like a beautiful woman and approaches people. She asks the question “Am I beautiful?”. If they answer “No” then they will immediately killed by Kushisake Onna. But if they answer “Yes” then she would proceed to take off her mask and reveal her slit mouth. Then she would ask the question again and if the person answers “Yes” they would find their mouth slit by the spirit.
In the rich tapestry of Japanese mythology, we have delved into the shadowy realm of demons and supernatural beings. From shape-shifting night creatures like the Rokurokubi to the vengeful spirits of betrayed women like Oiwa, the world of Japanese folklore is a treasure trove of eerie and captivating tales.
As we explored the top 10 scariest demons that emerge from Japanese mythology, we encountered figures that embody fear, fascination, and the complexities of human emotions. These demons are more than just malevolent entities; they are embodiments of cultural beliefs, symbols of morality, and reflections of the human condition.