Ghost Stories From Japan
Every culture has its own stories about princesses, dragons, ghosts, and demons. Some of these stories overlap, and some are specific for that culture. Japan is no exception and has a rich history of (scary) storytelling. Japan’s Shinto religion makes it very easy for ghost stories to flourish, as believing in a spiritual world comes naturally to Japanese. Let us tell you about some of Japan’s scariest stories of ghosts and ghouls, some of which are made up to scare the kids, some of which are shrouded in the mystery of the many years that passed since the alleged happenings took place and some of which are still quite recent…
Let’s start with some accounts of separate, spooky sightings that have really happened according to the taxi drivers that shared these stories. On March 11, 2011, a terrible triple disaster happens after one of the largest earthquakes in history rocks the seabed east of Japan. It doesn’t only cause great damage but it also produces an enormous tsunami that slammed into the northeastern coast of Japan, causing the meltdown of a Fukushima nuclear plant and killing many thousands of people, some of who have never been found.
In 2016, a sociology student wants to write a thesis about experiences in the area and heard strange stories from several taxi drivers who are still working there. After the disaster, there have been multiple incidences of people getting in a taxi and asking to go to areas that were destroyed in the tsunami or to areas that are supposed to be safe from the tsunami. All passengers disappeared before they could pay their fares, most without saying anything and one while notably asking the driver if she had died. One of the most conspicuous things was that all ghost sightings were of young people, which is explained as younger victims of the disaster having a harder time processing that they are no longer a part of earthly life and the speed with which their deaths must have happened.
There have also been other sightings of ghosts in that area, for example, lines of people waiting in front of shops that no longer existed and people having experiences that needed an exorcist to be resolved.
The Old Hag’s Pond
Near Asakusa’s Sensoji, there is a small park with some slides and swings called Hanakawado Park. Nothing special to look at if you go there in the daytime. The nighttime is already more spooky, especially if you know the story of what happened in that exact location a few hundred years ago. There is a small pond on the north side of the park with a shrine in the middle, and this is where the story is supposed to have happened.
In the 6th century, when Asakusa was not more than a quiet trail with one house, an old innkeeper lady lived in this house with her only daughter. Travelers could spend the night there, but many of them didn’t live to see the next day because the old lady first killed them by dropping a large stone on their head so she could rob them. The daughter hated this habit of her mom and tried to stop her, but the lady had no intention to give up. The daughter then made the ultimate sacrifice by placing herself under the window from where the lady would drop the stone, in the hopes her mother would stop the killing. That wish came true, as the lady was inconsolable once she found out she killed her own daughter, and she committed suicide by drowning herself in this pond after throwing her daughter’s body in there.
It is said that if you are sensitive to it, you will still be able to hear the cries of the old lady around the pond area at night.
The First Samurai’s Shrine
While many know the story of the last samurai thanks to Tom Cruise, the story of one of the first samurai is at least as interesting. His name was Taira no Masakado, he lived in the 10th century, and he was a fierce warrior who was little loved in capital Kyoto. He revolted against the government and had to pay the ultimate price; a bounty was put on his head, and he was killed and his head was brought to Kyoto by his killers. It was put there on a stake to show everyone what happens to traitors of the government. This displeased the spirit of Masakado, and it is said that his head got so angry that it flew off its stake and made its way to a place that is now known as Otemachi in Tokyo.
The villagers who found his head took care of it, and buried it under a mound and put a shrine there in Masakado’s honor. This pacified the spirit, and nothing much was heard from him for centuries although he did get the blame whenever something bad happened. When samurai rose to prominence during the Edo period, Fast forward to the late 19th century, and a bustling city sprung up around the area that was formerly just a sleepy village. The place where Masakado’s shrine was located was prime real estate, so the authorities decided to raze the shrine and build a government building on top of it. This was of course a bad idea.
The first building burned down after a lightning strike. Then when they were constructing the replacement building, incident after incident happened, people got strange and unexplainable injuries on their legs, and when an unexpected sickness and subsequent death even hit the minister that had his seat there, the shrine was hastily restored to its former glory. They forgot to put back one of the most important stones, though, the one that had inscriptions of prayers that should keep the angry spirit in check, and another lightning strike incident happened which burned down several neighboring buildings.
That wasn’t the end of it. After WW2 ended, the Americans didn’t listen when the Japanese asked them to leave that piece of land alone when they took their seat in Tokyo. They still came with a bulldozer to turn the shrine area into a parking lot, the bulldozer flipped killing the driver, and the grave was left in peace once again. When a financer tried to sell off mining rights to the land, of course, they were punished by going bankrupt. And this is why today you can still see the shrine on its rightful spot amidst Tokyo’s tall financial district buildings. Any salaryman or office lady working in one of the neighboring buildings still makes sure not to turn their chairs’ backs towards the shrine in fear of retribution from Masakado’s spirit.
One of the most haunted spots in Tokyo is in Shinjuku, near the campus of Waseda University. Mount Hakone in Toyama park is a place where students come to relax these days, but if you come at night you are in for a very different experience. This was the spot of horrors during WW2 when the building that was in this area functioned as a research facility for bodies and body parts of prisoners of war from China who were used for terrible medical experiments that were on a par with torture. Mount Hakone was used as a mass grave where these bodies and parts were disposed of without any kind of ceremony.
If you go to this area at night, you might be able to see hitodama, floating balls of light that are said to be spirits of people that have left their bodies but have not moved on to the next realm yet. They can especially turn up in photographs if you take pictures in spiritually active areas at night. Some people have also reported that they can hear a man wail here at night, so it is definitely a scary place that is not for the faint of heart to visit at night.
Tokyo Execution Grounds
During the Edo period, anyone who displeased the Shogun or other high officials could be handed the death penalty. If you were poor, even a relatively small crime like theft could land you on death row. This meant that the execution grounds of Edo were quite busy, and hundreds of thousands of people have met their ends here. Naturally, the areas that used to be execution grounds are spiritually active and ghost hunters like to visit these places.
Execution grounds were usually placed outside the central city because people didn’t want to be near these ‘unclean’ places. The Suzugamori execution ground is near Shinagawa station, this was one of the 3 Edo execution grounds and it is the easiest one to find. It used to be a quiet place in the fields with the ocean nearby. This place of capital punishment employed different execution methods, some of which were quite gruesome like burning at the stake, crucifixion, boiling alive, and the most ‘humane’ and most common, decapitation.
Today you can still see remnants of the grounds, like the well that was used for washing the heads after they were cut off and before they went on display, the stones in which the stakes for burning and crucifixion went, and the so-called Bridge of Tears, which is the place where the family had the option to say goodbye to the condemned for the last time. With so many horrible things that went on in this location, it can’t be anything but a paranormally active place, and those who are sensitive to it will have a hard time in a place like this. There have been many reports of spiritual activity, especially in photographs that were taken at the cleaning well at night.
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