story, science, technology and creativity


5 places to find strange and scary Japanese ghost stories

If you’re a fan of spooky Japanese mythology and folk tales (kaidan), then you probably know a few Japanese ghost stories and yokai (an umbrella term for Japanese monsters, demons, and supernatural creatures of every weird and wonderful kind). I adore yokai and the folklore that accompanies them, hence their appearance in my books.

If you’re new to the genre, there’s a few tried-and-true resources I totally recommend for getting started.

In no particular, I list below five places to go in your search for ghostly Japanese tales:


What a fab idea this project is. From here you can download free e-books that are out of copyright, including:
– Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
, by Lafcadio Hearn

Hearn’s awesome 1904 translation of early Japanese folklore. The full text is available free from Project Gutenburg, or you can check out a couple of the scary stories on my blog (Of a Mirror and a Bell (about the power of possessions and a curse) and Mujina (about a yokai without a face). (If you’re a teacher looking for a creative writing activity involving Kwaidan, try this.)

– Japanese Fairy Tales, by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Also available free at Project Gutenberg, this 1908 book includes some classics, like the Tongue-Cut Sparrow, Momotaro, and my favourite, How An Old Man Lost His Wen.


There are a great many talented people out there, all translating a lot of cool stuff about Japanese folklore and tales. I like:

My yokai monogatari
A year in the life of a JET in Ishigawa as he experiences Japan and learns about yokai. A nice introduction to some famous yokai, with the added bonus of being a bit of a journey across 12 months.

Hyaku monogatari Kaidankai
Another JET, translator and scholar of Japanese folklore (specialising in yuurei or ghosts) is Zack Davisson, who runs this neat blog featuring translations of strange and spooky kaidan tales.

Pink Tentacle
If you’re interested in unusual snippets of art, culture and science about Japan, check out Pink Tentacle; it often includes choice info and awesome artwork feature yokai monsters. My favorites? Fake Japanese mermaids. Totally gross and completely inspiring.

Education in Japan Community Blog
Hasn’t been updated in a good while, but still full of great links to spooky stuff.


The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: a Field Guide to Japanese Yokai, by Matthew Meyer
If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can follow its creation on Matthew’s blog, and check out some of his yokai artwork. It’s awesome!

I’m totally new to pinterest, but if you want any scary inspiration, check out this collection of modern yokai art.

In Japanese
There are a couple of super databases for those who can read Japanese, or those (like me) who can read *some* Japanese and are incredibly patient with a kanji dictionary 😉 Check here if you’re chasing mostly text and here if you’re searching for a wealth of yokai images.


The Obakemono Project: A gaijin’s guide to the fantastic folk monsters of Japan
A purple-flavoured monster wiki, the Obakemono Project has choice info on nearly 100 yokai, each with its own original purple-flavoured illustration. There’s also a forum for chatting with other obakemono fans. (This site was one of the early inspirations for Takeshita Demons: The Filth Licker, thanks to its gross but tantalising entry on akaname.)

Yokai Attack, by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda
A fun ‘Japanese Monster survival guide’ with historical information and new illustrations by Tatsuya Morino (taught by Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro creator Mizuki Shigeru). Matt and Hiroko’s other books and blog are also worth a look: there’s a book dedicated to ninja and another specifically for ghosts. Too sweet!

Folk Legends at Kids Web Japan
I’ve blogged about this site before and it totally rocks. A great place for your kids to spend time learning about Japan and its culture.


I love these books for the depth they add to the ghostly tales I already know. There’s a lot of cultural depth and quirks of history and legend. Many tidbits made their way into books 3 and 4.

Tales of Old Japan, A.B. Mitford (first published 1871 but republished by the Folklore Society in 2000)
Pandemonium and Parade, Michael Dylan Foster (2009; the result of university research and a fascinating look at how yokai tales have influenced Japanese culture)
Japanese Mythology, Juliet Piggot (1969; some incredible photos and art combined with Japanese myths and legends I had never heard of)
Myths and Legends of China and Japan, Donald A. Mackenzie (1986; harder to plough through, but some really useful and in-depth chapters on things like dragons and stone-lore)
Japanese Proverbs and Sayings, Daniel Crump Buchanan (1965; WOW! Pages and pages of Japanese proverbs, along with their cultural significance. This is gold!)(I’ve blogged about some of my favourite Japanese sayings here.)


This is really only the tip of the iceberg…I’d love to hear about other places to find myths and legends of Japan or other people interested in yokai. Please introduce yourself in the comments and point me in the right direction. THANKS!

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Fight demons, learn about luck and choose a charm: Japanese demons webquest

Japan’s demons or yōkai are different from any you’ve known. Some yōkai like to shake beans. Others drink oil, or eat cucumbers, or ride your nightmares into the night..

Most of them would like to eat you.

If you want to stay safe, you’ll need to know more about how to attract good luck in Japan.

Step 1:  Choose your lucky symbol.
Are you a…

– Cat lover?
– Dog fanatic?
– Doll collector?
– Bird watcher?
– Lion tamer?
– Ghost buster?

Your mission:
1) Research one of Japan’s lucky charms and report your findings to
the class.
2) Decide which lucky charm your class will adopt. And remember, the
wrong decision could be fatal…

Download the Takeshita Demons webquest here.

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Japanese yokai memory game: test your memory, learn some Japanese and spook yourself out!

Want to hunt some yokai?

You’ve come to the right place! I’ve posted a new game:

It’s a ‘match-the-pairs’ challenge that uses the artwork of Toriyama Sekien.

Sekien is famous for his early depictions of Japanese monsters, better known as yokai.


It’s simple!

Use your mouse to click on any of the closed books: when you click, the book will open to reveal one of the yokai Sekien drew.

– If you find a pair, the books will stay open.

– If you don’t find a pair, the books will close and you must guess again.



Not only do you get to exercise your brain and have some fun, you also get to learn some more about Japanese demons, practise your hiragana and kanji, and SPOOK YOURSELF OUT!


(And huge thanks to my lovely and clever husband for making the game: what a champ!! xxx)

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Japanese ghost stories: of a mirror and a bell

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo, was a journalist best known for Kwaidan, his book of super-spooky Japanese ghost stories.

Hearn’s ghost story “Of a mirror and a bell” appears in Kwaidan and is a spooky tale of curses and regret.

“Of a mirror and a bell” is reproduced below…

OF A MIRROR AND A BELL, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn

Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama, in the province of Totomi, wanted a big bell for their temple; and they asked the women of their parish to help them by contributing old bronze mirrors for bell-metal.

There was at that time a young woman, a farmer’s wife, living at Mugenyama, who presented her mirror to the temple, to be used for bell-metal. But afterwards she much regretted her mirror.

She remembered things that her mother had told her about it; and she remembered that it had belonged not only to her mother, but to her mother’s mother and grandmother; and she remembered some happy smiles which it had reflected.

Of course, if she could have offered the priests a certain sum of money in place of the mirror, she could have asked them to give back her heirloom. But she had not the money necessary.

Whenever she went to the temple, she saw her mirror lying in the courtyard, behind a railing, among hundreds of other mirrors heaped there together. She knew it by the Sho-Chiku-Bai in relief on the back of it: the three lucky emblems of Pine, Bamboo, and Plumflower, which delighted her baby-eyes when her mother first showed her the mirror.

She longed for some chance to steal the mirror, and hide it, that she might thereafter treasure it always. But the chance did not come; and she became very unhappy, feeling as if she had foolishly given away a part of her life.

She thought about the old saying that “a mirror is the soul of a woman”, and she feared that it was true in weirder ways than she had before imagined. But she did not dare to speak of her pain to anybody.

Now, when all the mirrors contributed for the Mugenyama bell had been sent to the foundry, the bell-founders discovered that there was one mirror among them which would not melt.

Again and again they tried to melt it; but it resisted all their efforts. Evidently the woman who had given that mirror to the temple must have regretted the giving. She had not presented her offering with all her heart; and therefore her selfish soul, remaining attached to the mirror, kept the mirror hard and cold in the midst of the furnace.

Of course, everybody heard of the matter, and everybody soon knew whose mirror it was that would not melt.

Because of this public exposure of her secret fault, the poor woman became very much ashamed and very angry. And as she could not bear the shame, she drowned herself, having written a farewell letter containing these words:

“When I am dead, it will not be difficult to melt the mirror and to cast the bell. But, to the person who breaks that bell by ringing it, great wealth will be given by the ghost of me.”

You must know that the last wish or promise of anybody who dies in anger, or performs suicide in anger, is generally supposed to possess a supernatural force.

After the dead woman’s mirror had been melted, and the bell had been successfully cast, people remembered the words of that letter. They felt sure that the spirit of the writer would give wealth to the breaker of the bell; and, as soon as the bell had been suspended in the court of the temple, they went in multitude to ring it.

With all their might and main they swung the ringing-beam; but the bell proved to be a good bell, and it bravely withstood their assaults. Nevertheless, the people were not easily discouraged.

Day after day, at all hours, they continued to ring the bell furiously, caring nothing whatever for the protests of the priests. So the ringing became an affliction; and the priests could not endure it; and they got rid of the bell by rolling it down the hill into a swamp. The swamp was deep, and swallowed it up, and that was the end of the bell.

Only its legend remains; and in that legend it is called the Mugen-Kane, or Bell of Mugen.

Oooooooo! Spooky!