Japan is a nation that absolutely loves its ghost stories. The nation has an entire subculture called “kwaidan” (怪談) or “horror narratives” that date back centuries. Almost naturally for a country with a rich history of the macabre and horrific, there are multiple locations throughout Japan noted for its ghosts and haunting. Listed here are ten locations in Japan where you just might have a close encounter of some sort of the spiritual kind.
10. Himeji Castle
One of the absolutely most famous ghost stories of Japan would be Banchō Sarayashiki (番町皿屋敷) or the tale of Okiku. To summarize, Okiku was a servant woman who was once falsely accused of losing one of ten valuable family treasure plates and was then killed, her body thrown into a well. Ever since then, her onryo ghost has risen out of the well at night counting dishes in a despondent tone before wailing in despair when she can only count up to nine. While most versions of this story take place in Edo (Tokyo), one especially popular version of this story takes place at Himeji Castle and in fact, specifically identifies one of the castle’s wells as Okiku’s Well. In fact there are still many people to this day who claim, although the castle is closed at night, that they can hear Okiku counting to nine and then shrieking in despair.
9. Amidaji in Dan-no-ura
In Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi prefecture, there is an “Amidaji” or Amida Buddhist Temple that was the setting of another famous ghost story or kwaidan. According to legend, Hoichi was a blind minstrel, a biwa hosi who was exceptionally talented with a biwa (Japanese lute). As the legend goes, Hoichi was once visited by a samurai who requested that he perform his biwa for his lord at what blind Hoichi assumed was the lord’s mansion. The asked Hoichi not to tell anybody about this as he and his lord were travelling incognito. These performances continued for several nights until they arose suspicion in Hoichi’s friend, the priest of Amidaji. He had Hoichi tailed and those following were horrified to find him playing his lute in Amidaji cemetery. When the priest confronted Hoichi, he realized that his friend was being haunted by ghosts. In order to protect his friend, the priest covered Hoichi’s entire body with heart sutras except the ears and instructed him to remain quiet when called. When the samurai ghost returned he was unable to see Hoichi except for his ears. Frustrated, he ripped off Hoichi’s ears and afterward never returned. Amidaji, modern day Akama Shrine is on this list because it is a real life location, though according to legend the ghosts haven’t actually been seen in nearly a millennium.
8. Himuro Mansion
Himuro Mansion is only number eight on this list because nobody can accurately verify where it actually exists. Regardless, urban legend places this mysterious residence located just outside of Tokyo as one of the most haunted places in Japan. Again, going by these urban legends, Himuro Mansion was apparently the site of some of the most bizarre, occultist practices and grisly murders in modern Japan. The local lore is that family practiced a twisted Shinto ritual called the “strangling ritual” seemingly to seal off bad karma in the Earth every fifty years or so. The ritual consisted of a maiden, raised in complete isolation being tied and quartered as a sacrifice. Apparently, some time in twentieth century, the maiden sacrifice’s lover attempted to save the maiden which ended up “tainting” the ritual. In response, the master of the house murdered everyone in the family before killing himself. Since then, there are local legends that suggest that the ghosts of the murdered family members continuously lure people to the mansion in an attempt to complete the ruined ritual. The story of Himuro Mansion was used as the backstory of the hit video game Fatal Frame.
7. Gridley Tunnel
Gridley Tunnel is a narrow, single lane tunnel located on Yokosuka Naval Base linking the north and south sections of the base. Finding out that Gridley Tunnel is haunted comes as a bit of a shock to me given how I lived on Yokosuka base for several years during my Navy days. Heck, I’ve walked through Gridley Tunnel on several occasions. Admittedly, never on rainy nights in between midnight and 1AM when this ghost is often seen. Supposedly, car drivers driving through the tunnel during this time sometimes see a spectral samurai in their rearview mirrors. Some have been so startled by this samurai that they ended up crashing their cars. The common belief is that the samurai was on a quest to avenge his lord, only to be ambushed and killed while in the tunnel and is now stuck there.
6. Ikego Middle Gate
And now we come to my home city of Yokohama. Or to be more specific, the town of Zushi located on the outskirts of Yokohama. This is the location of the US Navy’s Ikego Housing detachment, an expansion of Yokosuka Naval Base. Sure, the place may house American navy sailors and their families now but back during World War II, this was the location of a Japanese concentration camp, where thousands of Chinese and Korean prisoners were forced into labor and killed. The Ikego facility has three gates and five incinerators that separate this place from the Japanese community. These gates are the main gate, middle gate, and back gate. Of these three it is the middle gate where all of the paranormal activity is encountered—guards on patrol in this area have often heard footsteps and voices and have experienced an uncanny feeling of being watched. On several occasions, guards have seen spectral visions of a Japanese World War II soldier with no legs.
5. Hiroshima Peace Memorial
It should come as no surprise that this city is haunted, especially the area around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Dome. On August 6th, 1945 a US Air Force B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the city. 140,000 people were killed and the entire commercial center of Hiroshima was wiped out with the exception of one building near the explosion’s hyper center: Hiroshima Prefectural industrial Promotion Hall which has since then come to be known as the “Genbaku Dome” or Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Ever since then, people have noted that they often hear screams in voices in the area around the epicenter near the dome. In fact, there have been several incidents of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) here including one particularly notable one of apparently the atomic bomb itself exploding. There are also reports of the souls of those who were killed lurking in the shadows of visitors at the memorial.
4. Atsugi Naval Air Facility
The US Navy certainly ends up in a lot of places that are haunted. Atsugi has a particularly interesting past because during the 1960s it was a CIA U-2 base, used to house U-2 spy planes. Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who supposedly killed John F. Kennedy was also stationed here as a marine. As for the haunting, it is believed that Atsugi’s Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQ) 985 is haunted by the ghost of a young marine who was killed in a car accident during the 1960s. It is often seen wandering from room to room. Atsugi is also the location of the Corrosion Hangar Bay on the other side of the base. Toward the end of World War II, this hangar was used by the Kamikaze pilots of Imperial Japan. When Japan surrendered to the Allies, many of the pilots committed suicide. Ever since then, there have been nighttime hearings of doors slamming on their own and sightings of disembodied red eyes floating in the shadows of the bay. On one occasion, a guard on watch saw a man in an Imperial era uniform walk through the bay access doors and out the back exit.
3. Akasaka Weekly Mansion
Hotels have had a long history of being haunted around the world and Japan is no exception. Weekly Mansion Tokyo in Akasaka is a luxury hotel located in the very heart of the city. It is certainly luxurious but it is also one of the scariest places to stay. Building no. 1 in particular has been the location of multiple sightings of apparitions standing at the edge of their beds, white mists coming from the air vents, appliances turning on by themselves, and sensations of being stroked while asleep, and even being pushed onto the bed into a state of being completely frozen. There was even one woman who claimed to have been dragged across the room by her hair and had scratch marks on her back the following morning.
When you think of haunted places in Japan this is probably the first place you think of. A vast forest located at the base of Mt. Fuji also known as “Jukai” or “Sea of Trees”, it has also acquired another unfortunate nickname: “Suicide Forest”. For decades now, hundreds of people have chosen this disturbingly creepy forest as the place to commit suicide. This goes as far back to ancient times where according to legend, families would abandon people in this forest during times of famine. The spirits of these abandoned people are said to haunt the forest to this day. With so many suicides taking place here it is understandable that locals believe this place to be haunted. Workers around the forest have conducted many rituals to appease the ghosts around the place as they conduct their often disturbing work. As if the creepy topography, the trees so thick that there is very little sunlight, and a significant lack of wildlife wasn’t frightening enough.
The entire island of Okinawa gets the top spot and it is not difficult to understand why. Toward the end of World War II Okinawa was the stage of the final and bloodiest battle of the entire war. The Japanese would often fight to the death and over 77,000 Japanese soldiers were either killed or committed suicide while the Allies suffered a little over 14,000 deaths. The civilian death toll is unknown but numbers range from 40,000 to 150,000—one third of the entire population of Okinawa at the time. So yeah, haunting are probably inevitable.
One of the most haunted locations on Okinawa would be US Marine base Camp Hansen. There are several areas around the US Marine Base Complexes that are haunted but gate #3 at Camp Hansen is particularly noticeable. Apparently on weekends after the sun has set a soldier wearing bloody World War II fatigues and holding a cigarette would come up to the gate guard and ask, “Gotta light?” When the guard would light the cigarette, the GI would simply disappear. In fact, the haunting became so bad that gate #3 was closed because of this. Also, just across the street from gate #3 is the location of an ancient samurai battle. It is said that the moans of dying samurai could still be heard here.
There is also Okinawa’s Royal Hotel or Kogen Hotel. This incomplete, abandoned structure was built near Nakagusuku castle by a business man in Naha, Okinawa on the site’s location. Unfortunately, the site he chose was too close to a nearby sacred cave and he was warned to stop by the local Buddhist monks but he refused to stop. Workers began to leave in mass, even more so when some of them began dying mysterious deaths. Finally, the businessman himself tried to prove that the place wasn’t haunted by staying there until construction was complete. He lasted three days, went insane, and died in a mental institution, or so they say. Whichever way the US Marine Corps has declared the ruins of the hotel off limits so you can only see it from afar.
And those are just some of the most famous haunted locations in Japan. The rich and often times macabre history of this country has continuously lent itself in its telling of ghost stories. Who knows, you just may have a ghostly encounter yourself if you ever visit Japan.
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Rasimo on February 20, 2014:
Great hub and wonderful places! Thank you for sharing! Japan is really Amazing!