Growing up in the United States, one of the things I did every October was to sit around a campfire and tell ghost stories. Most of them are just stories, but the idea got me thinking. What about Japan? Are there are any good Tokyo ghost stories?
Almost every culture in the world has some belief in ghosts and spirits, Japan is no different. People do not speak openly about them, but rumors spread and stories are created to fill in the gaps. I’ve visited some places that have a bad reputation.
Tokyo Ghost Stories: Aokigahara
Aokigahara is considered one of the most notorious forests in the world. Several horror movies and novels use it as a setting, and it is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Japan.
People call Aokigahara the “Sea of Trees,” due to its dense growth and small human population. However, it has a more sinister name–“Suicide Forest.” Rightfully so, as over the years this location has seen a number of suicides. Due to the dense growth of the forest, bodies are often not found.
Aokigahara surrounds the base of Mount Fuji. The most commonly visited sites in the forest are the Ice Cave and the Wind Cave. There are several places to visit in the forest, but the caves are the best landmarks. Whether you find a ghost or not, this forest is one of the most unnerving locations on the list!
Reaching Aokigahara is no easy task for someone visiting Japan on a short vacation. Anyone attempting to visit the area considered haunted by locals must walk or drive from Kawaguchiko station.
Nearest Station: Kawaguchiko Station. Then take a bus, car, or walk Southwest. The forest is not close to the station.
Suicide Prevention Information:
Befriender’s International, Tokyo
website ||| 03 5286 9090
Suzugamori and the Bridge of Tears
During the Tokugawa Shogunate, the government of Japan moved from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo). During this period, the government held many executions outside of the city. The Suzugamori Execution Grounds operated between 1651 and 1871. It is estimated that over 100,000 people were executed during this time. The execution grounds were originally on Tokyo Bay, before the government began filling it in to create more land. During this time, one method of execution was to hang the accused upside down, drowning them as the tide rose.
Suzugamori was especially busy during the Ansei Purge (1858-1860). The government of Japan was attempting to open up to foreign traders, and many people resisted the international growth. The Shogunate executed anyone who resisted.
Executioners marched prisoners on their way to execution to the outside of the city limits, across a bridge over a small river. This last wooden bridge was called the Namidabashi (“Bridge of Tears”), and was the last place the family of the condemned could see them before they were taken away. Today the “Bridge of Tears” is constructed out of stone, and a small wooden plaque explains its importance in Japanese history.
Nearest Station: Tachiaigawa Station, it is a 2 minute walk to the Bridge of Tears and a 10 minute walk to the Execution Grounds.
Oiwa Shrine in Yotsuya
Tucked away in a small corner of Shinjuku is the Yotsuya neighborhood. It can be found just east of the Shinjuku Garden near Yotsuya-sanchome station. This is the location of the Oiwa Shrine, and the setting of one of the oldest ghost stories in Tokyo.
In the story of Oiwa, Iyemon was married to a woman named Oiwa. Iyemon then fell in love with a second woman, named Oume. To marry Oume, he poisoned Oiwa. Oiwa curses her husband with her dying breath, swearing to haunt him for the rest of his life.
A small shrine stands on the spot where Iyemon and Oiwa lived. It is said that her spirit still haunts the neighborhood.
Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Yotsuya Station.
Grave of the First Samurai
Taira no Masakado was one of the first samurai in Japanese history. During the Heian period, Masakado led a rebellion against the central government in Kyoto. He used his army to capture a few small provinces and declared himself the new emperor. However, his family did not follow–they supported the government in Kyoto.
Betrayed by his family, Masakado killed his uncle, leaving his cousin Sadamori seeking revenge. In response to his acts of rebellion and murder, Kyoto placed a bounty on Masakado’s head. In 940, Sadamori and Fujiwara no Hidesato met Masakado at the battle at Kojima. Sadamori killed Masakado and collected the bounty on his head.
Sadamori took Masakado’s head to the fishing village of Shibasaki, where he buried it. Edo (Tokyo) would later absorb Shibasaki into the city limits. It is said that at his grave in Ōtemachi, you can sometimes see his ghostly head rolling around. It is also said that all attempts to move his grave result in terrible accidents.
Nearest Station: Otemachi Station, outside exit C5.
The Aoyama Cemetery is one of the largest in Tokyo, spread across a few kilometers. It is also one of the most silent places in the entire city. The cemetery is home to several mass graves and memorials to great disasters in Japanese history. It is also home to many family grave sites, but its most famous resident is not human at all. One of the most visited graves in Aoyama is the grave of Hachikō the dog, Professor Ueno’s loyal pet.
Nearest Station: 4-minute walk from Nogizaka Station.
At the center of Otukayama Park in Hachiōji is one of the more mysterious places in Tokyo. The ruins of Dōryō-dō Temple in the park has been the site of two murders in the past century alone. In 1963, a thief robbed and murdered the shrine’s elderly caretaker. Without a caretaker, the temple fell into disrepair. Ten years later, a university professor tricked a female student into meeting him at the temple. He murdered her and left her in a shallow grave.
People hear the voices of the victims crying for help in the dark, the Tokyo ghost stories say. These stories give the temple grounds their more sinister name, “The Crying Ruins.”
Nearest Station: 12-minute bus ride (and 8-minute walk from the bus stop) from Kitano Station.
The Haunted Hills of Kamakura
The Kamakura area is home to many ancient grave sites. During the Kamakura period, Samurai and Buddhist monks were laid to rest in small caves in the cliffs in the area. On many of the hiking trails, visitors can still find numerous graves cut into the rock.
Due to a lack of funds for upkeep, the largest collection of these tombs is off limits. The Mandarado Yagura has been off limits to visitors since 1996, but remains one of the largest concentrations of cave tombs in Japan. Visitors can view smaller grave sites along the Daibutsu, Tenen, and Gionyama hiking courses.
To visit the Tenen tombs, get off the train at Kita-Kamakura station and enter through Kenchō-ji Shrine. The attendants at the ticket office can give you directions if you require, but if you keep walking to the back of the temple you will find the hiking trail. It is a stone path up to Hansōbō Shrine. The area also offers a good view of Mount Fuji on clear days.
Nearest Station: 15-minute walk from Kita-Kamakura station to Kencho-ji Shrine.
Sengaku-ji Shrine of the 47 Rōnin
The Akō incident made Sengaku-ji famous. In 1703, Lord Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori of Akō and Lord Kamei Korechika of Tsuwano were both ordered to host the Emperor at Edo Castle. They both received the court official Lord Kira Kozuke-no-Suke, who was to instruct them in proper court etiquette. However, both lords did not present favorable gifts at their first meeting, and Lord Kira began treating them both poorly. While Lord Kamei’s advisors managed to bribe Kira, Lord Asano decided the best course was patience. While Lord Kira treated Lord Kamei more favorably, he continued insulting Lord Asano until Asano finally attacked him. His lord ordered him to commit suicide for drawing a weapon in Edo castle.
Lord Asano’s 47 most loyal retainers set out to get revenge on Lord Kira. They succeeded in killing him, cutting off his head and washing it in the well at Sengaku-ji Shrine. There they gave the temple monks all of the money they had, surrendered themselves to the Emperor, and committed suicide. Afterwards, the monks buried them next to their lord. These 47 Tokyo ghosts still haunt Sengaku-ji Shrine.
Nearest Station: 4-minute walk from Sengakuji Station.