© Wakayama Tourism Federation
When asked about the best season for horror stories, most Japanese people will say it’s the summer! It is believed that getting the chills is the best remedy for hot weather. However, Japan’s love for everything that’s scary does not end with the summer. Japan's horror movies are top notch entertainment and Halloween parties are an unforgettable experience. Imagine dressing up and partying outside until the early morning hours with over a million of people - that's Shibuya's Halloween party in a nutshell. For safety reasons it has scaled down in the recent years but you can still enjoy Halloween festivities in places like Tokyo Disney Resort and Universal Studios Japan.
In the spirit of Halloween, we have picked our favourite haunted spots all thrill seekers need to see for themselves. You can enjoy the spooky side of Japan any time - you just need to know where to look for the signs of the supernatural!
Awashima Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture
© Wakayama Tourism Federation
This shrine might not be the best spot to visit for people who still have nightmares about Chucky. It's filled with abandoned dolls that owners leave here to avoid their wrath!
The beginnings of this temple are a lot more amiable. The legend says that when Empress Jingu was travelling back home from overseas and was caught in a storm, gods gave her the insight to just drift with the current. This allowed her to safely reach the coast and Awashima Shrine was created to thank the gods for their assistance. It was later moved from its seaside location to where it is now in Wakayama prefecture. So far it sounds like a lovely shrine but how did the dolls get here?! According to Shinto beliefs, inanimate objects, especially ones with a close resemblance to humans, develop souls over time. That’s why to avoid their revenge, unwanted or unused dolls have to be disposed of in a shrine through a special ritual! There are over 20,000 dolls here and some have an unnerving backstory - a doll kept in the shrine’s basement has been left here by its owner because of growing hair!
Sendagaya Tunnel, Tokyo
Tunnels are a popular motif in Japanese ghost stories and this one located close to Shibuya and Harajuku, has been the place of many blood chilling experiences. Built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, it was constructed over a cemetery, which is believed to be the reason for countless ghost sightings in the area. Some drivers have reported seeing mysterious handprints on their cars, others have even seen this tunnel’s most often mentioned female ghost which hangs down from the cars passing through this tunnel!
Nakagusuku Hotel, Okinawa
The Nakagusuku Hotel remains located just by the ruins of Okinawa’s Nakagusuku Castle is a must-see for all ghost hunters. Even though it was placed in a stunning location, this hotel was abandoned before it was even finished! Locals warned the developer that it was to be constructed on land already inhabited by spirits from ancient Buddhist burial sites. The developers dismissed this but many accidents and ghost sightings later, the workers refused to keep working on this project believing the land was cursed. Brrr!
Maruoka Castle, Fukui
Maruoka Castle is a beautiful keep surrounded by 400 yoshino cherry trees which are covered with spectacular blossoms each year. Nothing more misleading! This castle's beginnings were a lot less flowery. The lord of Maruoka domain tried to build a new castle here in the 16th century. Yet, every time the stone walls were built, they would collapse. That’s why lord decided something more effective was required, a human sacrifice. Oshizu who was a local widow came forward asking for her son to be elevated to the samurai rank in return. She was buried alive under the central pillar of the castle and since then the construction started going ahead smoothly. However, the lord never kept his promise and that’s why every April the castle moat would flood overflowing with Oshizu’s tears!
Himeji Castle, Hyogo prefecture
© Hyogo Tourism
On the grounds of the famous Himeji Castle you might have stumbled past an unassuming castle well. It’s actually known as ‘Okiku’s well’ and is a part of one of Japan’s most well-known ghost stories! Okiku was a servant for a powerful samurai called Aoyama who was in love with her. She turned him down and to get his revenge Aoyama made her believe that she lost a plate from an important family heirloom. In those times losing such an important object would mean only one thing - her death. Okiku kept recounting the plates but could only get to 9 so she went to Aoyama who said he’ll forget about the heirloom if she becomes his lover. Okiku declined his offer and was thrown down the well. After her unjust death she returned to haunt the living and never let Aoyama forget about that 10th plate...
Osorezan, Aomori prefecture
© Aomori Tourism Federation
Starting with its ominous name, this mountain in northern Aomori prefecture's Shimokita Peninsula has been instilling fear in locals for centuries. Osorezan which literally means ‘Mount Fear’ was believed to be the entrance to hell and its volcanic activity made that really believable. It was thought to be the location where the dead lived their parallel lives and getting lost here would mean meeting your demise. It’s also the place where you will find Sanzu no Kawa, a river which, like Styx in the Greek mythology, has to be crossed to reach the afterlife.
Every July people head to the local Bodan-ji Temple, which has been an important temple since its establishment in 862, for Osorezan Taisai, a festival of the dead. One of the most well-known ceremonies performed during the festival is ‘kuchiyose’ when female Itako shamans communicate with the spirits. Itako mainly consist of visually impaired women as it used to be considered a sign of spiritual powers. To this day the 'kuchiyose' ceremony allows people to talk with their departed loved ones and maintains its popularity.
© Aomori Tourism Federation
For a deeper dive into the world of supernatural Japan, read our interview with 'yokai' spirit artist and creator of the Yokai Bijutsukan Art Museum, Chubei Yagyu.