What Intrigues Me Most About Japanese Ghost Stories

The Yūrei and other figures possess a special emotional quality

Nancy Bilyeau
5 min readOct 24, 2021

When I was writing my novella The Ghost of Madison Avenue, I wanted to come up with ideas beyond the usual “Boo!” I wondered about creating something besides a story of the undead spirit hiding in the attic.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a classic ghost story like Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw or Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And I have a special place in my heart for Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I like both the 1963 version and the much more recent Netflix series.

But I longed for something different. I dug into the research to find out about ghosts in other cultures, and I came upon the Yūrei.

Similar to the ghosts flitting through Western mythology and culture, the Yūrei has special qualities that make it as fascinating — and as frightening–as a supernatural being from anywhere in the world.

But this Japanese ghost has special qualities.

“The worlds of the living and the dead are perhaps nearer to each other in the Japanese conception than they are in Western belief systems,” according to the site Multo. “Your obligations to your ancestors continue past their deaths — and perhaps their interest in your life outlives their deaths, too.”

When a person dies, the Japanese tradition suggests that the person is transformed into a spirit, but not…



Nancy Bilyeau

Passionate about history, pop culture, the perfect bagel. Author of 5 historical novels. Latest book: ‘The Orchid Hour' www.nancybilyeau.com