An Obake is a ghost but specifically a vengeful or restless ghost. Obake literally means “Honorable Transforming Thing.” (O is an honorific, a term of respect.) Most Obake either suffered while alive and now thirst for revenge or were dishonoured in death and are now angry. They return to haunt scenes of their death or humiliation. An Obake may cause harm to the living because they deserve it or just because the living person was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Obake is also used as a loose blanket term for any kind of supernatural being, not just vengeful ghosts. Thus Yokai, Yurei, and Mononoke may all be considered Obake.
Some Obake never received adequate funeral rites and so linger on Earth in a state of hostile frustration rather than transitioning peacefully to the next realm. Some Demonstrate individual personalities and names, but many are just anonymous, harmful presences. For example, the sea’s dangers are increased by the vast numbers of drowned sailors’ souls it contains. Not to worry: cats can control these Obake if kept aboard ship. Tri-colored cats, traditionally Japanese lucky cats, are especially good at keeping boats free of harmful Obake and rats.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by: Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.