Yurei, a Japanese word that literally means “faint soul,” refers to a kind of ghost. The word is now sometimes used to indicate any kind of ghostly apparition, but technically the Yurei is a special kind of ghost: a ghost with a vendetta. Not every dead soul can evolve into a Yurei. Strength of personality and spiritual power are required with overwhelming emotion serving as the catalyst.

The following causes may create Yurei:

• Sudden, unexpected death or death in particularly traumatic circumstances (murder, suicide)

• Death while experiencing overwhelming negative emotions like rage, jealousy, or hatred

• Inadequate, incorrect, or no funeral rites

The soul transforms into a ghostly Yurei who pursues a personal agenda rather than becoming a protective ancestral spirit or just fading away. Yurei sightings and stories usually involve revenge or some attempt to complete unfinished business.

The easiest way to lay a Yurei to rest is by helping it resolve the emotional situation or issue that keeps it attached to Earth. Those who help the Yurei may even gain its alliance and assistance in the future. (The most powerful Yurei, like Oiwa, take on the characteristics of spirits or Yokai.) Alternatively, correct shamanic, magical, and/or spiritual rites may lay them to rest or at least stop them from tormenting the living.

Not all Yurei are harmful or have malevolent intent, although horror stories are inevitably the most popular and most frequently retold. In the 1996 Japanese movie Shin Izakaya Yurei, a returning dead wife ends up helping her husband’s new wife.


Yurei typically appear dressed in white funeral attire, as if they emerged from the grave. Yurei may lack feet, floating or gliding rather than walking.


  • Ghost
  • Goryo
  • Hannya
  • Obake
  • Oikiko
  • Oiwa
  • White Lady
  • Yokai


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.