Planning to visit Tokyo? Wondering how you can make your visit truly memorable and unique? Why, by searching for samurai ghosts, of course. As it happens, stories about the lost souls of samurai have been a staple of traditional Kabuki and Noh theatre, for centuries, and are still popular in modern Japanese films, such as “Samurai Reincarnation” and “Izo.” So, the warrior ghost is a Japanese tradition and, with the help of this article, you’ll be able to find the best of samurai ghosts, in and around Tokyo.
First, and most importantly, is the horrific tale of the cursed head of Taira no Masakado. This 1000-year-old samurai is, indeed, headless. But it is actually his severed head which is contained in the tomb and is the true object of terror for Tokyoites. The tale of Masakado is a brutal and terrifying one.
Masakado was a minor warlord, who managed to gain some control over the area of Japan which later became Tokyo. There were rumors that Masakado’s star was on the rise and that it was his ambition to become the new ruler of Japan. Naturally, the actual ruler didn’t like this idea very much and sent his men to take care of Masakado. Overwhelmed in battle, Masakado and his men were killed, somewhere in Shimosa province. But this wasn’t good enough for the emperor. He decided to behead Masakado and put his head on public display in the ancient capital of Kyoto. By doing this, the emperor went too far and, as the legend goes, the severed head of Masakado became enraged – flying through the air and terrorizing everyone it encountered.
Masakado’s head flew all the way back to its home, in present-day Tokyo, in search of its missing body. Eventually, the head came down to the ground and the terrified residents gave it a formal burial, in the hopes that it would appease Masakado’s spirit. This tomb still exists, in Tokyo, and curious ghost-seekers are directed to exit C5 of the Otemachi subway station, close to the Imperial Palace.
In spite of the fact Masakado’s tomb lies on some very valuable real estate, Tokyoites don’t dare to disturb the tomb, for fear the soul of the legendary warrior will be disturbed and rise again, to seek his deadly revenge. And this fear is not without good reason. In the 1920s, when the hill the tomb rests on was levelled to make room for new developments, a great many of the employees started dying off, in horrible accidents. Many of them sustained grotesque injuries to their feet and it was rumoured this was caused by their having tread on the cursed ground. In response, they quickly rebuilt the tomb, up on the hill and held a Shinto ceremony to appease the spirit of the angry samurai.
Perhaps the most famous samurai in all of Japanese history, the tale of the 47 ronin is one of revenge, honor and sacrifice. In the 1700s, a noble lord, Asano Takuminokai of Ako, was unjustly condemned to commit seppuku (or ritual suicide). Having been disgraced, and removed from power, all of his samurai were suddenly out of a job. Led by the heroic samurai, Oishi Kuranosuke, the 47 masterless samurai (or ronin) plotted to avenge their lord’s wrongful death. For more than six months, they pretended to be dissolute, unemployed warriors. Some of them pretended to be hopeless alcoholics and other harmless characters and, in doing so, they lulled their enemy into a false sense of security.
When Kira Hozukenosuke – the lord who was largely responsible for Asano’s death – was fully relaxed, the 47 ronin made their move. They stormed Lord Kira’s castle and killed him. Having avenged their wronged lord, they had also sealed their own fate in the process. All 47 were condemned to commit seppuku. However, they did not hesitate and met this fate with bravery and sacrifice, worthy of the samurai ideal. The tale of the 47 ronin is legendary in Japan and is seen as the perfect representation of samurai honor, loyalty and self-sacrifice.
In Tokyo, you can visit the very graves of these legendary warriors. Their graves are still perfectly preserved at Sengakuji Temple, near Shinagawa Station, and the public can come and pay their respects, by burning incense sticks in the graveyard. Given that their memory is still very much alive (in endless theater and film tellings), it is quite possible that the ghosts of these great warriors are still walking around, roaming the grounds, near the places that they knew in life. So, this is probably a better place than any other, if you are looking to find samurai ghosts.
Lastly, there are genuine samurai tombs, just south of Tokyo. If you take the train from Shinjuku Station and move south, to Kamakura Station, you should be able to find the nearby fishing village of Kotsubo somewhere on your map. It is only a short distance south from Kamakura. Once in Kotsubo, you should be able to ask around and find your way to where this little-known site is secretly kept. The site is apparently beautiful if a bit chilling, with views and natural scenery befitting for the repose of a samurai’s soul.
In addition to the graveyard, this area has been the source of various ghost stories, including this now famous photo of a little girl, taken in the general vicinity of Kanagawa prefecture.
It apparently shows the boots of a samurai, appearing between the legs of a young girl. Whether you feel there is any truth to this photo, it might be a good idea to break out the camera, when you’re in the area – because, when in Japan, you never know when a samurai ghost might turn up!