Hokusai’s horror ghosts artworks (ukiyo-e)

Katsushika Hokusai  (1760-1849) began to deal with “A hundred horror stories” (Hyaku-monogatari/百物語) in 1831. He used the painting name of “Iitsu” (為一) as the signature. Hyakumonogatari was the traditional way of a gathering to speak and hear ghost stories. 

As the title represents, he and the publisher would have intended to produce a hundred Japanese ukiyo-es of ghosts, but we can see only five. They gave up to continue making in halfway for some reason. 

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What is Hyaku-monogatari?

Hyaku-monogatari is that several people get together at one of the houses on the night of new moon. And they light a hundred candles at the innermost room and speak ghost or odd stories one by one. As finished the story, the speaker blows out a candle. It is said that a ghost or monster would appear when he puff out the last candle.


The woman who has the neck of the plates comes out from the old well. “Bancho Sarayashiki” is the famous horror story in Japan.

The lord of Okiku had ten treasure plates. But she broke one of them by mistake. The lord was so in rage and cut down her. Then he threw into the old well.

Since the incident, people of the house heard Okiku’s voice every night. “One… Two… Three…” “… Eight… Nine… I can’t find last one…”

The rumor of the ghost reached his master and his territory was confiscated. Finally, one monk added “ten” for her count, she disapeared gladly. 

Laughing Hannya

​Laughing Hannya appeared in the folktale of Nagano region. 

The woman monster has horns, fangs, and grabs the child’s head. She kidnapped children and ate them.

It was said that grudges and hard feelings made women into Hannya. So the monster would have strong bad emotion about baby or children.


The picture expresses the ghost of Oiwa-san as the torn paper lantern. 

Oiwa-san contracted smallpox in her childhood and it made her ugly face. But her husband Iemon didn’t care it. 

Then the master of Iemon wanted him to divorce Oiwa-san and get remarry with his grand-daughter. Iemon gradually hoped to realize it.

Finally he dumped Oiwa-san for the new wife. She died in a deep disappointment and turned into the ghost. She cursed the family. 

To ease her deep‐seated, people built the Inari shrine and the ghost wouldn’t appear. 

Kohada Koheiji

Kohada Koheiji was a poor actor but good at the role of a ghost. He had a wife Otsuka and she had an affair with Sakuro.

One day, Koheiji and Sakuro went night fishing at Azumi Swamp. And Sakuro pushed off the Koheiji into the swamp and he died.

To report the success for Otsuka, Sakuro visited the house of Koheiji. Then he heard from her that the actor had slept in a room. 

He found the actor lay down like the role what he had done. Then Koheiji vanished from the room, the hauntings happened around them. And it made them mad or misery, and dead.


In also Japan, the snake represents jealousy or obsession. The wooden plate at the right-side is the mortuary tablet of Buddhism and we can also see an offering and water for the dead person.

What the picture doesn’t show the meaning specifically, but Hokusai used “卍” as his drawing name in later years.

So he might have wittily drawn the snake comparing to himself who adhered rigidly to living for improvement of painting.

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