Japan is a land where the past and present seamlessly blend, and nowhere is this more evident than in its folklore and ghost stories. One such intriguing spot that captures the eerie essence of Japan’s supernatural tales is Yureizaka, also known as the Ghost Slope, located in the Minato ward of Tokyo. This article will delve into the history, folklore, and cultural significance of Yureizaka, making it a must-visit for those interested in Japan’s rich tapestry of legends and haunted locales.

The History Behind Yureizaka

Yureizaka is a seemingly ordinary slope in the bustling district of Minato, an area known for its modern skyscrapers and historical temples. However, this slope holds a dark and mysterious past. The name Yureizaka is derived from yurei, which means ghost or spirit in Japanese, and zaka, which means slope. The origins of its haunting reputation date back to the Edo period.

In 1635, when shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu undertook a massive expansion of Edo Castle, many temples and shrines were relocated from the castle’s periphery to make room for lord residences and military installations. Several of these religious sites were moved to a new hillside road—or, according to some accounts, a minor road dating back to the Kamakura Period, near Edo Bay in the Mita area.

During the early Edo Period, this area was quite rustic, with lush vegetation and many tall trees. Traversing the road at night was nearly impossible unless the moon was particularly bright. Even then, it was risky, as thieves and yokai were said to haunt the woods, waiting for unsuspecting passersby. The wealthy, including samurai, could only navigate the road safely with lantern bearers to light the way.

Yureizaka at dusk.

Yureizaka Today

The forests of the Edo Period suffered significant damage during the 1923 関東大震災 (Kantō Daishinsai), or Great Kantō Earthquake, and like much of the bay area, this neighborhood was heavily impacted by the firebombing of Tokyo by American forces in 1945. Today, it looks vastly different from its Edo Era self. However, many of the temples that defined the area during the time of the Shōgunate still remain.

Visitors who have walked the slope at night often recount feeling an inexplicable chill or hearing faint whispers, adding to the mystique of Yureizaka. While these stories might seem like mere folklore, they reflect a deep-seated cultural belief in spirits and the afterlife, which continues to permeate Japanese society.

Mori Arinori during the Meiji Period.

An Alternative Reading

In the Meiji Period, Mori Arinori, the first Minister of Education of that era, is said to have had a residence here. According to local lore, the Edoites read his name as Yurei, using the kanji Chinese reading. The story suggests that the locals found the original writing inauspicious and reflective of Edo Period superstitions.

Following the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he assumed the role of the first Japanese ambassador to the United States from 1871 to 1873. During his time there, he became captivated by the American education system and returned to Japan with ambitious plans for educational reform. He emerged as an ardent admirer of America, advocating for principles like freedom of religion, particularly emphasizing secularism and humanism in education.

The 1870s marked a pinnacle of discourse on women’s rights in the United States, and Mori naturally championed similar causes in Japan. However, he never supported their right to vote. In his vision for educational reform, he advocated for Japan to relinquish the Japanese language in favor of English to better compete on a global scale. This proposal, though bold, was not without its supporters.

Mori found himself amidst both allies and adversaries from various political spectrums, yet tragically, his progressive ideologies ultimately led to his untimely demise. On the very day the Meiji Constitution was promulgated, he was assassinated. The assassin’s justification stemmed from Mori’s perceived disrespect when he entered the Ise Grand Shrine displaying Western mannerisms.

As a husband passes by the place where his pregnant wife was brutally murdered, her ghost appears and hands their child to him. She then tells him the story of her murder and assists him as he takes revenge for her death.

Cultural Significance

The tales of Yureizaka offer a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s cultural and spiritual landscape. In Japanese tradition, spirits or yurei are often depicted as having unfinished business or unresolved emotions, which tether them to the earthly realm. The concept of yurei is not merely about fear but also about respect and acknowledgment of the afterlife.

Yureizaka serves as a poignant reminder of how folklore is interwoven with everyday locations in Japan. The slope stands as a testament to the country’s unique way of blending the mundane with the mystical. It reflects the Japanese belief in the omnipresence of spirits and the importance of rituals in ensuring peace for the departed.

Visiting Yureizaka

For travelers intrigued by Japan’s supernatural stories, Yureizaka offers an off-the-beaten-path experience. The slope is easily accessible from major Tokyo landmarks, located near Shiba Park and the iconic Tokyo Tower.

Yureizaka in Minato, Tokyo, is more than just a slope; it is a portal into the rich and haunting world of Japanese folklore. The legends of restless spirits and ghostly apparitions provide a unique lens through which to view Japan’s cultural and historical narrative. Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, a visit to Yureizaka promises a memorable journey into the mysterious and mystical side of Tokyo. So, next time you find yourself in Minato, take a detour to Yureizaka and immerse yourself in the ghostly tales that have captivated generations.