Conspiracy_Web, a woman dressed as Lumine from Genshin Impact, stands beside a PowerPoint slide that says "What Yurei Look Like"

Convention Coverage

Anime NYC 2023: Yurei: Ghosts of Japan

No matter where one goes in the world, they’re sure to encounter local legends of spooks and spectres. From the floating heads of Rhode Island’s Kickemuit River to Lesotho’s “The Story of Takane”, people around the globe have shared stories of the supernatural for generations. Japan is no different, as tales of yūrei have sent chills up peoples’ spines in folklore, and more recently popular media, for generations. Films like The Ring and The Grudge are staples at the box office, while video games like Fatal Frame and Onryo have taken folks to entirely new dimensions of fear.

On Saturday morning, eager fans had filed into Panel Room 5 with the hopes of learning about the stuff of nightmares. Host Conspiracy_Web, decked out in a cosplay of Lumine from Genshin Impact, eagerly greeted attendees as they arrived. As the clock struck eleven, she introduced herself to the room, explaining her fascination with the history of yurei and her experience as a history teacher.

The panel opened with a brief introduction to yurei as a concept, highlighting common traits, story themes, and other foundational information that Conspiracy_Web would build upon. For example, she explained the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai – a parlor game that dates back to the Edo period, in which participants would light one hundred andon lamps, and position a single mirror in a central position. Participants would take turns telling ghost stories and extinguishing one of the lamps. “Most of these only got to 98 or 99 stories, though,” she noted, “because nobody wanted to be the one that ended the night cursed.”

Conspiracy_Web, a woman dressed as Lumine from Genshin Impact, reads a book in front of a crowd of people at Anime NYC 2023.

From there, the host gave an overview of the eight main types of yurei, pausing to explain the thematic origins of each, as well as the defining characteristics. A particular highlight came about when discussing Ikiryo—the disembodied spirits of the living who haunt other locations or people. Conspiracy_Web paused her lecture and rose, pacing as she delivered a dramatic reading of passages from The Tale of Genji, which introduced the character Lady Rokujo, who is commonly seen as the origin of the archetype.

Conspiracy_Web’s background as a teacher shone as she continued the panel, and built upon the concepts, to tie stories like the Yotsuya Kaidan, which told the tale of Oiwa, who was murdered by her husband, whom she haunted until the day he died. She combined dramatic readings and a playful sense of humor with a fantastic command of the mood of the room. Her patter was strong, and her enthusiasm for the topic was infectious.

As she neared the end of her presentation, the panelist highlighted yurei that have appeared in recent pop culture, from Ringu and Ju-On, which focused on Onryo—wrathful spirits—to Junji Ito’s The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel, which is based on the story of the haunted Jomon Tunnel.

Conspiracy_Web, a woman dressed as Lumine from Genshin Impact, stands beside a slide depicting movie depictions of various yurei at Anime NYC 2023.

As her lecture came to a close, Conspiracy_Web opened the floor to questions, though no hands went up. Rather than see the audience off, she used the few remaining minutes to do one last dramatic reading. She paced in front of the room, holding her book as she read a passage from Banchō Sarayashiki. The story told the tale of Okiku, a beautiful dishwashing servant, who was hired to wash dishes for the lord of Himeji Castle. Her master attempted to make her his own, to no avail. Growing impatient, he hid one of ten precious dishes that Okiku was charged with caring for, then asked the girl “What have you done with the tenth dish?” Okiku, frenzied, began counting the nine plates over and over. Her master offered to overlook the matter if she became his lover. The woman rejected his proposal and, in a fury, he had her tied and beaten before he murdered her and threw her corpse into a well. Okiku’s spirit became an onryo, whose voice could be heard echoing from the well, counting to nine, before letting out a tortured scream.

As she closed her book, Conspiracy_Web thanked her audience for attending. The event itself was a wonderful example of what a fan panel could be. Conspiracy_Web’s knowledge of the subject was immediately apparent, as she combined a strong body of research with a flair for the theatrical. As the dozens of attendees filed into the Javits’ main concourse, they could be forgiven for peeking over their shoulders, just to make sure that a spooky spectre wasn’t lingering close behind.

About the author

Samantha Ferreira

Samantha Ferreira is Anime Herald’s founder and editor-in-chief. A Rhode Island native, Samantha has been an anime fan since 1992, and an active member of the anime press since 2002, when she began working as a reviewer for Anime Dream. She launched Anime Herald in 2010, and continues to oversee its operations to this day. Outside of journalism, Samantha actively studies the history of the North American anime fandom and industry, with a particular focus on the 2000s anime boom and bust. She’s a huge fan of all things Sakura Wars, and maintains series fansite Combat Revue Review when she has free time available. When not in the Anime Herald Discord, Samantha can typically be found on Bluesky.

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