The Noppera-bō of Japan, while also known as the “faceless ghost”, isn’t actually one of the country’s Yurei despite being referred to as a ghost. It is in fact one of Japan’s many Yokai. Specifically one of the obake, or “changed creature”, subset of shape changing Yokai. These strange shapeshifters have a pretty simple goal:
To scare unwary humans, especially the lazy or idle at night.
Like all the best (worst?) shapeshifters from around the world they are great mimics. On top of being able to look like any random stranger they can impersonate the loved ones of a chosen victim to get extra close, seemingly with no limits or easy tells. They will lay their trap, then do their best to get the human they have chosen to subject to their horrific prank as close as possible…
As near as possible, with the full attention of their victim, they will then either reveal a formless face or else run their hand across mimicked features to wipe them away to nothing. Smooth unnatural flesh stares down the unwary fool who has caught their attention.
Being spooked by one of these faceless ghosts may not be the end of it, for the Noppera-bō have a habit of working in pairs or even bigger groups to really screw with a human they’ve taken a dislike to. There are stories of extra traps being set up, deliberately herding a person towards yet another Noppera-bō. Once the poor victim reaches what they believe in their panic to be help then turns out to be another Yokai ready to pull the no face trick, in some stories with the frankly brilliant trick of responding to the victim’s description of what just happened with “Did they look like THIS” before removing their own features.
Worryingly, sightings of Noppera-bō have persisted well into the modern day, and not just in Japan. Other places that have historic ties to Japan such as Hawaii have their own “no face ghost” stories. The shapeshifting Yokai either being able to travel beyond the borders of Japan themselves, or else gleefully masquerading as humans to travel the world searching for more people to frighten…
Luke Greensmith is an active folklorist and big horror fan who also works in film across a few roles. While this can cover quite a wide range of things, he’s a dedicated horror fan at heart and pretty involved with horror communities both online and local to him. You can find their folklore work on the Ghost Story Guys Podcast, their own LukeLore podcast, and accompanying the artist Wanda Fraser’s Dark Arts series as well as on the Grimoire of Horror itself.