The Botan Dōrō or Tales of the Peony Lantern is a ghost story told since the Ming dynasty in China to today. Most popular through the Kaidan theater plays, it is now one of Japan’s most well known ghost stories.

Another dark, yet poetic love story of a ghost. The Botan Dōrō (牡丹燈籠), or, the peony lantern was a story that became popular in Japan during the 17th century in the Edo era.

The Botan Dōrō or Tales of the Peony Lantern is a ghost story told since the Ming dynasty in China to today. Most popular through the Kaidan theater plays, it is now one of Japan's most well known ghost stories.
The Stone Lantern: The Title refers to the type of stone lantern often found in Japan.

It was really a Chinese tale called Jiandeng Xinhua (剪燈新話,) or New Tales Under the Lamplight from 1378 by the Chinese writer Qu You. This was a collection of moralic tales and Buddhist lessons on Karma.

Japan was at the time almost entirely closed off as a country and got little to no input from the outside world. The Japanese adapted it as their own with the writer Asai Ryoi and the demand for Kaidan stories, ghost stories, especially for the parlour game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

Read Also: Games to Play in the Dark – including Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

The story of Botan Dōrō is set during Obon, a three day festival of the dead in the late summer in Nezu district in Tokyo. Kaidan (ghost stories) was immensely popular during this era, especially during Obon.

Read Also: The Obon Celebration – The Ghost Festival

Botan Dōrō is considered to be one of Nihon san dai kaidan — Japan’s Big Three Ghost Stories. It is arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time and has spurned a couple of local legends of its own. The other two famous Kaidan’s is: Banchō Sarayashiki — the Ghost of Okiku and The Myth of Oiwa — The Paper Lantern Ghost.

The Story of the Botan Dōrō

A long time ago in the Nezu district of Tokyo, the first night of Obon was upon them. This is when the spirits are welcomed back into our world and guided home after three days. A man named Ogiwara was out walking. In some versions he is a young student with his whole life in front of him while in others, he is an elder widowed samurai that carries a lot of regret and grief.

The Botan Dōrō or Tales of the Peony Lantern is a ghost story told since the Ming dynasty in China to today. Most popular through the Kaidan theater plays, it is now one of Japan's most well known ghost stories.
Botan Dōrō Kaidan: The stage production of Botan Dōrō had many adaptations of the story. Here is an illustration of The character of Otsuyu and the titular peony lantern.

On the first day of Obon he noticed a beautiful woman with a maid carrying a peony lantern by his house and they started talking.

Her name was Otsuyu and charmed her way into Ogiwara’s heart. Over the festival the two fell more and more in love in the light by the lantern. And every night she came back to him.

A neighbor however was growing worried for the young man after having seen them meet the first day. That very night he visited the boy, peeping through the window to make sure of his suspicion. There he saw the man in the arms, not of a young and beautiful woman, but a skeleton.

Almost fainting of shook, the nosy neighbour got on his way, running to get a Buddhist priest to get help for the man. When the buddhist priest and the neighbor came the following day, they told the man about this and decided to throw a protective spell over the house. Not really believing until he saw it with his own eyes, he waited to the following night to see for himself.

When Otsuyu together with her servant came to the door she was unable to pass the protection charms the buddhist priest had put up. When she understood what was happening she was crying, banging on the door, and the man understood that it was all true. She was indeed dead and he had fallen in love with a ghost. She reminded him again and again for their love for each other, not leaving the house.

Read Also: Another ghost story where the husband finds out his wife was already dead is The Lady Nak of Phra Khanong — Thailand’s Famous Ghost Mae Nak

The man’s health grew worse and worse during the day and he only felt sorrow and a longing for the thing they had together, even though he knew about her. One night he couldn’t resist his longing anymore. He lifted the protection charm on the last day of Obon and let them in.

When the neighbor once again came to check on him, there was not only one dead person in the room, but two. His soul taken away at the end of the Obon festival as the spirits were supposed to, back to the spirit world.

Is Botan Dōrō Another Haunted Play?

Later the story has gotten many variations, on stage as well as on the screen. The story changes with the times from the closed off Edo period to the opening of western influence of the Meiji period up until modern times.

Read More: Check out all of our ghost stories from Japan

The English translation was done by Lafcadio Hearn in 1899 for his book: In Ghostly Japan. He titled his adaptation A Passional Karma, and based it on the kabuki version of the story. Read the full one Here

But just as in the Kaidan theater play of Yotsuya Kaidan, there is said to be a curse on the ones playing the parts of the ghosts. This is from an events in 1919 when the play was set up in the Imperial Theater. The actresses playing Otsuyu and her maid both became sick and died within a week of each other. They were some of the more promising actresses in Tokyo at the time, and their death were sudden and gave rise to many rumours.

It was said that before they died they had been seen nightly with pale-face and their hair worn long and dishevelled. The actress playing the maid held the lantern in hand, moving behind the willow tree following the other one.

So who is to say? Can a made up story turn into something cursed? Or was it something else than a good story that made it linger in the cultural minds of the Japanese as a ghost?

More like this

Newest Posts

  • The Haunted and Holy Mont Saint-Michel
    The tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel in France holds many secrets of the sea and is said to be haunted by both monks disturbed of their eternal rest as well as soldiers from the bloody battlefields of the Hundred Year War. 
  • The Lost Castle of Hollerwiese
    The story of the lost castle of Hollerwiese on Mariahilfberg Hill is still a mystery to this day. It is said that the ghosts of those living in the castle […]
  • The Time Travelling Ghost Haunting Château de Versailles
    Château de Versailles in France is known for being the peak of decadence, royalty and luxury. But it is also known for being one of the more haunted places in France, and even has a potential time traveling story.
  • The History and Legends of the Haunted Abbaye De Mortemer
    Discover the secrets and legends of Abbaye De Mortemer, an infamous haunted abbey in rural France. Explore its haunting history from Dames Blanches, ghost monks, werewolves and a goblin cat guarding a treasure.
  • Tomino’s Hell — The Cursed Poem
    The supposedly cursed poem known as Tomino’s Hell has been a famous creepypasta for a long time and an urban legend before that. But what is the truth behind the […]
  • The Enchanted Forest of Brocéliande
    Step into the fabled forest of Brocéliande, where tales of enchantment and eerie mystique surround you! Discover what lies deep in the shadows of this haunted forest that is said to be in the real forest of the Paimpont forest in Brittany, France. 
  • The Buried Alive Ghosts of Château de Trécesson in the Enchanted Forest
    Château de Trécesson, the ancient castle in Brittany has more than one ghost haunting the place. Perhaps it’s not too strange to be haunted by the mysterious Dames Blanches when the location of the castle is in an enchanted forest.
  • The White Lady In Freihung
    Stories about white ladies are plentiful in Europe, especially in Germany, and this particular The White Lady In Freihung ended up winning against the U.S Army.  The main town in […]
  • The Legend of the Phantom of Opéra Garnier
    Get ready for an eerie adventure through Opéra Garnier Paris where the legend of the Phantom of the Opera originated from. How much from the musical and the novel was from real life and just how haunted is the opera house today? 
  • Ghost Stories from Greoux-les-Bains and the Château des Templiers
    Discover spooky tales and legendary ghost stories from Greoux-les-Bains, France. Tales from the haunted castle of the knight templar are said to be plentiful and the entire historic town is rumored to be haunted.
  • The Ghost Monks at Lyseklosteret
    In the ruins of Lyse Abbey there are rumors about the ghost monks haunting the ruins as well as a white lady roaming the roads around it.  Lyse Abbey or […]
  • Joan of Arc Haunting the Basilique du Bois-Chenu
    Explore the mysterious Basilique du Bois-Chenu, a church dedicated to the French national hero and saint Joan of Arc, where rumor has it is haunted by her spirit.


Leave a Reply