Monday, November 2, 2009

Japanese Ghost

Japanese ghost is usually a thing of summer. The Japanese have their own ghosts, and there are a few terms to describe them.

Obake, Bakemono
Literally means, "transforming thing." "O" is an honorific prefix and "bake" is a noun form for the verb "bakeru (to change, to transform)." It can also be used more generally to refer to anything that is weird or grotesque.

According to Shinto beliefs, all people have a soul called "reikon." When a person dies, the reikon leaves the body and joins the souls of its ancestors. However, when a person dies suddenly by murder, is slain in battle, commits suicide, or when he or she hasn't been given an appropriate funeral, the reikon may become a yuurei to seek revenge. Many yuurei are female ghosts who suffered badly in life from love, jealousy, sorrow, or regret. Male yuurei are less common.
Yuurei usually appear in a white kimono (katabira), which people were buried in the old days, and have no legs. They also wear a white triangular piece of paper or cloth (hitaikakushi) on their forehead. They usually appear between 2 and 3 a.m.

Here is one of the famous yuurei stories "Bancho sara-yashiki (The Story of Okiku)" in
Japanese and English.

In Japanese:

Okiku wa Aoyama Tessan no ie ni, jochuu to shite hataraite imashita. Aruhi kahou de aru juu-mai no kouka na touki no sara o katazuketeiru toki, Okiku wa ukkari sono sara no ichi-mai o watte shimaimashita. Okotta Aoyama wa Okiku o koroshi, sono shitai o furuido ni nagesutemashita. Sonogo maiban Okiku no yuurei ga ido kara araware, sara o yukkuri kyuu-mai made kazoeruto, totsuzen hitsuuna susurinaki o hajimeru no deshita. Sore wa nandomo nandomo kurikaesare, Aoyama o kurushimemashita. Tsuini Aoyama wa ki ga kurui, Okiku no fukushuu wa hatasareta no deshita.

In English:
Okiku works as a maid at the home of the samurai Tessan Aoyama. One day while cleaning a collection of ten precious ceramic plates, which is a family treasure, she accidentally breaks one of them. The outraged Aoyama kills her and throws the corpse into an old well. Every night afterwards, Okiku's ghost rises from the well, slowly counts out nine plates and then breaks into heartrending sobs, over and over and over again, tormenting the samurai. Finally, vengeance is wrought when Aoyama goes insane.

Literally means, "bewitching apparition." They include monsters, goblins, and ghouls. They usually appear at dawn or dusk. Unlike yuurei, which are the souls of the dead and downright scary, youkai are comical, bizarre and mischievous in some way. Here are some youkai.

Oni, demons or ogres, are one of the most famous youkai. They are huge and have horns. The color of their body is red, blue, or black. They usually carry a big iron club (kanabou). They are best known for guarding the gate of Buddhist hell. They also often appear in folktales. (Momotaro, Issun-boshi etc.) They are dumb, cruel, and malicious.

Setsubun (Feb. 3rd), there is a custom to drive away evil sprits. People scatter soybeans outside of doorways, shouting "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi! (Demon out, Good luck in!)."


Kappa are supernatural creatures which live both on land and in water. They are as tall as a four or five year old child. They have a beak-like snout, and fins on their hands and feet. They also have a shell on their back, and a water-filled dish on their head. As long as the dish is full of water, kappa keep their supernatural powers. Kappa are known for dragging people into the water and pulling out their livers through their anuses.

Although kappa harm people sometimes, there are also many tales where they have helped people. They are very curious. They often appear in cartoons because of their lovable images.
Kappa love sumo wrestling and cucumbers. That is why cucumber sushi rolls are called "
kappa maki". "Okappa" are bobbed hairstyles because they look like the kappa's hairstyles. Kappa are excellent swimmers. There is a saying "Kappa no kawa nagare (a drowning kappa)" which means, even an expert can make mistakes sometimes.

Female monsters with long, flexible necks. They look just like ordinary humans during the day, but at night, they extend their necks to frighten or spy on people. They sometimes turn their human faces into those of demons.

A snow woman, appears in a white kimono on a stormy night. She causes travelers to become lost and freeze to death.

A one-eyed goblin, literally has a large eye in the center of its face. It looks like the shaved head of a priest. It does not play tricks, but just scares people.

Tengu is also a youkai. Tengu is a mythical mountain goblin. Tengu has a red face and extremely long nose, and carries a "hauchiwa (feathered fan)." Part man and part bird, tengu have supernatural powers, though they are mischievous rather than evil.

Tengu are worshipped by "yamabushi (mountain priests)," and they usually wear the costume of "yamabushi" with tall "geta (wooden clogs)." Minamoto Yoshitsune (a great warrior in 12th century) is famous for being taught martial arts and strategy by a tengu on Mt. Kurama, north of Kyoto.

Tengu also have been known to abduct children. In the Kamakura period (1192-1333), there were many sudden disappearance attributed to kidnappings by tengu.

There is a saying "tengu ni naru (to become a tengu)," which means to become conceited.

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