Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Japanese Ghost Stories


In Old Japan, the summertime was the time for ghost stories. Japanese summers tend to be hot and humid and ghost stories were a form of old fashion all natural air conditioning designed to induce cold shivers on hot summer nights.

Cold sweats, icy fingers down the spine, and blood turned to ice in the veins by chilling stories of the supernatural were just the thing for the sweltering nights.

Given our problems with Global Warming and Global Recession, perhaps by turning off our air conditioners and telling ghost stories we might be able to to ease the burden of both.

I've decided to help revive that tradition by telling a few traditional Japanese ghost stories. So switch off your air conditioning, turn up the volume, and let your mind be filled with the ghostly specters and bizarre happenings while cold fingers play along your spine.

100 Ghost Story Game and the Temple Ghost

In old Japan to combat the heat and the oppressive humidity, Japanese would tell ghost stories to chill the blood and create cold sweats. One particular form was the Hyaku Monogatari Kaiden - 100 Ghost Stories game where the participants would tell a story and blow out a candle until there were none left. It was believed that at the end a ghost would appear.

One such game was played at a temple with drastic results.


Here I tell (as best as I can) the story of a curse kimono that caused death to its owners and is believed to be the source of one of the worst fires Tokyo suffered from in its early history.

The story can be found in Ghostly Japan by Lafcadio Hearn.

The Demon-Haunted Bridge

Here I re-tell an old story about a samurai who risks his life for a wager to prove his courage by crossing a bridge haunted by a demon.

The story can be found in "Japanese Tales" an anthology of old stories compiled by Royall Tyler.

Mujina and the Faceless Ones

Here I retell a story called "Mujina and the Faceless Ones." This story is one of the collections of ghost stories in Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaiden.

I goofed up and called the man in the story Mujina but in fact this is what Hearn called the ghoulish antagonists in this short story.

Mujina is actually the name for badgers who in Japanese folklore could play tricks like the one in this story. However, the type of yokai (Japanese monsters/ghosts/devils) is Noppera-bo - humans (if you can call them such) with no faces who delight in scaring people.

Better Late Than Never

Here I tell a tale about the terrible fate of a man who went to work too early.

True(?) Ghost Story - The Flute in the Wilderness

When it comes to Ghost Stories, there are two basic types: the traditional type which is often based in folklore and deal with themes like revenge, love, sadness, etc... These stories serve a purpose to teach a lesson or just to provide a scare.

The other type is the "true" ghost story which have no rhyme or reason because the incident is often unexplainable to those who witness it. This is the kind of story where something strange has happened to the teller or someone they know. This type borders on urban legend but it is in that gray area between the real world and that "other" world.

Here I recall a story that happened to one of my uncles when they went camping in the wilderness.

The Tree Spirit

Stories of ghosts, monsters, and things that go bump in the night were the favorite past time of Japanese in olden days as a way to cool down on hot summer nights.

This story is about a greedy woodcutter who encounters a tree spirit.

Trees are or were believed to become alive after a thousand years or so.

The Eyes! The Eyes! (Mokumokuren)

Shoji is traditional Japanese paper screen covering doors and windows. It was believed that if a shoji screen was left uncared for it could be inhabited by a spirit or spirits known as Mokumokuren which took the form of a myriad eyes peering out of the shoji screen. Some think Mokumokuren to be harmless supernatural peeping toms perhaps but others beg to differ. This story tells of a brave but foolish young man who dared to stay in abandoned temple of ill repute.

Some believe Mokumokuran to be a creation of 18th Century artist Toriyama Sekien as a kind of a pun on the popular game, Go.


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About Me

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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.