Japanese Ghost Lore
Japanese culture is rich in tradition and lore. There are many known ghost stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Some of these stories may have been created to ensure proper curfew or to teach respect but there is always the question, how many of these tales are rooted in truth?
The Japanese Shinto believe that after death a human becomes a spirit with two sides, one good and one evil. These spirits are believed to be everywhere, water, trees, mountains, and wind. Buddhists believe the way a person behaves while living would determine how they will spend the afterlife. They would either go to the “pure land” or the “Land of the dead”, similar to Hell. There are also certain prayers and rituals to ensure proper passing of a spirit due to the belief that a spirit starts out angry and confused.
A Yurei or ghost is believed to haunt the place it once lived and torment the people responsible for any ill feelings it carried during its human life, such as jealousy or envy. A person must pray that the soul of the dead can ascend and be released from its suffering.
Recurring themes in these legends are angry and vengeful ghosts of women who experienced cruelty while they were alive. There is a road between Tokyo and Kyoto known as the “Rocks that weep”. A woman was said to have traveled down that road to meet her husband late one night. She was attacked by thieves and murdered. Her blood spilled onto the rocks and now these rocks are believed to contain her spirit.
The Buruburu is a ghost believed to inhabit graveyards, forests or any dark quiet location. The name translates to “the sound of shivering” and it will appear to you as a harmless elderly person. The spirit then attaches itself to you; this is why you feel shivers down your spine, and fills you with intense fear, sometimes resulting in heart failure.
The Ikiryo is a type of spirit capable of complete human possession. This entity is said to inhabit those who carry hate and anger with them at all times. The ghost latches on and slowly begins to drain the human host of all its energy. The greater the negativity and emotional toxicity the person has, the more powerful this spirit can be.
Humans are not the only ones mentioned. Fox and raccoon are often seen as inhabiting magical abilities. They can be tricksters, frightening, misleading and even positive omens at times. The Tanuki is a small furry creature believed to be able to transform into something much more frightening like a one eyed demon who uses nature (earthquakes’, lightening) to claim victims. Another popular creature is the Kitsune, a fox with shape shifting abilities. Usually these creatures shift into beautiful women who seduce and even possess men and lead them to their demise.
There are even stories of inanimate objects containing ghosts. The Bakechochin is a lantern thought to contain the spirits of those who died with hatred and malice in their hearts. The lantern has some human qualities, a long tongue and wild piercing eyes. Anyone who dares to light the lantern will immediately be attacked by the spirits living inside.
Many of these stories in their own bizarre way promote peaceful living. Warning us all to stay away from hate, jealousy, lust, and all the similar things viewed as evil or sinful throughout the world. The personification of emotions is a popular theme and a memorable way to teach lessons. However many of these entities and their legends are so ancient the origins have become distorted over the centuries and yet they are powerful enough to stay and invoke fear into the most modern and advanced cultures.