Japanese Ghost Stories and Weird Tales
January 21, 2014 9:20 PM   Subscribe

10 Famous Japanese Ghost Stories: ten short kaidan translated by Zack Davisson and posted along with many others at Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

The stories (6/10 of which acknowledge a debt to manga creator Shigeru Mizuki): Via HORROR!, a blog post in which Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria, gathers up recommendations others suggested to her for a class she's teaching on the topic "Weird World Fiction."

Previously, related, and related.
posted by Monsieur Caution (18 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Cool! Anyone here familiar with Japanese ghost stories? There was this one story one of my students told me about a long-neck ghost and I'm hoping the story lives up to the mental image I have of it.

Also another one of my students said that I'm followed by evil spirits. That wasn't very nice.
posted by Hoopo at 9:33 PM on January 21, 2014

Not sure about Japanese ghosts, but ghost movies from some cultures have helpful rather than vengeful ghosts... well the Ringu witch wasn't quite a Casper the friendly ghost now I think about it.
posted by saber_taylor at 9:43 PM on January 21, 2014

I think it's a cool site, but I'm pretty sure Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai by reproducing Mizuki's excellent illustrations the site is ignoring and violating Japanese copyright laws.

It kind of bugs me, actually.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:12 PM on January 21, 2014

There was this one story one of my students told me about a long-neck ghost and I'm hoping the story lives up to the mental image I have of it.


Also another one of my students said that I'm followed by evil spirits.

I think folks believe in ghosts here, but evil spirits? Even for Japanese folks that's heading out into woo woo territory.

We had an annoying friend who claimed that where we lived was haunted - our apartment was haunted by an ancient water spirit, our house was haunted by the ghost of the previous owner's dead husband, but at the end of the day... this friend of ours wasn't the most credible person.

2chan actually has these awesome boards devoted to ghost sitings at a micro, micro level across Japan. It's kind of fun, but...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

but evil spirits?

Demons maybe? Ghosts? The guy was old and cranky and weird; I thought maybe it was a poor translation of an insult or figure of speech or something. Either that or he's just a weirdo, which he was most certainly.
posted by Hoopo at 11:11 PM on January 21, 2014

Every terror is about water, notice ?
posted by Mblue at 12:11 AM on January 22, 2014

I don't know, KokuRyu, there's plenty of woo here. From the little stuff (devotional placards at shrines to help you pass exams) to the far out there (cults like Panawave, Aum, all the others), there are plenty of people in Japan that, while they might not go all in for religion, believe heavily in woo.

Obviously, most people lining up at New Year's for their yearly fortune (screw waiting in line for hours, it's cold. Mrs. Ghidorah and I go to the fortune vending machine) don't put much stock in it. On the other hand, near (or in) pretty much any major train station, you'll have fortune tellers, palm readers, all that woo. The woo is strong here, and I wouldn't be at all shocked for someone to say that to me, right before I ease my way out of the conversation.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:36 AM on January 22, 2014

And the best yokai, obviously, is and always will be the Chochin Obake.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:38 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the little stuff (devotional placards at shrines to help you pass exams)

My father-in-law was a fortune teller. He read palms, but was known for making "o-mamori" charms to help pass exams. He was an expert in Chinese numerology and Chinese characters.

My wife does it too.

For whatever illogical reason I don't consider that "woo", but more cultural.

However, I tend to think the "woo" in Japan is more based on luck and fate. I don't think "evil spirits" are a Thing per se. Of course there is the idea that everything has a tamashi or soul, notably inanimate objects like dolls and stuffed animals.

There's temple in Kanazawa devoted to stuffed animals and dolls - you can't just throw those things away.

However, I think my problem is that I'm comfortable when in Japan believing two contradictory things at the same time. When my wife went to the shrine to pray for her father's recovery, she really believed her prayers to the resident kami might help, so who I am I to say she's wrong?

But it's more of a cultural belief with its own internal logic, totally unlike a Ouija Board, which is a manufactured board game that somehow developed a supernatural life of its own.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 AM on January 22, 2014

I find the dramatic structure of the stories very strange - most of them are just set pieces, without any peak or resolution: a lot of the time the supernatural just goes away after a while, without anybody understanding what it was.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:53 AM on January 22, 2014

I find the dramatic structure of the stories very strange

The structure is indeed odd to Western readers -- I describe a couple of my favorites in this comment. The narrative workings are really different, even for folk tales. That's part of what makes them so much fun to read. You literally do not know what is going to happen.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:31 AM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mizuki Shigeru's Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro (notably the earlier manga stories from the late 50's and 60's) is really interesting in that the series "remixes" Japanese in very amusing and interesting ways.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:14 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

This might be a good place for a plug for Mu Shi Shi an anime about the little spirits that live in various places. My 12 yo son really liked it (Netfix) so I watched a bunch of episodes with him. It tries to preserve the folk tale structure where the ending and the wrap-up doesn't really explain anything. I don't know if that worked within the weekly tv show format, but it seemed better-written than many cartoon series.
posted by sneebler at 7:05 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's also Ayakashi and its spinoff, Mononoke. The best part of Ayakashi is the arc telling the story of Oiwa from Yotsuya Kaidan, and then each Mononoke arc is based around a different youkai. It's a great anime.

This past summer they also had a special miniseries of creepy shorts, Yamishibai (Yami = darkness, kamishibai is a form of street storytelling).
posted by sukeban at 7:12 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

(The third arc from Ayakashi is a Medicine Seller story about a bakeneko. Mononoke is all further adventures of the Medicine Seller, and has a call back to the Ayakashi bakeneko story at the last narrative arc)
posted by sukeban at 7:14 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The structure is indeed odd to Western readers

Would this also apply to Momotaro? The way it was told to me was odd. The lengthy parts were about the boy coming from a peach and his parents and befriending a talking monkey, and then it just quickly wrapped up like "so Peach Boy and his talking monkey go to Monster Island and kick all the monsters asses and take the treasure and they all live happily ever after the end" and I'm like "wait, what about Monster Island? You can't just drop Monster Island Fighting Monkey Combat on me like it's no big deal."
posted by Hoopo at 11:18 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The 日本昔話 (Nihon Mukashi-Banashi) television series is quite good (unfortunately AFAIK it's only uploaded in Japanese, but some fansubs may exist on YouTube). Here's a sample show.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2014

I've always been partial to Oiwa. The Hokusai painting is sublime, and the imagery of the hair falling out is powerful (especially in an age when we all know someone who's been through cancer treatment.) And she almost made it into the Haunted Mansion!

I love this post, though, because I might never have stumbled across "The Yurei of the Blind Female Musician," which I really enjoyed!

I've always been struck by the similarity between the female spirits of Japanese ghost lore and those of Poe's stories, demanding the voice they were denied in life. When I head of Edogawa Ranpo a few years back, I felt like a huge chuck of my literary education had been sorely neglected!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:38 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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