Posts Tagged ‘ Hyaku Monogatari ’

Things that go “Bump” in Japan: Happy Halloween ハピ ハロウイン!

Kodai-ji Temple Goblin Lanterns. August 2011. Kyoto.

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I originally posted this   “Things That Go ‘Bump'” piece 2009.  I’ve updated it over the years.  Let’s start it off with a vid of incredible, haunting, Steven Rollinson photos of mannequin scarecrows from Gifu Prefecture.  The angst and ennui expressed by these mannequins is a thing to behold — 

h/t to wonderful site/blog, Pink Tentacle, for bringing this to my attention.



October 2012 Kansai Scene – Magazine for the International Community

Kansai Scene — October 2012 Edition


Kodai-ji Goblin Lanterns. Detail. August 2011.

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WiFi for Smartphones Poster Detail. Tokyo. August 2011.

In October 1990 I was living in a small mountain town in Hyogo Prefecture.  I write about this town in the stories “Etsuko” and “Enlightenment”, whose links you can find at the top of this page.  I was a middle school teacher.  Come the season of red and gold, it occurred to me that in the spirit of cultural outreach I should find a pumpkin and carve a Jack-o-Lantern for and with the students.

My Japanese counterpart teachers (of English) liked the idea and a big pumpkin was found and brought into the school without much trouble.  A few days before Halloween, in a corner of one of the school hallways, I carved it in stages throughout the school day as students gathered around, amazed.  Several of them helped me scoop-out the insides of Jack’s skull.  Others handed me tools, acting as my nurses in the operating room.  Good times.  When, towards the end of the day, the job was done and the candle was lit and placed just so in Jack’s now-empty skull, I gave a signal and the lights were extinguished in the hall.  Gasps and giggles rippled up and down the flock of students nearby.  They had never seen such a thing.

While that wasn’t that long ago, it was long ago enough: Halloween — with its origins dating back well more than a millenium with the Celts of Northern France and the British Isles, brought to America in fits and starts during the 1700s, popularized by Irish immigrants during the latter half of the 19th Century, and supremely commercialized in the States after WWII — is now a Japanese holiday, in the strictly commercial, kitschy sense.


Happy Halloween in Japanese:   ハピ ハロウイン



"The Ghost of Koheiji".  Woodblock print.  Hokusai.  1830.

“The Ghost of Koheiji”. Woodblock print. Hokusai. 1830.

But ghosts and goblins and the creepy stories surrounding them have their own long tradition in Japan (as is the case in every culture).  Celebrated Edo Period wood block artist Hokusai (1760-1849) created a series of Kabuki-inspired “ghost story” prints around 1830, “Hyaku Monogatari”.  Above you see the print, “The Ghost of Koheiji”, based on an 1803 story-turned-kabuki-play by Santo Kyoden (poet, writer and woodblock artist).  Koheiji was betrayed and murdered by his wife.  So, naturally, he comes back from the dead to torment her and her lover by slipping under the mosquito netting around their bedding and joining and doling out horrific justice on them.   Below is famous, The Ghost of O-Iwa, a woman murdered by her husband who came back in phantasmic form to haunt and exactly bloody vengeance on her loathsome husband.

The Ghost of O-Iwa.  On the lantern is the Buddhist prayer, "Praise to Amitabha Buddha"

The Ghost of O-Iwa. Lantern writing’s the Buddhist prayer, “Praise to Amida Buddha”


Going back a good 1,000 years into early Japanese Buddhist tradition are the tormented “Hungry Ghosts”, or “gaki“.   Gaki are the spirits of those whose lives were consumed with avarice, greed and narcissism (today’s “social climbers”), while leaving their humanity on the back burner (or no burner at all) — you get the picture.  Seems in the afterlife such people will be assigned to wander through —  but never visible to  —  the living world, all disgusting with their distended bellies, wracked with hunger and able to eat only the bowel movements of those in the corporeal world.  They are all around us today, in fact.  Quite the disgusting ghost story and morality tale, all rolled into one and very reminiscent to me of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where in death the Rich Man begs Abraham, “‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things and Lazarus in like manner received like manner of evil things; but now he is comforted and you are in anguish. . . .’” (Luke 16:24, 25).

"Gaki", or Hungry Ghosts.  Late 12th Century.

“Gaki”, or Hungry Ghosts (detail from scroll). Late 12th Century.

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Hearn’s “In Ghostly Japan

After decades of bouncing from job to job and occasionally living in poverty, Lafcadio Hearn arrived in Japan from the U.S. in 1890 and began teaching English in a Middle School in Matsue  —  a town not far from the one in which I lived and taught Middle School English… exactly 100 years after Hearn.  And he fell in love with Japan.  Hearn became one of the first Western “Windows on Japan” and Japanese culture through his books and essays on every day life, Japan’s educational system (which is not too different a 120 years later) and, yes, Ghost Stories he collected over his years living in Japan.   Note:   one of the world’s largest Hearn collections is located in the Rare Books section of the University of Alabama.

Happy Halloween.

= March 2010 Video Update.  It’s inexcusable that I could have left THIS off the original post =

Ultraman was actually one of my first introductions to Japan.  In the late ’60s and early ’70s it aired every weekday afternoon on UHF Channel 20 in the Washington, D.C. Metro area where I grew up.  I was, indeed, a fan.

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And then there’s the King of the Monsters, for Japan and elsewhere, whom I had the privilege of sitting down with and interviewing a few of summers ago.