“Kore De Owarida”-Japanese Ghost Culture

The gloom and doom of modern horror can be fun but knowing the backgrounds of different cultures and their approach to spiritual horror and beliefs can be a real eye-opener. This last week at Metroplague we have been showcasing the Japanese side of horror and oddities.

Although we could watch Ju-On all day long, truly understanding the culture behind the fear makes the next encounter with J-Horror that much more frightening.

East Vs. West: A Matter of Culture

Obon Lanterns
Obon Lanterns Guiding the Dead Back to the Afterlife

If you live in any western nation or have been exposed to the beliefs of Christianity or Catholicism, then you already know that the beliefs on spirit are very broad. Western culture usually sticks to the beliefs of an almighty deity, angels, the Devil, and usually in possession form, demons. Spirits are part of the western culture but usually lie on the outskirts and are reserved for specialty podcasts and B-horror flicks.

While many people take the big G and D seriously, spirits, in general, are seen as something to disprove; something that only the slightly off-kilter and juvenile believe in. This case is very different in Japan where there are full seasons honoring the dead and the link between the dead and the living is much more than mere superstition.

Early Beliefs

The Japanese belief in ghosts goes all the way back to the indigenous Ainu people of the area. These ancient beliefs were that spirits were a deceased person’s evil side and could manifest in the dreams of the living to torment them.

The Shinto religion brought about the belief in Kami, spirits that represent the links between our world and the world of the dead. It was believed that Kami were manifestations of real-world obstacles that were preventing the living from achieving ultimate enlightenment.

Beyond these origins of the spiritual world in Japan, there are several other types of haunts that can visit the living.

Tengu-Forest goblins with the body of a man and the wings/beak of a bird. These tricksters were believed to have the ability to cast spells on the wanderers of Japan’s forests.

Oni/Yokai-These demons are known as the harbingers of mischief and disaster. They are usually represented in a hideous ogre-like form with horns growing out of their heads. An Oni’s role is to take the souls of the dead to hell.

Yurei-These spirits are probably the most familiar spirit to the Western audience (thanks to mass production of Yurei legends in film). These spirits are usually female in white robes, with long, flowing black hair. They often died by violent means and their sole purpose is to haunt an object or location with the intent of pure vengeance.

Landlords for the Dead

Traditional Japanese Spirit House
Traditional Japanese Spirit House

One of the beliefs in Eastern culture is that the dead and the living must learn to co-exist with each other. One way that the living in these areas have been able to show their honor for the dead is to set up small “shrines” in front of their homes or businesses. While at first glance, these spirit homes can resemble a religious shrine, the reality is that these objects are created to “house” and appease the spirits. These houses are usually ornate and have offerings left in them to tempt spirits into inhabitance. UIltimatley, their purpose is to keep wandering souls from making a home in the actual building.

What is Japanese Ghost Season?

Obon, also known as the Festival of the Dead, is a 500-year-old Japanese tradition that can best be compared to the Hispanic tradition, Day of the Dead. However, instead of one day of celebration, this ghost season runs for three days in the month of August.

Aspects of Obon:
  • The cleaning of the home for visiting spirits
  • Preparing offerings for deceased relatives
  • The placement of lanterns to guide the spirits home
  • Dance the bonodori to welcome the dead
  • Use the lanterns to guide the spirits back to the otherworld after three days of celebration.

The More You Know…

Thank you for hanging out with Metroplague for our celebration of J-Horror Week. We had a blast showing you some of our favorite legends, games, and locations associated with this genre. Come back next week for our Ouija-Week that will start with a brand new Short Scream fictional piece. Remember, down here at the bottom, nobody will judge you. So, be weird and often.





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