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It's Halloween time! Like many other western customs (Christmas, Valentine's Day etc.), the Japanese easily adopt it, especially for commercial purposes. There are pumpkins displayed at the stores, and some people wear costumes and go to parties. However, there is no real custom for Halloween in Japan. I never experienced "Trick or Treating" with a cute costume when I was little...

I will tell you about Japanese ghosts, though the Japanese ghost is usually a thing of summer. The Japanese have their own ghosts, and there are a few terms to describe them.

Obake, Bakemono

Literally means, "transforming thing." "O" is an honorific prefix and "bake" is a noun form for the verb "bakeru (to change, to transform)." It can also be used more generally to refer to anything that is weird or grotesque.

Yuurei

According to Shinto beliefs, all people have a soul called "reikon." When a person dies, the reikon leaves the body and joins the souls of its ancestors. However, when a person dies suddenly by murder, is slain in battle, commits suicide, or when he or she hasn't been given an appropriate funeral, the reikon may become a yuurei to seek revenge. Many yuurei are female ghosts who suffered badly in life from love, jealousy, sorrow, or regret. Male yuurei are less common.

Yuurei usually appear in a white kimono (katabira), which people were buried in the old days, and have no legs. They also wear a white triangular piece of paper or cloth (hitaikakushi) on their forehead. They usually appear between 2 and 3 a.m. Click here to learn the kanji characters for "yuurei."

Here is one of the famous yuurei stories "Bancho sara-yashiki (The Story of Okiku)" in Japanese and English.

お菊は青山鉄山の家に、女中として働いていました。ある日家宝である十枚の高価な陶器の皿を片付けているとき、お菊はうっかりその皿の一枚を割ってしまいました。怒った青山はお菊を殺し、その死体を古井戸に投げ捨てました。その後毎晩お菊の幽霊が井戸から現れ、皿をゆっくり九枚まで数えると、突然悲痛なすすり泣きを始めるのでした。それは何度も何度も繰り返され、青山を苦しめました。ついに青山は気が狂い、お菊の復讐は果たされたのでした。

Okiku wa Aoyama Tessan no ie ni, jochuu to shite hataraite imashita. Aruhi kahou de aru juu-mai no kouka na touki no sara o katazuketeiru toki, Okiku wa ukkari sono sara no ichi-mai o watte shimaimashita. Okotta Aoyama wa Okiku o koroshi, sono shitai o furuido ni nagesutemashita. Sonogo maiban Okiku no yuurei ga ido kara araware, sara o yukkuri  kyuu-mai made kazoeruto, totsuzen hitsuuna susurinaki o hajimeru no deshita. Sore wa nandomo nandomo kurikaesare, Aoyama o kurushimemashita. Tsuini Aoyama wa ki ga kurui, Okiku no fukushuu wa hatasareta no deshita.

Okiku works as a maid at the home of the samurai Tessan Aoyama. One day while cleaning a collection of ten precious ceramic plates, which is a family treasure, she accidentally breaks one of them. The outraged Aoyama kills her and throws the corpse into an old well. Every night afterwards, Okiku's ghost rises from the well, slowly counts out nine plates and then breaks into heartrending sobs, over and over and over again, tormenting the samurai. Finally, vengeance is wrought when Aoyama goes insane.

Vocabulary

jochuu
女中
maid hataraku
働く
to work
aruhi
ある日
one day kahou
家宝
family treasure
katazukeru
かたづける
to clean koukana
高価な
precious
touki no sara
陶器の皿
ceramic plates ukkari
うっかり
accidentally
waru
割る
to break okotta
怒った
outraged
korosu
殺す
to kill nageru
投げる
to throw
shitai
死体
corpse furuido
古井戸
old well
kazoeru
数える
to count yukkuri
ゆっくり
slowly
hitsuuna
悲痛な
heartrending kurushimeru
苦しめる
to torment
fukushuu
復讐
vengeance ki ga kuruu
気が狂う
insane

Whether you believe the story or not, Okiku' s well exists on the ground of the Himeji Castle. Click here to have a look at the infamous well!

Himeji Castle, nicknamed White Heron Castle, is located in Himeji City, about 50 kilometers west of Kobe. It is the best preserved castle in all of Japan and has kept its original form for nearly 400 years. It is reported that the movie "Last Samurai" staring Tom Curse was partly shot there. 

More Japanese ghosts are on the next page.

Japanese Ghosts: (1), (2)

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