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Exploring haunted Tokyo and beyond

by “Bateman”

With its unique history and culture, and cities dating back thousands of years, it is no surprise that Japan represents a rich supernatural tradition. And this can be an exciting, unique and largely unknown aspect of Tokyo to explore.

Similar to the West, Japanese spirits (Yurei, 幽霊) are thought to be souls kept from a peaceful afterlife, which manifest as Yurei, combining characters for “faint” or “dim” (yū幽) and “soul” or “spirit” (rei霊).

Yurei are generally tied to the specific place that the event keeping them from eternal rest took place and they seek to resolve the related emotional conflict, which may involve revenge, love, jealousy, hatred or sorrow. A representative example of this is the vengeful sprits in the hit Japanese horror movies Juon (呪怨) and Ringu, which were both re-created in Hollywood (The Grudge and The Ring).

In fact, Yurei is the generic term and within it are a range of spirits all manifesting in different ways and seeking different things. Examples include:

  • Onryō (怨霊): Mainly female and powerless in life, they often suffer due to male lovers and in death become strong and return seeking revenge.
  • Ubume (産女): Spirits of women who died in childbirth or without first providing for their children. They come back to care of their still living children.
  • Goryō (御霊): Vengeful spirits of former aristocrats, who often were martyred in political disputes or the like. They are believed to be powerful and able to destroy crops and cause typhoons and earthquakes.
  • Funayūrei (船幽霊): The spirits of those who died at sea.
  • Zashiki-warashi (座敷童/座敷童子): The often mischievous spirits of children, they are generally found in well-maintained old houses and are said to bring fortune to the occupants.
  • Samurai spirits: These are typified by veterans of the Genpei War who fell in battle – they are mainly known as characters in Noh Theater.
  • Seductress spirits: A spirit that initiates a relationship with a living person after passing into death.

Exploring haunted Tokyo – suggestions

Zenshoan Temple’s Yūrei-ga gallery

Zenshoan Temple (全生庵) (map) is known for its gallery of fifty approximately 200 year old yūrei paintings. Painted on silk, they run the realm of the spirits described above. The works were the collection of Sanyu-tei Encho (三遊亭円朝), a rakugo artist (storyteller) who studied at the temple and enjoyed telling stories of the spirit world. The works are said to have acted as his inspiration. The gallery is only open in August, the traditional season for telling ghost stories in Japan.

 

Lafcadio Hearn’s haunts

A well known 19th century writer on things Japanese, Lafcadio Hearn is particularly remembered for his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. He held Japanese citizenship and also adopted the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo. Many sites related to his life and times in Tokyo live on:

http://www.lafcadiohearn.jp/tokyo/index.html

Fuji Q Highland Amusement Park’s Haunted Hospital

About and hour and a half outside Tokyo, the Haunted Hospital within the park is said to be the world’s largest haunted attraction and was previously a real hospital. Some believe the site is actually haunted. Either way, it is frightening and uniquely Japanese: http://www.fuji-q.com/fuji-q-en/main/e-main.htm

Kamakura

About an hour from Tokyo, Kamakura (鎌倉市) was the fourth largest city in the world in 1250 and the de facto capital of Japan but is today a quiet bedroom community – with a lot of history.

Kamakura – Harakiri Yagura

The city is home to the ruins of Tosho-ji (東勝寺), a temple where 800 Samurai are said to have committed mass ritual suicide (Harakiri) in 1333, after facing capture by imperial forces. Harakiri Yagura is a cave within the temple complex where the remains of the Samurai were buried.

 

Kamakura – Kotsu Tunnel

The Kotsu tunnel was dug to connect Kamakura to the city of Kotsu. However, the tunnel undercuts a cemetery in which soldiers are said to be buried and is said to be haunted. To fully experience the atmosphere of the site, walk through the tunnel at night and climb up the mountain to the graveyard. For reference, 2 to 3am is said to be Japan’s witching hour, when spirits are most active.

Other sources

 

For those more interested in exploring from the safety of their own home, some translated stories of yurei past and present can be found here: http://www.seekjapan.jp/article-2/766/Tales+of+Ghostly+Japan

Although not directly supernatural, for those seeking the eerie side of Japan, photo collections have been compiled of some of the abandoned developments resulting from the collapse of the bubble economy, a shrinking population and the continuing exodus of people from rural to urban centers:

(Japanese) – http://home.f01.itscom.net/spiral/research.html

(English) – http://www.wordpress.tokyotimes.org/?cat=36