October 2018

Yotsuya Kaidan.jpg

With Halloween right around the corner, I started wonder if Halloween is conducted in Japan.  Well, the answer is “yes”.  Within the past ten years, Japan has shown a gradual increase of interest in Halloween, and with that an increase in commercial hype.  Japanese Halloween is very much focused on commercialism and costumes only.  No “trick or treating”.
Halloween is a celebration observed on October 31st, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.  This sounds more like the “Obon” in Japan….
The dead, refers to Yūrei (幽霊) in Japan.  It’s meaing “soul” or “spirit”.  There are few other alternative names, and they are thought to be spirits kept from a peaceful afterlife.
According to traditional Japanese beliefs, all humans have a spirit or soul called a 霊魂 (reikon). When a person dies, the reikon leaves the body and enters a form of purgatory, where it waits for the proper funeral and post-funeral rites to be performed, so that it may join its ancestors. If this is done correctly, the reikon is believed to be a protector of the living family and to return yearly in August during the Obon Festival to receive thanks.
However, if the person dies in a sudden or violent manner such as murder or suicide, if the proper rites have not been performed, or if they are influenced by powerful emotions such as a desire for revenge, love, jealousy, hatred or sorrow, the reikon is thought to transform into a yūrei, which can then bridge the gap back to the physical world. The emotion or thought need not be particularly strong or driving, and even innocuous thoughts can cause a death to become disturbed. Once a thought enters the mind of a dying person, their Yūrei will come back to complete the action last thought of before returning to the cycle of reincarnation.
The yūrei then exists on Earth until it can be laid to rest, either by performing the missing rituals, or resolving the emotional conflict that still ties it to the physical plane. If the rituals are not completed or the conflict left unresolved, the yūrei will persist in its haunting.
Oftentimes the lower the social rank of the person who died violently, or who was treated harshly during life, the more powerful as a yūrei they would return. This is illustrated in the fate of Oiwa in the story Yotsuya Kaidan, or the servant Okiku in Bancho Sarayashiki.
Have a wonderful spooky month, :)
Chie Schiller
Board Chair / Executive President