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In the days when Ashikaga was Shogun there served under him a knight of good family, Kato Sayemon, of whom he was especially fond. Things went well with Sayemon. He lived in what might almost be called a palace. Money he possessed in plenty. He had a charming wife who had borne him a son, and, according to old custom, he had many others who lived as wives within his mansion. There was no war in the land.

Sayemon found no trouble in his household. Peace and contentment reigned. He enjoyed life accordingly, by feasting and so forth. 'Oh that such a life could last!' thought he.

But fate decreed otherwise.


Harada Kurando was one of the leading vassals of the Lord of Tsugaru. He was a remarkable swordsman, and gave lessons in fencing. Next in seniority to Harada among the vassals was one Gundayu, who also taught fencing; but he was no match for the famous Harada, and consequently was somewhat jealous.

One day, to encourage the art of fencing amongst his vassals, the Daimio summoned all his people and ordered them to give an exhibition in his presence. After the younger vassals had performed, the Daimio gave an order that Harada Kurando and Hira Gundayu should have a match. To the winner, he said, he would present a gold image of the Goddess of Kwannon.

Both men fenced their best. There was great excitement. Gundayu had never done so well before; but Harada was too good. He won the match, receiving the gold image of Kwannon from the hands of the Daimio amid loud cheering.

Gundayu left the scene of the encounter, boiling over with jealousy and vowing vengeance. Four of his most faithful companions left with him, and said they would help him to waylay and assault Harada that very evening. Having arranged this cowardly plan, they proceeded to hide on the road which Harada must traverse on his return home.


Several hundred years ago there dwelt in lands of the Hosokawas a widow and her daughter, a beautiful girl of seventeen, named Kazuye. O Kazuye San's father had been foully murdered some six months before, and both Kazuye and her mother had made up their minds to devote their fortune and their lives to bringing the criminals to justice. In these efforts they received no help, but spent the whole of their money, until at last they were almost forced to beg in the street for food. Day after day, however, they continued to pray in the temple for help, and never once lost heart or weakened in their purpose. O Kazuye told her mother that were she fortunate enough to gain the affections of a man, even he should be sacrificed in the effort after vengeance.

One day it came to pass that the poverty-stricken appearance of Kazuye and her mother, returning as usual from praying in the temple, aroused the mirth of a party of roughs, who proceeded to insult them. A handsome young samurai, Okawa Jomoyemon, happened to come along. Drawing his sword, he very soon put the roughs to flight. Having done this, and bowing low, he asked whom he had the honour of serving.

O Kazuye answered for her mother, and quickly recognised that this handsome youth was just such as she had longed to meet, so that he might fall in love and wish to help her in seeking out the murderer of her father. Therefore, not unnaturally, she encouraged him; and he fell in love with her. In the meanwhile an old friend of Kazuye's father, feeling great sorrow for her, had found a place for her in Prince Hosokawa's household; and there she won such favour in the eyes of the Prince (or, as the title then was, Daimio) that the other maids began to be jealous.


In the reign of the Emperor Engi, which began in the year 901 A.D., there lived a man whose name has ever since been celebrated on account of his beautiful writings, poetic and other. He was the Emperor's great favorite, and consequently he was the strong man of the day; his name was Sugawara Michizane. Needless to say, it was not very long before, with all these things in his favor, he was the head of the Government, living in luxury.

Things went well enough for a time; but the inevitable came at last. Not all the people agreed with Michizane's ideas or his politics. Secret enemies lurked at every corner. Among them was one particularly bad man named Tokihira, whose poisonous intrigues at Court were constant.

Tokihira held a Government position under Michizane, and hated him in his heart, thinking that if he could but arrange to get Michizane into the bad graces of the Emperor he himself might become leader of the Government.

Michizane was a man with whom little fault could be found, and so it came to pass that Tokihira was unable to find any cause for starting evil reports about him; but as time went on he became more determined to do evil in the end.


About the year 110 B.C. there lived a brave prince known in Japanese history as Yamato-dake no Mikoto. (1) He was a great warrior, as was his son, who is said to have been a husband to the Empress Jingo--I presume a second one, for it could not have been the Emperor who was assassinated before the Empress's conquest of Korea. However, that does not very much matter to my story, which is merely the legend attached to the miraculous sword known as the Kusanagi no Tsurugi (the grass-cutting sword), which is held as one of the three sacred treasures, and is handed down from father to son in the Imperial Family. The sword is kept at the Atsuta Shrine, in Owari Province.

Yamato-dake no Mikoto had been successful at all events in suppressing the revolutionists known as the Kumaso in Kyushu. Being a man of energy, and possessing a strong force of trained men, he resolved that he would suppress the revolutionists up on the north-eastern coasts.


Between the years 1750 and 1760 there lived in Kyoto a great painter named Okyo-Maruyama Okyo. His paintings were such as to fetch high prices even in those days. Okyo had not only many admirers in consequence, but had also many pupils who strove to copy his style; among them was one named Rosetsu, who eventually became the best of all.

When first Rosetsu went to Okyo's to study he was, without exception, the dullest and most stupid pupil that Okyo had ever had to deal with. His learning was so slow that pupils who had entered as students under Okyo a year and more after Rosetsu overtook him. He was one of those plodding but unfortunate youths who work hard, harder perhaps than most, and seem to go backwards as if the very gods were against them.

I have the deepest sympathy with Rosetsu. I myself became a bigger fool day by day as I worked; the harder I worked or tried to remember the more manifestly a fool I became.

Rosetsu, however, was in the end successful, having been greatly encouraged by his observations of the perseverance of a carp.


The influence of one's uttermost passion in life may very well become a driving obsession even after you have died, or so A Dead Secret strongly suggest. This sad amd mysterious ghost story strikes several chords with traditional Japanese views of love, death and the stoic concealment of one's innermost desires, even following death.

Taking place in the ancient province of Tamba (contemporary Kyoto), the life of the beautiful maiden O-Sono seemed one of joy and hope. Only after death does her ghost betray any evidence that her truest heart had been elsewhere.


Recorded in Lafcadio Hearn's classic Kwaidan, The Dream of Akinosuke brings together several strands of traditional folklore around the central premise that even insects can manipulate and possess the human spirit. In the case of Akinosuke, he is literally whisked away for what seems to him decades on an adventure involving nobility, love and valor.

It is a wonderful story which simultaneously speaks of the fleeting nature of human experience and the value of upright character and honor.


In Japanese folklore the female demon (oni) Hannya figures prominently. Often depicted in traditional Noh and Bunraku plays using a wooden mask of a fierce and grimacing horned demon, this malicious entity may be Japan's most well-known demon.

You may even recognize this mask as being the symbol of darkest moral depravity in Onibaba.

An ancient legend recalls how the female Hannya persecuted all who attempted to pass through the Rashomon gate of Kyoto. A staunch samurai named Watanabe no Tsuna decided to lay in wait for the demon in order to slay it, until he was eventually persuaded by a beautiful young woman to escort her into town. As they travelled, Watanabe happened to glance over his shoulder and saw the young woman transforming into a terrifying demon. As the demon then laid hold of Watanabe, he quickly wielded his sword and cut off the monster's arm. As Hannya fled screaming, Watanabe carefully wrapped the severed arm and later hid it in a secured chest.


This tale takes place in the Tokugawa/Edo Era (1615-1867) and centers on the fate of a feudal peasant farmer working for a powerful property owner of the Hatamoto clan. Feudalism, by its most basic definition, refers to a socio-political system wherein landowners allow tenants to occupy and agricult their land. These tenants have no ownership rights, but simply live on the land and there make their livelihood.

Such tenants (aka "vassals") thus found themselves in a notoriously bad situation should either hard times or a mean spirit befall the landowner, who had full power to either evict or heavily tax at whim any and all of his tenants. Historically, feudalistic eras, whether in Europe or Japan, have always ended in some form of peasant revolt.

The Ghost of Sakura is an ancient Japanese ghost story revolving around the fate of a good natured tenant at the hands of a greedy and immoral landowner. It also involves the karmic expectation that justice is often meted out even from beyond the grave.

This is a rather long story, so give yourself enough time to enjoy it. The following text, including the introduction and the notes, is taken from Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, dated 1910.


One of the primary reasons traditional ink painting (sumi-ie) was so widely used to express Zen concepts was their shared core principle of "complexity through simplicity". Ink, after all, is only black and yet the skilled artist can create with this single hue an awe-inspiring array of varieties, scenes and imaginations -- infinite complexities through a single simplicity of black ink.

It is in the very same principle that Oshidori is an amazingly rich Kwaidan tale. Though short on words, it opens wide Japanese core intuitions regarding animism, reincarnation, karmic love, and noble suicide. All this in a very brief tale which raises more questions than it answers.


Some folk tales of the Japanese point toward a particular event or ghoulish monster which the reader, if lucky, shall never truly encounter. There are other tales, however, which are aimed at explaining phenomena that we mortals cannot possibly escape, and the following tale is precisely of this sort.

Perhaps more theological than superstitious this tale was contained in a "fragment" of a text happened upon by Lafcadio Hearn. The force of the tale is undeniable even to contemporary readers who are indebted to him for preserving it for Western audiences in his 1898 collection entitled In Ghostly Japan.


The sad and haunting tale of Yuki Onna (??) consists of all the requisite elements of a truly classic traditional ghost story. The ferocity of the Yuki Onna who can be both horrific and deadly at will, also displays a deep compassion and sadness. In this way she is depicted not only as a mountain ghoul but as wholly feminine in her heartfelt contemplations.

Juxtaposed her near-divine status is the character of Minokichi, an innocent and naive young man who although possesses a good heart inevitably displays the moral and mental fraility of humans. Giddily failing to uphold a promise he swore to, Minokichi foolishly brings himself once again face to face with a terrifying Death.


The Tale of Rokuro-Kubi is simultaneously a hero legend and a ghost tale. Its main character is a well-known warrior-turned-priest whose many fearless exploits include this encounter with a particularly terrifying species of mountain demons, the rokuro-kubi.

Apart from informing audiences of the nature of these monsters, this is thoroughly an exhortation of bravery, steadfastness and calm wit of the classic samurai tradition. Readers will notice that although the warrior-priest is indeed characterized as pious and prayerful, it is nevertheless his fearless samurai skill which allows him to prevail in this tale.

The species of rokuro-kubi has been depicted in Japanese folk tales and folk art for centuries. The following story was recorded in 1903 by Lafcadio Hearn. It is notable that he dates this story as occurring 500 years prior to his writing.


The animistic core of traditional Japanese sensibilities has produced (literally) volumes of folk tales depicting animals as possessing the most noble and contemplative of human qualities. The list of examples is endless, but the following tale provides an excellent glimpse into this tradition.

Just as the world of traditional youkai (??) encompasses both good and evil beings, so also the animistic realm of animals harbours both benevolent and malicious characters. Here, an elderly couple learns this very fact through a tragic unfolding of event in which they find themselves at the utter mercy of what we otherwise inclined to deem harmless animals.



The tale Of A Mirror and a Bell actually encompasses two tales, woven together by the superstitious notion of nazoraeru (???) wherein one object is spiritually replaced by another.

In addition to the tales themselves, of considerable import here is Hearn's explanation of the "little man of straw" which if impaled "with nails not less than five inches long, to some tree in a temple-grove at the Hour of the Ox" is done with the intent that "the person, imaginatively represented by that little straw man, should die thereafter in atrocious agony".

Not only does a version of this imagery appear in Western horror such as Blair Witch, but it also permeates traditional Japanese depictions of midnight witches adorned with a crown of lit candles. (For example, a very haunting depiction of this appears in the contemporary film Onmyoji.)


When I first saw the film Haunted Lantern I did not realize that it so faithfully followed a century-old tale entitled Botan Dourou (Flower Lantern). Performed initially by a theatre group in Tokyo during the Meiji-Era, the tale slowly made its way to the West through the writings of Lafcadio Hearns. In his In Ghostly Japan written in 1898, Hearns provides a translation the theatrical version which he himself attended.

The tale itself is said to tap into core Japanese intuitions and superstitions regarding karmic love, fated destinies, and the afterlife. Though slightly different from the original, director Yamamato Satsuo's 1968 film Haunted Lantern retains a wide range of Botan Dourou's original elements from character names and ranks to the golden statue of Buddha.

Below is Lafcadio Hearn's retelling of the tale as told in his In Ghostly Japan.


Passed down as common lore among residents of Tokyo for at least a century, most Japanese not only know the Tale of Mujina but many will gleefully tell you the tale with an excited shiver and gleam in their eye. Though brief, it conjures up not only the terrifying prospects of walking along darkened roads at night, but also wholly grounds in a very particular and identifiable location within Tokyo, making it all the more palpable to residents.

This tale first made its way to the West through the uniquely mystifying writings of Lafcadio Hearn's over a century ago in his now infamous work entitled Kwaidan.

Below you will find the complete version of this classic Kwaidan tale.


The tale of Mimi Nashi Hoichi (Earless Hoichi) is perhaps well known to Western audiences and may need no real introduction. But here I go anyway...

Besides a tale about a highly gifted yet unfortunate Biwa player, this narrative strongly recollects a critical battle in Japan's history, the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. Fought on April 25, 1185, the Battle of Dan-no-Ura was the decisive victory of the Genji Clan over the Heike (Taira) Clan. The tale of this heroic battle and the ferocious losses is forever captured in the Japanese classic Heike Monogatari. In great part, Mimi Nasho Hoichi is not only set within the ghostly aftermath of this battle but spends much of its focus on the battle itself. The intermingling of ghost tale with dramatic historical narrative makes this Kwaidan tale a beloved amongst Japanese.


You know me; I love traditional Japanese tales and enjoy fitting all the obscure pieces of the puzzle into a single coherent whole. But even I must occasionally stand back with mouth agape (!!) wondering whether or not the ancient Japanese ingested some psychadelic herb to aid them in their creative storytelling. And I venture to presume that you will also be wondering the same after reading the brief yet fabulous tale of the The Monkey and the Crab.

Though if contemplated, the moral lesson of this tale becomes crystal clear, at first reading, simply compare the bizarrities here with those of, say, Alice in Wonderland.



Fated love and its power over karmic re-birth is a recurring theme in Japanese film and folk lore. Usually this involves the lovers being reborn at a later time where they once again meet and fall into an irresistible love through the strong bonds of destiny.

In the following tale, however, the bond between lovers is so strong and pure that the fated reincarnation of the lover occurs while the other still lives. As told by Lafcadio Hearn in his 1904 Kwaidan, this is a satisfying tale of the ultimate victory of love over death and karma.



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Here is a tale presumably recollecting the actual experiences of author Lafcadio Hearn's during his life in Japan. It portrays a very mundane aspect of daily life in his village which becomes to vehicle for a depth of insight into common traditional religious and superstitious intuitions. Though barely mentioned, the undeniable backbone of this tale is a mother's love and prayer for her deceased child. Look carefully and you will see it. Also here is the comforting Buddhist (not Shinto) notion of reincarnation. Lastly and perhaps most intriguing is this tale's implicit yet wholly indescript doctrine regarding the spiritual power of a grave site. This last aspect is the type of common superstition which is rarely written down or formally declared yet somehow lives eternally through the generations of a people group.


Just when you thought it was safe to pet the kitty!!

Here's a classic Japanese tale dating back to the Hizen daimyo of the Sengoku Era (1568-1615). It presents a Shinto perspective of the spiritual dimension of Nature itself, here depicted in the form of a large cat who not only consumes humans, but then supernaturally changes its form to become that human, after which it interacts and easily deceives everyone it encounters.

Until, of course, a world-wise roaming priest enters the picture...

The following tale is taken from Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, dated 1910.


Here's a rather creepy tale involving entrenched folk superstition, Buddhist theology and Karmic principles of retribution for evil deeds.

The notion of a Jiki Ninki or Flesh-eating Goblin appears in several forms within Japanese folk tales. The story below is a very old and original version which conjures skin-tingles at the thought of encountering dilapidated shrine hermitages along darkened mountainous passages. Here's why...


This tale, dating back to the 1600s, is clearly intended as a message regarding the efficacy of earnest prayer the deity Fudo Myo-O associated with Saihoji Temple in Kyoto. (Fudo Myo-O is primarily emphasized by the Shingon school of Buddhism.)

But although the tale contains two "testimonies" of effective prayer, another central moral lesson undoubtedly involves the noble willingness of an individual sacrifice for the greater good.

Simultaneously religious, haunting and beautiful the tale of Ubazakura has always struck a chord with the heart of Japanese existential sentiment.


About the year 1680 there stood an old temple on a wild pine-clad mountain near the village of Kisaichi, in the Province of Inaba. The temple was far up in a rocky ravine. So high and thick were the trees, they kept out nearly all daylight, even when the sun was at its highest. As long as the old men of the village could remember the temple had been haunted by a shito dama and the skeleton ghost (they thought) of some former priestly occupant. Many priests had tried to live in the temple and make it their home but all had died. No one could spend a night there and live.

At last, in the winter of 1701, there arrived at the village of Kisaichi a priest who was on a pilgrimage. His name was Jogen, and he was a native of the Province of Kai.

Jogen had come to see the haunted temple. He was fond of studying such things. Though he believed in the shito dama form of spiritual return to earth, he did not believe in ghosts. As a matter of fact, he was anxious to see a shito dama, and, moreover, wished to have a temple of his own. In this wild mountain temple, with a history which fear and death prevented people from visiting or priests inhabiting, he thought that he had (to put it in vulgar English) 'a real good thing.' Thus he had found his way to the village on the evening of a cold December night, and had gone to the inn to eat his rice and to hear all he could about the temple.


Long ago, at a small and out-of-the-way village called Kumedamura, about eight miles to the south-east of Sakai city, in Idsumo Province, there was made a tomb, the Fuezuka or Flute's Tomb, and to this day many people go thither to offer up prayer and to worship, bringing with them flowers and incense-sticks, which are deposited as offerings to the spirit of the man who was buried there. All the year round people flock to it. There is no season at which they pray more particularly than at another.

The Fuezuka tomb is situated on a large pond called Kumeda, some five miles in circumference, and all the places around this pond are known as of Kumeda Pond, from which the village of Kumeda took its name.

Whose tomb can it be that attracts such sympathy The tomb itself is a simple stone pillar, with nothing artistic to recommend it. Neither is the surrounding scenery interesting; it is flat and ugly until the mountains of Kiushu are reached. I must tell, as well as I can, the story of whose tomb it is.


In the wild province of Yamato, or very near to its borders, is a beautiful mountain known as Yoshino yama. It is not only known for its abundance of cherry blossom in the spring, but it is also celebrated in relation to more than one bloody battle. In fact, Yoshino might be called the staging-place of historical battles. Many say, when in Yoshino, 'We are walking on history, because Yoshino itself is history.' Near Yoshino mountain lay another, known as Tsubosaka; and between them is the Valley of Shimizutani, in which is the Violet Well.

At the approach of spring in this valley the grass assumes a perfect emerald green, while moss grows luxuriantly over rocks and boulders. Towards the end of April great patches of deep-purple wild violets show up in the lower parts of the valley, while up the sides pink and scarlet azaleas grow in a manner which beggars description.


About one thousand years ago (but according to the dates of the story 744 years ago) the temple of 'San-j?-san-gen Do' was founded. That was in 1132. 'San-j?-san-gen Do' means hall of thirty-three spaces; and there are said to be over 33,333 figures of the Goddess Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, in the temple to-day.

Before the temple was built, in a village near by stood a willow tree of great size. It marked the playing-ground of all the village children, who swung on its branches, and climbed on its limbs. It afforded shade to the aged in the heat of summer, and in the evenings, when work was done, many were the village lads and lasses who vowed eternal love under its branches. The tree seemed an influence for good to all. Even the weary traveler could sleep peacefully and almost dry under its branches. Alas, even in those times men were often ruthless with regard to trees.

One day the villagers announced an intention to cut it down and use it to build a bridge across the river.


Here is a folk tale taking place in the northernmost reaches of Japan and set during a period when the samurai class is waning. It is at core a love story similar to that of the Peony Lantern but with a very different perspective and description of the ghostly apparition. Like so many of these old tales, the notion that a beloved artifact or object remains tied to the soul of the deceased and becomes a conduit through which the dead spirit once again enters the land of the living. Here the object is a golden hairpin which is exchanged between lovers at the beginning of what would become their sad and tragic relationship. 

Up in the northern city of Sendai, whence come the best of Japanese soldiers, there lived a samurai named Hasunuma. Hasunuma was rich and hospitable, and consequently much thought of and well liked. Some thirty-five years ago his wife presented him with a beautiful daughter, their first child, whom they called 'Ko,' which means 'Small' when applied to a child, much as we say 'Little Mary or Little Jane.' Her full name was really 'Hasu-ko,' which means 'Little Lily'; but here we will call her 'Ko' for short.



This article was originally published in Otaku Magazine, volume 4, July 2008.

Fans of contemporary Japanese horror, whether in film or manga, have likely run across the term Kaidan or Kwaidan describing certain tales within many volumes of translated works available. The term refers to century-old, traditional ghost tales reflecting core superstitions of pre-Westernized Japan. The term is used sparingly in book and film titles, usually only by authors and directors who wanted to create the atmosphere of an old-time ghost story. But in many recent Japanese horror films, the influence of Kaidan comes through very strongly.



One of the most notorious animals in the Shinto pantheon is the fox (kitsune). Throughout a millennia of japanese folklore, the fox is depicted as the epitome of deception, able to transform into any shape or form it strategically desires.

Due to its ancient mystique, the fox figures prominently, not only in popular folk lore, but also in formal Shinto mythology. Thus, should you walk through the rural forests of contemporary Japan, you will no doubt encounter shrines wholly dedicated to this semi-divine animal.

The following tale encapsulates this Shinto sensibility, depicting the species as wholly possessing (humanly) noble qualities and giving an account of the continued (spiritual) relevance of the primary (Shinto) Fox deity, Inari-sama (whose picture you see here).


Alot of what you read on SaruDama deals with Japanese notions of religion or superstition, particularly in terms of what you would call the "supernatural". This is probably due to the fact that my years in Japan were permeated with the realization (and sense) that the entire island-Nation is blanketed with a palpable, ancient spirituality. No matter where I went, from the heart of Tokyo to snowy Tohoku, I found shrines, weather-worn idols, holy places and ancient markers.

Much of what you see on SaruDama actually stems from my own exploration and fascination of very real facets of daily Japanese superstition. A prominent clergy from the Asian community in Chicago once smilingly told me that via SaruDama I had become an "evangelist" of the Japanese occult. I think that's a bit too simplistic, but I understand how it might appear to some to be true.

But there is much more to the picture here than merely meets the eye. Lest you think I am romanticizing things or merely seeing what I wish to see, let me share with you the following.


The Story of Aoyagi is an ancient folk tale taking place in 15th century Japan. It has popular appeal on several levels.

First, the hero of the tale, Hatakeyama Yoshimune is given an incredible amount of biographical information, making him a nearly touchable historic figure. We are told of his position, his home town, his devotion to his parents, and his samurai valour.

Second, this is an animistic tale which demands reverence for Nature. Here, Japan's highly utilitarian bamboo is the source for something both beautiful and wonderful. The tragic end of the story involves human consumption/destruction of this god-given plant.

After reading this, give intentional consideration to the possible intent of this 600 year old tale. Ponder the meaning of this sad and wonderful tale.



One persistent element of Japanese superstition which reemerges continuously is the notion that the final thought or emotion of a dying person determines his or her eternal fate. While this seems in some ways tied to buddhist principles of Karma, in Japanese tales it most often involves Shinto notions of lingering ghosts whose last breath in anguish results in terrorized hauntings. This notion, for example, is the backbone of the JU-ON (呪怨) tales of a dreadful curse caused by a sudden, malicious death.

The following tale as told by Lafcadio Hearn in his 1904 Kwaidan provides an early example of the reliability of this superstition.



Mizuki Shigeru (b. 1924) is a household name in Japan predominantly due to his long-running and widely popular animation series Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro which followed the humanitarian and educational adventures of Kitaro, a young boy born and raised amidst a community of obakemono (monsters). Over the years Mizuki has distinguished himself as perhaps the foremost authority on traditional Japanese monsters, ghouls and ghosts and has published countless books filled with his entertaining and good-natured drawings.

My order of several of his latest publications just came in and I hope to soon pass along some of what they contain.



Here's a sad yet hauntingly beautiful Japanese folk tale which centers on the profound admiration and appreciation of the beauty and value of Nature itself, depicted here in the form of an elderly man's aged cherry (sakura) tree. Intermingled with this are core spiritual intuitions involving Shinto animism (which regards all animate and inanimate objects as possessing a soul/spirit) and traditional Japanese beliefs regarding the inherent value of noble suicide.

Read this carefully and ponder. You may not look at a aged, lone-standing cherry tree in full bloom the same way again.



This TRUE samurai tale is by far the best known in Japan and has for centuries exemplified the ideal of Bushido spirit. After only a few decades of its occurrence it became immortalized in Japanese stage drama and later appeared numerous times in cinema. It is a tale of hierarchical injustice resulting in the forced death of a just leader followed by the very patient and calculated revenge by his 47 samurai subordinates. The core of this tale is the fact that these 47 ronin (ie, "masterless samurai") fully realize that their plan of revenge will certainly result in their death. Thus the preeminent sense of honor and sacrifice of self in order to achieve a higher end has been the enduring value.

For an excellent cinematic retelling of this tale, please check out the (Region 1, subtitled) 1962 Chushingura by director Inagaki Hiroshi and starring Mifune Toshiro.


Even in the West we imagine that objects particularly beloved by a person prior to their death might somehow wield a supernatural quality -- as if the intensity of the departed soul's affection for the object becomes a part of the object itself. Stories to this effect abound in traditional Japanese folk tales.

The following tale is of a sorrowful young woman's most beloved possession, an ornamented purple robe like the one her only true yet fleeting love had worn. By confessing and dedicating to the Buddha her unrequited love for the young man, not even the power of priests and temples would be able to protect themselves from the robe's strange power upon her passing.



In his book entitled "In Ghostly Japan" (1898) Lafcadio Hearn writes:

I once knew a fortune-teller who really believed in the science that he professed. He had learned, as a student of the old Chinese philosophy, to believe in divination long before he thought of practising it. During his youth he had been in the service of a wealthy daimyo, but subsequently, like thousands of other samurai, found himself reduced to desperate straits by the social and political changes of Meiji.

It was then that he became a fortune-teller,--an itinerant uranaiya,--travelling on foot from town to town, and returning to his home rarely more than once a year with the proceeds of his journey. As a fortune-teller he was tolerably successful,--chiefly, I think, because of his perfect sincerity, and because of a peculiar gentle manner that invited confidence. His system was the old scholarly one: he used the book known to English readers as the Yi-King, (aka I-Ching) --also a set of ebony blocks which could be so arranged as to form any of the Chinese hexagrams;--and he always began his divination with an earnest prayer to the gods.



Some folk tales of the Japanese point toward a particular event or ghoulish monster which the reader, if lucky, shall never truly encounter. There are other tales, however, which are aimed at explaining phenomena that we mortals cannot possibly escape, and the following tale is precisely of this sort.

Perhaps more theological than superstitious this tale was contained in a "fragment" of a text happened upon by Lafcadio Hearn. The force of the tale is undeniable even to contemporary readers who are indebted to him for preserving it for Western audiences in his 1898 collection entitled In Ghostly Japan.


Here's a rather creepy tale involving entrenched folk superstition, Buddhist theology and Karmic principles of retribution for evil deeds.

The notion of a Jiki Ninki or Flesh-eating Goblin appears in several forms within Japanese folk tales. The story below is a very old and original version which conjures skin-tingles at the thought of encountering delapitated shrine hermitages along darakened mountainous passages. Here's why...



The influence of one's uttermost passion in life may very well become a driving obsession even after you have died, or so A Dead Secret strongly suggest. This sad amd mysterious ghost story strikes several chords with traditional Japanese views of love, death and the stoic concealment of one's innermost desires, even following death.

Taking place in the ancient province of Tamba (contemporary Kyoto), the life of the beautiful maiden O-Sono seemed one of joy and hope. Only after death does her ghost betray any evidence that her truest heart had been elsewhere.



When I first saw the film Haunted Lantern I did not realize that it so faithfully followed a century-old tale entitled Botan Dourou (Flower Lantern). Performed initially by a theatre group in Tokyo during the Meiji-Era, the tale slowly made its way to the West through the writings of Lafcadio Hearn. In his In Ghostly Japan written in 1898, Hearn provides a translation the theatrical version which he himself attended.

The tale itself is said to tap into core Japanese intuitions and superstitions regarding karmic love, fated destinies, and the afterlife. Though slightly different from the original, director Yamamato Satsuo's 1968 film Haunted Lantern retains a wide range of Botan Dourou's original elements from character names and ranks to the golden statue of Buddha.

Below is Lafcadio Hearn's retelling of the tale as told in his In Ghostly Japan.



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