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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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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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