Yuurei: Japanese Ghosts from Protective to Wrathful (Ep. 62)
Yuurei are Japanese ghosts and they come in quite a few varieties, from the protecting shugorei to the vengeful and very dangerous onryou.
Kahada Koheiji is an example of a male onryou. You can also find me on:
Website: https://www.uncannyjapan.com/ Notes:
Intro/Outro by Julyan Ray Matsuura. Here and here. And here. Transcript:
Do you believe in ghosts? Let’s go one further. Have you ever seen a ghost?
Maybe you were sitting alone in a room concentrating on a book or a screen and out of the corner of your eye someone walks by, a shadowy figure. Your heart hitches in your chest. You look up and nobody’s there. You look behind you. No one. Yet you’re absolutely sure someone just passed by.
Or perhaps you spent the weekend away, camping with friends. Back in the privacy of your home, you’re looking through all the photos you took, when you come across the selfie of the four of you all gathered inside the tent in the middle of the night, flashlights under your chins for silly effect. Except when you examine the photograph closer you notice there aren’t four people. There are five. There’s another face positioned between you and your best friend. He’s looking up at you, his mouth twisted into a sneer. His hand is on your shoulder.
Or it could be that you come home late. It’s almost midnight. Your partner is visiting their parents and you’re all alone. You want to relax a little before head up to bed. So you turn on the TV and, Oh, look there’s an unmarked video sitting there. This has got to be good. You slide it into your VCR and push play. We know what happens next.
It’s almost Halloween, so let’s do something a little spooky. In this episode of Uncanny Japan let’s talk about Japanese ghosts. Specifically, the various kinds of ghosts you might just run into while living or visiting Japan. Intro:
CM: Sakuna of Rice and Ruin What is a Yuurei/幽霊?
In Japanese the word for ghost is _yuurei_ （幽霊）The first character _yuu_ means faint or dim, while the second character _rei_ (霊) means spirit or soul.
The idea behind _yuurei_ goes something like this: All people have _reikon_ (霊魂) or souls. And when we die these souls need to be helped to move on to the other side. This is done by proper funeral ceremony and practices. That is an entire episode in and of itself, Japanese funerals.
But back to ghosts. If for some reason a person’s _reikon_ doesn’t make it across or otherwise gets stuck, then you get a ghost, a _yuurei_. Depending on the emotion and the kind of stuck-ness that occurs you get a different kind of ghost.
This all sounds at least a little familiar, I guess. Joubutsu/成仏 - Attaining Buddhahood:
Now the act of moving to this other side is called _joubutsu_ (成仏). It means to attain Buddhahood. But in this case, it’s not what you think. It doesn’t mean someone has spent years in a temple, meditating, shedding all their desires and attachments, to finally reach _satori_ or enlightenment on their deathbed, so that now they can go hobnob with the other Buddhas.
When talking about death and ghosts, _joubutsu_ just means that when someone dies and the proper ceremonies are performed, that person will be released from this world and can pass into a more comfortable place, like a Buddhist paradise. Although I often hear people talking about deceased loved ones saying that they’ve become a Buddha. I believe the feeling is a little different than what we in the west would consider a Buddha. Or the buddha. Identifying a Japanese Ghost/Yuurei:
Anyway, I think the first thing I ever heard about ghosts in Japan was from an exchange student studying at my university. He said that the difference between Japanese ghosts and other country’s ghosts is the Japanese ones don’t have legs. Not 100% sure, but I think ghosts all over the world have the legless variety, no? That aside, there’s actually a bunch of other more interesting characteristics Japanese spectres possess.
For example, you’ll often find _yuurei_ dressed in an all white kimono. This is because back during the Edo Era the deceased were dressed in an all white before they were buried. Since people didn’t normally go around wearing white kimono, if you saw an image depicted that way, or on stage at a kabuki play, it was a sure bet they were a _yuurei._ You’ll also find those white-kimono’d ghosts are often wearing a white triangle piece of cloth or paper on their foreheads. This is called a _hitaikakushi_, “hide the forehead” and is also part of the funeral attire.
While it seems that in Japan women _yuurei_ are more common, you do come across male ghosts, too. They both tend to have long black haired that is all mussed up.
Okay, let’s talk about the different types of ghosts. There are quite a few. I picked a handful of the more common and colorful ones to go into today. Shugorei/Guardian Ghost:
Let’s start off lighthearted with the _shugorei_（守護霊). These are souls that protect you throughout your life, a guardian spirit, so to speak. It’s said every person has at least one _shugorei_. But some lucky folk have more. It’s easy to assume that in Japan it’s one’s ancestors who act as the guardian spirits, especially since so much attention is spent remembering and making offerings to these predecessors, but it isn’t always the case. Your guardian spirit or spirits are souls that are similar to yours. They want to help guide you in the right direction, or save you when you’re in a pinch. There. Happy ghosts.
Since we started pleasantly, let’s continue while getting more and more disturbing as we go along. Doubutsurei/Animal Spirit:
Number two, _doubutsurei_（動物霊）or animal ghosts. The Shinto religion holds that everything has a spirit. Not only humans and rocks and trees, but animals, too. Also, Buddhism doesn’t differentiate between people souls and animal souls. So both of Japan’s main religious are okay with the belief that animals have reikon, souls, and therefore, there are animal ghosts. Which is nice.
Except when they’re not so nice and an animal spirit wants to haunt or posses you. It sounds like foxes and big snakes are often the culprits here. An example of a really bad _doubutsurei_ is _kokkuri-san_, which is a fox spirit, but when I hear the word _kokkuri-san_ I think Japanese ouji boards and the evil spirits that visit them. I need to do an entire show on _kokkurisan_, but I have to get my nerve up first.
Something interesting I ran across is that because animals don’t understand well the human language, it’s difficult to do a cleansing ritual, an _oharai_ (お祓い), or exorcism to get rid of them. They just don’t what you’re talking about. Sourei/Poltergeist:
If you’ve ever wondered what a poltergeist is called in Japanese, that would be _sourei_, (騒霊). Sou is the character for noisy. Noisy spirit. Fuuyueri/Wandering Ghost:
Next, we have a _fuyuurei_ （浮遊霊）the characters for float, play, and spirit, in that order. These are floating or wandering ghosts. They are souls that don’t accept their own death. Either they have died suddenly and don’t realize they’re dead, or they were not psychologically able to accept the fact they were going to die. They do as their name suggests and float and wander around. I read that it’s easy for this type of ghost to attach themselves to a person. So be careful. Jibakurei/Tied to the Land Ghosts:
If they don’t wander so much but stick to a certain area they are called _jibakurei_（地縛霊）ghosts. Literally, tied to the ground spirits. So people who have died suddenly through war, ac…