Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Demon’s Arm (Ogre of Rashomon)

Summertime is ghost-time in Japan. It’s time to tell scary stories in order combat the summer’s heat with the cold chill that only ghost stories can bring.

This story is a version of the Ogre of Rashomon as the story is named in Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales. I however refer to the titular creature as a demon based on the Japanese word “oni” which is demon/devil.

Hirosaki Neputa Festival shows Watanabe fighting the Demon of Rashomon Gate

Rashomon is a gate that once stood in Kyoto that lapsed into disrepair and became a place of ill repute. According to legend a demon took up residence there and snatched up passer-bys. Eventually it bit off more than it could chew when it tried to grab a samurai.

The photos were taken by me of the temple gate of Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo, a shot of a float from the Nebuta festival of Aomori showing a samurai fighting a demon (Raiko and Shuten-doji), and a depiction of the story on a float at the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. The other images are 19th Century woodblock (ukiyoe) prints.

Check out my other ghost stories:

Japanese Ghost Stories

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July 29, 2011 Posted by | demons, devils, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, Japanese Horror, Storytelling, supernatural, weird | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Tree Spirit

Stories of ghosts, monsters, and things that go bump in the night were the favorite past time of Japanese in olden days as a way to cool down on hot summer nights.

This story is about a greedy woodcutter who encounters a tree spirit.

Trees are or were believed to become alive after a thousand years or so.

September 9, 2009 Posted by | folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese folklore, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, nature, Storytelling, trees, video, vlog, weird, youtube | Leave a comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – Better Late Than Early

Ghost Stories – old fashion air conditioning in Old Japan and environmentally friendly to boot!

Here I tell a tale about the terrible fate of a man who went to work too early.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, Storytelling, video, vlog | Leave a comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – Mujina

Ghost Stories kept the people cool back in Old Japan before electric fans and central air.

Cold sweats, icy fingers down the spine, and blood turned to ice in the veins by chilling stories of the supernatural were just the thing for hot summer nights.

Here I retell a story called “Mujina and the Faceless Ones.” This story is one of the collections of ghost stories in Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaiden.

I goofed up and called the man in the story Mujina but in fact this is what Hearn called the ghoulish antagonists in this short story.

Mujina is actually the name for badgers who in Japanese folklore could play tricks like the one in this story. However, the type of yokai (Japanese monsters/ghosts/devils) is Noppera-bo – humans (if you can call them such) with no faces who delight in scaring people.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | culture, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, japanese ghost stories, Japanese Ghosts, Lafcadio Hearn, Storytelling, video, vlog, weird | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Ghost Stories – The Demon-Haunted Bridge

In Old Japan, ghost stories were a form of old fashion all natural air conditioning designed to induce cold shivers on hot summer nights.

Here I re-tell an old story about a samurai who risks his life for a wager to prove his courage by crossing a bridge haunted by a demon.

The story can be found in “Japanese Tales” an anthology of old stories compiled by Royall Tyler.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | culture, demons, devils, folklore, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, japan, japanese culture, Storytelling, tradition, video, vlog, weird | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reduce Global Warming – Tell Ghost Stories!

In Old Japan, the summertime was the time for ghost stories. Japanese summers tend to be hot and humid and ghost stories are a form of old fashion all natural air conditioning.

Given our problems with Global Warming and Global Recession, perhaps turning off our air conditioners and telling ghost stories might have to ease the burden of both.

Here I tell (as best as I can) the story of a curse kimono that caused death to its owners and is believed to be the source of one of the worst fires Tokyo suffered from in its early history.

The story can be found in Ghostly Japan by Lafcadio Hearn.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | culture, folklore, furisode, Ghost Stories, Ghosts, global warming, japan, japanese culture, kimono, Lafcadio Hearn, Storytelling, tokyo, video | 1 Comment

Japanese Devils Scare the Laziness out of Kids

Japanese Devils Scare the Laziness out of Kids
Namahage – Japanese Devils with a Strong Work Ethic

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Namahage – the bane of lazy children

“Twas the night before my skinning…”
Imagine you were a young child living in the Northwestern part of Japan on the small peninsula of Oga. It’s the holiday season and instead of waiting eagerly for fat jolly old elf with a sack full of toys to bring you presents, you’re dreading the arrival of a bunch of hairy scary devils with a handful of butcher knives who threaten to peel off your skin if you’ve have been lazy all year. It makes the lump of coal Santa Claus leaves with naughty children pale in comparison. If you can get your head around that, perhaps you can understand this bizarre bit of psychological child abuse known as the Namahage.

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Part of the Oga Welcoming Committee

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Namahage come in a variety of shapes and colors throughout Oga

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The Namahage are Japanese devils who visit villages on the Oga peninsula every New Year’s Eve. They wear straw coats, carry large kitchen knives, and wooden buckets. They come in the night down from their mountain homes howling and waving torches. The Namahage burst into homes stomping about looking for lazy children. If the children are hiding, the Namahage will flush them out threatening to take them into the mountains.

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Namahage are your childhood nightmares in the flesh

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Namahage stomps around the house looking for hiding children

The head of the household will try to appease the devils with a specially prepared meal accompanied with sake. He assures them that no one has been lazy in his household. Then the Namahage seeing all from their mountaintop look into their secret book which records the doings of every household and challenge that statement. The head of the household again promises that all have been obedient and hard-working and pleads with the devils not to take his wife and children into the mountains. It takes considerable effort to control these devils with their strong work-ethic.

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Hard Negotiations with Namahage

As the negotiations drag on, the head of the household offers more sake and along with mochi – rice cake – while begging that his wife and child not be taken away. Eventually the Namahage relent placated by the offerings and the sincerity of the head of the household. They bless the next year’s harvest and wish good health to all the members of the household. As the Namahage leave, they promise (or rather threaten) to return next year.

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Devils Coming Thru!

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Namahage – Oga’s unofficial ambassador

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For children the whole experience can be rather nerve-wracking. When the Namahage arrive they immediately seek out any hiding children and make as though they will take off with them right then and there. The parents or grandparents make a show of trying to save their child without much luck and only through careful negotiation amply accompanied with sake are they successful. Thus children learn gratitude for being saved from drudgery of working in the mountains for the harsh Namahage.

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In the old days, Namahage terrorized both lazy children and wives

In olden times, communities in areas such as Oga could not afford the luxury of laziness especially with the winters as long and harsh as they are. It’s not difficult to understand why community leaders would have gone to such efforts to instill a strong work ethic in their youth. Today the ritual is traditional. In the past it was a more serious matter – teaching the youth to work hard for their community’s survival and their own.

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Namahage have a strong work ethic

The original legend runs that the Namahage Devils arrived from China and caused the people of Oga much trouble. A deal was struck between the people and the Namahage that if the Namahage could build a thousand-step staircase for the main shrine in a single night, the people would supply them with a young woman every year; but if they failed, they would leave the people alone. The Namahage readily agreed and set to work.

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Namahage working hard to win their wager

The lusty devils were so efficient that by the end of the night they had only one stone left to lay before dawn even hinted in the sky. One fast-thinking person however came to the rescue and mimicked the cry of a rooster thus signaling that dawn had arrived. The Namahage, believing they had lost, left and went into the mountains but they return every year for their pound of flesh.

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A Namahage hears a mimicked rooster and thinks they have lost

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The Namahage go into the mountains but promise to return once a year

There are several theories as to the origins of the Namahage. One theory is that Namahage are derived from an ancient mountain deity. There are many native traditions of gods coming for a visit – though not quite with the fanfare of the Namahage. Another theory is that they are based on Yamabushi – shinto priest who leaved hermit-like existence in the mountain.

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Yamabushi – Shinto Hermit Priest – one suspect for the Namahage origin

Yet another theory hints that the Namahage might be based on shipwrecked sailors from Europe most likely Russia. Given the age of festival, it could be that they were those hardy explorers, the Vikings. It would explain the trouble they caused probably in foraging raids and the bet with the supply of woman.

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Shipwreck Foriegners might be another possible origin of the Namahage

The name “namahage” comes from the local dialect. “Nama” refers to the patch of skin that forms on the skin if someone sits too long at the fire ie being lazy. “Hage” means to scrap away the mark. This is why the Namahage carry their large knives to scrape away the laziness of their victims.

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Namahage carry large knives to scrape the laziness from victims

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For travelers, New Years is not a good time to see Namahage as it’s primarily a private affair. Participating households don’t want a bunch of camera-flashing tourists to ruin the effect of scaring their kids straight. Some of the local hotels arrange Namahage visitations but given it’s the New Years the whole thing can be rather pricey. Fortunately for the Namahage-seeker, there is the Namahage Museum in Oga where year-round, they can see a performance of the New Years’ event sans the crying children.

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Making a Namahage Mask at the Namahage Museum

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Visitors can become a Namahage at the Namahage Museum

In February, there is the Sedo Matsuri or simply the Namahage Festival which takes place next to the Namahage Museum in Oga. In the evening several men come down a hillside wearing straw coats. Near the shrine, two Shinto priests bless Namahage masks then precede to mask the men. Once they are all masked, they begin stomping and howling. Thus the Namahage are born.

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Dancing Devil

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A little while later they come down again with blazing torches. While young children cry and hide, others chase after the Namahage seeking to grasp a straw from their coats for good luck. Some of the Namahage dance, some of them play Taiko drums, and some of those of softer disposition play Rock, Paper, Scissors with children brave enough to match wit and hand with the Namahage.

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Namahage playing Rock, Paper, Scissors

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Drumming Devils

At the end of the festival, a priest presents an offering of mochi – rice cake – burnt black on a fire. The Namahage grudgingly accept the offering then return to their mountain lair. But everyone knows the Namahage keep watch on them and will be back without fail next year.

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Priest offering mochi to Namahage

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The Namahage promise/threaten to return next year

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Akita, culture, devils, drums, event, festival, folklore, japan, japanese culture, music, Namahage, New Years, Oga, Only in Japan, Roving Ronin Report, taiko, tohoku, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, youtube | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Setsubun – Japanese Spring Cleaning Exorcism (Vlog Video)

https://samuraidave.wordpress.com/2007/02/06/setsubun-devils-driven-out-in-japanese-spring-ritual/
Setsubun is February 3rd and it’s kind of like Groundhog Day, New Years, and Halloween all rolled up into one. It’s a day where Japanese seek to drive Oni or Devils from their homes by throwing beans at them. Oni don’t like beans – makes them go blind apparently.

Also many temples and shrines have mami-maki which is where people throw beans and other items at gathered crowds. To catch these items is to bring you good luck all year.

This Setsubun a sudden snowstorm struck in Tokyo. A rather ominious sign as the Setsubun is a Spring Ritual and exorcising the devils is like driving Winter out. I think it was a sneak attack by the Setsubun Devils myself. However the ritual must have worked because the next morning the sun was out.
Background music by Super Girl Juice:
http://www.sgchannel.com

February 7, 2008 Posted by | culture, demons, devils, event, festival, folklore, japan, japanese culture, life, oni, Setsubun, snow, spring, tokyo, tradition, travel, video, vlog, winter, youtube, zojo-ji | Leave a comment

Devils Make Sneak Attack on Japanese Spring Ritual – Setsubun

Sudden Snowstorm Interrupts Japanese Spring Ritual
Sneak attack by Setsubun Devils?

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Setsubun Devils enjoying the sudden snowstorm in Tokyo

A sudden snowstorm swept in silently and swiftly during the early morning hours in Tokyo this Feb. 3. Three centimeters of snow covered the capital in a fairly heavy snowfall. Train services were disrupted, traffic backed up, flights were cancelled, and at least 100 people were injured. Although snow is not unusual in Tokyo, these days, however, snow has become less common over the years. Last year it only snowed once and very briefly at that.

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Sudden snowfall in Tokyo at Senso-ji Temple

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Shrine attendants work to clear a path

What makes this snowfall particularly significant if not ominously suspicious was the date. Feb. 3 is the Japanese holiday of Setsubun, a day when Japanese seek to drive bad luck out of their homes and bring in happiness. Setsubun is a more active version of Groundhog Day where Japanese take matters into their own hands to try and bring an earlier end to winter. On the old Japanese calendar, Setsubun was considered the day before Spring – despite the real Spring being a few more weeks away.

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Praying to a snowy Buddha for perhaps warmer weather

The bad luck is represented by Oni – Japanese devils. There are many devils in Japanese folklore which can be good, bad, or neutral. The Setsubun Devils are known for being one of the bad ones. They are typically believed to be invisible intangible spirits that will inhabit places to bring misfortunate to all if they are not driven out. Their visible appearance is that of a shirtless devil with horns, shaggy hair, sharp claws and teeth, and wearing tiger pants. They come in red, green, and blue colors. If their sharp teeth and claws aren’t enough, they have heavy iron-studded clubs as well. This fierce creature is partially based on the Chinese Zodiac signs of the ox (ushi in Japanese) and tiger (tora in Japanese). Ushitora is related to “North Gate.” North was considered a very unlucky direction in Ancient China (probably because so many invaders came from that way) and this belief was adopted by the Japanese in the 8th and 9th Centuries.

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A Snow-covered Kabuki Star

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Snow at Senso-ji Temple is Asakusa, Tokyo

Along with bad luck, Setsubun Devils represent Winter and the old year too. The ceremony of driving the devils out symbolizes the ending of Winter and the coming of Spring while making everything new for the New Years. Setsubun is close to the Chinese New Years and before Japan switched to the Western calendar system, Setsubun was the day before the Chinese New Year. Japanese want their homes to be free of all the old bad feelings of the previous year. Setsubun is a bit of “out with the old; in with the new” of New Years, spring cleaning, and exorcism at the same time.

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Zojo-ji Temple in Tokyo

This Setsubun if one were inclined to see the supernatural in everything and believe in omens as people did in olden times this, they might believe the sudden snowfall to be devil-wrought. Perhaps the snow was a diabolical sneak attack by the devils in the early morning hours to thrawt the Setsubun exorcism activities at shrines and temples. In these places, beans and other such items are thrown “to” not “at” gathered crowds. This is known as mame-maki. It is believed that to catch such items, a person will have good luck all year.

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Some Ninja and a walking bag of chips prepare to do Mame-Maki at Zojo-ji

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Ninja Chips – crunchy and deadly snackfood for the assassin in all of us

Although the devils threw quite a bit of snow which caused a number of train delays, there were still crowds of people at temples and shrines, their hands outstretched looking for a bit of luck. I went to my favorite temple for mame-maki: Zojo-ji in Hamamatsucho. Zojo-ji always has a few celebrities and a sumo wrestler doing mame-maki. Their mame-maki has more than just a handful of tossed beans. I got several bags of snack food, two wash clothes, nine packets of bean, and six health bars. the health bars were dangerous! I got hit in the head twice and once right smack in my face.

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Snowfall at Kanda Myojin Shrine

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Decorations at Kanda Myojin Shrine

After that I went to Kanda Myojin Shrine where I saw two Setsubun devils prance about on a catwalk seeming to enjoy the mayhem the weather had caused. At Kanda Myojin Shrine they do a traditional mame-maki where they throw handfuls of individual beans rather than packets. The beans were rather difficult to pick out from the heavy snow flakes that were coming down. No one bothered to pick any of the beans up that had fallen on the ground. At Zojo-ji because everying is in a package, you have people going up and down for mame-maki. This makes for a writhing crowd as some people are jumping up to catch packages while others are diving down to get the fallen ones and getting bumped heads in the process.

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A Devil revels in the mayhem of an unexpectant snowstorm

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A Kimono-clad girl indulging in mame-maki at Kanda Myojin shrine

After Kanda Myojin’s mame-maki, we were lead into a room where we could choose small packages of beans, candy, and oranges. All in all I had a decent Setsubun mame-maki haul by the end of the day.

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A decent Setsubun Mame-Maki haul

In the end despite the weather, the Setsubun exorcism ritual must have worked. The next morning the sun came out and melted the snow away. Better luck next year, devils!

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February 7, 2008 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, demons, devils, event, folklore, japan, japanese culture, life, ninja, oni, Setsubun, snow, spring, tokyo, tradition, travel, winter, zojo-ji | 1 Comment

Kodo Earth Celebration 2006 Fringe Event Video

This is a video I made from my digital camera’s video function of last year’s Kodo Earth Celebration’s Fringe Events:

 

Taiko Drum Festival brings Cheer to Old Island of Exile

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, culture, dance, Earth Celebration, entertainment, festival, folklore, japan, Kodo, life, matsuri, montage, music, music concert, Sado Island, summer, taiko, traditional art, travel, video | Leave a comment