In Japan, summer is considered the perfect time to indulge in some spooky stories or visit haunted houses. This rationale behind this is that when you encounter something creepy, it sends chills down your spine and makes your shiver, thereby being an effective way to beat the heat. There is a rich culture of creepiness all throughout the islands, but the San’in region–particularly on either side of lake Nakaumi, right in the middle of the region–actively retains this culture throughout the year.
While Sakaiminato may be a youkai-researcher’s heaven and Matsue’s ghost tours and lectures with Prof. Bon Koizumi (Lafcadio Hearn’s great-grandson) draw visitors from all over Japan, I haven’t been writing as much as the haunts here as I thought I would. I think its because I feel inadequate. Mizuki Shigeru and Lafcadio Hearn are the experts and have already poured their energy into recording these tales, and it feels as though my own writing on the topic wouldn’t compare!
One of the more recent writers to join the story-telling scene is “Frogman”, the creator of a flash animation called “Taka no Tsume” (Eagle Talon). For what I’ve seen of it, it’s a rag-tag group set on conquering the world for the sake of world peace… I think. It goes so fast that English subtitles probably wouldn’t help, especially with many references that might need explaining, so I don’t foresee this getting very popular abroad. That said, it’s the kind of thing that people recognize all over Japan right now.
Frogman is originally from Tokyo, but is in love with Shimane and has lent the fame of his nationally famous characters to the prefecture’s public relations. In a region rich with folklore and stories, he uses “Yoshida-kun” to tell those stories in his slapstick style of seemingly severely caffeinated humor in a very limited span of time. There is even a line of souvenir t-shirts out here in the San’in region, one with Kitaro and an outline of Tottori, and the other with Yoshida-kun and an outline of Shimane. Respectively, they say, “Tottori: It’s to the right of Shimane” and “Shimane: It’s to the left of Tottori.” I find this hilarious, but I live here.
The most recent Frogman–Shimane project is now debuting at the Matsue History Museum–3 minute (or in one case, 1-minute!) retellings of the haunting stories Lafcadio Hearn wrote about!
This is just one part of the summer Kwaidan festivities going on this summer. Besides overnight ghost story activities for kids, there are also ghost tour scavenger hunt activities that I’ve seen kids on summer vacation walking around with guides for.
The history museum also has a small haunted house set up themed around Hearn’s writings. What better way to cool off than to visit Yuki-Onna? Take a lantern, listen to the startled screams of people going ahead of you, and then watch your step as you enter the darkness. From the outside, you can hear the amused giggles of the people running the exhibit.
And then you can chill at the museum cafe, Kiharu, with both a cold drink and spooky stories.
Speaking of Hearn’s “Kwaidan,” perhaps you’re already familiar with the 1964 film of the same title. In case not, here are links to a few of the most famous stories (these are also ones the Eagle Talon team did their own retellings of) on Project Gutenberg, in Hearn’s own words:
While there is hardly any need for me to make my own renditions of the tales, I do find that while I’m showing people around Matsue I frequently say things like, “this is the bridge where this one ghost hates this one song and this one samurai sang it and then…” or “this is the cemetary where…” or “this is the temple where…” as I’m pointing out the sights. I suppose we dohave a lot of ghost stories, don’t we? Seeing as this is the final day of O-bon, I’ll just post this piece of Hearn’s “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” to explain why there is no official Bon-odori (O-bon dance) in Matsue proper, though most places usually have a local style of it.
The grim castle has its legend.
It is related that, in accordance with some primitive and barbarous
custom, precisely like that of which so terrible a souvenir has been
preserved for us in the most pathetic of Servian ballads, ‘The
Foundation of Skadra,’ a maiden of Matsue was interred alive under the
walls of the castle at the time of its erection, as a sacrifice to some
forgotten gods. Her name has never been recorded; nothing concerning her
is remembered except that she was beautiful and very fond of dancing.
Now after the castle had been built, it is said that a law had to be
passed forbidding that any girl should dance in the streets of Matsue.
For whenever any maiden danced the hill Oshiroyama would shudder, and
the great castle quiver from basement to summit.