Ghost Stories


Does the term “Tengu” mean anything to you? Although sometimes translated as “goblin,” “gargoyle,” or simply “demon”, this particular type of mythical creature conjures images of human-esque anatomy, attire of a yamabushi (mountain monk often involved in esoteric practices), holding fans that control the wind (and possibly more), and red-faced with a long nose that reflects the inflated sizes of their egos.

Karasu-Tengu as illustrated by Mizuki Shigeru

Karasu-Tengu as illustrated by Mizuki Shigeru

Although the term (天狗) refers more literally to dogs of heaven, they are more commonly thought of as birds. Some of the lower ranked kotengu (小天狗), who are often pictured with more bird-like faces with beaks as opposed to the signature long nose. Infamously capricious, they are often involved in folktales throughout Japan, like this one. Tengu are as also sometimes known as Karasu-Tengu (カラス天狗), literally “crow Tengu.” As far as their form is concerned, however, they’re more likely based on black kites–not toys, but the giant birds of prey throughout Japan that light to steal people’s bentou in their talons in single swoops.

Some black kites and a large crow in Izumo for size comparison.

Hanging out with the Karasu-Tengu of Tengu Forest at Izumo Kanbeno Sato in southern Matsue. I've also found a Karasu-Tengu hiding in the forest behind Tamatsukuriyu Shrine in the Tamatsukuri Onsen area...

Hanging out with the Karasu-Tengu of Tengu Forest at Izumo Kanbeno Sato in southern Matsue. I’ve also found a Karasu-Tengu hiding in the forest behind Tamatsukuriyu Shrine in the Tamatsukuri Onsen area…

If there are lower ranked Tengu, then there are also higher ranked Tengu–Daitengu (大天狗). Although there is no known limit to the Kotengu dwelling throughout the mountains of Japan, according to various texts from Kamakura era and referred ever since, there are only 17 Daitengu, though only the top eight (perhaps that should be Top Eight) are mentioned very often. All the Daitengu possess superior intellect, and whether to the ire or to the honor of the locale (attitudes towards Tengu and whether they are good or bad vary from era to era), they have specific areas they inhabit.

The 7th of these 17 is Hōkibō (伯耆坊), who resides on Mt. Daisen, the highest mountain of the San’in region.

Click for source

Click for source

One of the local famous wagashi (Japanese confectionary) producers in Matsue, Saiundo, has a signature sweet named after the local Daitengu. The Hōkibō sweet has sugar and slightly chunky red beans on the outside with a layer of soft mochi on the inside, and is based off the shape of his fan, as illustrated below.

Click for source.


Click for source and a larger version.

Hōkibō has generally been looked upon favorably by the locals in Tottori, but according to Edo period records, he moved to Mt. Ōyama in Kanagawa to oversee the flocks of Tengu there due to a Daitengu vacancy left after Sagamibō left to comfort a banished emperor. Hōkibō’s name still reflects his original home, seeing as Mt. Daisen is in the old Hōki Province. He also still makes appearances in Daisen Town’s parade of characters in historical costumes (see here, and here, and here).

大山s

You know the funny thing about Mt. Daisen and Mt. Ōyama? They’re both written 大山 (quite literally, “big mountain”).

Seeing as he is often mentioned when the Top Eight of the Daitengu are cooperating in something, such as–under the leadership of the top ranked Daitengu, Sōjōbō of Mt. Kurama near Kyoto–watching over a young orphan of the Genji clan who would eventually grow up to demolish the oppressive Heike clan, as well as be one half of Japan’s most legendary of dynamic duos. It just so happens the other half of that duo was born and raised here in the San’in region, and trained on Mt. Daisen!

Click for source and to view a larger verson of the image. This is an ukiyo-e by Tsukioke Yoshitoshi, one of the last great ukiyo-e artists, although he was known for some rather grotesque subject matter. Hōkibō is taking Benkei down by his leg, while Sōjōbō sits back and watches with Ushiwaka.

This is just one interpretation of the famous meeting on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto between Yoshitsune (or Ushiwaka, his childhood name he still used at the time) and Benkei. In general, the start of their story is that Benkei was a powerful naginata user and beat everyone up, but when he was beaten by young Yoshitsune, he swore fealty to him, and this was the start of their semi-historical, semi-fantastical adventures. Their story has been continually expanded upon in literature for hundreds of years with some basic running themes, such as how Yoshitsune trained with Sōjōbō on Mt. Kurama before meeting Benkei. There are many, many stories of young Benkei (called Oniwaka) here in the San’in region, such as how his mother had cravings for iron when she was pregnant with him, so he was born with a black face and strong as iron, but that’s for another time.

In the meantime, just a little plug for Asiascape‘s “Manga as/in Essay” online magazine. I’ll have a 17 page manga piece running in the “Kurama Tengu” issue. I know, what a traitor I sound like, writing about a Kyoto Tengu rather than a San’in Tengu! But research for that piece is what lead to this entry, and Hōkibō was mentioned in the script for the Noh drama, and by liberally extended definition even the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture can be called part of the San’in region. Well, off to go reward myself with another Hōkibō of the wagashi variety.

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I don’t have pets, but I do have a giant tortoise in the neighborhood.

No, not like the floods of turtles in the canals. Those ones are charming. Those ones aren’t likely to smash or devour you. Those ones didn’t do anything to receive punishment.

My neighbor is and did.

Long lived as many tortoises are, this guy has been around since before Lafcadio Hearn moved here:

…the most unpleasant customer of all this uncanny fraternity to have encountered after dark was certainly the monster tortoise of Gesshoji temple in Matsue, where the tombs of the Matsudairas are. This stone colossus is almost seventeen feet in length and lifts its head six feet from the ground. On its now broken back stands a prodigious cubic monolith about nine feet high, bearing a half-obliterated inscription. Fancy—as Izumo folks did—this mortuary incubus staggering abroad at midnight, and its hideous attempts to swim in the neighbouring lotus- pond! Well, the legend runs that its neck had to be broken in consequence of this awful misbehaviour. But really the thing looks as if it could only have been broken by an earthquake.

(Lafcadio Hearn’s “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan,” 1894.)

Hearn’s left a lot of common details out of this brief description. First, let’s address its home, Gesshoji Temple, frequently mentioned in this blog for its famous hydrangea and for being home to the graves of the Matsudaira fuedal lords, such as Naomasa and Harusato (aka Fumai). Each grave is decorated in different ways, including detailed carved gates in Chinese style, often reflecting the taste and hobbies of the lord buried within. It’s always a quiet place, set apart as if in its own world by the thick forest growing in and around it. Francine Prose describes the atmosphere very accurately in this Smithsonian Magazine article:

Something about the temple grounds—their eerie beauty, the damp mossy fragrance, the gently hallucinatory patterns of light and shadow as morning sun filters through the ancient, carefully tended pines—makes us start to speak in whispers and then stop speaking altogether until the only sounds are the bird cries and the swishing of the old-fashioned brooms a pair of gardeners are using to clear fallen pink petals from the gravel paths.

While wandering among the hydrangea–at their height quite soon–and hopefully not slipping on the bumpy old rock paths made slick by hundreds of years of foot traffic and by the fresh rainfall, anticipating the matcha and wagashi waiting for you back towards the entrance of the temple when you’re done with your stroll, and contemplating the peaceful world where the lords’ remains remain, you suddenly run into it.

Better that than it running into you.

I’ve heard a couple versions of the legend aside from Hearn’s relatively innocent version. Sure, the tortoise probably made a big mess of the lotus pond while splashing around in there or just wandering away from his post to geta drink. Constantly being on guard around the graves is bound to make even a stone gaurdian thirsty. But this gaurdian apparently also got bored–and entertaining himself required running amock among the neighborhood, flattening townspeople in the process. In another version of the story, he would even gobble some townspeople up.

Naturally, no one dared to attack the tortoise. What match would samurai swords be for a tortoise made of stone–a seven foot tortoise, at that? At last, a monk came and bound the tortoise to its spot by driving this sealing plaque down its back.

I haven’t heard of it moving around since, and today there is another legend that says it is good luck to rub its head, as that will bring longevity. This seems sure and safe enough during the day, but thankfully the temple usually is closed after dark–if it’s gotten hungry since it’s gotten stuck in place, then perhaps standing so close to it wouldn’t bode well for your longevity.

Maybe a ghost story doesn’t seem like appropriate content for Mother’s Day, but many people love to point to this story as one of Lafcadio Hearn‘s favorites, seeing as he was seperated from his mother at a very young age.

Of the cemetery Dai-Oji, which is in the street called Nakabaramachi, this story is told-

In Nakabaramachi there is an ameya, or little shop in which midzu-ame is sold—the amber-tinted syrup, made of malt, which is given to children when milk cannot be obtained for them. Every night at a late hour there came to that shop a very pale woman, all in white, to buy one rin worth of midzu-ame. The ame-seller wondered that she was so thin and pale, and often questioned her kindly; but she answered nothing. At last one night he followed her, out of curiosity. She went to the cemetery; and he became afraid and returned.

The next night the woman came again, but bought no midzu-ame, and only beckoned to the man to go with her. He followed her, with friends, into the cemetery. She walked to a certain tomb, and there disappeared; and they heard, under the ground, the crying of a child. Opening the tomb, they saw within it the corpse of the woman who nightly visited the ameya, with a living infant, laughing to see the lantern light, and beside the infant a little cup of midzu-ame. For the mother had been prematurely buried; the child was born in the tomb, and the ghost of the mother had thus provided for it—love being stronger than death.

(“The Chief City of the Province of the Gods”, from Lafcadio Hearn’s “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan,” 1894.)

When I went on Matsue’s Ghost Tour, it wrapped up here at Dai-oji temple, nestled into a neighborhood not far from where I live. The temple has a history as long as the city itself, and it used to be connected to the outer castle moat by waterway, so the samurai living closer to the castle would visit the temple by boat.

On a cheerful, sunny day, the temple sits quietly among the houses, humble and easily unnoticed.




It seems the temple used to be a little more overgrown, providing more places for ghosts to hide. I’m not sure how old these photos are, though.

Click for source

There’s a part of me that wishes it were still covered like that, but it makes me wonder what it was like when Lafcadio Hearn lived here over a century ago. There is a street nearby to the temple (the street I think he was referring to within the Nakabaramachi district) with a lot of Showa era buildings and old family businesses so it’s somewhat easy to imagine a midzu-ame vendor around there, but even that wouldn’t be old enough to be accurate to the time Hearn lived here, or even the time this story supposedly took place! It seems there are similar stories to this one that take place in other parts of Japan as well, so it makes me wonder how much claim this temple really has or not to being the source. Whatever the case, this story of motherly love rather than ghastly haunting has staying power, and I don’t really think the details detract from it.

I can’t tell you how many mostly-disembodied eyeballs are found in gift shops around the San’in region. They’re popularity is all thanks to the influence Mizuki Shigeru has had on popular conceptions of youkai, a somewhat frightening, somewhat endearing cast of Japanese goblins and ghouls. He is most famous as the manga-ka who wrote GeGeGe no Kitarou (introduced in this entry last Halloween), but he would introduce himself first as a world explorer and folklore researcher. Wherever I go looking for youkai information, I always find his name in the works referenced! As beloved as his comics are and as much as you see them everywhere around here, his life has been very unique and merits special introduction.

The manga-ka/explorer/folklorist himself, either surprised by his fame or surprised by… well… who knows what.

Mizuki Shigeru (whose real name is Murai Shigeru) was born in 1922 in the port town of Sakaiminato in the little part of Tottori nestled close to the Shimane peninsula. There was an old lady who helped take care of his household, and she was very religious and told little Shigeru about the monsters that lurked in their midst. He was captivated by these stories, also remembers being captivated by an illustration of hell populated by demonic creatures. As you can imagine, it was the kind of art deemed not appropriate for children, but once seen, children may carry it with them forever.

Little Shigeru listening to ghost stories from “Non-Non-Ba” (Religious Granny).

He encountered real terror later on when he was drafted into the military in 1942 and sent into combat on Papua New Guinea. In addition to watching his comrades die, he caught malaria, lost his left arm in an air raid, and become a prisoner of war. While everyone else was growing thin in their poor wartime conditions, his commander found it odd that young Shigeru seemed so well-fed. This was because he had a knack for getting along with the natives. He got along so well, in fact, that they offered him citizenship, land, and a bride.

He was highly tempted to accept their offer, but the military doctor guilt-tripped him into returning home to see his parents once the war ended. He did so with the intention to return to life with the natives on Papua New Guinea, but his post-war predicament back in Japan prevented him from doing so. Instead, the one-armed man worked in a movie theater until 1957, when he made his debut writing super hero comics. Later, he began writing the early adventures of his most famous character, Kitarou.

Like any good Japanese citizen at the time, his accepted an arranged marriage. Her name is Nunoe, and I believe she is from the nearby town of Yasugi. Together they scraped by through poverty and manga deadlines, and at some point, Kitaro exploded with popularity. With its catchy theme song and years and years of anime remakes about the montrous encounters of the title character and his band of regular cast members (everything from what remains of his father (an eyeball), a floating bolt of cotton, an old couple, a cat girl, and a rat man), you could say that it’s like the Scooby-Doo of Japan, except that–as far I know–Scooby doesn’t have an airport named after him. Kitaro is the kind of thing that pretty much every Japanese person has been exposed to in one remake or another, and it is particularly celebrated in and around Sakaiminato, Mizuki-sensei’s hometown.

In addition to his years of research, manga, and fame in regard to youkai, he has also written historical manga about the atrocities of WWII, and has recently been releasing his manga take on the Kojiki (I only noticed this after I started writing my own. As you can imagine, it makes me feel quite inadequate). Busy though writing manga probably keeps him, his interests do not keep him in Japan. Although he is one of the most thorough researchers of youkai in Japan, he has also traveled all over the world studying folklore and making friends with the locals. His fame has drawn more attention to his life story, and the the memorial museum dedicated to his life and works has exhibits about both his world travels and collections, as well as his life story illustrated by both photographs and illustrations from his autobiography. The museum also brings to life his research on Japanese youkai, and even has a model of what his house was like when he lived and struggled there with his young bride. There was even more interest generated in their lives when she released her own autobiography, “GeGeGe’s Wife”, which later had two live action adaptations.

As of my posting this on Halloween 2013, Mizuki-sensei is 91 years old and resides in Tokyo, still busy as ever. He sometimes returns to his hometown and provides original illustrations on the walls of his memorial museum and along the road of youkai statues and youkai-themed products and costumes characters that lead from Sakaiminato Station to the museum. I already admired him and had heard the basics of his life story before paying a visit there, but I left with a much deeper appreciation. Theoretically, since he’s still alive and comes back to visit, I suppose it would be possible to meet him someday. But what would I say or ask first to such a wizard, besides “this lowly worm is unworthy of calling herself a comic artist and purveyor of culture in your great presence”? I get the feeling he’d laugh that off, though.

Matsue is considered a rather large city in the sparsely populated San’in region, and life in the center of town is easy. I have a ten minute walk to work or to Matsue Castle, and a plethora of grocery shopping options that are easy to get to. A car ride twenty minutes in any direction, however, will take you the outskirts of town where life is simplier. Nature is abundant, as are farmers. Agriculture is still a major industry for this reason, and it’s hard to see remnants of Japan’s burst bubble because the bubble economy didn’t reach this region much. In many ways, Shimane and Tottori seem to follow their own train of history which goes at a more leisurely pace than the better-connected areas of Japan. On that note, the Chuugoku mountain range makes it unlikely a bullet train route will ever be built out here.

In addition to being a place where rustic nostalgia paints the landscape, this is also the land of myth. Many of the Kojiki myths are tied directly to the geography of this region, and I’ve spent a handful of weekends getting my JET friends in the inaka–the rural areas–drive me around to go hunt down places associated with the Kojiki myths. On one particular September afternoon, I met up with a friend in Shinji, a southern district of Matsue on the banks of Lake Shinji which borders the town of Unnan. While driving along to where we think we’re going to find the shrine in my guidebook, we make small talk.

“So, how’s life in the inaka?”

“It’s good.”

“Ever see any tanuki around here or anything?”

“No, this is my third year, but I’ve never seen a tanuki. I’ve seen monkeys chilling by the side of the road, though!”

“I see nutria where I live sometimes, but never monkeys!”

Around this time of year, the rice is harvested when it turns the right shade of gold. Throughout the inaka of Japan, you’ll also notice the air is hazy with the smell of burning waste from the harvest.

When the maps on our phones are no longer helping, we look around on foot. We can’t find the shrine, but we can see the figs are ready for picking soon! These are a local product of the Izumo region (some Japanese friends in bigger cities didn’t even know that figs were grown in Japan).

We finally asked for directions from a group of ladies who were taking a break from their harvest, who very cheerfully informed us we were on the wrong side of the hill. Shimane is known for having record numbers of centenarians, and these ladies are perhaps the oldest looking people I have ever met in Japan. Furthermore, they spoke with the thickest Izumo dialect I have heard yet. Through toothless smiles and leathery skin they point up the road and give us detailed directions, and off we go, much better off having asked.

It took a bit longer than we expected, but we found the shrine, and I gathered material for a future post to go with a future manga myth rendition, with only a few autumn mosquito bites to show for it. As we were heading off to go meet up with friends for a dip in the onsen, I got one more glimpse of Shinji’s charming sights.

“STOP!!!! IT’S A TANUKI!! BACK UP! LOOK! LOOK, WE FOUND ONE!” – Buri-chan, the shotgun driver

Not everything in the inaka is so charming, though. Unlike my encounter with a mujina/nopperabo, however, I have photographic proof of this disturbing encounter! It’s as if she follows you all the way from Unnan back through Shinji, waiting on the side of the road just to jump out and startle you.

This is what I’m used to seeing. This happy child is something I’ve encountered all around Japan, a friendly warning to drivers to watch out for children who might dash out into the street. Brightly colored and noticable, he seems to do alright at his job.

But one day, she appeared.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t driving, or I might have crashed in surprise to suddenly see a disturbingly unhumanlike human suddenly accost me from the side of the road. She wasn’t just in one place, either–she was everywhere, lurking along the sides of innocent looking streets. As I was started to adjust to her presence, suddenly we really did see a real child standing at the side of a neighborhood road with a similarly wide stare. Though this was a good little girl who did not dash out into the street to give us the heart attack of our lives, both the driver and I were startled that time to see something live in the place of this soulless girl we had expected to be standing there.

She’s watching you…

Despite the San’in region being a land of ghosts and goblins, I’m not a very superstitious person. That said, I did have a freaky experience once at my local convenience store. As I was leaving, I saw a large man standing right behind me reflected in the glass door, but there was nothing remarkable about his face. He looked like an anatomically correct human, but his face seemed to be missing human features. It was too brief a moment to even react, and before I could even turn back to get a better look he had walked the other direction and all I could see was his back.

Perhaps in Western ghost-story-telling tradition this sounds a little lame–so I didn’t get a good look at a reflection that suddenly showed up behind me. Big deal! And what kind of setting is a FamilyMart for a ghost story anyway? However, people familiar with the folklore of Japan have immediately responded, “ah, so you saw a mujina!”

If I had to find a term for what I saw… then yes, it would be a mujina or nopperabo!

The terms tend to be used interchangably, but they are not the same. A mujina, the name you tend to hear most often, is referring to a tanuki-like (but not necessarily tanuki) mammal, who shapeshifts into human figures in order to deceive humans. A nopperabo is more human in origin, the main characteristic being that they have blank skin for faces. Part of the reason mujina may be in wider use as a term for a faceless being is because of Lafcadio Hearn’s influence on Japanese tales and their retention today, however close or not close they may be to the originals. While he is widely credited in Japan for committing to public memory many ghost stories, many modern Western Japanologists are critical of his work partly because of his less than reliable grasp on the Japanese language. He collected ghost stories from all over Japan, but many of them were told to him through his wife Setsu, who didn’t speak much English. It is possible that what he wrote of the mujina in Kwaidan (1904) was actually supposed to be about nopperabo.

…But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. “O-jochû,” he said again, as gently as he could, “please, please listen to me! … This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! [O]nly tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: “O-jochû! O-jochû! O-jochû!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochû! O-jochû!”… Then that O-jochû turned round, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth, and he screamed and ran away.
Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller, who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the old soba-seller, crying out, “Aa! aa!! aa!!!”…
“Kore! Kore!” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! [W]hat is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”
“No, nobody hurt me,” panted the other, “only… Aa! aa!”…
“Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”
“Not robbers, not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman, by the moat; and she showed me… Aa! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”…
“He! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

(Source and complete passage here. “O-jochû” is a polite form of address for a lady you don’t know.)

One of the other big local names that is famous world-wide for recording creepy stories is Mizuki Shigeru, the manga author of Gegege-no-Kitaro and many other thoroughly researched works. In his hometown in Tottori, Sakaiminato, is home to over a hundred bronze statues featuring Mizuki’s characters and his interpretations of Japan’s varied cast of youkai. This is his take on a nopperabo.

Click for photo source (Japanese)

A notable difference many people bring up between Japanese ghost stories and Western ghost stories is that they are more about creepiness than horror. Ghostly encounters do not necessarily have to spell your doom (though many do), but they are bothersome at some level or another. I can understand the creepiness of mujina/nopperabo as they are so humanlike, but any striking or even only slightly noticeable difference will send off messages in our brains that something is very wrong. If you’re looking for new ways to freak yourself out this Halloween season, search around the internet for things in the Bukimi-no-Tani.

If you’d rather just learn about some interesting tales of creepy things without needing to burn bothersome images into your memory, then read Lafcadio Hearn‘s Kwaidan or any youkai-related work of Mizuki Shigeru. As I was opening WordPress to write this entry I also noticed Cristy at Takeshita Demons had just made a nopperabo reference as well in a recent entry, and Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is always a good source for youkai talk, too.

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!

Salutations: “I had always thought that animating Lafcadio Hearn’s ‘Kwaidan’ would become my life’s work. To think that it would take shape in such a wonderful place as this…!! I am really, truly grateful. I hope you all will enjoy getting scared!” – Frogman, 2013.7.27

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 syrup-buying woman


The human-eating turtle

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.

Rokuro-kubi

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:

Yuki-Onna (The Snow Woman)
Rokuro-kubi (The Long-necked People)
Mimi-nashi Hoichi (No-ears Hoichi)

Hoichi is pretty popular here. This is a statue by Lake Shinji, and I’ve seen a number of costumes and retellings of this story.

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.

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