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The Dark Side of Japan: Ancient Black Magic, Folklore, Ritual by Antony Cummins.

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Title: The Dark Side of Japan: Ancient Black Magic, Folklore, Ritual.
Author: Antony Cummins.
Genre: Non-fiction, occult, folklore, mythology, history, sociology.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2017.
Summary: The book is a collection of folk tales, black magic, protection spells, monsters and other dark interpretations of life and death from Japanese folklore collected from ancient documents, the now forgotten Victorian volumes on Japanese mythology, and recent academic research. Profusely illustrated, the drawings showcasing the ‘hellish’ concepts within.

My rating: 6.5/10.
My review:


♥ This culture, isolated from the Industrial Revolution, represented a richness that we had lost through the progress of technology. Indeed, Japan is surely unique in having once rejected a key instrument of modern technology, having given up the gun and reverted to the sword in the seventeenth century. Bearing in mind that Japan probably had more guns than any other country in the world at this time, to eliminate them almost entirely was an extraordinary achievement by the nation's samurai class.

♥ It is said that when Buddha died only the venomous serpent and the cat did not weep, and therefore the cat was once seen as malignant. A cat is said to be full of witchcraft and capable of changing into a woman, be it an old crone or a seductive singing girl who will put you under a spell. On the other hand, Japanese sailors prize cats for their ability to keep the spirits of the deep at bay; a cat of three colours is deemed best. A sailor feels that anyone who has drowned at sea is restless, and the white crests of waves on the shore are the hands of the dead, clawing up the beach; the cat is thought to control them.

♥ Dragons are essentially from China, but one difference is that a Japanese dragon normally has three claws while the Chinese counterpart has five. Dragons are associated with water, seas, lakes and rivers, being more connected with water than with fire. However, the dragon can sometimes breathe fire or even rain, and has the ability to ascend into heaven or turn invisible. There is a legend that tells of a dragon from Yamashiro that would transform into a howling white bird called O-goncho every fifty years. When the bird came, so did great famine.

♥ One word that will always crop up when looking at these creatures is yokai, a generic term to mean "monsters". However, while yokai is becoming more and more familiar as a term, it has not always been a catch-all description. In medieval Japan, the term bakemono referred to numerous creatures although it specifically means "changeling", something that transforms its shape (and is solid). The more childish or adolescent version of this is obake, used in children's conversations, but if you really wish to impress you can use the more academic term kaii gensho.

Tsukumogami: It is believed that when an object reaches 100 years old it has the ability to become animated.

♥ In Japanese magic, there are eight elements that give power to the curses and spells that are cast:

  1. Nailing or stabbing a spell into an object.

  2. Imitating the action of shooting or cutting.

  3. Burning.

  4. Binding or wrapping.

  5. Stepping on an object.

  6. Tying.

  7. Ceremoniously opening objects.

  8. Using containers with no bottom, which represent the womb.

♥ In this vein, there are four main gods of war: Hatchiman (patron of warriors); Marishiten (a goddess of light); Daikokuten (one of the seven gods of fortune); Bishamonten )one of the Four Heavenly Kings).

♥ The se-man is the classic pentacle, a disc inscribed with a pentagram, a form of protection from evil or misfortune. The grid, do-man, is also used for protection and associated with the subject of kuji. ..Interestingly, the famous female free divers called shima who dive for shellfish and pearls in Mie prefecture wear headgear with one of these symbols on them to protect them on their long dives. The grid has a long history in Japan and is combined with the now very famous ritual called kuji - the art of the nine slashes.

♥ The first area is the concept of kuji itself, which involves nine basic words of power:

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Perhaps the most famous element of the kuji magic system is the kuji in, or nine hand postures. A series of nine mudrapostures that correspond to the nine power words given above are to be considered a set.

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..The following list of juji is from the samurai school of Mubyoshi Ryu, a 400-year-old school which is now led by gradmaster Uemaysu. The list shows which ideograms to use on top of the grid of power for different situations.

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..The meaning behind the [Kuji] ideograms is also unknown, but according to David Waterhouse of Toronto University the ideograms for a grammatically perfect sentence:

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This he translates as, "May those whole preside over warriors be my vanguard."

..Draw your sword or sword mudra from it sheath. Cut through the air, making the grid in the correct sequence, and call out each word of power as you cut the lines. This will form a protective spell around you. To move this on to juji - the tenth symbol, at the end write the corresponding ideogram in the centre of the grid. The spell can be finished by calling out, "A-un!"

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Wara Ningyo - Straw Curse Dolls. As far back as the sixth century the Japanese have had a form of doll used to cure their opponents; this was also recorded in the twelfth-century document Heike Monogatari, and by Hearn and others. The aim is to inflict misfortune and suffering - if not death - on the intended victim.

Instructions

  1. 1. Construct a doll made of straw.

  2. 2. Write the name and age of the victim on paper and insert it into the straw doll.

  3. 3. Draw the face of the enemy upon the doll.

  4. 4. At night, visit a shrine, temple or scared space and find an old tree.

  5. 5. Place a kanawa or iron circlet upon your head which has three vertical spikes attached; these are used to secure three lit candles.

  6. 6. At the hour of the Ox, nail the straw doll to the ancient tree and your curse will chase your enemy.

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To acquire knowledge about the future, you have to ask a question that can be answered in a yes-or-no fashion. Then take the turtle shell or animal bone and cast it into a fire. When the first crack appears, you remove the shell and check the direction of the crack against the following list.

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..In ancient times, for example, shells were burnt in this manner to select future virgin shrine maidens, one for each baby put forward; when a shell came up with a positive crack, that baby was then prepared for life to fulfil the role divination had set for her.

♥ To have a question answered, go to a road at dusk with a question in mind and plant a stick in the road. This is a representation the phallic god Kunado. Then listen to the talk of passers-by, and this will give you the answer to your question.

Ku magic is very evil and of Chinese descent. To practise this you are to collect as many venomous creatures as possible and place them all in a pot together. After a while of fighting and feasting only one creature will be left alive; this is now the Ku animal. This creature can bring your riches but it can also kill your enemy with ease. You can kill your enemy directly with it or you can let it run around their food, poisoning the meal, bringing death and disease.

♥ On the whole, shamans (for want of a better word) are predominantly female (shamanesses) but males are not unknown and therefore I will use the masculine term to mean both male and female. Of course a shaman in Japan would not call themselves a shaman, and they would not even understand the word, but the rites and rituals they perform fall under this broad term. The task of the shaman was to cure the sick, perform divination, mediumship and even telepathy, and also to go into trances.

You may be able to recognise a Japanese shaman walking along; they have a black bag on their back and a "rosary" called an Irataka no Juzu consisting of 180 beads and badger fangs. They may have polished badger, fox or beak skulls, old coins, or all of the above and more.

♥ From ancient times in Japan, Shinto, the way of the gods, has been a folk religion, and ancestor worship is a massive part of this. A Japanese family may maintain an uji-gami shrine where the dead members of the family collectively become "the ancestors". When someone passes over into the spirit world they can join the gods or collective souls who look after the family. Once dead, a person becomes a hotoke-sama in the Buddhist tradition and a reijin or mikoto in the Shinto tradition. Alternatively, there is the hito-kami (possibly gami), which is a holy place dedicated to a single personified spirit-god (kami).

♥ In Japan you cannot walk into a house with shoes on; part of this tradition is down to the fact that it is bad to walk out of a house with shoes on. It is not certain why this is so but one theory is that samurai would prepare for war and armour themselves inside a house; they would walk out with their shoes on and go to battle - and perhaps death.

♥ Even the castle or house of a samurai was constructed in accordance with tradition and magic. While this involved a complex system, there are some rules that do govern the fundamentals and which are based on the Chinese system of Feng Shui. The ideal is as follows:

  1. 1. To the north there must be mountains

  2. 2. To the east there must be water

  3. 3. To the south it must be open land

  4. 4. To the west there must be a great road

As each of the directions is associated with a colour, the Japanese had a poem to help them remember this system:

A black tortoise to the north
A blue dragon to the east
A red sparrow to the south
A white tiger to the west

Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, is based on this principle, being situated according to the rules above.

♥ Sometimes the north-east is known as Kimon and is considered to be the realm of demons. In Tokyo today, the Kanda Myojin shrine in Ochanomizu and the Kaneiji temples in Ueno are both north-east of the imperial palace, when was once Edo Castle, the home of the ruling Tokugawa family. This was deliberately arranged so that the two holy places would protect the castle from the demonic influences of that direction - a double north-east barrier, if you like.

It is not uncommon for the north-eastern corner of a building to have a cut-out.. to stop demons or to confuse hem. Also, you can place a statue or image of a monkey on this corner to ward off evil.

The opposite direction, south-west, is called Urakimon, which translates to "Rear Demons' Gate". To add to the protection of Edo Castle.., the Sanno Jinja shrine was built to the south-west; this was then backed up by Hikawa Jinja shrine and Zojoji temple, which both lie south-west of the castle.

♥ To keep demons out of your house you should take a spring of holly and a roasted sardine head. Place the roasted sardine head on the end of one of the springs and tie it to the outside of your house. It is said that the holy stabs the eye of the demon and the smell of the roasted sardine keeps them at bay.

♥ Mimidzuka is a monument at a temple in Kyoto which is said to have buried below it the severed ears if over 30,000 Koreans taken during the invasion of Korea in the sixteenth century. Other research shows that it was not ears but noses that were taken, which is probably correct. Noses used to be taken if heads were too numerous, and the norm in Japan was to take the top lip and the nose at the same time to show the stubble or moustache to prove that the nose was from a man.

because some samurai may not be as honourable as their reputation and in the face of disgrace they may actually kill women or monks to secure a nose and claim a kill. To combat this, the rule of skinning the face came into play. The samurai would have to cut from around the top lip and base of the nose, around and up to the eyebrows, or they would have to cut down from the top lip and round the chin. Using either of these methods would prove that it came from a warrior male, as warriors tended to have facial hair and women would change their eyebrow shape. In addition to this, it was recommended that the samurai bring back the sword or a part of the helmet from the fallen foe. All of these were measures to stop a samurai cheating his way to a quick reward.

Becoming Invisible to the Enemy

Take the placenta of a woman's first baby without letting her know and then dry it in the shade for 100 days while you chant the nine kuji over it 1,000 times every day.

Also, take the fangs from a live mamushi pit viper, and put them into your topknot in case of an emergency. If a scout or captain of a shinobi night attack carries this, the squad will not be seen by the eyes of the enemy. However, if they have doubts or use this skill for their own evil desires, they will meet their nemesis and will be discovered by the enemy.

♥ Heart sutra: Gyate gyate haragyate haragyate bochi sowaka.

To Dispel Nightmares (trace on palm)

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To Travel Safely at Night (carry on you)

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To Expel Evil or the Spirits of the Dead

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To Protect Against Robbery (display in house)

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To Make a Man Impotent

Version 1

Wipe the sperm of the man in question on a piece of paper and hide it under a Tatami mat where people will often cross over and step on it.

Version 2

Carve a wooden model of a penis and dry roast it in a pot over a flame while moving the model around. This method was used by prostitutes up until the early 1900s.

♥ The samurai quiver was modelled in abstract on the head of an unknown demon called Isoso. Legend says that the god Taishakuten killed this demon with twenty-five arrows, which led to the tradition of the samurai carrying twenty-five arrows at a time. Further to this, they would single out one arrow which would be used to fiee in an unlucky direction to "kill" negativity. Also, some traditions say that the samurai must keep at least one arrow on him for when he is dead.

If you want to kill a snake or demon, drip human saliva on the arrowhead as this is deadly to demons, snakes, dragons and giant centipedes. (Keep in mind that in some places in Japan it is bad to kill a snake...)

♥ When making a bowstring for a samurai bow, it is said women were not allowed near the string or to touch it, as they were formed from yin energy and would have negative effects on the weapon. In addition to this, it was a definite taboo for a woman who was menstruating to touch anything that was involved in the making of a bow.

♥ One less famous section of the samurai arsenal was the Horo or arrow-catching cape. This consisted of layers of material tied to the samurai that was used in two ways:

1. To be tied to the rear and allowed to balloon as the samurai galloped back to his line of battle, the purpose of which was to stop arrows from penetrating the rear of his armour.
2. To hold over the front and above the head with the arms extended, to catch arrows.

This arrow cape in samurai lore represented the placenta in the womb and was considered "safe", as though a warrior was inside of his mother.

♥ A samurai fan should have ten "ribs" which represents the great virtues of Buddhism:

  1. Refrain from killing living things.

  2. Refrain from stealing.

  3. Refrain from sex.

  4. Refrain from lying.

  5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.

  6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times.

  7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending performances.

  8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and decorative accessories.

  9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.

  10. Refrain from accepting money.

The Book of Samurai tells us that samurai accepted gold by having the coins placed on the front of a fan, while decapitated heads to be presented were placed on the rear face of the fan. For this reason some fans were painted with a mottled snow effect to show the pattern of blood drops which would remain after the head was disposed of.

♥ At the top of a samurai helmet is a small ventilation hole; tradition says that the 98,000 gods of war enter into the samurai through this hole to give him power.

Seppuku Facts

  • It can be voluntary or enforced. A warrior may take their own life if the battle is lost.

  • To be decapitated when bound is disgraceful but to be decapitated after cutting one's own belly is a high honour.

  • If a warrior refused to commit suicide it could ruin the entire family.

  • Originally there was no second or assistant, but as time progressed the position of kaishakunin was introduced; this was a friend who decapitated the victim to make his passing quicker as death by disembowelment was excruciatingly painful and could last hours.

  • The handle of the dirk used to commit suicide was taken off and the blade wrapped in paper so that the prospective suicide could not use it to fight his way out of the situation.

  • The inspecting officer would sit approximately three metres away so that the prospective suicide could not grab his sword and fight his way out.

  • The kaishakunin would stab the victim through the heart from behind if they thought that they were going to move to attack.

  • The goal of the assistant was to leave the skin of the threat attached so that the head did not roll around after decapitation - a difficult cut.

  • The assistant had their own assistant who would take over if they found it difficult to perform the deed.

  • Samurai women may perform seppuku by inserting a dagger into their throat.

  • The victim may secure their legs so that when they die they fall correctly.

  • One of the last seppuku rituals to take place was that of actor and writer Yukio Mishima, who in 1970 seized a military official to further his political aims. Failing in his attempted coup, he then committed ritual suicide. It is thought that the event was brought about to provide a stage for him to perform the ritual.

♥ Maybe the greatest weapon for a samurai is the training endured to become a warrior of great achievement. In an example of samurai training, Hearn tell us that samurai boys were taken to execution grounds to witness gruesome executions and were to do so without a show of emotion; this exercise was adopted to vanquish any internal horror. He goes on to state that when returning home, the samurai boys were given blood-coloured rice to make sure fear was eradicated from their minds. To further stamp out any fear, they were told to go to the execution grounds at night and take the heads of the dead to show they had no terror left in them.

♥ ..and the Japanese even had specialists called gunbaisha (esoteric tactician) who were trained in seeing the chi of the sky and what the heavens had in store for an army.

..Chi, or the concept of seeing chi in the sky, is a large part of Japanese culture. Generals would have gunbaisha serve the enemy, their positions, villages, castles and so on. Depending on the colour and the shape of their chi, these seers could predict what was to happen in any given building or describe what the situation was like inside.

♥ Bringing an enemy flag to your side is a bad action. If you need to, cut it into three, fold the pieces and bury them. Use the ritual of kuji kiri and pray on that site.

♥ The Japanese imported the concept of the twenty-eight lunar mansions; these are twenty-eight positions in the night sky that are identified by twenty-eight different constellations. When a person plots them all, the night sky is divided into twenty-eight divisions, like looking out from the centre of an orange. When the moon rises in "X" mansion, it is said to be in the mansion of "X". This is how they used to plot the lunar month, and in connection with the solar calendar they mapped out the year (in quite a complex way).

♥ On the Ryukyu Island chain, the Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium Japonicum), a form of creeper plant, is used to capture evil things. You can wear them as headdresses or amulets or you can make wreaths of them and place them around your home or objects to help keep the area pure. The belief is that the tangling nature of the plant will entangle the spirits of the dead or evil entities within it, ensnaring them.

♥ A mountain has its base at ground level and yet reaches to the heavens. Therefore, in the minds of the old Japanese it is quite literally a "stairway to heaven". This means that some mountains are the place where spirits of the dead dwell and ascend to heaven or simply make their next home. Often mountains or islands will appear in banka, which are Japanese funeral songs/poems in which a family express their lamentation for the dead.

♥ There is a tale of Utsurai Sayo, who summoned demons, devils and spirits on a mountain and bound them with reed. Having magically bound them, he left them under a peach tree as food for tigers. Because of this, a continuing tradition (mainly in China) is to take figurines made from peach tree wood and to tie them up with reeds on the last day of the Chinese year; this is done for protection against evil spirits.

♥ Okiku was a servant girl who broke an expensive plate from a set. The mistress of the house was greatly displeased and imprisoned her. Filled with sorrow, the girl escaped from her cell and jumped into the well, killing herself. She is often depicted as crawling out of the well with plates in her hands.

♥ As we have the unlucky number thirteen, the Japanese have the numbers four and nine. These are considered unlucky numbers in Japan because of the sounds they make. The number four (四 or Shi) has the same sound for the word death. The number nine (久 or Ku) has the same sound as the word for pain. Therefore, you will find that sometimes a building may or may not have a fourth or ninth floor or that someone may not give you four or nine pieces of something, such as cakes or sweets.

..Shamanic beliefs show that seven is a powerful number. On the Ryukyu Island chain, there is a belief that there are seven founding siblings, seven souls in the human body and forty-nine bones in a human. Post-mortem rites happen every seven days until the forty-ninth day, and worship of the dead happens in the seventh lunar month. However, others believe that seven is unlucky and that numbers including a seven are negative.

♥ Never sleep with your head to the north as the dead are laid with their heads to the north. From the early twentieth century onwards, Japan moved from burials to cremation; now, when bodies are awaiting cremation they are placed with the head to the north.

♥ The reason for this is that Hell is a concept predoinanly rbought via Buddhism, and therefore any talk of Hell in Japanese culture is heavily nivluenced by Indian and Chinese thought. ..Japan had its own idea of Hell and that several versions existed:

  • Jigoku The archetypal Hall of pain and punishment

  • Yomi The shinto version of Hell

  • Ahtata (Sanskrit) A hell where the lips are frozen

  • Ahbaba (Sanskrit) A hell where the tongue is frozen

  • Pundarika (Sanskrit) A hell known as "White Lotus" because the bones there are bleached by the cold and look like a vast array of white lotuses on a pond. (A separate but interesting connection between lotuses and hell can be seen by the figure of Kwannon, who went to the lowest section of Hell and shouted "Amitofo!", at which point lotuses floated down through Hell, causing the very foundations of this under-realm to shake, releasing scores of damned souls and creatures).

The Regent of Hell is Yemma (pronounced Emma in Japanese), who has many guides to help him. In hell this regent may make a soul face the reflecting mirror (the tabari no kagami) which shows the reality of the true nature of an individual's soul back to them. The Regent of Hell and his minions are said to be fed molten copper every eight hours, and some versions have the regent with three eyes, holding a sceptre made from a holy head.

..The River of Hell or the River Styx has its counterpart in Japanese mythology and is called the River of three Roads, Sanzu no Kawa or Sai-no-kawara. On the banks of this river there is a hag called Shozuka Baba who is 16 (sometimes 60) feet tall and has large eyes. She robs the dead of their clothing and hangs the garments up on trees. She does this with the aid of her consort, Ten Datsuba, to gain 3 rin payment required. However, her life is not all roses, as the deity Jizo is constantly there to protect children from her scavenging. People of a bad nature are led to Hell by Kakure Zato, the blind guide.

♥ On Mt Yudono there exited a strange sect of people whoa are linked to the term Sokushinbutsu, which refers to Buddhist practice involving self-mummification. The idea is simple but the execution is difficult. An aspiring future mummy will start a harsh regime of frequent fasting, intensive religious routine and mountain pilgrimages. They then move on to Mokijiki, which is the premise of only eating food from trees, such as nuts, berries, tree bark and pine needles. This diet is steadily reduced until it leads to literal starvation over a period of around 2,000 days. The overall plan is to reduce the body to an almost skeletal state and dry out the internal organs while alive. Would-be mummies have to drink from special wells which sometimes have naturally occurring chemicals that help to kill bacteria in the digestive tract so that rot will not set in. When the aspirant reaches the final stage they can be buried in a type of grave with a tube for air, still chanting and ringing bells. When their chants fail and the bells fall silent, the monks above know that the would-be mummy has died; the monks then wait an extended period of time before they retrieve the body. If successful, the body will be dry and without decay and they will thus have achieved sainthood, allowing them to be used by the shrine as an object of worship. The candidate themselves will have attained pure enlightenment and should then be released from the cycle of rebirth. However, not all make it. Many people died without success in the attempt; it is said that you can still see certain marker stones which mark the areas where many have failed this test and died.

♥ From traditional gardens to Shinto shrines, Japan has an adoration of stone sites, from its rich Stone Age culture to burial mounds from a time long forgotten.

♥ The Genpei War was a twelfth-century conflict between the Heike clan (sometimes Taira) and the Minamoto clan (sometimes Genji). Legend says that one species of crab, the Heikegani, is actually an embodiment of the lost souls of the Battle of Dan no Ura in 1185, where the Heike army drowned. This legend also extends itself to a battle between fireflies which is recorded as Genji Botaru. The larger species of firefly is the Minamoto clan and the smaller ones are the Heike and they are re-enacting the famous battle, cursed to repeat it for all time. People who drowned in this war are thought to be in spirit form at the bottom of the ocean, baling the vast expanse of water with bottomless buckets, again cursed for eternity.

Another legend says that a warrior from this conflict wrote a poem and killed himself at the battle - he was seventy-five years old. After dying he turned into a firefly.

♥ Hearn talks of a Japanese folk saying: "The sea has a soul and can hear you. If you express your fear, the sea will know of it and rise against you."

♥ Once a god called Susa-no-o passed a weeping couple. On being asked what was the matter, the couple said that their daughter, Kushinada-hime, was their eighth daughter and was the only one left as the other seven were sent to a sea dragon to be sacrificed. The serpent had eight heads, and so their final daughter was to be the eights sacrifice. Susa-no-o said he would save her in return for her hand in marriage. The bargain struck, the god turned Kishinada-hime into a wooden comb and put her in his hair. He took eight jugs of sake and gave them to the serpent, which became drunk. Then, when he felt the time was right, he killed the beast, returned Kushinada-hime to her human form and married her.

It is of interest that in the early 1700s this legend was recorded by a ninja of the land of Iga. He states that this is origin of the arts of the ninja, because the god transformed the comb as a ninja would transform and disguise himself, making it the first time the arts of deception were used in Japan - according to ninja lore.

♥ Fujiwara is one of the founding families in Japanese history, and many samurai lines claim descent from the Fujiwara clan. Kamatari is said to be the founder of the Fujiwara line, and he supposedly gave his daughter's hand in marriage to the emperor of China. When in China, his daughter found a most marvellous jewel and put it on a ship home to her father. Demons, hearing of this great jewel, attacked this ship but could not get the prize from it. After a short while, there came a log on the water; clinging to it was a maiden who was beautiful and fair. After being rescued and having enchanted the crew she was shown the jewel, at which point she snatched it and dived into the ocean, taking it to the Dragon King of the Sea. Later, the privileged Kamatari left his position and wealth behind and took to the mountains. Here he married a common woman and was happy. However, one day he told his wife of his previous status and of his problem with the jewel and the Dragon King. Thinking she could never live knowing she was so low and he so high, his wife ran to the sea and swam to the palace of the Dragon King, where she stole back the jewel. All manner of creatures followed her, but she took a knife and stabbed herself in the chest. As the blood spilled from her, it formed a veil between her and the monsters. Kamatari, looking for his wife on the sea, finds her and pulls her onto his boat, where she gives him the jewel and dies.

♥ For some unknown reason, the god of thunder in Japan loves to eat navels. One ancient gentleman decided he wanted to kill the god of thunder, so in true "hero" style he murdered a woman and stole her navel, attaching it to a kite to lure down the god of thunder so that he could kill him. The thunder god saw this and went for the bait (not such a clever god). He took the navel and began to chew it; however, the "murdered" woman had actually lived through the attempted murder. She got her navel back in the end and the man got to fight the thunder god - overall, this legend is one of Japan's strangest.

♥ The legend of the forty-seven ronin is one that the whole world knows; the story of these loyal samurai and their vengeance upon the enemy of their lord has been seen in film and on the stage. However, many people are unaware that you can actually go and see the graves of the warriors, and also the well in which they washed their enemy's head before they presented it to the grave of their master. It is at Sanjakuji temple in Tokyo, and visitors ate more than welcome.

♥ Japan has a few legends about fire, such as ghost-fire, demon-fire, fox-flame, flash-pillars, badger-blaze, dragon-torch and the lamp of Buddha, in addition to fire-wheels (messengers from hell), sea-fires and flames that erupt from cemeteries.

..Also, it was bad luck to throw some things onto a fire. Two such things were persimmon seeds and the Lycoris plant - it was thought that a fire would take revenge by burning down your house. The warning about the Lycoris plant may be due to the appearance of its flower, which is reminiscent of fire.

♥ Japanese dolls are famous the world over, but what is not known is that while Japanese belief held that a new doll is merely a doll, if the same doll is played with for generations by children of the same family then the doll acquires a soul and is a living thing. It is even said that one doll got up and ran to safety when its house was on fire. This is similar to the aforementioned idea of tsukumogami, living objects.

♥ Once a young woman was walking in town when she spied a most beautiful samurai in the gorgeous robes of his rank. At once she was in love. She did not have the opportunity to talk with him, and when home she thought of him all day. The woman decided on a plan. She would make purple robes with symbols like his own and wear them around town to draw his attention and win his heart. However, she never saw him again and spent nights crying over the robe, eventually falling ill and dying. The robe was then given to the temple as was custom, but the monk decided to sell the expensive item. The robes were bought by a young woman, but when she brought them home she was haunted by images of a beautiful samurai and soon died. Again the robe returned to the temple, but again it was sold and another girl died in pain; yet again it was returned and resold, and yet again it killed and was returned. This time the monk decided that it was a robe of ill will and ordered a fire to be lit in the temple area. When he threw the robe on the fire, the flames leapt up in the air and formed ideograms which had been used in a prayer - the very prayer O-same had used when she prayed for her samurai love. These flame-spirit letters reached the roof of the temple and it burst into flame, but woe, there is more - the fire spread all across Edo. This fire was in the 1650s and is remembered as the Great Fire of the Long-sleeved Robe. The fire was real, but this is the legend.

♥ Yamahaha is a mountain hag and may be close to other versions of mountain demons. In Tono she is called mother-mountain, but she seems to be supernatural in her powers and is akin to the wicked old hag of Western fairy stories.

Kon Dame Shi - The Game of Soul Examining

In what is probably the most terrifying children's game of all time, the players (or hardcore thrillseekers) place flags or strips of cloth in the most horrible, dark and haunted place they can - for example, a graveyard, a haunted wood or an abandoned house - and in the dark they tell each other scary stories. After each story is told, a single player has to venture deep into a the haunted area and retrieve one of the flags. This is done until there are no flags left or no one wishes to go in and fetch them.

♥ A woman who is born in the year hinoe-uma (one of a sixty-year cycle according to the old Chinese calendar) is a great worry for the family. The supposed problem is that women born in this year is due to "hinoe" being associated with the fire element and the resulting implication that a wife born in the year has the stubbornness of a horse and a fiery temper; it is even said she may kill her own husband. This idea comes from the famous Edo period story "The Greengrocer's Daughter", where in 1681 the titular daughter, Oshichi, fell in love with a man as she was taking refuge from a fire. She thought she could meet him again if there was a fire in the town and so she started another fire; at this time she was supposedly sixteen years old, being born in the year of hinoe-uma in 1666. This story was often used in books and plays and has resulted in people trying to avoid having a daughter who is born in the year hinoe-uma. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Kosei Rodo Sho), the Japanese birth rate dropped by 25 per cent in 1966, the last occurrence of hinoe-uma. The next years of hinoe-uma is in 2026, so it remains to be seen if the same thing will happen.

♥ Do not give a potted plant to someone who is in the hospital or who is sick. People do not like it because "potted plant" in Japanese means "take root", which also means "stay in bed longer". Also, the Japanese do not choose the camellia flower when visiting people. Camellia is not favoured because when the petals fall they often fall as a complete head, which is reminiscent of the decapitated head of a human and therefore associated with the beheading of a criminal.

♥ The shikii (threshold), the wooden rails that shoji (sliding doors) and fusuma (panels) move along, must not be stood upon. This is bad manners because a god lives in the threshold, and if you step on them then your family will not prosper. The shikii can also be seen as a barrier between worlds, between inside and outside, and therefore if you step on it you break the barrier. Also, you should not step on the edge of a tatami mat.

♥ If you sleep or lie down as soon as you finish a meal, you will turn into a cow.

♥ It cannot be said that Japanese culture is greater or lesser than any other world culture, but what makes it distinct is that it was untouched by the modern world for so long; indeed, it was only a few generations ago that its medieval period faded from living memory. The strong echo of that time has only begun to die in the last few decades, and before it falls silent it is our task to capture it.

The inevitability of the loss of Japanese customs is certain, as no nation in the world remains untouched by our pervasive new global culture. While our move towards the future is achieved at different rates in different coutries, we are all moving towards a single global community with a single world culture, and slowly but surely the old world is fading. The reason we must try to capture as much of the zest of old Japan - and indeed of all customs of the past - is because without known truths, the media will reinvent history for us. For newer generations, popular history is taught through film, TV and comics. In itself this is a good thing, for without them history would not exist for the youth. But why not give them real history through those media adventures? Why not demonstrate that true history is far more exciting than invented history?
Tags: 1970s in non-fiction, 2010s, 21st century - non-fiction, 3rd-person narrative, animals, archery, architecture, british - non-fiction, chinese in non-fiction, cultural studies, demonology, folk tales, history, japanese - mythology, japanese in non-fiction, martial arts, mythology, mythology (fiction - myths retold), non-fiction, occult, religion - buddhism, samurai, shamanism, sociology, war non-fiction, yukio mishima
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