Monday, 26 September 2011

Japanese Folklore: Yuki-Onna Origins Part II 'Yurei &Yokai'

Following on from the previous post, which detailed the first recording of 'Yuki-Onna by 'Lafcadio Hearn', and his book 'Kwaiden: Story & Studies of Strange Things' this part will explore the translation of this, involving the subject of 'Kaidan' (the Ghost Story).


Kaidan is a Japanese word consisting translated to strange, mysterious, rare or bewitching apparition, In its broadest sense, Kaidan refers to any ghost or horror story, but it has an old-fashioned ring to it that carries the connotation of Edo period Japanese folktales. The term is no longer as widely used in Japanese as it once was. Kaidan is only used if the author/director wishes to specifically bring an old-fashioned air into the story.

Originally based on didactic Buddhist tales, kaidan often involve elements of karma, and especially ghostly vengeance for misdeeds. Japanese vengeful ghosts are far more powerful after death than they were in life, and are often people who were particularly powerless in life, such as women and servants.

This vengeance is usually specifically targeted against the tormentor, but can sometimes be a general hatred toward all living humans. This untargeted wrath can be seen in Furisode, a story in Hearn's book In Ghostly Japan about a cursed kimono that kills everyone who wears it. This motif is repeated in the film Ring with a videotape that kills all who watch it, and the film Ju-on with a house that kills all who enter it. (I find these examples very helpful when thinking about extracting motifs).

Kaidan entered the vernacular during the Edo period, when a game called 'Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai' became popular. This game led to a demand for ghost stories and folktales to be gathered from all parts of Japan and China.
Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales) was a popular parlour game during the Edo period in Japan. The game was a simple one. In a room, as night fell, one hundred candles were lit. Guests and players gathered around the candles, taking turns telling kaidan. After each kaidan, a single candle was extinguished, and the room slowly grew darker and darker. The process was an evocation, with the final candle believed to summon a supernatural entity.



Loosely translated to "faint/dim" or "soul/spirit", are figures in Japanese folklore, and are analogous to Western legends of ghosts. Like their Chinese and Western counterparts, they are thought to be spirits kept from a peaceful afterlife.

According to traditional Japanese beliefs, all humans have a spirit or soul. When a person dies, it leaves the body and enters a form of purgatory, where it waits for the proper funeral and post-funeral rites to be performed, so that it may join its ancestors. However, if the person dies in a sudden or violent manner such as murder or suicide, if the proper rites have not been performed, or if they are influenced by powerful emotions such as a desire for revenge, love, jealousy, hatred or sorrow, the soul is thought to transform into a Yūrei, which can then bridge the gap back to the physical world.

The Yūrei then exists on Earth until it can be laid to rest, either by performing the missing rituals, or resolving the emotional conflict that still ties it to the physical plane. If the rituals are not completed or the conflict left unresolved, the Yūrei will persist in its haunting. Yūrei don't wander at random, but generally stay near a specific location, such as where they were killed or where their body lies, or follow a specific person, such as their murderer, or a beloved. They usually appear between 2 and 3 a.m, the witching hour for Japan, when the veils between the world of the dead and the world of the living are at their thinnest.

Yūrei will continue to haunt that particular person or place until their purpose is fulfilled, and they can move on to the afterlife. However, some particularly strong yūrei, who are consumed by vengeance, continue to haunt long after their killers have been brought to justice.

Intrestingly, Yuki-Onna is considered in 'Hearns Kwaiden' as a 'Yurei' (Ghost) when taking the translation of Kaidan into consideration. However during the Edo period in 1737, a Japanese artist Sawaki Suushi, completed in  is a collection of picture scrolls which consisted of supernatural bestiaries, collections of ghosts, spirits and monsters, of which Suushi based on literature, folklore, other artwork. These works had a profound influence on subsequent Yōkai imagery in Japan for generations. This was known as the 'Hyakkai-Zukan', "The Illustrated Volume of a Hundred Demons") and Yuki-Onna can be found within this collection. , which leaves open the possibility of two types of spirit.



Yōkai (literally demon, spirit, or monster) are a class of supernatural monsters in Japanese folklore.Yōkai range eclectically from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features, (such as the Kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the Tengu which has wings), other times they can appear mostly human, some look like inanimate objects and others have no discernible shape. Yōkai usually have a spiritual supernatural power, with shape shifting as one of the most common.

Some are said to live alongside and quietly co-exist with humans. Others are blamed for causing various inexplicable natural phenomena, pestilences, or disasters. A few could be called physical incarnations of idioms or puns. Some are helpful. Many are mischievous. And more than a few are thought to be very, very dangerous. They are Japan's bogeymen, always watching but rarely seen, stand-ins for largely unpredictable forces of nature. And once the lights went out, they are always there.

Albert Einstein once said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Japan's Yokai inhabit this very intersection. They dwell in the space between fear and wonder, superstition and the rational, the natural and the supernatural.

All of this information is vital in helping me gain a better insight into how to really understand Yuki-Onna as a character. Taking this basic research into consideration, I can begin to build a profile and piece together what the meaning behind the tale is, as well as the motives behind her actions. Learning more about Japanese Folklore has opened my eyes in terms of establishing an understanding for the direct audience of the tale in that specific period. This will allow me to brainstorm effective ways to convey it's motifs sucessfully into a modern/future setting, which evidently will lead extracting them in the correct way in order to 'transcribe' the character sucessfully.

However more research is needed into the social contruct of the edo period, as well as any morality issues surrounding that specific time, as these would have had an effect and possibly intergrated into Kaidan tale.



After spending some time analyising the research I've gathered so far and formulating an idea, I still need a tad more that will help fully support my path. Here's a few links I stumbled across, with some important information in regards to...I'll post a few paragraphs from each link that I feel are vital.

Japanese Ghost & Feminist Theory

Often these female nature-spirits of trees, snow, ants, or butterflies marry a man from the village, combining the two aspects of society ruling over nature as man rules over woman. More often the stories either romanticize the death of the nature-wife at the hands of mankind, or nature takes dominion over man as the terrible snowy Yuki-onna as a reminder of nature and women’s secret fury

In pre-modern times, this exemplifies man’s relationship to nature: they depended on its subjugation to live, but can also be ruthlessly destroyed. While vengeful females before may have used the natural world humankind depended on in order to strike, modern vengeful women in J-Horror use technology. Although technology is seen as more starkly clinical than savage nature, it now fulfills the role as an unpredictable force which we both depend on and fear

I'm going to try an propose a new and professional way of compiling research in the next few posts, steering away from more text based clunkyness, after all I am supposed to be visually active :p

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