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29 June 2010, 12:00 pm 2 Comments

Co będzie Twoją przygodą?: Wet Hot Japanese Summer (NSFW)

This post was submitted by Jude

IN GHOSTLY JAPAN

Guillermo Riveros' "Sigh Oh Nara"

Guillermo Riveros' "Sigh Oh Nara"

“Kaidan wo katare…”*

One of the main reasons I applied to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program a few years ago was the fact that I had been reading a book of Japanese ghost stories at the time. I became enthralled with the work of Lafcadio Hearn, an Irishman born in Greece who moved to Japan in 1890 and stayed for the rest of his life, eventually becoming one of the first great interpreters of all things Japanese for Western readers. The stories in his book Kwaidan, “studies of strange things,” are based on Japanese tales of long ago told him by his wife and others he came to meet in his adopted land. Like me, Hearn had a deep fascination with eerie tales, drawn to the hidden realms of the spirit world and to strange facts and marvels.

I had come across the book while researching a story for my journalism class on the “suicide forest of Mount Fuji,” Aokigahara. I learned of a strange phenomenon going on at the base of the great volcano, wherein hundreds and hundreds of people would enter the forest each year, only to be never heard from again. Upon coming to Japan, I found a culture that seemed not only aware of death, but almost fixated on it. I was told to never stick my chopsticks into a bowl of rice, not just because it was bad manners but because it symbolized the incense used at funerals. When a weasel sneaked into my school office one night, I learned that this too was a signifier of death. Don’t wear a watch on your wrist. Don’t wear white. I missed my train home to Sakurai one night because someone had thrown themselves in front of it.

It had been rather shocking for me, coming from a culture so defiant of death, where people do their very best to ignore it; where people surgically alter their faces and fry themselves in tanning beds to look further away from it. Photographs of coffins with dead soldiers returning from Iraq are censored in our newspapers. Old Aunt Gertrude is sent away to a nursing home, just so we don’t have to watch her die. Buddha taught that nothing in this world is stable; no form of existence is anything more than a wandering through flux. We may think we have a self, and even try to build an ego or worry about personal consistencies or reputation. These concerns are delusions.

The Japanese ghost, Obake, represents transformation as the truest manifestation of being, and shows that what we call the “self” is an imaginary construct. Obake indicate the folly of our human security in the unchanging status of things, and obliterate our proud sense of understanding the structure of the world. In the 18th century, Toriyama Sekien attempted to categorize the many ghostly beings that inhabit the Japanese landscape, an utterly dizzying array of characters…

There’s the Kami-kiri ghost, known to sneak up on servant girls in the bathroom and cut off their hair. And the Tenjoname, who hides in the shadows on the ceiling where lamp light cannot reach. There’s even a “ghost sandal,” Bake-zori, known to run through houses where footwear is treated improperly. And the next time you’re walking and hear footsteps behind you, only to discover that there is no one there, you may have encountered Betobeto-san (“footsteps”). Just step aside and tell it to go ahead.

A popular parlor game for samurais to play in the days of feudal Japan was called Hyaku Monogatari or “One Hundred Legends.” They would light a hundred candles and take turns telling a scary story, blowing out a candle after each one. With each tale, the room grew darker and darker, until the final candle was extinguished and an evil spirit was said to manifest. I tried to play this with some friends on my only Halloween in Japan, but ended up drinking too much Suntory whiskey to tell the tales coherently and burning holes in my tatami mats with all the candles. Still, my spooky house did come in handy when my boyfriend came to visit and we used the house for a photo series on Japanese horror, “Sigh Oh Nara.” It was around this time we spent some sleepless nights listening to a mysterious scratching on the roof, and were too scared and too cold to get out of bed and see what the hell it ever was.

But actually, the Japanese ghost is a thing of the summer, squeezed out of humid weather and heavy heat. And while Guillermo and I begin another hot Brooklyn summer together, we’ve spent the nights in tangled bedsheets watching old Japanese horror films. My favorite is 1964′s Onibaba (Demon Woman) by Kaneto Shindo, about an old woman and her daughter-in-law killing and robbing samurai soldiers on the empty grasslands of medieval Kansai. They sleep on their backs with their tits out.  From that same year is Masaki Kobayashi’s adaptation of Kwaidan, also not to be missed for its stunning visual depictions of Japanese horror, long before The Ring was ever made.  And if that doesn’t chill a sleepless night, here is a scary story to tell in the dark–one of Lafcadio Hearn’s best kwaidan, called “Mujina”:

This tale begins in old Tokyo on a road called Akasaka, where there is a big slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka. On one side of the slope is an ancient moat, deep and wide, with high green banks rising up to some kind of garden. On the other side extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the time of street-lamps, this neighborhood would become very lonely after dark. Travelers passing through would go miles out of their way to avoid walking on Akasaka Road alone after sunset. There was an old legend attached to the place, about a merchant that was hurrying up Kii-no-kuni-zaka late one night. He perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone and weeping bitterly. Afraid she was intending to drown herself, he approached her, hoping to offer some kind of consolation. From what he could tell by the light of the full moon, she appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed, with hair arranged like that of a young girl of a good family. “O-jochu,” he called to her, the polite form of address used in speaking to a young lady whom one does not know. “O-jochu, please do not cry like that! Tell me what the trouble is, and if there is any way I can help I shall be glad to do so.” He meant it too, as he was a very nice man. Still, she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with her long sleeves. “O-jochu,” 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, only tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she stood up, but kept her back to him and continued to sob into her sleeve. He lightly laid his hand upon her shoulder, pleading—“O-jochu! O-jochu! Listen to me, just for one little moment! O-jochu! O-jochu!” And then that O-jochu finally turned around, 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 the slope he ran and ran, though all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never looking behind him, until he could at last see the glow of a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly. He ran toward it. He found a lone soba-seller there, who had set down his stand at the side of the road. Any light and any companionship would be good after that experience, and so the man threw himself at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out “Agh! Aghhh! Aaaghhh!!!” He wasn’t able to say anything else. The soba-man reached down to him, saying “Kore! Kore! What is the matter? Anybody hurt you?” The man tried his best to explain what he had just seen: “Nobody hurt me,” he panted—“only…Agh!” “Only scared you? Was it robbers?” asked the soba-man. “Not robbers, not robbers,” the terrified man gasped. “I saw… I saw a woman, by the moat. She showed me…Aghhh!!! I cannot tell you what she showed me!” He could not catch his breath. “I see! Did it look something like THIS?!” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face—which had become like unto an egg. And in this moment, the light went out.

Guillermo Riveros' "Sigh Oh Nara"

Guillermo Riveros' "Sigh Oh Nara"

**(PHOTOS FROM GUILLERMO RIVEROS’ SERIES, “SIGH OH NARA,” CAN BE SEEN IN THE BOOK NEW NUDE PHOTOGRAPHY, AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT NEGOIST.COM)


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2 Comments »

  • Bridger said:

    Wow that’s totally amazing I love j-horror and am researching it cuz I wanna draw that stuff. What you wrote gave me some good ideas thank you!

  • burning incense sticks said:

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