I remember one Halloween, when I was 6 or 7 years old, wanting to dress in something scary while trick or treating. Around that time, my whole understanding of scary monsters were ghosts, dragons, bridge troll or any villain from a fairy tale. Keep in mind this was all before the Internet, DVD s, and even before VCR s with the only access to entertainment included books along with 12 channels on television. My final choice was a ghost and with mom’s help I dawn on the classic costume of an old bed sheet that had two eye holes cut out. This Halloween will have many spirits floating around as we look into the Japanese lore of Yurei in this week’s installment about monsters of nightmares.
Anywhere in the world you may go, there will be tales about ghosts and in Japan spirits of the deceased are called Yurei. According to folklore, every human has a soul called the reikon that exits the body upon death. The reikon enters into a sort of purgatory waiting for those of the living, being family or friends, to perform burial rituals allowing it to pass on to the next realm. However, at times not everything goes right.
In events where a person is murdered, killed in an accident or natural disaster or even not give a proper burial ceremony, the reikon of that individual could be consumed by negative emotions such as anger, fear, sorrow, or hatred. In Japanese lore, from this point the reikon returns to this physical realm transforming into a yurei. This spirit will continue to haunt the earth until laid to rest or whatever unfinished business it has is resolved, for example bringing a murderer to justice.
The yurei will appear in the general area where it died. According to Japanese myth, if this spirit is allowed to haunt over a period or how powerful its emotions were, could start physically interacting with the living. Often stories from the past depicted how people feared these spirits to exist everywhere. Even in modern Japan, many believe the yurei to be haunting areas for instance the city of Ishinomaki.
In 2011, a tsunami devastated the Japanese coast killing 16,000 people including nearly 3000 Ishinomaki residences. A few years later, with the city being restore and people going on about their lives, an unusual phenomenon started occurring among the local taxi drivers. They all told a similar story where they picked up a passenger in an area of Ishinomaki ravaged by the tsunami. The meter is started and when the cabbie asked about a destination the person in back seat disappeared. The taxi drivers reporting these phantom fares believe the ghosts were those who perished in the disaster.
These supernatural occurrence were made known by Yuka Kudo, a student of sociology at Tohoku Gakuin University, in her investigation of what first started as rumours. Skeptics have ruled such reports as lies, half-truths, hallucinations and even mental health issue resulting from the stress of the tsunami. However, despite the rational explanations, certain websites report the encounters with ghost passengers on the rise.
Ryall, Julian. “Taxi drivers in tsunami disaster zone report ‘ghost passengers”. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk. (Accessed September 30, 2016)