Do you like to be scared sometimes? Because I like. I watch horror movies and read horror stories… Boo! Everywhere in the world people like to be scared, and Japan is no exception. The most popular is the theme of ghosts, which have their own set of characteristic features. They do not necessarily cause fear, some Japanese ghosts are sad or pathetic characters. This reflects a particular view of the Japanese about death and religion.
Photo – Wikipedia Toriyama Sekien
Yurei-ga is a category of Japanese painting created centuries ago that depicts ghosts or other terrifying supernatural themes. Look at the image below, at first glance look like Biginga, or image depicting female beauty, but this beauty is not a woman of flesh and blood. The lower parts of her body seem to disappear. This eighteenth-century painting by Maruyama Okyo has shaped Japanese ideas about what a ghost should look like. Long, black hair and white kimono are the classic features of yurei-ga.
During the Edo period, there was a popular belief that evil expels evil. So the images of ghosts were a kind of good charm. When a scroll with a painting of Yurei was hanging on the wall of your house, then thieves were not dangerous. Yurei-ga should scare them away during your absence. Actually, it was a common custom, practically every home had Yurei-ga. In those days, most people were afraid not only mortal robbers, living human beings, but they also believed in ghosts and supernatural monsters. It was also believed that there would be an even bigger monster on every monster, meaning that any evil could be scary by something even more frightening. People thought that Yurei-ga had the power to stop evil.
Photo – Wikipedia Katsushika Hokusai
The classic theme of terrifying stories in Japan are female ghosts who are obsessively attached to a living human. Many painters relied on this symbol when painting ghost images. Still another motif are emaciated female ghosts. As you can see, yurei-ga treats women as scary characters, not men. Many yurei-ga shows how women’s jealousy or resentment turns them into horrifying apparitions. In ancient times, society was very men oriented. A woman could be unjustly despised or even killed, although she did nothing to deserve it. Japanese culture required women to walk three steps behind a man and refrain from speaking their thoughts. They could not express their true feelings freely, so anger and other emotions just grew in them. And then, when women died, she became ghost in which these accumulated emotions erupted. This idea is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and that is why yurei-ga is usually a woman, not a man. The more woman was in a bad position and could not enjoy life, the more powerful her spirit was after death. This emotional energy fueled her resentment and cruelty. The fact that the image depicts a woman’s spirit is also seen through her loosed hair, which during her life had to be always pinned up.
Photo – Wikipedia, Sawaki Suushi, Yurei
However, yurei ghosts are not only scary things in Japanese culture . Since ancient times, the Japanese were afraid of supernatural monsters called yokai. Although yokai also torment those who live with evil deeds, they are completely different from ghosts. There is a definite distinction between yokai and yurei, or monsters versus ghosts. Japanese spirits are aimed at specific people, while monsters haunt a specific place. Tengu is established in the mountains, and Kappa is associated with water. These monsters will be shown to every person who passes through their habitat. Ghosts, on the other hand, are attached to people, not places. Because of their strong emotions, their souls can not find rest and they must wander the other world. This attachment can be caused by resentment or ongoing love. Powerful sorrow is the essence of ghosts, anger and thirst for revenge against a particular person, turn them into a vengeful spirit.
Photo – Wikipedia Toriyama Sekien, Kappa
Japan has a long history of scares that come from a stirred up imagination. This is what the yurei motif is about, the elusive fear, the fear of something that is lurking around the corner. Japanese spirits are quite subtle, they do not have a strong image or attributes that Western ghosts have. However, they stimulate the imagination very much and they are very scary. Long, black, hair-covering, white dress, that reminds you of something? Because it reminds me of terrifying girls from Japanese horror films, for example Sadako. “Ringu”, “Ju-on” and other horrors used traditional scary Japanese stories and paintings. This shows that even now, people are still afraid of the same things. And certainly me. Japanese and other Asian horror girls horrify me much more than Jason or other Justin running around the city with a chainsaw. And what are you afraid of?
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