Creepy Japan: Ghosts And Things That Go Bump In The Night.

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  • By admin
  • January 6th, 2010

For a modern, high-tech country with one of the biggest economies in the world, the Japanese are a very superstitious people. Belief in ghosts and other spirits is very high. In the states, we prefer U.F.O.s I’ve personally met many people in Japan (including my wife) who have had encounters with the paranormal.

One friend of mine was very open and non shalont about the whole thing. He used to see ghosts more when he was younger. You mostly see them near train tracks, beaches, hospitals and bridges. Places people died or committed suicide. I asked him if they were scary. He just shrugged and said not really. But ironically, he said he was deathly afraid of U.F.O.s. He recounted a story when he was about thirteen and he saw a U.F.O.

At the time he had heard stories of abductions and cattle mutilations. He said the U.F.O. followed him and he was afraid for his life and rode his bike home as hard as he could.
In the states people think of ghosts as spooky and interesting, but in Japan they are considered dangerous.

They can cause illness and even death in those they afflict.

When attending a funeral in Japan, attendants will often receive a small packet of salt. This is not to put on your French fries. When you arrive home, you are supposed to sprinkle the salt over you before entering as not to bring something in that may have followed you home. Salt is considered purifying and is what sumo wrestlers throw every time they enter the ring. It’s not uncommon to see small dishes of salt outside homes and businesses to ward of evil spirits.

It’s important to note however, that they say that ghosts prey upon weak or negative people. If you’re strong-willed and positive, you have nothing to worry about.

Ghosts are also a very popular topic on TV. There are many ghost specials, usually with a guest shaman or psychic, especially around the Obon festival in August. The Japanese definitely have the corner on the market for ghost pictures. When one thinks of ghost photographs, you think of vague, wispy shapes floating across a staircase. Not so in Japan. Ghost pictures here are very clear and distinct. The ghosts are half hidden or distorted, but well defined. A strange head peering from behind a tourist, disembodied hands reaching up from the water, or a hand with too many fingers are common pictures here. I once saw a photo with an enormous eye peering from the T.V.

Even more disturbing are photos and sometimes video of people with a whole limb or even their head missing. This is not a ghost picture exactly, but a kind of warning. The person featured in the picture usually suffers some kind of serious accident. I once saw a short video of some high school boys horsing around, but one boy was missing a head! The story said the same boy later died in a car accident.

Other kinds of photographs show orbs (ghosts) floating in the air or streaks of light. The streaks of light are supposed to be people’s psychic energy. For example, they showed a wedding photo of the bride and groom with a white streak going between them. The psychic explained this was the energy of the groom’s former lover who wished the union to fail. Similar streaks in vacation photos are the unconscious energy of friends or relatives who wanted to go on the trip too, but couldn’t. These kinds of photos would probably go unnoticed in the states. In the west, with our overly rational minds, we would assume this was just dust floating in the air or glitch with the camera.

The often have shows where they go on location to haunted places, but the take on it is completely different. In the states, ghost hunters are armed with a whole array of equipment; thermometers, electromagnetic sensors, and special infra-red cameras trying to catch “proof” of the ghosts.

In Japan, you see none of that. They just bring along a psychic to explain everything, sometimes in the company of some pretty girls for eye candy. It’s not about proving anything, but finding out the human story behind it. The psychic communicates with the spirits to find out what happened. They also show the effects on families being haunted and sometimes perform on the spot exorcisms. Whether it’s true or not is left up to the audience to decide for themselves…

Another phenomenon is called “kanashibari” or sleep paralysis. This is when someone wakes up at night, but their body is frozen and cannot move. I’d never even heard of this in the states, but it’s very common in Japan, especially among young girls. Many people have shared accounts of this with me. Such episodes can be very frightening and people often report hearing or seeing things and also feel a heavy weight on their chest. Doctors assert that this is quite common and is similar to the normal paralysis during REM sleep when we dream, but the brain is awake. They say that seeing ghosts or even experiences of alien abductions are simply hallucinations. I guess we perceive phenomena through a cultural lens. Americans tend to see U.F.O.s or talk of alien abductions, in Japan, it’s more often ghosts.

It’s not really that surprising that belief in ghosts and other spirits is high in Japan. The two main religions are Shinto, native to Japan, in which belief in natural spirits and Kami is strong, and Buddhism. Ancestor worship is an integral part of the culture, especially at the Obon time when the spirits of the departed family members are said to return to the home for a visit.

So spirits are already a part of everyday life in Japan. This is the culture that brought us horror classics like the original “Ring” and “The Grudge” movies.

Japanese horror movies are refreshing to watch. They are something which so many American horror movies are not; creepy. They don’t feature mindless killers stabbing everyone in sight with buckets of blood and something jumping out of the bushes every twenty minutes.

Instead, they show little and suggest more and this creepy feeling slowly builds throughout the film. “The Ring” is probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen and yet there are virtually no special effects until the last ten minutes. The Japanese really understand what scary means, perhaps because they’ve been so culturally and historically prepared for it. Maybe that’s why Hollywood has been copying them so much recently.

I know I’ve become more superstitious after living here, in large part due to my wife.

One winter, I was in the house alone trying to go to sleep when I suddenly heard what sounded like footsteps walking on the side of the house. I had watched a horror movie that night and a chill ran down my spine and I broke out in a cold sweat. The sound persisted for a while and I had images in my mind of some spectral thing outside. I finally forced myself to get up and opened the window. I discovered it was melting snow falling off the roof and landing with a plop on the ground. I never did see the ghosts that were pushing the snow off my roof.

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Comments

Spooky! I had no idea ghosts were so much part of Japanese culture.

Emily
January 8, 2010    Rate Comment

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