Ghost Hunt

Ghost HuntGhost Hunt is best described as The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS or better known as the Ghost hunters) meets Japanese folklore. Ghost Hunt is divided into several cases. Each of the cases shows a different aspect and spiritual ability of the cast. Cases range from creepy possessed dolls to demonic entities.

Ghost Hunt can almost be watched in any order. The arcs are stand alone outside of the character developer. The development of Mai Taniyama is what pulls all the story arcs together. Over time the teenager uncovers latent spiritual abilities as she helps Naru (her nickname for Kazuya Shibuya) on his cases. Mai is a bubbly extrovert who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Although she is easily frightened! That is certainly not a good trait when you are working with yuri, shiki, and other oddities.

Naru is the manager of the Shibuya Psychic Research center. Mai nicknames him Naru because of his narcissistic attitude (narushisuto). Naru comes off as cold and unfeeling, but he actually cares deeply for each of them. There is a bit of a love triangle between Naru, Mai, and Masako Hara, a spirit medium. The triangle is mostly used for comedy relief and is not fully developed.

Ghost Hunt Mai and NaruThe series is interesting and genuinely creepy at times. It focuses on mysteries and circumstances surrounded each of the cases. Many of the cases are predictable. The viewer will have many solved in the first episode of the arc. The situations are interesting. The odd mix of Shinto, Buddhist, Tao, and Catholic spiritual traditions works. Each of the characters in Naru’s team represent a tradition.

This is a “talk” anime. Action scenes are separated by long diatribes about various spiritual entities, ideas, and acronyms. The dialogue itself is uninspired. Don’t expect banter like you see in Spice in Wolf. The characters are generally stereotypical: the outgoing girl who falls for the silent guy, the faux priestess, and other stereotypes.

The animation is sound but not stellar. The soundtrack is forgettable.

Ghost Hunt is interesting despite the problems. The TAPS style investigations mixed with Japanese mythology held my attention for the 25 episodes. The mysteries were predictable, but watching how the characters come to the conclusions keeps the viewer entertained. Many of the case arcs were too long; they could often fit in just a single episode or two. Fans of TAPS should take a look at this anime. As it progresses, it departs from the TAPS investigation model, but the mix of East and West makes for a thought provoking watch.

Heikegani–The Samurai Crab

Heikea_japonica

Artist’s impression of a heikegani. Remarkably, it’s pretty close to the reality.

The year was 1185, the place a tiny bay called Dan-no-ura. Two great fleets faced one another; on once side, the Heike clan, imperial rulers of Japan, and on the other the Minamoto, upstarts fighting to control the throne. At stake was control of all Japan. After a half-day of fighting, the Heike were routed, and their 6-year old emperor drowned to keep him out of Minamoto hands. Minamoto Yoritomo went on to become the first Shogun, or military ruler, of Japan.

A strange story arose in the wake of the battle. Locals told a legend about crabs in the area with strange patterns on their shells, said to resemble samurai masks. Legend held that the crabs were the reincarnations of samurai slain at the Battle of Dan-no-ura.

See what I mean? Credit: Nasir Sadeghi.

See what I mean? Credit: Nasir Sadeghi.

The crabs do bear an uncanny resemblance to samurai masks. Carl Sagan speculated in his show Cosmos that the resemblance was due to artificial selection. Basically, people would throw back crabs that resembled samurai masks, and eat the ones that didn’t. So that put selection pressure on the population to grow shells that resembled masks.

While it sounds good and it does fit the mold for how selective pressures tend to work, there’s a problem–nobody eats Heikegani. They’re too small. Plus, crabs with this kind of shell pattern aren’t confined to only that small bay, but they can be found all over the Bay of Japan. And there are other species of crabs with similar patterns, although maybe not as pronounced.

The folds and creases are points where muscles attach to the carapace. Humans just happen to think they look like faces–or masks–because of a phenomena called pareidolia, where we see faces in random patterns. It’s not quite as cool as reincarnated samurai ghosts, but then again, not many things are.

 

 

The Curse of the Kleenex Commercial

Japanese Kleenex commercialAmerica has a whole host of urban legends surrounding television shows and movies.  Probably the most famous is the legend of the cursed movie set, which claims that for years after the movie Poltergeist was filmed, actors and producers all met terrible fates.  Similar claims were made for the cast of The Exorcist, and probably several other movies I’m not aware of.  The point is that the cursed set is a staple of entertainment related urban legends.  These sorts of stories aren’t limited to the US, however.  Japan has its own strange entry into the canon of cursed sets: the Curse of the Kleenex Commercial.

A series of Kleenex commercials aired in the Eighties that spawned the legend of the cursed commercial set.  The version of the commercial I scrounged up featured a woman in white and a baby painted to look like an ogre or a demon.  Legend has it the commercial features a strange song in German that says “die die” over and over, the tone of which changes based on the time of day.  The commercial was said to bring bad luck as well.  Thoroughly creeped out television viewers complained, and Kleenex pulled the ads.

But, legend has it, the trouble only began once the ad was pulled.  The lead actress in the commercial supposedly suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized, while the baby died under mysterious circumstances.  From producers to cameramen to gaffers, everyone even remotely related to the commercial died or suffered accidents or other misfortunes.

Chris’ Edit: Here is the video for those who don’t want to follow the link below.

Now, of course, not much of that is true.  It is true that the ads were pulled when people complained.  The song in the ad was actually an English song called “It’s a Fine Day”, which while not German and not saying “die die”, is still creepy in the context of the commercial, or so this fellow thinks.  No one associated with the commercial died under mysterious circumstances that I can find, and the lead actress Keiko Matsuzaka is still alive and working as an actress to this day.  So, while the commercial itself is bizarre, it’s more an example of failed marketing than anything supernatural. See the commercial here [Author’s note: I had no end of trouble trying to embed the video. So I wound up taking a screen cap, which ALSO gave me no end of trouble. Is it the curse of the Kleenex commercial at work? Or just poor technical skills? I’ll leave that for you to decide (hint: it’s probably the latter)].

 

The Hibagon–Japanese Bigfoot

An alleged photo of the Hibagon. Dunno about you, but I’m not seeing it…

If locals are to be believed, something strange stalks the hills and mountains of Hiroshima Prefecture.  Reports have come in sporadically since the 1970’s of a five foot tall, hairy, gorilla like creature out in the forest.  Japanese Boy Scouts have taken casts of ten inch footprints, and multiple witnesses have reported a creature with chocolate brown or black hair, white hands and feet, and a gorilla like face. They also report a strong odor, like decomposing meat.  Locals call this monster the Hibagon.

Sound familiar?  To my fellow Americans, this is starting to sound suspiciously like that oft sighted but never verified critter, Bigfoot.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that Japan would have its own version of Bigfoot though, as reports of hairy wild men are common to all parts of the world.  Unlike other parts of the world (say, North America for instance), Japan does have a history of non-human primate populations.  Monkeys are native to Japan.  However, so far as I am aware the only large ape who has lived on the islands for any length of time are humans.  Since there are no fossil data pointing to populations of large bodied primates on Japan, it seems doubtful that one would be living there now.

So what could explain the sightings?  The hypotheses seem as varied as the witnesses.  Some claim the Hibagon is some sort of wild man, while others claim that Japanese soldiers who still believe WWII is still ongoing are responsible.  The next guess steps into sci-fi territory.  As you probably well know, Hiroshima is infamous for being the first city to be on the receiving end of a nuclear attack.  Some claim that the Hibagon is a person who was mutated by the radiation from that attack.  I can say with utter certainty that is not the case.  The Hibagon, based on descriptions, differs too much from humans to be a mutated human population.  Besides, that isn’t how evolution works.  The mutations caused by nuclear radiation have more immediate effects, namely cancer, that manifest in the person’s lifetime.  While mutation is an important factor in evolutionary processes, the changes in the genome are gradual and only accumulate over many generations.  Even if radiation could effect human evolution in such a way, it wouldn’t do so over such a short period of time.

I seriously doubt that the Hibagon is anything more than folklore.  More likely than not it reports are based on mis-identification of a native specie, such as a bear.  Or it’s possible that an ape, maybe a chimp or a small gorilla, escaped from a zoo in the 70’s and sparked the legend.  Regardless of it’s biological status, the Hibagon has a life all its own in Japanese pop culture.  It’s likeness has appeared on snacks, books, anime, and manga.  In that way the Hibagon is very real, if only in a cultural sense.

 

 

The Gashadokuro

Mitsukuni defying the Skeleton Spectre Invovked by Princess Takiyahsa (Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1798 - 1861)Japan is home to some very strange spirits, to say the least.  Not long ago I did a post about an odd breed of spirit that exclusively haunt Japan’s bathrooms.  Last night I was poking around, looking for more Japanese ghouls and goblins when I came across the Gashadokuro (also known as the Odokuro).

While classified as a spirit being, it seems that much like the yurei (and contrary to the West’s notion of ghosts), the Gashadokuro have a physical substance to them rather than being incorporeal.  These beings manifest as gigantic skeletons, fifteen times the size of a normal man which would put them at roughly ninety feet tall.  They arise from the gathered bones of people who died as a result of starvation or warfare.  Due to the terrible deaths that gave them un-life, the Gashadokuro are full of anger and a blood lust that can only be sated by drinking the blood of the living.

They walk the countryside at night, seeking after human quarry.  When they find an unwary traveler along the road, the Gashadokuro silently stalk them (although how a ninety foot skeleton can be stealthy is beyond me) and when the moment is right, catch their victim in a skeletal hand and proceed to bite their head off.  Then the Gashadokuro sucks the body dry of blood.  Imagine it as something like how we humans eat crawdads or lobsters.  Pleasant, right?  Japanese ghost stories are pretty hardcore.

So, how does a poor traveler avoid becoming a human crawdad?  Unfortunately I’ve not come across any ways of combating the Gashadokuro.  The only way I’ve seen to avoid becoming a midnight snack is to run like hell the moment you hear a strange ringing in your ears, which is the only warning the Gashadokuro gives prior to striking.  Presumably then people like me who have ringing in their ears almost constantly are in a lot of trouble, then.

The Gashadokuro also walk around making a sound something like “gachi-gachi” and grinding their teeth, so presumably you could hear that as well.  Plus, you know, a ninety foot skeleton is bound to stick out like a sore thumb no matter how dark it is outside.  So if you find yourself broke down in Japan in the middle of the night (because that happens to all of us at one point or another), keep your eyes peeled and your ears open and you might just survive the night.

Japan’s Ghosts–The Yurei

Several months ago, I did a post about Aokigahara, Japan’s suicide capital and a purportedly haunted forest.  It is widely believed that the forest is haunted by Yurei, which are essentially Japan’s version of ghosts.  These differ from the traditional Western style ghosts.  On our side of the ocean, ghosts are ephemeral things that can only interact with the physical world with great difficulty.  They knock and creak and moan, but they’re generally harmless; in fact, they’re usually little more than annoying, at least according to the lore.  Their goal is usually to attempt some sort of communication with the living, in order to fulfill some sort of unfinished business, after which they can pass on to the other side.  Some are more malevolent, intending to scare folks away from their haunts or just to generally be pains in the butt.  In general, they’re said to be tied to our world by strong emotions, often negative.

Yurei, on the other hand, are entirely different beasts. There are some similarities, of course: both are tied to the world by strong emotions, and both seek to interact with humans.  Other than that though, there are few similarities.  For one, Yurei are often depicted the same way: they’re women dressed in white with long black hair.  Yurei are predominately believed to be women, because the Japanese believe that women experience deeper, stronger emotions than men and thus are more likely to become Yurei.

The differences don’t end there, but in order to understand the Yurei fully we must understand traditional Japanese beliefs about the afterlife.  Shinto doesn’t have heaven or hell the same way the West does.  When a person dies, their soul leaves the body and enters a kind of purgatory.  When the proper funeral rites are performed, the soul can go to the ancestors and thus become a protective spirit.  However, if the proper rites are not performed, or if the person dies by suicide or murder, their soul may become a Yurei.

That isn’t too different from the Western conception of ghosts, nor the conception of ghosts the world over.  There is a prevalent belief the world over that if people are not laid to rest properly they will somehow haunt the living.  Yurei, however, are more corporeal than their Western counterparts.  They are not see through, although in their traditional depiction they are shown hovering over the ground, with only their hands and face visible.  Yurei also, possibly due to their corporeal nature, have no problem interacting with the physical world, much to their victim’s dismay.

You see, Yurei can be incredibly dangerous.  They are said to seek vengeance against those who wronged them in life, and little can be done to stop them.  The Yurei will only disappear when their desire for vengeance is sated, either by the Yurei itself or by its family members.  In some cases, the Yurei may haunt a lover until its passion is fulfilled (not sure what that means, but to me that sounds pretty ominous).  Sometimes a Shinto or Buddhist priest may be able to exorcise the Yurei, but more often than not the spirits are unstoppable until they fulfill their desires.

It should be noted that not all Yurei are malevolent.  Yurei are tied to the Earth by strong emotions, but they do not necessarily have to be negative.  Some Yurei are motherly figures, who come back to watch over their children.  Others might return to keep a business appointment or some other sort of obligation.  While they might be frightening to people who happen to bump into them, these types of Yurei are largely harmless.

The worst kind of Yurei become a curse.  Their desire for vengeance is so strong that even destroying the original object of their fury cannot sate it.  They will destroy anyone who enters their territory–Yurei are typically, but not always, bound to a specific site–and will do so until exorcised or otherwise removed, a dicey proposition at best.

American has come to know Yurei in recent years through movies.  The Grudge, The Ring, and Silent Hill all feature Yurei style ghosts.  While these depictions aren’t always accurate in terms of the traditional folklore, they’ve definitely made waves in American horror.  Like it or not, it seems the Yurei are here to stay in American horror.

Have you seen The Grudge, The Ring, or Silent Hill?  What do you think of the Yurei or ghosts in general (keep it civil, please)?

Sources:

Yurei — Wikipedia

Yurei — The Mask of Reason