This is our second to last blog post! This CentreTerm has seemed to fly by and there is one more day left!
For the Shudan Borei, we have been hard at work putting the final touches on our podcast, adding more questions and discussions to flesh out our ideas. We are deciding what is staying within our podcast and removing what we don’t think is necessary. There is also quite a bit of chaos in some of our discussions that we are cleaning up so that our podcast comes across more professional than our group work.
We are also creating and rehearsing our final presentation which is going to be fire and very humorous.
It is a dark night. The moon is full, shining bright among the stars. A campfire is set in the middle of a dark wood with the History 435 class all huddled close together sharing spooky tales from Japan and China. Suddenly, a cloud covers the moon and a shadowy figure emerges from the woods and takes a seat among the students and begins to tell a tale from the mountains….
Many moons ago, long before your time, there were tales of people who used to die in the woods. They would go out and explore the trails of the mountains, hiking up, far away from civilization or just passing through a pass to get to a village on the other side. Some were smart and brought enough food, but others didn’t plan properly. These foolish people would soon run out of food and begin to starve. Those unlucky enough to not make it down the mountain would die and their bodies were never recovered even though their families searched for them. Unmarked and unmourned, these souls rose up and began finding each other. Soon, in their hunger, they travelled around the woods and trails of the mountains, finding any traveller in their path and making them feel the pain of starvation. Many a traveller were unlucky and died during this encounter, joining the ranks of the Hidarugami, hunting to spread their hunger. And it could be anytime before they come across a small campfire, in the middle of the woods… (que the clouds to cover the moon completely, the shadowy figure fades away, screams can be heard in the distance, frightened students running everywhere, dropping their s’mores)
While this isn’t necessarily a super scary story, you probably didn’t drop your s’mores, and there would be no way for me to post this blog from the woods 😉 I will just have to tell you of this interesting tale/creature that brings up both the topics of ghosts, which we have been going over in class, as well as yokai, which is what Group 6 is heavily focusing on.
The hidarugami are a type of ghost that can be found in the mountains of Japan. They are the souls of those, like my super scary story said, who died from starvation while being up in the mountains. They are not properly buried and so this can cause unrest among the spirits, allowing them to leave their bodies and haunt the mountains on which they died. Hidarugami will be near trails and mountain passes, making hikers suffer the same hunger pains that they suffered before death. If a hiker dies during this encounter, they join the ranks of the hidarugami, haunting the mountains forever.
So how does one defend themselves while traveling alone in the mountains?? Well first off, try not to travel alone, but lets not state the obvious. There is a simple way for preventing and/or surviving an attack from the hidarugami. All one must do is carry around a staple crop, a mouthful of rice or other grain. (They can also carry a bento or a couple of rice balls). When the hunger strikes, the prepared traveller will eat a bit of rice or part of their bento and the hunger will fade. However, exercise control and don’t eat all of the rice in one sitting. You never know when you might need more (que the ominous music).
The hidarugami occupies a special place in Japanese horror/warning tales because of the debate on what type of creature the hidarugami actually is. The way hidarugami is written uses both the katakana ヒダル (hidaru; most likely tied to the word 饑い hidarui which means hunger) and the kanji 神 (kami; god). This makes the word “hunger-god.” It is also fascinating to note that other “evil” gods are referred to in a similar way, namely the Binbogami (貧乏神; God of Poverty) and Shinigami (死神; God of Death). But is the hidarugami a god or a vengeful spirit? Is it a yokai or a yurei (ghost)??
Careful not to think too hard, your head might explode… It’s a trick question!! The answer, in this case, is always yes!
As a yokai, it is a type of Tsukimono, or a yokai that possesses the ability to possess people (pun intended). As a yurei, the hidarugami can be called either an evil spirit (akuryo 悪霊) or a vengeful spirit (onryo 怨霊). But they aren’t typical yurei since they actively pursue and create new members and are bound to a single location, the mountains in which they died. They can also be considered as muenbotoke (無縁仏). These are the unworshiped dead and there are special feasts held in order to let the spirits pass on and the hidarugami can usually be taken care of with one ceremony since it is not vey strong. And finally, they can be tied to Buddhism and the Gaki ( 餓鬼), the ghost of hunger from Chinese and Tibetan mythology. These spirits are created from gluttons who are forced to come back as fowl starving creatures that feed on gross things like dead bodies and poop.
Another cool fact is that the Japanese have a different yokai for those who die abandoned on a mountain and others who die in a battle or from a famine and remain unburied. The gashadokuro is a giant skeleton yokai that is born from the fallen soldiers of a battle who are buried in mass graves and/or the victims of famine who also receive poor, if any, funeral rites. They too are born as hungry spirits, driven by pain and hate, turning into a grudge against the living and manifesting in the giant skeleton which is powerful and impossible to kill!
So the moral of these stories are:
Never hike alone
Always carry rice balls/bentos with you
Please remember to properly bury your dead
Heed all of these things and you just might make it out of the woods and home in time for dinner.
There are many different types of Yokai that roam around the Japanese archipelago, from the mighty Oni to the slippery Kappa. With such variety of creatures one can only imagine if there is a leader among the madness. And what a leader it is.
From humble, uncertain beginnings, the Nurarihyon grew to be a prominent figure in the modern day understanding of yokai in Japan. Nurarihyon has an interesting role in both the media as well as social structures. In modern times, nurarihyon is seen as the supreme commander of the yokai and is a prominent figure in manga and anime. In the past, nurarihyon was an obscure figure that was eventually used to depict the social hierarchy of Edo Japan. In this post, I am going to go into his unknown origins, how he “evolved” into the yokai no oyadama, or “leader of Yokai,” and how this image has been shaped by media and politics throughout his history.
But before all that, let me set the stage by delving into the meaning(s) of his name. Michael Dylan Foster, author of The Book of Yokai mentions that “in a standard Japanese dictionary, the word nurarihyon ぬらりひょん is described as being synonymous with nurarikurari, which refers to something (or somebody) with no place to grab onto” (218). For me, this description is interesting both based on the type of yokaiNurarihyon is and the fact that his origin is grasping and mysterious, not really having a set place. The characters of his name are also interesting. They mean “slippery” 滑 “gourd” 瓢 (Nurarihyon). This depiction in characters may be based on his image, which depicts him with a long, bald cranium as well as his behavior which is slippery and hard to pin down. Foster also mentions a Japanese proverb about trying to catch a cat fish, which is often how Nurarihyon is physically compared to as looking like, with a gourd (Foster 218).
The origin stories of Nurarihyon vary and there is no set version. There is another yokai by the name nurarihyon, a spherical object that lives in the ocean and was once thought to be a type of Umi Bozu, an ocean yokai that is said to appear in calm waters and is a sign of a storm or danger to a ship(Davisson). This version of nurarihyon is said to bob in the waves and disappear whenever sailors would reach out to touch it, only to appear again further out of reach. Many people think that this could have been our modern day nurarihyon’s beginnings, evolving into the monk-like figure we have today. And in a way, they’ve got it right.
Some of the first written records and depictions of this yokai begin with Sawaki Sushi’s Hyakkai-zukan in 1737. While there is no record or mention of Nurarihyon’s nature, he is depicted as an old, monk-like figure with an elongated head (Foster 218).
A Folklorist, Fujisawa Morihiko, in 1929 “labeled an image of nurarihyon with the caption “leader of the yokai” (yokai no oyadama) (Foster 218). However, there is no reasoning as to why he gave nurarihyon that title.
By the 1970s, the modern concept of nurarihyon began to finalize with the addition of the Ichiban Kuwashi Nihon Yokai Zukan (Most Detailed Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japan’s Yokai). The title given to nurarihyon was that of Yokai Sodaisho, the Supreme Commander of Yokai (Davisson).
Mizuki Shigeru, a modern day manga author and anthropologist, has a comic that includes this yokai. Nurarihyon is said to not only be the leader of the yokai but also will sneak into your house and drink your tea and eat your food before disappearing (Foster 218).
One of the most common stories involving nurarihyon is as follows:
One hectic days when the household is running around with barely a second to think, Nurarihyon slips casually into the house and sits down to a cup of tea acting as if he were the Lord of the Manor. People who see him and the casual ease with which he takes authority assume that he must indeed be the Lord. They fall upon themselves serving him, and don’t realize how they have been deceived until he is gone (Davisson).
Now in modern media, popular anime and manga series, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan and Nurarihyon no Mago, portrays nurarihyon as the supreme commander of the yokai and the series follows the grandchild of nurarihyon and his yokai and human adventures.
With this history of nurarihyon established, we can now delve deeper into the mystery, both in origin and social implications, behind this yokai. As a potential water yokai, nurarihyon has had a constant tie to the water, whether through his origins or through his description as catfish-like. In the Ukiyoe-zushi kosniki Haidokubara there is only one sentence describing nurarihyon: “Nurarihyon looks like a catfish, without eyes or a mouth. It is a spirit of deception” (Davisson). While this image has not stayed with us, the term “catfish-like” and the deceptive nature has stuck with nurarihyon.
There is also some debate in his origin. In Murakami Kenji’s Yokai Dictionary, there is talk about how the modern-day image of nurarihyon is just the fabrication of Toriyama Seiken to match his drawing (Davisson).
It is also this drawing (to the right) in particular that sparks an interesting line of questioning with nurarihyon. The Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedia of Toriyama Sekein is a collection of Sekein’s four works along with modern commentary. This image from the encyclopedia depicts nurarihyon stepping off of a palanquin into a house wearing fancy robes and carrying a single sword. It is these characteristics that suggest the nature of this cartoon as a political one. The palanquin and fancy robes are symbols of wealth or prestige while the single sword defines this figure to be a wealthy townsperson instead of a samurai, in which case he would’ve carried two swords (Sekein).
Historical context of Toriyama Sekein’s drawing is set in the middle of the Edo Period (1615-1868). At this time, there were divisions of classes/people in the sense of honor and function. Samurai were the highest rank, followed by farmers, then artisans and merchants, which were often just thrown into the same category of chonin or “townsmen”. Merchants, however, were looked especially down upon since they themselves made none of the products they sold and their wealth came at the expense of others (Jansen 2000). It is this view of merchants that might have lead to nurarihyon being depicted as one. Jansen describes merchants being thought of as “parasitical, self-interested people” (Jansen 2000). Nurarihyon can be viewed as parasitical, as he takes advantage of a home. The Japandemonium Illustrated also goes into another source, the Seji Kenbonroku or Things I have Seen and Heard from 1812, that discusses the merchants rising status. “They rise above their status and look down on samurai…” (Sekein). Merchants also get described as loan sharks and more of that imagery can be seen in the picture (above) by the book that is in the house. This concept shows the established social orders were being challenged at the time the image was drawn, around the early 1800s. Merchants made up the lower levels of this social hierarchy, however, it is clear that they tried to rise above this and work to occur more wealth and status (Sekein).
Nurarihyon is not the only example of politics and Yokai being mixed during the Edo Period. After an earthquake in 1855, depictions of a namazu-e, or giant, earthquake causing catfish, began circulating, eventually taking on a life of their own to speak on or against troubles in the political systems (Smits 2006). In his article, Smits focuses on “the political consciousness among Edo commoners in 1855, and argues that they used the namazu-e to express an emerging consciousness of Japanese national identity” (Smits 2006).
Nurarihyon has had an interesting history and political significance through his claim to fame. From a humble beginning as an ocean yokai to an old, monk-like figure with no real purpose to a trickster with a taste for fancy tea and leadership, Nurarihyon has finally found a place to hold onto as a prominent yokai in modern day culture.
We decided on a new name! Our group name is now “Shudan Borei”. We chose this name because the kanji for these spirits translates to “Group of ghosts”, which we felt was very fitting!
The story of the Shudan Borei is as follows:
(This is a translation taken from Mujyara by Mizuki Shigeru)
The girls were all playing and swimming in the calm waters, enjoying the gentle lapping of the waves. Without warning, the water seemed to gather together, and a dark mass rose from the surface of the ocean. The mass took the shape of people in WWII air-raid hoods, dark in color, soaking wet and pouring water from every surface. As the mass rose, the figures become more defined, dressed in old-fashioned women’s work pants. There were hundreds of them.
The girls tried to get away, but the water seemed to be sucked up towards the dark figures, dragging the girls towards them. One of the girls who survived said she felt a hand grab her leg and try and pull her under the water. She was able to break the hands grasp and make her way to the shore, but her friends were not so lucky.
Afterwards, students who were on the beach and not in the water confirmed the story and all of its details. They saw the ghosts rising and dragging the girls under the water.
After investigating the incident, it was discovered that exactly ten years before the incident, U.S. aircraft had firebombed that area, killing around 250 people. The bodies were not cremated, but were piled without ceremony into a mass grave on that beach. In this way one tragedy became two tragedies, as the ghosts of the war dead rose up again.
The story of the Shudan Borei is based on an actual tragedy, the Kyohaku Junior High School Drowning Incident. A group of 36 school girls were practicing swimming in the ocean near their school, and all but nine drowned. All witnesses said that the waves suddenly swelled up, and five of the girls who survived said that it felt almost as if the sand underwater was grasping at them, trying to drown them.
We previously considered exploring the ties between several yokai throughout history and the context of the era that created them, and while we’ve not set the content of our podcast in stone yet, we felt that “Group of ghosts” would be a good name for our group.
Hello! We are Group 6 (name to be determined at a later date) and here are some interesting facts introducing us to you!
Eli Rue: Sophomore, Major: Behavioral Neuroscience, Favorite Book: Ringworld by Larry Niven, Fun Fact: Got a new sun tattoo before coming back to Centreterm, Why are you in this class? Really into History, always interested in Asian history in particular. Where are you from? Seattle, now Lexington. Hobbies: Video Gaming, Guitar, used to play Soccer.
Evan Whitis: Junior, Major: History, Fun Fact: Big San Diego Padres fan, Why are you in this class? Because the Ghana trip filled up before registration, Where are you from? Louisville, California, Hobbies: Play Video Games when not doing school work.
Lauren Moore: Sophomore, Major: History, Favorite Book: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Why are you in this class? Really like ghosts stories. Where are you from? Northern Kentucky, Hobbies: I like to Eat and I play Basketball.
Victoria Cummings: Junior, Major: Computer Science, Favorite TV Show: X Files, Why are you in this class? Because I already knew some random gods etc. so why not connect them all. Where are you from? Near Lexington, Hobbies: Work in Costume shop, sewing etc.
Zoe Doubles: Junior, Major: Classics and Anthro./Soc., Favorite TV Show: Supernatural, Favorite Book: Name of the Wind, Why are you in this class? It looked interesting, I’ve been interested in East Asian Culture, Where are you from? Virginia, Hobbies: Netflix and Volleyball.
Thanks for reading and keep your eyes peeled for more updates and cool information as we learn more!