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.
Thank you for reading!!
Pictures- Google images