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Started by MisterCat, November 20, 2006, 02:06:06 AM

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"Yurei," Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Mangajin #40: Japanese Ghosts


Literally, "dim/hazy/faint spirit":  spirits of the dead who remain among the living for a specific purpose, usually to seek vengeance. Yurei generally appear between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m.

Attributes of yurei

According to Shinto beliefs, all people are endowed with a spirit or a soul, called reikon. When a person dies, the reikon leaves the body and joins the souls of its ancestors, provided the correct funeral and post-funeral rites have been performed. Ancestral souls are a comforting presence; they are believed to protect the family and are welcomed back to the home every summer during the obon festival.

However, when a person dies in an unexpected manner or with an excess of emotion, or when he or she hasn't been given an appropriate funeral, the reikon may become a yurei, a tormented ghost who remains among the living in order to seek revenge or take care of unfinished business.

In the beginning, yurei were visually indistinguishable from their original human selves. Then, in the late 17th century, as kaidan ("ghost stories") became increasingly popular in literature and in the theater, yurei began to acquire certain attributes which continue to characterize them today. It is believed that the main purpose of these attributes was to make it easier to distinguish yurei in art and on the stage from ordinary, living characters.

Most of the yurei's characteristics derive from Edo-period funeral rituals. For example, they appear in white, the color in which people were buried at that timeââ,¬â€either in white katabira (a plain, unlined kimono) or in kyokatabira (a white katabira inscribed with Buddhist sutras). Yurei also appear with a white triangular piece of paper or cloth on their foreheadââ,¬â€usually tied around the head with stringââ,¬â€called hitaikakushi (literally, "forehead cover"). These were originally conceived to protect the newly dead from evil spirits, but eventually became just part of the ritual ornamentation of Buddhist funerals.

Yurei began to appear without legs in the mid-18th century, as part of the movement toward increasingly lurid and gruesome kaidan. Some attribute this new characteristic to Maruyama Ohkyo, a well-known artist of the time. In the theater, actors portraying yurei wore long kimono to cover their legs, and were often hung by a hidden rope to appear more yurei-like. The outstretched arms and dangling hands typical of yurei also arose as a convention of the theater.