Samurai and the Supernatural

For those who have never heard of creepypasta, let me explain. It has nothing to do with food. Creepypastas are horror related stories or images that have been copy-and-pasted around the internet. They began on message boards and forums. The entries are often user-generated, paranormal and urban myth type stories intended to scare readers.

But leave aside the internet and where else do such stories proliferate? How do urban legends and folklore myths spread? By word of mouth of course, as campfire tales and sleepover narrations. So the real ancestor of creepypastas may be found in Japan. Given the popularity of recent Japanese horror films and their American remakes I no longer have to explain to people that Japan does the genre really well.

Samurai confronting ghost woman in waterfall

By Tsukioka Yoshitoshi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What a lot of people still don’t know is that before the internet and creepypasta, the people passing around scary stories and trying to frighten the wits out of one another were the samurai. A popular evening’s entertainment in Edo period Japan was the game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語怪談会, which literaly means A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales. While the exact origins are unknown, it was believed that it was first played by samurai, who were pretty fearless against anything a sword could deal with, but were just as creeped out by the supernatural as anyone. Between battles they had a lot of time to kill  even with constant training (oh dear, didn’t see that pun until edit, it stays) and needed entertainment like anyone else. In any event it became very popular with them.

As night fell three separate rooms were set aside. In the third room 100 andon, oil wick lanterns with paper shades, would be lit. Then a single mirror would be placed on a small table. When it became totally dark, everyone gathered in in the first room, and took turns orating tales of ghoulish encounters and anecdotes passed on by villagers or merchants who claimed to have had supernatural encounters. These stories became known as kaidan. After reciting his kaidan, the story-teller would go back through the darkness to the third room and put out an andon, look in the mirror and return to the group. With the end of each story, all the rooms grew darker. As the participants reached the one hundredth tale the darkness created an environment for the summoning of spirits. However, as they reached the ninety-ninth tale, the game would often end, as nervous participants regretted the idea of actually evoking supernatural beings.

Keyamura Rokusuke struggling with three kappa (water demons)I would love to get my hands on the source volume where one story of the game was recorded. In this instance the samurai had played the game right to the end, trying to outdo each other in the horror of the stories. In some circles it was said to be a test of courage and no samurai liked his courage challenged. So one samurai told the 100th tale and as he went to put out the andon, reflected in the mirror to the other room was the shadow of a giant gnarled hand descending on him from above. While some of the other samurai began to show fear, this man kept his cool, drew his sword and with one swipe cut the thread of a lowering spider, then returned to sneer at his less self-controlled companions.

Keyamura Rokusuke struggling with three kappa (water demon)Eventually the game spread to the merchant class and even the working class. With this spread came a desire for newer and original kaidan, and people people began scouring the countryside for stories of the supernatural. These stories often contained themes of karma and vengeance or told of encounters with the innumerable supernatural beings of Japan like kappa, tengu and other demons. With the advent of printing, the stories were collected into books like the famous Ugetsu Monogatari, Tales of Moonlight and Rain. These books often used the term Hyakumonogatari in the title, and the stories’ popularity  continued long after the game had been abandoned.  I think it might be fun to revive the game, but at one hundred stories it would be hard to round up enough people. Even if you could it would be an up all night sort of thing. Still, it has possibilities.

I have enjoyed sharing my October favorites and would like to share more. I wish I had known I could do this sooner but here it is. I am doing a random giveaway of a ghost story book. If any of my recommendations appealed to you check it out. I wanted it to go a little longer but for some reason it limited me. Still, I think this will be a recurring thing in various forms (perhaps Blu Rays or DVDs) if it appeals to people. Enjoy.

About angela1313

I am a cat lover, a writer, and an overextended blogger trying to foster for a cat rescue, finish a Master's degree and rehab a fixer upper house i bought.
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