Halloween in Japan

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Halloween in Japan: no trick or treat, but scary spots galore

Special to The Japan Times Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
Japanese people generally have a well developed appreciation for the supernatural, and while the American practice of ringing doorbells in the neighborhood to demand “trick or treat” has yet to take root, Halloween-related events continue to grow in popularity.

Seasonal parties, variously called 仮装パーティー (kasō pātī, costume party) or 仮面舞踏会 (kamen butō-kai, masquerade ball) began catching on some years ago. “Kawasaki Halloween,” Japan’s largest event of its kind and now in its 16th year, features a parade of 3,500 costumed participants. Weather permitting, it will have been held yesterday in front of JR Kawasaki Station.

Many amusement parks in Japan feature year-round scary attractions called お化け屋敷 (obake yashiki, haunted houses). The kanji used to write お化け (obake, ghost) is also read ka, and means change or transformation. It appears in many words such as 化学 (kagaku, chemistry), 酸化 (sanka, oxidation) or 悪化 (akka, deterioration). Although nothing to do with the supernatural, computers occasionally display 文字化け (mojibake, garbled characters).

Another useful creepy verb to know is 呪う (norou), meaning to put a hex or curse on someone. If a person suffers repeated misfortunes, one might be moved to remark, あの人は呪われているようだ (ano hito wa norowarete iru yō da, that person seems to be under a curse).

Japan’s native form of voodoo, called 呪術 (jujutsu, sorcery), can be traced back as far as the eighth century. It is typically performed by driving a 釘 (kugi, nail) into the torso of a ワラ人形 (wara ningyō, a doll made of straw), in a rite called 丑の刻参り (ushi no koku mairi, ritual at the hour of the ox — which according to the old timekeeping system was between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m).

Tokyo has several authentically scary places you can visit. The first is Taira no Masakado’s 首塚 (kubizuka, skull mound), located in Tokyo’s Otemachi business district. A high-ranking warrior, Masakado was killed in a battle in 940 while leading a failed rebellion against the central government. Even in recent times 平将門の祟り (Taira no Masakado no tatari, the curse of Taira no Masakado) has defied numerous attempts to build on or pave over the supposedly skull-housing mound, which is now flanked by modern office buildings.

Some believe that 背を向けたら祟られる (se wo muketara tatarareru, if you show your back [to the mound] you’ll be struck by the curse), and it was long rumored that in the offices of Mitsui & Co., located immediately adjacent to the site, employees’ desks were arranged so as not to show disrespect. This, however, was debunked in a recent issue of Shukan Gendai magazine in which Mitsui’s PR spokesman remarked, 「方角を気にして机を配置してはいない」 (“Hōgaku wo ki ni shite tsukue wo haichi shite wa inai,” “We don’t give undue attention to direction when arranging the desks”).

Masakado’s kubizuka is located at 1-2-1 Otemachi, about 70 meters from the C5 exit of Otemachi subway station.

A short walk from Yotsuya 3-chome on the Marunouchi subway line, at 17-Samoncho, Shinjuku-ku, is a small shrine called Oiwa Inari. Built in 1717, it is located at the home of a woman named Oiwa who died in 1636 after allegedly being poisoned by her husband Tamiya Iemon, who coveted her inheritance. Oiwa’s 怨霊 (onryō, vengeful spirit) returned and drove Iemon and his new wife to madness and death. The story was dramatized by playwright Tsuruya Namboku in 1825 in his famous 東海道四谷怪談 (“Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan”, the “Ghost Story of Yotsuya”), and has been filmed several dozen times.

A third scary spot worth visiting is 鈴が森刑場 (Suzugamori Keijo), one of several execution grounds that travelers in olden times would pass when entering Edo. It may be reached by walking south for about 15 minutes from Tachiaigawa Station on the Keikyu Line, along a remaining section of the 旧東海道 (Kyu-Tokaido, Old Eastern Sea Road) that linked Edo and Kyoto.

The grounds, which were in use until 1871, are now only a small triangular sliver of land between the Daiichi Keihin highway and the old Tokaido. Before reaching Suzugamori, one crosses a bridge called 涙橋 (Namidabashi, the Bridge of Tears), said to be the point where relatives traditionally bade final farewells to the condemned.

By the way, a superstitious person is said to be 迷信深い (meishin-bukai). The word for superstition, 迷信 (meishin) translates as “confused beliefs.”

For a Fukushima-style fright, check out Mark’s recent visit to the former home and burial site of 安達が原の鬼婆 (Adachigahara no Onibaba, the Demon-hag of Adachigahara), at: www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20121021x1.html.

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