Jun. 30th, 2009

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Hello and welcome to The Obscuritan. For the last (for now) in our Japanese Creatures articles, we’re departing from the previous format and discussing one creature in particular – the Yurei or ghosts – and the various forms in which they appear.

Ghosts ( – Rei) in Japan come under a variety of names. The most common is Yurei (faint spirits), although Borei (ruined spirits) and Shinryo (dead spirits) are occasionally used. In some popular culture, Ayakashi is also sometimes used, although this is technically only used for those who have drowned at sea. The process of becoming a ghost was, to the Japanese, similar to the one most people who believe would subscribe to, in that it arises from complications in “passing on”. Japan, like many Asian countries, maintains a strong belief in Ancestor Spirits, the ghosts of departed family members and historical clan members, some of whom over time may be promoted to the status of minor deities, particularly if they were the clan founders. Furthermore, the spiritual dimension of the afterlife was distinct from that occupied by gods and spirits, which overlapped closely with the material realm. This then necessitated a “crossing over” that the spirit (Reikon) must achieve in order to depart the mortal realm, a process aided by the prayers and offerings of incense given at funerals. However extreme emotion, usually of anger, hate and so forth, though sometimes of simply things like envy or grief, can cause either the person’s spirit itself or a part of it to remain behind, either seeking vengeance for its being wronged (assuming it can even remember the life it had) or simply expressing its fury and grief to anyone who crosses its path. Some are simply a “loop” of such anger that lashes out at bystanders, and as such are extremely dangerous. In some cases, too, the spirit of a living person can enter this state as an Ikiryo, similar to Astral Projection, as the result of great rage or hate, in order to deliver a curse to the object of their feelings.

As one might expect from a feudal (and therefore patriarchal) civilization where hardship was a common factor of the majority of the population’s lives, women faced a hard life and thus many of the more popular archetypal Yurei have been of women wronged by husbands, lords or just the simple facts of life. This is so prevalent that many associate the term Yurei exclusively with such female spirits (perhaps due to its similarity to the feminine name Yuri or Lily). Below we have illustrated some of the most well-known of these wronged women and their origins.

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