Friday, October 16, 2009

Japanese Female Ghosts

For my first Hello Japan! challenge entry, I read the article, Ghosts, Demons and Spirits in Japanese Lore by Norman A. Rubin which was suggested by challenge host, In Spring It Is The Dawn.

First, I should point out that the challenge post by In Spring It Is The Dawn stated this interesting bit on the release of horror movies in Japan:

Summertime is actually the peak season for horror movies in Japan. Apparently the idea is that watching a frightening, spine-tingling, chilling movie helps cool you down from the oppressive heat and humidity of the Japanese summer.

Hmmm, it would be interesting to test this out next Summer with some J-Horror DVDs. When the adrenaline is pumping, wouldn't one be warmer instead of cooler?

OK, back to the Rubin article. This is the paragraph that caught my attention:

Most creatures in stories of unfortunate spirits were women. They were vengeful ghosts, and the greater the misery endured by the woman during her lifetime, the more threatening her ghostly spirits would be after her death. Cruelty to women is a recurring theme in Japanese lore and legend.

After which, I did a little googling on Japanese women ghosts and came across this statement:

...the onryo is the particular type of female ghost that is so popular in Japanese horror—a vengeful spirit that takes revenge on the society at large. While onryo in the past may have taken out their aggression only occasionally on the outside world, these modern onryo are now pitting themselves against an entire patriarchal society with no remorse for who gets in their path.
-Japanese Ghosts and Feminist Theory by the Rice Cracker Review

and also found this:

Wikipedia says:
that Japanese female ghosts traditional portrayed wearing white clothing, which is the color of funeral garb in Japan. They have long, often unkempt black hair, which comes from Kabuki theater where each character has a particular type of wig that identifies them to the audience.

After reading these articles, my Women Studies background was triggered. I decided to take a deeper look into the Japanese female ghost world for the October challenge.

Before venturing into a current J-Horror flick (like Ju-on or Ringu) involving female ghosts, I've put in my Netflix order for the classic Kaidan (1964) which I should get sometime next week. It houses four ghost stories which include a famous female ghost, Snow Woman. I remember watching this movie on TV with subtitles in black-n-white. I don't remember it too well. But I do remember getting spooked by it. I'm looking forward to the re-watch. Also looking forward to the colorized version and wonder if it will be as effective in the scariness factor.

Care to join me?

*image source of Kayako from movie Ju-on

*part of my Hello Japan! challenge

*realized this works for my Helluva Halloween challenge


  1. Is that the chick from the Ring? Either way, I think I'm going to have nightmares just looking at that picture...I had to scan the rest of your post I was so freaked out.

  2. Oh man. That picture is giving me the creeps. It's interesting learning about the history of Japanese ghost characters. I didn't know white was a funeral color. Very interesting...

  3. Mary D

    UGHH. That picture completely gives me the creeps, don't know what it's from but I hope I never accidentally watch the movie lol

    My daughter is a huge Japan-buff, can partially speak the language and is really into the culture. I wonder if she's heard of the onryo...

    Anyway, thanks for giving me nightmares for a week hahaha

  4. Oh my, what a COOL POST! :) I totally missed the link to the Rubin article in tanabata's host post, but I'll remember to check it out now.

    Did you know there's a female ghost in the very first novel, Genji Monogatari, as well?

  5. I love J-horror. If you haven't seen the Japanese version of Dark Water, check it out. I'm obsessed with that movie. One of the best movies ever made.

    Besides movies, the Japanese also write some good horror novels.

  6. @Brian James: what a coincidence that you're mentioning this, I just saw that movie as MY entry for the Hello Japan challenge!

    But I wanted to reply @J.T.: I don't think it is the woman from Ringu -- she is waaaaay more creepy! ;) Right, velvet?

  7. ooo, sorry to creep you all out.

    J.T. the pic is from Ju-on aka The Grudge

    L.H. - i like how the pic uses a white modern-looking dress instead of a flowy-puffy kind. it gives off a more "realistic" look for these days.

    Mary Ann - interesting bit about your daughter. yes, get her thoughts on onryo. i'm curious.

    Gnoe - i haven't read Monogatari... yet. my little experience J-horror is with Out by Natsuo Kirino

    Brian - cool, thanks for the Dark Water recommendation

  8. ALmost all of the scary movies are remakes from Japan, the Grudge, the Ring...They are a bit too scary for me unless I had someone to watch them with and my hubby won't watch a scary movie with a ten foot I just watch the ones I know I can handle! Great post on Japanese feminism!

  9. That picture is FREAKY. I don't know that I've ever read any Japanese ghost stories, and the only ones I've seen weren't so much Japanese as they were American adaptations of Japanese films...

  10. Very cool! I'm so glad that you were inspired to look up more on Japanese female ghosts. And thanks for taking part in the Hello Japan! mini-challenge.


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