Shinto Tuesday – A Glimpse of Japanese Ghost Lore

Some international ghostly goodness from the master of all things occult, Raymond  Buckland

In the Japanese religion of Shintoism, deceased ancestors acquire the power of deities with supernatural attributes. Surviving relatives worship them by honoring their pictures, burning incense, and making offerings of food and drink. In this way, the ancestors are propitiated and will bring good luck to the family. They do have the potential for good or for evil, and their focus is on the same interests they held when alive. To the Japanese, the dead are no less than the living, taking part in the daily life of the family.

There are stories of ghosts of the ancestors materializing and remaining visible for years. For three days in July, there is the Festival of the Dead, at which time the deceased may return from the spirit world to look around at the country and to visit with the family. New mats are placed at all the family shrines, and fresh food is prepared and laid out ready for the ghosts’ return. Some Shinto sects perform a rite in which a person is selected to be possessed by an ancestral spirit. It is believed that then, with the spirit acting through the living person, healings may be performed and prophecies made.

Traditional ghosts are the Yurei, which hang around after death mainly to seek vengeance for something that happened in life. Many of them are female. The name means “faint/dim/hazy spirit.” The normal, non-vindictive spirit is the Reikon, which simply leaves the physical body and joins the other ancestors. Then there are the Yokai, or “bewitching apparitions.” These always appear at dawn or dusk and include monsters and spirits like goblins. It’s said that they sometimes steal small children. The Obake or Bakemono are general terms for preternatural beings of any sort and include the Yurei and Yokai but can also include anything strange and unusual.

In recent years, many ghosts have appeared in otherwise ordinary family photographs. These usually are seen as extra faces or – in a large number of cases – extra hands in the picture. There have also been sightings in Japanese videos. For example, an amateur video taken of a girl on a moving train, when slowed, showed a partially transparent figure of a girl outside the window. The sighting was at a section of track where more than one person had committed suicide by jumping from the train.

Shinrei Shashin us a phrase used to describe photos where ghosts or spirits decide to show all or part of themselves when a photo is taken. Shinrei Shashin is a popular subject on Japanese TV.

from The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts, by Raymond Buckland

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One thought on “Shinto Tuesday – A Glimpse of Japanese Ghost Lore

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of my deceased relatives showed up here one of these days… While I do believe we go for a next level in post-death, I do believe many times we are visited by those already gone. Not with superpowers or anything like that (too TV-show for me), but as they were before dying.

    Excellent post as usual, thanks for sharing!

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