'AMOROUS' 好色 - ART PHOTO BOOK UPDATE: YUREI THE SPIRIT WORLD

The idea of a spirit world in Japan has existed since early literary works and historical texts in Chinese and Japanese.

When researching spirits in Japan they exist in many forms and terms; Yōkai (妖怪), Yūrei (幽霊), Obake (お化け), Oni (鬼) and Mononoke (物の怪). The particular terms do not encompass all Japanese words used. These spirits differ to the kami (神), divine beings or Gods worshipped in the religion of Shinto. Kami also represent spirits who can inhabit or exist as natural phenomena like the wind or thunder.

Yōkai has been described as the supernatural in Japanese literature, poetry, theatre and artwork. To further detail these unseen spirits they can be categorized with various attributes such as shapeshifters, vengeful or jealous apparitions, dead spirits and demons. They can be mischievous or benevolent depending on the history of the character. Kaidan (怪談) ghost stories became very popular during the Edo Period, but has existed throughout Japan's history and Shinto religion.

One such story which has survived and has been retold and adapted is the story of Okiku involving a number of cups or plates. Although the origin of the story is unknown, the tale of Okiku has been a source of inspiration for writers, artists and theatre performers. Adaptations to the original story have been rewritten into modern horror stories and movies.

During the Edo period ukiyo-e artists such as Katsyshika Hokusai(葛飾北斎) and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (月岡芳年) (also named Taiso Yoshitoshi 大蘇芳年) designed artwork based on the subject of Okiku, and the well.

Katsushika Hokusai

 Katsushika Hokusai

Okiku Emerging from a Well | Katsushika Hokusai
百物語 | Hyaku Monogatari |One Hundred Tales
Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper | 1831
Tokyo, Japan | Edo Period (1600-1868)

Translated from Sarayashiki Bengiroku (1785) :

The Yoshida Mansion sits in the 5th ward of Ushigome-Gomon. The lot on which it was built was once the home to the palace of Lady Sen before she made her journey to Akasaka in Edo in 1626. After that, another building once stood in that lot which was burned down to the ground—the home of the minor lord Aoyama Harima.

In the house of Aoyama a young girl named Okiku worked as a maidservant. On the second day of the second year of Jōō (Jan 2nd, 1653), Okiku accidently broke one of the ten precious plates that were the heirloom of the Aoyama clan. Harima’s wife was furious, and said that since Okiku had broken one of the ten plates it was fair to cut off one of Okiku’s ten fingers in return. The middle finger on her right hand was chosen, and Okiku was confined to a cell until the punishment could be carried out.

During the night, Okiku managed to slip her bonds and escape from her cell. She ran outside and threw herself into an unused well, drowning at the bottom.

The next night, from the bottom of the well came a woman’s voice. “1 … 2 … “ Soon, the sound of her voice could be heard echoing throughout the mansion, counting the plates. Everyone was so terrified their hair stood up all over their bodies.

Harima’s wife was pregnant, and when she gave birth her child was missing the middle finger on its right hand. News of this made it back to the Imperial Court, and the cursed Aoyama family were forced to forfeit their territories and holdings.

The sound of the counting of the plates continued. The Imperial Court held special ceremonies to calm Okiku’s spirit, but all in vain. At last, they sent a holy man to cleanse the spirit. That night, the holy man waited inside the house. He waited patiently as voice counted “ 8 … 9 …” and then he suddenly shouted “10!”

Okiku’s yūrei was heard to whisper “Oh, how glad I am” before she disappeared.

Translated by Zack Davisson [full text]

What makes the Yūrei interesting is the vengeful or melancholy nature of the character. A Yūrei can be caused by a violent ending to a person's life either through murder or suicide. Motivated by revenge, love, jealousy or sorrow; the yūrei exists on Earth until the emotional distress is resolved or by performing the correct ritual. Popular Kaidan in the form of theatre included the tragic story of Matsukaze and her sister Murasame, two fisher girls whose yūrei resides in a pine tree at Suma Bay and persists long after their lovers death in the play of Matsukaze (松風) Wind in the Pines depicted in Yoshitoshi's Ariwara no Yukihara.

Kōgyo Tsukioka

 Tsukioka Kōgyo

松風 | Scene from the Noh play "Matsukaze" | Tsukioka Kōgyo
Polychrome Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper | 1910
Tokyo, Japan | Meiji Period (1868-1912)

All images are in the public domain.

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