The Myths of the Middle-aged Japan

After “The Ring” movie was released the European viewers found out that the ghost stories also exist in Japan. The words “kaidan” and “neo-kaidan” started to sound everywhere. But if there are the new kaidans there must be the old ones.

Probably someone may remember the “Kwaidan” movie by Masaki Kobaysi telling the four supernatural stories combined in one film. The name of the film is an archaic transcription of the word “kaidan” denoting the mysterious or creepy story”. The film was awarded a special prize on the Cannes movie festival. However it cannot be called a typical example of the genre which was extremely popular in Japan in 50s and 60s but completely unknown outside its border.

Kaidans were traditional elements of the Japanese culture during a long period of time, but the term itself appeared only in the Edo epoch in the sixteenth century. Firstly is was the tradition of storytelling. The custom of a hundred kaidans existed in the middle-aged Japan. The country inhabitants gathered used to gather on one of the houses late in the evening, and a hundred of candles was lighted. Everyone had to tell a scary story after which one of the candles was blown out. The night was passing, some of the people were falling asleep and the border between reality ind imaginary world was getting more and more vague. According to the old legend when the last candle was blown out something awful always happened to those who weren’t sleeping. Of course the tension was growing as it became darker in the room.

On the edge of the seventeenth century the Japanese culture had a prolific period. A lot of books were published and the kaidan miscellanies were extremely popular. The consisted of the stories written down in various provinces.During the nineteenth century kaidans became prominent part of the Kabuki theater repertoire. But the tradition of the storytelling still remained popular.

But what plots were popular in these creepy stories? The world of the mystic and dangerous creatures is very variable in Japan. The people believed that they were surrounded by the dangerous and dreadful creatures which could be either really harmful or just very frightening.

The lakes and rivers were supposed to be full of yokais, whose pictures remind us of mermen and nixes. Except the customary creatures one could also meet some odd monsters there, for example the strange being which was looking as an old shabby umbrella. The last one was considered to be harmless.

If a someone was caught up at night in the forest he could hear the sound of tam-tams. The wayfarer started moving towards the possible source of the sound and appeared himself in a totally unknown place. The mysterious musicians were racoons called “tanuki”. They were believed to be the greatest pranksters and sometimes appeared to be dangerous. Some of the were supposed to have the ability to turn into women and deceive the people of the villages situated near the rivers.

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