Now Reports

Scary Summer!

The word urameshiya itself curdles the blood of many Japanese. Roughly meaning ‘reproachful,’ it is the lament of those who have died and become ghosts rather than finding eternal peace because of the deep grudge they bear. And on that cheery note, so begins our scaaaary summer issue. Watch your back!

It’s summer again and in Japan that means it’s time for ghost stories and testing your pluck in the face of fear. In July and August the famous ‘Tokaido Yotsuya Ghost Tale’ is traditionally performed on the kabuki stage, and in rakugo, the one-man narrators seldom miss the chance to spin spooky tales. Just because you’re from overseas don’t tell me you can’t relate. Haven’t you got horror movies, vampires and the boogie man? Booo! Of course you do. But what’s that got to do with summer? Read on, scaredy-cat! Actually it’s all about trying to feel cooler on sweltering summer nights. Ever been chilled-to-the-bone with fright? You have? Well there you go: reason number one. Then, there’s O-bon, the festival of the dead, a ceremony held every August when Japanese families welcome back the spirits of their ancestors. And sadly, throughout history there have been many tragic events associated with the season. Summer has also traditionaly been a time of disease and famine, making the season’s eerie connection with ghosts dead easy to understand.

While you might find it stimulating to know just how much ghost tales color culture and history, superstitions keep close company and show themselves in many facets of life and culture. Though not everyone is superstitious, a huge percentage of the Japanese population are apparently believers. The easiest to grasp are the so-called ‘calendar superstitions’ such as ‘Day of the Dog.’ There maybe plenty of people who say they don’t give a hoot about superstitions, but even they would avoid holding funerals or weddings on unlucky days. Since many of these beliefs have close ties with the spiritual world, we’re going to start with superstitions in Japan and the rest of the world, and then introduce a few infamous places in Fukuoka you had better avoid (at night!).

There’s a whole slew of Japanese superstitions from the days of yore. Knowing something about their origins might make sense of them. Bone up on your Japanese superstitions, or be prepared for more bad luck and trouble than a world of black cats and broken mirrors can deliver…

Don’t put new shoes on in the afternoon!
Feet swell during the day, so new shoes will feel too tight if put them on in the afternoon. Try them on in the morning and let them stretch.

Don’t sleep with your pillow pointed north!
The deceased are laid with their heads pointing north, so it’s considered unlucky to lie that way. Incidentally, bones of the dead are passed with chopsticks in funeral rites, so you should never pass food to others with chopsticks, either.

Broken thongs are a bad omen.
There’s a chance your fortunes will head south if your day begins with a broken thong. You girls don’t need to be told this, do ya?

When you hear thunder, lightning has snatched someone’s belly button!
When it rains, the temperature falls and it’s easy for children to catch colds. This myth frightens kids into keeping their bellies covered…

Cleaning toilets help keep your looks or ensures you’ll have pretty offspring.
One of the seven gods of fortune, Bentensama, loiters around toilets, so when you clean them, some of her beauty will rub off on you. A strong incentive for women to clean the loos!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

It’s a Superstitious World!
Hello! Joe from England here. I talked with students from all over the world to find out what THEY worry about. In England, you shouldn’t open umbrellas indoors or plan anything important on Friday the 13th. But be sure to cross your fingers when you make a wish; you might get lucky on a hot date!

Adriano, Brazil “Always get out of bed with your right foot first, or you will have a bad day.”
In many cultures, the left side is associated with the Devil. The English word ‘sinister,’ for example, comes from the Latin word for ‘left.’ Spooky, eh?

Roxana, Iran “Stop what you’re doing if you sneeze, or it will bring bad luck.”
Sneezing was traditionally regarded as a harbinger of illness in many cultures, and is, therefore, a sign of bad luck. (Incidentally, in Britain we say, ‘bless you’ any time a person sneezes.)

Mohsen, Egypt “Bad luck will follow if you leave a slipper or a shoe turned upside down, or a pair of scissors open.”
Even if you are not superstitious, I would heed the advice about the scissors…

Sandrine, France “When you toast a person, look in their eyes as your glasses touch. Otherwise, you will get seven years of bad sex. Or worse, no sex at all!”
The number seven has many superstitions attached.

Barassou, Senegal “Naming a male child ‘Solomon’ will bring him a life of misfortune.”
King Solomon is a legendary and revered figure in Senegal, so no one should try to imitate him by taking his name.

Tar, Thailand “Women shouldn’t sing in the kitchen, or they will end up unmarried or with an old spouse.”
Singing means you aren’t concentrating on the cooking. Besides, you might spit in the food by mistake!

Jan, Slovakia “Don’t eat chicken or other birds on New Year’s Day or your luck for the whole year will fly away.”
You should eat lentils, instead. They are a symbol of money and will bring you riches in the following year.

Cho-bi, China “No man should wear a green hat in China. It means his wife is cheating on him.”
A cuckold used to be called a ‘turtle,’ probably because turtles hide inside their shell when trouble comes. The color green symbolizes this animal.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Scary Spots in Fukuoka
There are a few sites in Fukuoka that generate wary whispers because of rumors surrounding them – places where ghosts have been seen, or where people have had someノ well, let’s say supernatural experiences. Drop in on a few this summer to see how tough you are!

Yoneichimaru Shrine
A powerful Kyoto lord fell in love with the beautiful wife of Yoneichimaru, and sent him on a fool’s errand to Hakata where he was ambushed and killed by 400 men. His wife, Yachiyo, journeying all the way to the Hakozaki Matsubaru area to honor his grave, took her own life there. Until recently there was a railroad crossing at the supposed location of her death. However, the shrine there obviously hasn’t appeased her spirit; numerous accidents have occurred there, and some years ago a university student committed suicide at the spot. Kids are told to be extra careful at this creepy crossing, and maybe you should, too!


Breaking Bonds
On her way to marry into the Habu household, in present-day Sawara-ku, Princess Okono heard news of the death of her betrothed, and took her own life. The death of her fiance, however, had been a lie spread by someone with a grudge against the Habus. If you want a couple to break up, visit the memorial in Noke, Sawaru-ku. Here’s how it works, gather some shavings from the stone memorial and slip them into the beverage of the person whose relationship you want to destroy. People come from all over Japan to inject some ill will on others. You can wish sickness and other evils on people by writing curses on wooden tablets at the shrine.

Presumed Guilty!
The proverb, ‘made to wear wet clothes,’ meaning to be falsely accused, originated here in Hakata. A Kyoto lord, Sanonochikayo, was dispatched to Chikuzen to govern the province. Along the way, he lost his wife, and married another woman. Unfortunately, this second wife disliked the lord’s daughter, and set her up, by telling the lord that his daughter was seeing a lowly fisherman. The wet clothes hanging in her room were given as evidence. When the lord checked, surprise, surprise, wet clothes were hanging there. His daughter, Haru-hime, maintained her chaste innocence, but to no avail. Outraged, the lord killed his daughter, who is said to have become a ghost pleading her innocence. A small memorial remains in Hakata-ku to console her spirit.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Creepy & Vicious Creatures!
Ghosts! Superstitions! Maybe these things don’t get under the skin of most foreign residents, but here are a few we highly recommend you be wary of.

Kappa: These web-handed slimy skinned turtle-like freaks carry water on the bald spot on their heads. They are the dread of any country kid, but you know what? Nobody’s ever seen one! Parents tell their kids, ‘Don’t get too close to lakes or rivers, or kappa will get you!’ Incidentally, there’s a folk legend in Fukuoka that a doctor in Daimyo made a fortune by studying them for the secrets of re-patching limbs. Fact or fiction – best to be aware of these water nymphs too!

Mukade: Centipedes are known as ‘hundred legs’ in Japanese as well. Though these nasty insects dwell under stones and fallen leaves and in warm, dark places, they don’t really have a hundred legs! But they do pack some potent poison in their spurs, and if you get zapped, you should immediately pinch them out and smash their heads. Run the wound under water, and squeeze the poison out, then bolt for the hospital. Expect some swelling, and oh yes, plenty of pain.

Mammushi: Much scarier than centipedes. These poisonous vipers range from 45 to 77cm long, and are pretty common in Kyushu. Stay away from them! Their poison is usually not lethal, but more than a few people have died from their bite. If bitten, slither slowly to a hospital. If you run, the poison will circulate throughout your system faster, which ain’t good.

Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn80 Aug. 2005)


Fukuoka City
Published: Aug 1, 2005 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.