Hyaku Monogatari Kaidankai

Image via Wikipedia

It is late July, during the time of summer when the Bon Odori, the “Dance of the Dead” is taking place in the village square. After the festivities, you are invited to your neighbor’s home.

It is nightfall and you walk eagerly to the host house knowing that the game of Hyakumonogatari KaidankaiA Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales will take place. (It was popular in the Edo Period of Japan, 1603 to 186).

As you enter the house, you find a room where one hundred candles flicker with yellow-white lights. You take your seat next to the boy who runs errands for the neighborhood grocer. Then you wait as one by one, each guest takes a turn telling stories about kaidan–strange, mysterious, rare or bewitching apparition of which you get you turn as well.

You finish your story, about an Obake shape-shifter that terrifies the maid of a wealthy samurai and then you walk nervously toward the candle closest to you. With a single puff of breath from you lips, the light goes out leaving a trail of smoke floating up toward your face. You turn and hurry back to your seat.

After each ghostly tale, sworn to be the solemn truth, the storyteller blows one more of the candles out. Little by little, the room grows darker and darker. That’s when you start to hear a strange tap, tap, tapping from outside the circle of friends and neighbors. You wonder if the others hear it as well. The grocer’s boy shakes his head when you ask him, but his eyes have grown wide with… fear?

Nervously, you look around the increasingly dark room. Maybe it was just a tree limb scratching the window. Or a rat gnawing at a baseboard of the wall behind you. And that cold breeze you feel blowing up the back of you neck, surely comes from a draft, an open window or door.

But as the last storytelling reaches the end of their grisly tale, you would swear you see a flicker of something pale and unearthly in a dark corner of the room. Then as the last story ends and the storyteller steps toward the last flickering candle, you will swear you see a ghostly visage hovering next to the woman’s face who sits directly across from you. It reminds you of the Obake you told about in your story. A second later the last candle is blown out…

Image found at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/all-the-fun-of-the-scare-2345815.html

Other Links:

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia: Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyakumonogatari_Kaidankai

 Kaidan   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaidan

Hyakumonogatari Kaidankaai    http://hyakumonogatari.com/what-is-hyakumonogatari/ This site is especially exciting since it contains not only the history of the fame, but many of the ghostly tales themselves from Japan.

Obon, the Dance of the Dead (Japanese Festival)

In the village square, Chinese lanterns and fireflies cast a ghostly glow over the tightly packed shops and houses along the narrow avenue. The sound of clapping hands and beating drums draw you toward a drum tower, situated just below the elevated train station. Atop it, men and boys, dressed in dragon coats, with matching scarves tied around their heads, slam mallets against the sides of drums both large and small.

Dressed in colorful yukata of cherry blossoms, soaring white cranes, and glittering fans with ribbons, women dance in a circle around the drum tower as they sway to the hypnotic “dance of the dead.” Their flowing hands and the drums’ beat call for the dead to arise and join in the celebration, as the spicy scent of cooked sausage floats on the jasmine breeze.

In the willow trees that grow along the street cicadas creep from their brittle shells. The lure of their castanet song adds to the intoxicating beat. The dancers, the drum tower and the crowds of people seem to swirl and bob around you, like a magical dream.

To your surprise, someone whispers in your ear, words from Matsu Basho, master haiku poet.

“Temple bells die out.

The fragrant blossoms remain.

A perfect evening!”

You turn to find a pair of smoldering eyes, like polished jade, gazing into your own. A white prayer scarf, painted with red kanji calligraphy, wraps the apparition’s ashen forehead, pulling long black hair away from its ghostly face and neck.

You stare, dumbfounded as people stroll by, unaware that “something” not of this world, stands in front of you. A small boy, twirling a plastic pin wheel, walks straight through the apparition’s chest. The image flickers as if it might go out like a candle flame as the ghostly image bows respectfully toward you.

“Moonlight and magic,” you whisper. Your thoughts swarm like bees in the summer heat, so fast you can hardly grasp their meaning.

The sharp pounding of the barrel taiko yanks your attention back toward the drum tower. Everything around you seems to spin in slow motion and then tilt-a-whirl fast making you so dizzy you almost lose your balance.

When the spinning stops, you find the apparition has disappeared. You shake your head and walk away, whispering beneath your breath, “It was only a dream.”

Further reading:

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: Bon Festival http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival

You Tube: Traditional Japanese Obon dance http://is.gd/aSQUEy

You Tube: KODO – Heartbeat Video 2007 http://is.gd/0ktCPX

Sample chapters from LEGEND OF THE CHERRY JEWEL, a romantic, fantasy, action-adventure set in feudal and modern-day Japan http://lediarunnels27221912.wordpress.com/