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Culture

Harvest Horrors: 5 Japanese Ghosts to Fear in Fall

The harvest season in Japan is associated with a mixture of horrific and helpful yokai spirits.

By 4 min read

What is it about the harvest season that is so horrifying? Perhaps it is the importance that the season used to have or how it heralds the end of the productive season and the beginning of the barren season. Still, harvest is associated with some of the most terrifying monsters ever. Think of the terrors of Children of the Corn or Blair Witch Project in America.

Harvest horrors in Japan tend to be very different from other countries. Gaijinpot goes in search of the horrors of the harvest featuring some yokai (creatures from Japanese folklore) you probably haven’t heard of.

1. Amabie

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Cute? Creepy? You decide.

Nowadays when walking around the streets of Japan, you may see a small, mermaid-looking creature on public health and safety campaigns and charms. This creature has three legs, a beak and fish-like scales, far removed from Hollywood’s beautiful Ariel or Madison.

This mermaid is important because it predicts either an abundant harvest or disease. Back in ancient Japan, these were the two things that were most longed for and feared. According to legend, keeping an image of the creature would ensure the former was likelier.

2. Kudan

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Similar to the minotaur of Greek myth.

Everything you need to know about the kudan is made clear by looking at the original Chinese character used to write its name (件), as it is made up of the radicals for person and cow. Yep, the kudan is a cow-person not that different from the minotaur of Greek myth.

The appearance of the kudan predicted that the harvest would be abundant and that having an image of it would ensure a bountiful harvest.

This is likely a sign of the importance of cows as beasts of burden in the harvest season. Interestingly, the spread of the legend hit wildfire proportions during the Tenpou famine (1833-1837), therefore, many scholars consider its popularity to be an early example of an urban myth with people suddenly looking for any means to ensure that the harvest would be better.

3. Myobu 

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A scene taken from Hiroshige’s “Fox Fires on New Year’s Eve at the Garment Nettle Tree at Oji.”

While the association between the rice harvest and foxes may not be readily apparent, a special type of fox called a myobu is associated with the harvest in Japan.

In Tokyo’s Ouji area, there was a belief that a gathering of foxes would occur in harvest time, heralding a prosperous year ahead. Their presence was heralded by mysterious lights called kitsunebi (literal fire of the foxes) that would illuminate the area.

Additionally, the foxes’ reddish coloring is similar to that of newly ripened rice; their tails are said to resemble rice sheaths. In early farming communities, it was said that foxes, especially white foxes, were the messengers of an entity known as ta-no-kami (Spirit of the rice fields), considered an agricultural deity.

4. Kainan Houshi 

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While challenging such wild yokai is dangerous, they can be appeased.

Aside from the lights of kitsunebi, farmers would also look out for other lights called kainan houshi. The lights from kainan houshi signaled when seafarers met their deaths in the sea, their salty souls riding phantom boats created at the moment of their horrendous deaths.

People are advised to avoid these apparitions. Legends tell of hapless locals opening their doors to them and going mute or people tracking them and returning home with their clothes caked in blood. People near the sea where these entities were seen were advised to leave the house with a bag over their head and never look in the direction of the ocean in case out of the corner of your eye you caught the sight of a bright light.

In the Izu islands, farm folk would block their doors with false holly and mock orange trying to block out any chance of seeing that speck of light that heralded the presence of the salt-soaked spirits. However, assuming you survived the night, the next day the sprigs could be burned and the loud snaps and crackles of the burning plants would signal the coming of a bountiful harvest, a small gift from the devils of the deep.

5. Himeuo

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Pictures of the creature are called Jinja Hime and were often found in Japanese homes during harvest season.

The ancient Japanese scholar Ebian was in for a surprise one morning while out in the Hizen area of Japan. Lying on the beach was a strange creature. At first, he thought it to be some kind of sea snake as it had a long, snakelike body that twisted and coiled as he approached. On closer inspection, it turned its head to him and he saw that its face was human-like except for wicked-looking curved horns growing out of its temple.

To his surprise, it began to talk to him about the coming harvest and promised Ebian that if he reproduced its image, the surrounding areas would be saved from hardship. To ensure that as many people saw the image as possible, Ebian made sure that her image was published inside his latest tome.

Through the myths and legends of a place, we can come to know about what people truly valued and learn about the differences between our cultures. So enjoy the harvest season, but just remember not to look at the lights over the sea for too long.

What do you think of these horror harvest yokai? Comment down below!

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